Friday, July 11, 2008

Those Who Haven't Wavered

Written 7 July

Through all the difficulties and achievements in Iraq, there have been those who never wavered in their resolve for a successful outcome. Victory may not yet be in hand, but you can see it from here.

Iraq is now a much different country because some Americans held firmly to accomplishing what others said could not be done.

The conditions are now indisputably better, and have remained so as the “Surge” troops come home.

Progressing from Anbar province through the rest of the country, with consecutive operations and triumphs, most recently in Mosul, coalition and Iraqi forces have implemented a successful counterinsurgency strategy.

Reports of violence are down by 80%. Civilian and military deaths are at all time lows. All reports are that Al Qaeda is decimated. Bottom up reconciliation and cooperation at higher and higher levels continues to occur. Iraqi forces and government agencies are continuously more effective. 15 of 18 benchmarks are met. There are consistent reports of life being or returning to normal.

Iraq is on its way to peace, and hopefully our troops are on their way home soon.

Many of the surge forces have already been withdrawn, and all indications are that more are likely on the way out. The progress and positive trends have continued while we’ve reduced forces indicating lasting conditions suitable for further reductions.

Many Democrats no longer demand cutting and running as they once did. The latest Iraq war spending bill passed through Congress nearly unopposed.

Most American press organizations have pulled their bureaus and many of their reporters from Iraq. Good news is not news. Most of the news from Iraq now comes via military and foreign, especially British, sources.

Liberals are increasingly quiet on the subject. It’s hard to scream for defeat when likely victory is blatantly staring America right smack in the face.

We’ve reached a point where the bloviating by politicians about Iraq through this election cycle may be pointless. If conditions continue to improve as they have, our troops will be proudly returning home because they’ve succeeded, regardless of what happens in November.

And through it all, there have been those who have stood firm in a commitment to victory.

Why?

First is an unwavering belief in our troops.

They truly are incredible and unflappable. There has never been a reason to lose hope in their ability to implement the tactics necessary to one of the most difficult strategies known in warfare (counterinsurgency), as we asked them to do. Their enlisted leadership is outstanding, capable of carrying them through even the most daunting challenges. Our career officer corps has committed themselves to the art of warfare. It is the profession for which they study, train, and execute remarkably well. I’ve seen all three groups in action first-hand and thus never doubted their capacity for developing a winning plan and employing it.

There was an inherent trust that senior military members would develop a sound strategy and lead our troops through it. There was confidence that the troops would get the job done.

Some have never lost faith in our troops’ ability to win.

Second is a belief in the Iraqi people. Having had the opportunity to work with them and get to personally know so many, I grasped that they longed for a better life than had been offered by Saddam and was being presented by Al Qaeda. They understood freedom, but achieving it through a democratic state was not a clear path. After a generation of brutality and oppression they’d had no experience in self rule. But they never lacked the capacity for success, or the dreams to realize it.

Enough Americans never lost the intuitive concept of people’s desire to live free from the oppression of a tyrant or the brutality of terrorists, nor the suffering they would endure to achieve such a state.

Some doubted the Iraqi people. Some did not.

Lastly is the American penchant for victory and the leadership possessed within our society to achieve it. From small town America to Washington D.C., ordinary citizens to soldiers to political leaders, enough Americans understand and embrace the bounty of success, are repulsed by the consequences of defeat, and optimistically hold fast to that which brings the positive outcome.

Still alive in America today are the unconquerable souls General Patton once said were necessary to insuring victory, as are the echoes of his words, “America loves a winner…”

Wesley Clark Wrong About McCain's Service

Written 1 July

On Sunday, retired General Wesley Clark demeaned and dismissed John McCain’s service to our nation. He threw out the far, far left’s talking point about McCain’s military service not being relevant to his run for the Presidency.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

In trying to make the absurd connection/description, Clark said McCain hadn’t “held executive responsibility,” was “untested and untried,” and fell short “because in the matters of national security policy-making, it’s a matter of understanding risk. It’s a matter of gauging your opponents and it’s a matter of being held accountable. John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions.” He went on to say that McCain “hasn’t made the calls.”

General Clark seems to have already forgotten the high standards of responsibility to which we have always held military officers.

There is very little or no room for error or tolerance for mistakes with multi-million dollar aircraft, or any other equipment. The same holds true with an officer’s actions and employment of the resources at his or her disposal. 100% accountability is demanded.

As an officer in combat, on the ground or in the air, you have to be cognizant of risk. One makes innumerable, often rapid-fire decisions, each one gauging risks and the likely outcomes.

You also have to consider your opponent with every decision. The enemy’s capabilities and tactics are a required part of every operations order and the execution of those operations. You don’t step off without knowing them.

Therefore, to say McCain wouldn’t understand risk, gauging the opponent, or accountability is absolutely ludicrous.

Senator McCain experienced those very things each and every second of his Navy life.

On those criteria Clark isn’t just off base, he’s in deep left field.

But the worst of Clark’s statements is that McCain “hasn’t made the calls” or “held executive responsibility.”

He has forgotten that McCain flew an aircraft that was designed to destroy things and worst of all, kill people. Before being shot down, McCain did those very things.

Each and every time he got in the cockpit, he had to bear that burden to his soul.

He, like so many that serve, had to make the decision each and every day to not only go into harms way, but to decide that by his actions people would not live to see another day.

It’s not an easy thing to deal with, knowing full well that by your hand, by your deeds, by your endeavors, people will die.

It’s even harder to live with.

Even though you face an enemy that must be killed for various reasons, as Clint Eastwood’s character in “Unforgiven” poignantly observed, “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

Thus, those decisions to “pull the trigger” during the course of legal warfare in service to your nation are very much executive decisions and making the call.

In fact, it epitomizes having to make the call, and it absolutely does count as a criterion toward being President.

Although the impact upon ones self may vary with dropping bombs from far off, exposing terrorists for termination, calling in air strikes, or fighting hand to hand in a dark room, the decisions and actions have the same result: people die.

Having experienced and gained full comprehension of the consequences of your decisions and your actions (for your own troops, the enemy, and the unfortunates caught in the middle) certainly qualifies a candidate who has over one who has not.

It’s also a leadership skill for the nation’s Commander-in-Chief.

So those experiences do give McCain much more real world leadership experience than Obama. For that matter, most commissioned, non-commissioned, and staff non-commissioned officers with a combat tour have more leadership skills than Obama. I know some Corporals that would put him to shame when it comes to leadership experience.

General Clark needs to clear his mind of the far left smoke and spend some time remembering what it is we ask of our service men and women. He himself had to make those decisions, but so did many others who worked for him, including, and especially the pilots who fought the air war under his command.

He needs to remember the skill sets that arise from the high standards of accountability, risk assessment, opponent awareness, and decision making that have always been asked of our military leaders, even in John McCain’s day.

Congressman Murtha Needs to Apologize

Written June 24

It’s time for John Murtha to make a very public apology.

In May of 2006, Congressman Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania, accused Marines operating in Haditha, Iraq of killing innocent civilians in cold blood.

Murtha, a whole gang of liberals, lawmakers, and many news agencies rushed to judgment against our Marines, publicly held their own kangaroo courts, tried, and convicted them of murder.

Murtha’s public rant and press conference on the subject were held to mark the six month anniversary of his very first call to surrender in Iraq. As if that in itself wasn’t a despicable enough event for a Marine Corps combat veteran, he had to “one up” himself by publicly convicting our Marines of atrocities long before the facts of the investigation were even known. Heck, the investigation had barely gotten started.

But Murtha didn’t care because this fit nicely into his template for surrender. For that matter, it fit perfectly in the puzzle for the whole gang of defeatists in Washington. A chorus of liberal lawmakers and much of the national press echoed his words and cheered him on.

The whole group took as gospel the word of a few questionable Iraqis and press stringers. They took their side and ran with the story. It turned out they were running with scissors.

It was a sad time when so many Americans were willing to unjustly treat the best among us as the worst.

The event was (and still is) representative of much of the war in Iraq. Liberals grasping at anything which might finally sink our chances for victory, including the public humiliation and conviction of our troops for crimes they hadn’t yet been fully investigated, charged with, or convicted of.

Murtha tried to disguise his motives, our forced withdrawal, as concern for our troops. He acted as if he cared about the pressure put on them from months of combat. But he had already played his cut and run cards, so we knew his game. This was just another part of it.

Sadly he was convicting fellow Marines without a trial as the means by which he could demand our defeat.

Two years later the facts have proven Murtha wrong.

None of the Marines involved were charged with murder, as he, and so many others, insisted they were guilty of.

Of the seven charged with crimes at Haditha, only one remains, and he is not on trial for murder.

Six of the Marines have had their cases dismissed or been acquitted, the sixth just last week. It turns out none of them were guilty of cold blooded murder or anything else.

So now it is time for Congressman Murtha to apologize.

He was wrong about the actions of the Marines in Haditha that day. He was wrong on what he thought the facts of the case were. He was wrong to jump to the worst conclusion about our Marines. He was wrong to publicly pronounce them guilty of “cold blooded murder.” He was wrong to let himself be used as such a willing pawn of the worst among us. He was wrong to forsake his fellow Marines.

For all those things, he needs to publicly apologize, and to do so with all the passion he displayed during that press conference two years ago. He needs to rant on and on as he did that day, about what an idiot he was, and how sorry he is.

In addition, all the others who used Murtha as their reason, as their cover, for doing likewise, also need to make similar apologies. They’re no better than he.

Lastly, Murtha’s retention of the title “Marine” has come into question during the public discussion among those infuriated with him. There has been no absence of those insisting he be stripped of the honor for attacking fellow Marines the way he did.

I disagree with them, as that is a title hard earned. A title not stripped away because of disagreements or because of astonishingly foolish behavior, no matter how disgusting we might find it.

A public apology from Murtha to those seven, their families, and then to all Marines will suffice. And now is the time for that apology.

Energy Security Impacts National Security

Written 17 June

Energy security is part of our national security posture. It has direct ties to our nation’s capacity to fight an expanded conflict should the need arise. If petroleum is going to be held hostage, it is in our national security interests to develop alternative sources of energy with which we can power the machine that defends us.

There are also security consequences to the billions of oil dollars pouring out of our nation to strengthen the economies of others, some of whom work actively against us.

Additionally, if the economy falters or fails as part of a domino chain started with our being held financially hostage by those who control the world’s energy and because we refused to develop our own, we could become incapable of funding our military.

It may be hard to imagine, but it could get much worse if we continue to wander aimlessly down the energy policy road and allow ourselves to be turned away by the many obstacles artificially placed in our path that prevent us from utilizing every source of available energy.

The current “pain at the pump” we feel, the shock we endure when opening our electric bills, and the blast received with the propane bill could realistically just be the tip of the iceberg.

But we have only ourselves to blame. We’ve painted ourselves into this corner.

So how do we find our way out?

We have to develop a comprehensive, common sense energy policy which removes the obstacles to energy production. We also need to sweep away those who imagine every reason to block potential energy sources, such as:

We can’t develop wind energy because some people don’t want industrial windmills in their area. Evidently, they’re unsightly. Besides, bird enthusiasts are concerned they might kill birds.

We can’t develop hydro-electric power because fish might suffer, as would other species dependent upon specific flows within a waterway.

We can’t drill off our own coasts because we’re worried about beaches, fish, and seals. But of course, China can drill off our shores.

We can’t extract shale oil from the Rocky Mountains because the machinery is inconsistent with the panoramic views.

We can’t convert coal to oil because of air quality and anti-mining advocates.

We can’t drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because those few acres would be missed by the caribou and polar bears.

We can’t use corn for ethanol because hunger advocates are concerned with its impact on the price of food. They’re probably also some of the same people crying the loudest about greenhouse gases from petroleum combustion. Ironic, isn’t it?

We can’t pursue large-scale solar power networks because they’re unsightly and they confuse birds.

We can’t pursue nuclear energy because at least a hundred different groups stand frothing at the mouth to attack and block it for an endless list of reasons.

If we pursue wood chips for ethanol, tree-huggers will cry out for the trees, switch grass will be demonized for animals harmed when it’s cut, and oil from bacterial excretions is already being assaulted for creating huge reservoirs of bacteria which might contaminate everything under the sun.

Thousands of people stand in the way of progress for the millions, telling them “why not,” yet none of them offers a single “here’s how” solution.

And the best solution Congress can come up with is to propose more pain by taking more out of our pockets through raising taxes on currently available energy, and to charge windfall profit taxes on those companies which supply our energy. It is a plan that failed when implemented under President Carter, one that financially harmed Americans and accelerated an energy shortage, one that will fail again if tried.

Something’s got to give. Something will give, but the longer we delay the more catastrophic the result may be.

Common sense and prioritizing people ahead of special interests need injected into how we function as a nation in this arena, and many others for that matter.

Sure, I too dream of an energy panacea with a clean, renewable, unobtrusive form of energy upon which we can all depend one day. But that’s the dream.

In the mean time, the dream will not fill my tank, light, heat, or cool my house, decrease my bills, or fuel the machines which help preserve our freedom.

It is a perfect example of what my Grandpa Sharp always said, "You can dream in one hand and crap in another. See which one fills up first."

Although significant effort should be made to achieve the dream, until then, we need to be able to pursue and develop every currently available source of energy for personal use, public consumption, and national security.

Fighting For Freedom With Our Choices

Written June 10

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that “nothing is more fertile in wondrous effect than the art of being free but nothing is harder than freedom’s apprenticeship. The same is not true of tyranny, which often advertises itself as the cure of all sufferings, the supporter of just rights, the upholder of the oppressed and the founder of order.”

As Americans, we regularly face choices about our government, its reach, and its effect upon our lives. No more so than during election years.

Through those we elect, we ultimately choose how much power our government will have over our lives, and in doing so, we decide how much more freedom we aspire to or how much less freedom we are willing to accept. We decide how much freedom we will or will not let the government take from us.

Only by our choices can we let the hard work of freedom be replaced by what superficially appears to be the easy route of government caring for our needs. In reality, that choice is government controlling our lives and requires surrendering the power of individual freedom to empower government instead.

Each time we opt for the government over our own hard work, we lose yet another degree of freedom. A choice to let the size and reach of government grow so that it can care for us is choosing freedom to be taken from us. We have chosen to let government, with its inevitable quagmire of regulations and bureaucracy, make another set of decisions for us. We have elected to let the behemoth dictate to us the parameters within which we will live.

With each allowance we make to government for controlling yet another aspect of our lives, we scurry away from the difficulties Tocqueville saw in “freedom’s apprenticeship.” Instead we select what appears to be the easy route of letting someone else become responsible for us, rather than being responsible for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.

At best and at minimum that someone else is a benevolent democracy representative of the people with powers checked by the people. At worst it’s a tyrannical leader or group who promises all that Tocqueville said they would, but who in fact have taken power from the people in order to gain the power necessary to appear as the provider of all needs.

Between those two rests a government which is designed to empower the people, but through concessions by the people of their power, grows and grows until it takes on a power of its own. This government becomes increasingly difficult and finally impossible for the people to keep in check.

It gains strength enough to dictate to the people the parameters of their freedom rather than having free people decide the parameters of institutional power.

In today’s context such a government would determine the limits of, or simply eliminate, free speech or freedom of religion, and make its own interpretations of rights. It might use as its basis for doing so allowances of the people in one area to intrude upon others.

Such a government would control commerce more than less, view the fruits of individual’s hard work as its own to take at any percentage deemed necessary for redistribution or its own devices. It views all solutions as needing produced from within rather than by those who must live with the solutions.

Such governments eventually encompass enough power to even dictate where you live, the temperature of your home, what you will or won’t drive, how much food you’re allowed, and rations out substandard mandatory government health services. It may even decide what job is best for you and how you will educate or raise your own children.

Getting to such a cataclysmic point does not happen by accident. It happens by the design of some to garner power unto themselves, their affiliates, others unwilling to work hard for freedom, and gains momentum through those whose daily lives are so difficult or busy they unwittingly follow the path being lit. Eventually, enough people have to choose to shift their own power to the government.

As Americans we constantly have to be aware of the likely consequences of our choices. Do we opt for the path of hard work and maintenance or reacquisition of freedoms, or do we surrender them to those who, as Tocqueville warned they would, advertise themselves “as the cure of all sufferings, the supporter of just rights, the upholder of the oppressed and the founder of order?”

New G.I. Bill, War Success, Military Snubs

Written June 3rd

There are several “can’t miss” items which need attention this week.

The “G.I. Bill for the 21st Century” advocated by Senator Hagel is worthy of applause. It does modernize the post-service benefits for our current group of veterans, and has been endorsed by most military organizations, including those both for and against the war on terrorism.

It is being criticized in some quarters, but at worst it should be seen as a “wash” for those with concerns about political posturing or a back door attempt to harm retention en route to diminishing staffing levels for the current war.

Ultimately, the young enlisted men and women who step up to fight this war deserve these improved benefits, which may also be a positive for recruitment.

This legislation and that which improves veterans’ health care (championed by Senator Nelson) are both excellent steps toward taking care of our troops when they come home.

Those troops are accomplishing much right now, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit was recently added to the fight in Afghanistan as part of renewed offenses there. These 2200 Marines did not hesitate to make a dent in the cause against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Within days they were heavily engaged, fighting and driving them from an area that had been a safe haven for far too long.

Both British and American commanders have reported big gains against the enemy in Afghanistan over the last couple weeks. Intelligence is confirming substantial disruptions to the Taliban’s leadership structure.

Additionally, the British Telegraph has reported the killing of over 7,000 Taliban members the last two years as well as the removal of “several echelons of commanders.” Also, the Observer chronicled that British commanders assess the Taliban as “on the back foot and licking their wounds” after a series of defeats.

On the Iraq Front, The Strategy Page is noting that Al Qaeda websites are becoming increasingly trafficked with discussions among their members about “why we lost in Iraq.” It appears the information coming from Iraq about having them on the run is not lost to either our commanders or theirs.

Their confession would be consistent with the success we’ve reported for more than a year now. We’ve relentlessly targeted Al Qaeda through a series of consecutive operations in Anbar, the areas south of Baghdad, in Baghdad, and now through Baqubah north to Mosul. Reports from Mosul, arguably their last stand, look good for our troops and the fighting capabilities of the Iraqi’s.

USA Today reports that May was the least violent month in Iraq since the spring of 2004. Thomas Ricks reported numbers provided to him by the Army which show that attacks on our convoys have dropped from 1 in 5 during January, 2007 to 1 in 100 for April, 2008.

In a Washington Post interview, CIA director Michael Hayden gave a very positive report for the overall war on terrorism. Although he and others cautioned that the fight is far from over, he specifically noted we’ve accomplished a “Near strategic defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam."

But in a recent San Francisco interview, Nancy Pelosi credited the success in Iraq not to the hard work of our troops, but to the good will of the Iranians. I guess our guys haven’t done much lately. Nancy, to what Tehranian address should I send the “thank you” note?

Her view of U.S. troops being ineffective may be the same reason why Senator Obama recently chose not to recognize military service as valuable public service.

In a commencement address at Wesleyan college, he encouraged graduates not to pursue the American dream, but to opt instead for pursuing the less lucrative route of public service. He then went on to list a number of public service avenues they could take, but glaringly and insultingly left out military service as an option. I guess the military doesn’t count to the ultra liberal.

His view of the military is consistent with his refusals to meet with General Petraeus, pro-victory veterans from Illinois, or our troops in the fight for over two years now.

However, he is willing to meet unconditionally with the Iranian sponsors of terrorism. Maybe he’ll thank them for Nancy Pelosi while he’s there.

Success in Iraq Negates Dem Bluster

Written 27 May

To appease their rabid far-left base, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton use every opportunity on the campaign trail to let voters know they will yank our troops from Iraq as fast as possible.

The competition between the two for the white flag quick draw contest has been somewhat humorous, except that it is serious business being played by two who shouldn’t be allowed anything more than cap guns.

With steady, significant, conflict ending progress having been made in Iraq over the course of the last year, are we already well on our way to the conditions which have our troops on the way home anyway?

If either Clinton or Obama assume office in January ’09 it is possible that any gradual troop reductions will be the result of a successful U.S. strategy and the hard work and sacrifice of our troops, not the fulfillment of ignorant campaign promises. A precipitous withdrawal would be another story.

The Anbar Awakening in which Sunnis rejected, en masse, the vicious ideology of Al Qaeda accelerated the conditions for a stable Iraq in areas that had once been a safe haven for terrorists.

A relentless assault on Al Qaeda through multiple successive operations has them, as Rear Admiral Driscoll stated this week, off balance and on the run. Al Qaeda may still be able to stage a spectacular lethal attack, but we do have “our teeth on their jugular.”

Decreasing Al Qaeda’s negative influence segued into peace and cooperation among Sunni and Shiite Iraqis in mixed neighborhoods and villages. The reconciliation between the different sects in Iraq on a very large scale was undeniable starting last fall and chronicled well in this column. While critics here ignored it or were so blinded by their quest for top down reconciliation that they missed the bottom up reconciliation taking place, those on the ground in Iraq, and those here who followed the details of events saw the significance of what was taking place.

All the criteria for success have been positive the last year: violence of all kinds down (by every measurable metric), infrastructure improvements, markets reopening and life going back to normal, continued cooperation and reconciliation, economy rebounding, and benchmarks being met.

We have seen steady, consistent progress within the Iraqi government. Just as local leaders have come to cooperate with one another for neighborhood and city governance, so have those elected to the national level. Although progress has been slow, it is without question taking place. Each day they gain experience and those who had previously walked away from the system have now returned to participate.

The Iraqi Army continues to improve and has done so to the point where they’ve now fought two major campaigns as the lead forces. They took and are holding Basra, and then led and entirely on their own, hold Sadr City. As key signals for future success, Shiite leadership cracked down on Shiite militants, and Iraqi troops followed the lead of their civilian leadership, not the leadership of clans, tribes, or sects.

Prime Minister Al Maliki has also shown skills not previously seen during both of those battles. He personally took the lead in Basra, and successfully used a position of strength to find political solutions for Basra and Sadr City.

It appears that he and the Iraqi government are finding the political solutions afforded them by their own and coalition military efforts.

With benchmarks being met, all measurable metrics improving, reconciliation taking place, and Iraq racing to a new set of elections this fall, is it any wonder that General Petraeus has twice testified he is likely to resume drawing down troops in September?

If these trends continue in Iraq, it seems quite likely that continued troop reductions because of this success would also make sense.

So if we’re well on our way to victory because of the strategy implemented over the last year and a half, and already in a troop reduction mode because of that success, does it really matter what any of our Presidential candidates say about “pulling troops out of Iraq?”

Not really, but it makes for good political red meat.

Prayers For Memorial Day

Written 19 May

I am ready.
Dear Lord, I wanted to tell you…
I once was a meek boy with a coward’s heart.
Not here. Not anymore.
Now I am a lost soul with hell on his shoulders.
And I am coming.

A prayer by David Bellavia upon learning he would be fighting in Fallujah.

David was not alone in his fears or his prayers when heading into battle, or even during the heat of battle. Many young Americans have shared similar moments in their endeavors to defend our nation.

Common among them were self-doubt, questions about how they’d respond, feeling lost, knowing that hell on earth may await them, but not really sure what hell would be like, only knowing they would bear its burden.

Yet they went anyway, and prayer carried them into battle.

Prayer sheltered some of them. It sped others to the Lord when the time came.

And prayer should lead us this Memorial Day.

Pray for those who passed on while fighting for us and for those who passed on later after living out full lives as veterans and citizens.

Pray for those who still struggle with the stress and trauma from life in a combat zone. For them we should pray because personal battles may haunt their lives and eventually lead them to be among those we remember instead of keeping them in fellowship with us.

Pray for them. Pray we find every way to help them cope. Pray the effects of battle do not linger. Pray they are not added to the roll call for Memorial Day sooner than they ought to be.

Pray for the families of those we’ve lost.

They’ve also sacrificed and endured hardships for our country. They also bear the burden that comes with the cost of freedom.

Their grief is unimaginable.

I know my wife’s worst fear was that the white government sedan would turn into our driveway one morning. Knowing that was enough pain for me.

Reality must be horrifically worse.

We should also pray for ourselves.

We should pray that the conduct of our lives is worthy of the sacrifice made by so many for us. We may never be equal to the gift they’ve given, but we should at least endeavor to be so.

This Memorial Day remind yourself of the prayer Eleanor Roosevelt carried with her:

Dear Lord
Lest I continue
My complacent way
Help me to remember
Somewhere out there
A man died for me today
-As long as there be war
I then must
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?

Recent History in Stores

Written 13 May
I had the honor of doing some technical editing for "Heroes Among Us."

There are several outstanding books on the war against terrorists I would highly recommend, Heroes Among Us by Major Chuck Larson, Moment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon, and House to House by Staff Sergeant David Bellavia.

I had previously written a column about Lone Survivor by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and still have that near the top of the “must read” list.

Heroes Among Us is a collection of “firsthand accounts of combat from Iraq and Afghanistan” as told by troops who have won some of our nation’s highest awards for courage under fire.

The book is a collection of windows from history into some of the toughest fights in the war. Each chapter is the personal retelling, by each service member, of the events during combat that earned them a Silver Star or higher, and will fill you with emotion as you recognize the personal hardship of combat, but also with pride having just seen heroes in action through their own humble words.

Michael Yon, a former Green Beret, and author of Moment of Truth in Iraq, has been an embedded reporter in Iraq longer than anyone else, spending most of the last two years there.

In Moment of Truth in Iraq, Yon shares some of the individual stories he’s personally witnessed, but also shows how those stories reflect the bigger scheme of things, and gives us a comprehensive look at our forces and the situation in Iraq.

Through months and months of extensive patrolling on Iraqi streets, in villages, and through the countryside with front line units, Yon has lived the fight more than any other reporter and developed a leading sense of our troop’s success from the ground up.

You can see the life of a soldier from his perspective.

By developing relationships with our military commanders, Yon has also garnered a realistic sense of what’s happening throughout Iraq.

He gives a “no holds barred” account of battles, assessment of our media’s coverage of the war, capabilities of our troops, Al Qaeda, the Iraqis, and our chances for victory. He especially focuses on how success has come with the Surge.

Yon’s independence and objectivity as a journalist and author show throughout the book. The only side he takes is that of the soldier.

Moment of Truth will help you understand what’s really happening in Iraq at both the street level and “the big picture” level.

House to House by Congressional Medal of Honor nominee Staff Sergeant David Bellavia is truly unique with its insight into the life of an infantryman. It is a raw, but very well written account of combat and those who go to war on the front lines for us.

If you’ve ever served with the infantry you’ll find yourself laughing, nodding, and solemnly remembering those you served with. If you’ve not served with the infantry, he will help you understand them and what we ask of them. Bellavia nails the life and those who endure it.

He provides a graphic squad and platoon level description of the fight in Fallujah during the fall of ’04, and perfectly captures the innumerable difficulties of fighting in an urban environment. The content is worthy of the title.

I wouldn’t say House to House is unglossed, the writing and editing are done very well and it’s an easy read, but it is unglossed in that all the rough edges of a soldier and combat are left bare in the book.

Bellavia’s close quarters and hand to hand fight alone at night with terrorists in a dark Fallujah house is riveting, as are his emotions in the time afterward, and his coming to terms with being a husband and father first, instead of a soldier.

The reality of combat and life afterward captured in House to House is too much to let my fourteen year old read right now, but some day he must read it, because it answers all the “why” and “what was it like” questions.

Al Qaeda in Iraq

Written 7 May

During just the first five days of May, Multi-National Forces Iraq reported the following:

May 5 – Iraqi Security Forces and coalition forces conducted joint operations and captured 3 terrorists near Mosul, degrading Al Qaeda’s capabilities in the neighborhood in which they were operating.

May 5 – In two separate operations, Iraqi Security Forces advised by U.S. Special Forces captured two suspected leaders of Al Qaeda IED cells.

May 5 – During multiple operations in Baghdad, Balad, and Mosul, coalition forces detained eleven Al Qaeda suspects involved with car bombings, bank-rolling the terrorist network, providing safe havens, and high level liaisons.

May 4 – Coalition forces killed 11 and detained 23 other suspects while targeting the Al Qaeda in Iraq network in central and northern Iraq.

May 3 – During operations targeting Al Qaeda in central Iraq, six suspected terrorists were detained.

May 3- While targeting the Al Qaeda network in northern Iraq, coalition forces detained 14 terrorist suspects involved in a bombing network.

May 3 – In a separate operation 200 miles north of Baghdad, Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Special Forced captured two mid-level leaders of the Al Qaeda front organization, Islamic State of Iraq. The men were involved with weapons smuggling, bombing networks, and IED making.

May 3 – Iraqi Security Forces detained a mid-level Al Qaeda leader as well as 6 other terrorists in operations northeast of Baghdad.

May 3 – CNN reported that 35 people were killed in Diyala Province during a wedding parade after a woman, an Al Qaeda terrorist, imitating pregnancy detonated the bomb she was carrying. When rescue workers arrived, a male member of Al Qaeda detonated his suicide bomb when rescue workers arrived.

May 2 – During operations targeting the Al Qaeda in Iraq network around Mosul, 4 terrorists were killed and 10 other suspected terrorists detained.

May 2 – During several different operations including near Iskandariyah, the northern belt 15 miles northwest of Baghdad, and also 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, coalition forces detained 3 wanted terrorists, and 6 other suspected terrorists, including several in local leadership positions and others with ties to senior Al Qaeda leadership.

May 2 – Coalition forces seized Al Qaeda propaganda information during operations near Samarra as well as three weapons caches. Seized in the raids were Al Qaeda’s computers, information storage devices, weapons, and bomb-making materials.

May 1st showed no activity specific to operations against the Al Qaeda network in Iraq.

The list above included only those operations specifically targeting Al Qaeda. It did not include the many operations against those simply named as “terrorists, criminals, insurgents, militias” or the Iranian influenced “special groups.” Nor does it reflect the numerous successes of our troops in the rebuilding and reconciliation arenas.

In just those five days, over fifteen operations by our troops in Iraq put more than 100 Al Qaeda terrorists and suspects out of commission.

So we have to ask, why do liberals insist on using an argument about Al Qaeda not being in Iraq in 2003 as the evidence by which they deny their existence now, and as their justification for running from the fight against them?

Tell us again, please.

Currently Relevant Lessons From World War II

Written 29 April - Thanks to my friend, A Camel Named Clyde, for a copy of "Intrepid"

Sir William Stephenson led Britain’s intelligence and covert operations against the Nazi’s during WWII, and eventually brought his operations center to New York as a contingency should the United Kingdom fall to Nazi invasion. A secret war was waged against Germany from our shores even before our own entry into WWII.

He stood with Winston Churchill, as both recognized the growing threat from the Nazi’s, long before most of the civilized world believed what was taking place. They prepared for the inevitable before most others would even acknowledge the Third Reich was a menace.

When the appeasers in Europe and his own country had been proven wrong, Hitler’s machine had spread its virus through most of Europe, and England was finally in direct peril, her people finally looked to Winston Churchill. Churchill looked to William Stephenson to wage the secret war they both knew was necessary for survival.

Some years later, after much of the information was declassified and “A Man Called Intrepid” was written on the secret war and Stephenson, he remarked on the kind of leadership and what it would take to stand in defense of future threats to democracy.

His thoughts absolutely hold true today.

“We’re still evolving democratic societies,” he said. “If we want to continue this natural growth, we can’t ignore ideological enemies who want to stunt it – or destroy it. By working through our own democratic institutions, they can disarm us.”

His experience fighting the Nazi’s shaped his way of looking at the world. The struggle against Communism reinforced it. I don’t know if he foresaw the same perils from Islamofascism, but it is without question an ideology that wants to destroy democracy.

For democracies to survive, they require leaders who are willing to acknowledge and act against threats which seek to destroy freedom, leaders who can also bridge the philosophical gaps within a democracy its enemies seek to exploit, and leaders with the courage to do both.

Stephenson foresaw the challenges in democratic societies posed by balancing the secret intelligence services and covert operations necessary to guarding their freedom with protecting individual freedoms.

But, he also predicted the perils within a democracy from those who were power hungry and na├»ve, when he said, “The easy way out is to pretend there are no crises. That’s the easy way to win elections.”

Through willful ignorance, freedom and democracy are placed in a precarious position by those pretending dangers to it do not exist. Freedom is further jeopardized when courage to face those threats is absent.

In Stephenson’ day, the combination of naivety and appeasement led the world into a more brutal conflict than might have otherwise been necessary. As he reflected, “There were too many men in power who preferred to see no threat to freedom because to admit to such a threat implies a willingness to accept sacrifice to combat it.”

That potential for a delayed, yet larger conflict exists in our country today among those who ignore the threats to freedom and democracy posed by Islamofascism.

In many ways we stand at the same crossroads at which much of the western world stood 70 years ago. Will we be equal to the reality of the present danger and combat it, or will we choose to pretend it does not exist?

In an election year, one can’t help but directly apply Stephenson’s thoughts to our candidates and contemplate that very thing.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seek to be leaders who are certainly not equal to the perils of the world. John McCain is.

At the local level, Scott Kleeb’s obfuscatory style and unwillingness to answer direct questions leaves far too much unanswered to decide whether or not he is. Tony Raimondo, who previously showed some promise in this area, has taken a decidedly sharp turn to the left. This column had previously seen him as possessing a reasonable stand on the war against terrorism. But his latest rhetoric and TV commercial which disregard Al Qaeda and Iran have lost him that confidence. Mike Johanns and Pat Flynn have shown they remain equal to the task.

For democracy to thrive we must be mindful, as citizens and in choosing those who lead us, of its defense. As Stephenson noted, “there’s a considerable difference between being high-minded and soft-headed” in these matters. When confronted with a very real threat to our freedom, we can’t afford high-minded, soft-headed leaders who pursue an easy way to win an election.

Citizens, Critics, Patriotism

Written 22 April

Today, thousands of young men and women will raise their right hands and volunteer to serve their country. Some of them will do so to satisfy an indescribable patriotic desire to serve their country.

Today, someone else will feel it’s their patriotic duty to tell you about the problems among 1% of those who raised their right hands.

Today, over 140,000 troops will fight against terrorists in Iraq, and perform their duties expertly. A few of them will even perform feats of heroism so extraordinary that many of us will stand in awe when we hear of their service, and truly be thankful.

But today, someone else will tell you about the one troop who made a mistake and is rightfully being charged with a crime.

Today, while terrorists are plotting their next attack against us, hundreds of special operations forces and intelligence personnel are moving against them. The nature of their task means we will never know the safety they’ve brought all of us.

But today, someone else will try to convince us that aggressively eliminating those who are determined to kill all of us makes us less safe than we were before.

Today in America, 95% of the people have a job.

But today someone is going to portray the 5% who don’t as the majority, not the minority.

Today in America, millions of people will pursue the American dream, praying their hard work will earn them a better life for now and the future. All of them are more than capable of, and are making good decisions which will benefit them, their families, and their communities.

But today in America, an elitist who has made a fortune in our system of democracy and capitalism will attack that very system and work to change it. He will demand that the millions now surrender larger and larger portions of their earnings, thereby stopping them from succeeding as he did. He and his fellow elitists can then redistribute everyone else’s wealth via government programs which only they are smart enough to direct.

Today, some believe Americans don’t voluntarily donate enough and that the United States should be responsible for reducing world poverty. So they’re pushing legislation which requires redistribution of a portion of every American’s income as welfare to the rest of the world.

But today, others who understand the viability and valuable combination of democracy and capitalism are working for more of those ideas throughout the world as the means to fight poverty. The combination of the two worked for us, it’s working for others, and it can work for all.

Today, many Americans will buy a gun. They will buy a gun for hunting, for self defense, for recreational shooting, or because they understand that an armed citizenry is a check against ultimate government over-reach.

But today, others will criticize them, believing they buy guns because they’re economically frustrated and not smart enough to deal with or decipher their own feelings.

Today in America, many will surrender their life to the calling of God and embrace religion. They will do so because they understand their lives are controlled first and foremost by God and then by their own decisions.

But today, others who want to control their lives through government institutions will attack them, frustrated because the power of religion impedes their power to control through government, believing these people cling to religion out of economic frustration and incapacity to decipher their own feelings.

Today, millions of Americans will fly a flag at home, pray, volunteer to serve their local communities, give to charity organizations, serve in the military, or simply go to work and love their families fully living out their freedoms and exercising all the rights they’ve been given. Their actions may or may not be overt, but they will symbolize the greatness of this country. Some may even purposefully proclaim America’s greatness.

These millions will stand in stark contrast to those who can only find it in themselves to constantly attack and criticize America. Sure, the undying critics can claim the patriotic necessity to do so, but their brand of patriotism will contrast sharply to that of the millions which demonstrates the greatness of this country, not its flaws.

The incessant critics will demand others acknowledge their patriotic acts of criticism, yet will denounce the patriotic acts of others, proclaiming the old adage about patriotism being the last refuge of a tyrant. And in doing so, will demonstrate it is they themselves who possess the tyrannical attitudes, not the millions.

Petraeus on Capitol Hill

Originally Written for 15 April

Last week’s testimony on Capitol Hill by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did reveal a liberal bent toward highlighting what they felt was a negative, Basra. They also wanted to know when the end of the war in Iraq was going to be, and highlighted their ignorance of warfare.

A war, this war, or any other war, is not a football game with a set amount of time. You fight until you win, and you keep fighting when you are winning.

There were those who wanted to know what victory looks like, usually asking for partisan reasons. That has been answered a thousand times. It’s safe to say if they don’t know by now, they simply don’t care to know.

We did get to hear the use of the published Democratic talking points on a “responsible withdrawal” from Iraq. This, of course, is one of the two current tactics from the left to force our surrender without appearing to lack the will to fight.

Here’s the reality. It is not responsible to allow Al Qaeda a victory in Iraq. It is not responsible to allow Iran to gain more influence in the region. It is not responsible to show America as weak and undependable. It is not responsible to let Iraq fall into chaos.

About the only thing responsible that came from the left side of the aisle was from Senator Nelson who called for Iraq to pay more of the bill. It is interesting to note that Iraq is doing so well it now has a $60 billion budget surplus – must be that failing surge…

The other tactic is to blame our current economic situation on the war in Iraq. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that oil prices, transportation costs, the housing market, and about a hundred other factors have the economy where it is, not the war.

What’s worse is the hypocrisy of such a notion coming from the party with two Presidential candidates who are each proposing additional yearly spending far in excess of the whole cost of the war in Iraq: over $800 billion in new spending EACH YEAR compared to $450 billion in 5 years. If $450 billion over 5 years has caused economic trouble, we’d surely plunge into a severe depression with the kind of spending Hillary and Obama are proposing, and Democrats are endorsing.

There were several good quotes from the week. Joe Lieberman admonished those members of Congress who “hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, and speak of no progress in Iraq.” After months and months of relentless operations specifically targeting Al Qaeda, General Petraeus noted, “We have our teeth into their jugular, and we need to keep it there.” The best came from Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, “You want to know who wants you to come home more than anybody?” he asked a group of war veterans, “Al Qaeda because you’re kicking their a**.”

Speaking of veterans, there were hundreds of pro-victory veterans on The Hill during the week sharing their experiences with our elected officials, letting them know why victory was important, and encouraging them to fight through to victory.

Among them were several from Nebraska. They spoke highly of their visits with Congressman Fortenberry and Smith, and with Lee Terry’s chief of staff.

Congressman Smith provided some additional insight.

“Some believe the consequences of an immediate withdrawal would be an acceptable alternative to continuing our efforts to fight against terrorists. I disagree.”

“As the situation changes on the ground in Iraq and their government is able to handle their security concerns, I fully expect our military leaders to continue troop draw-downs. Iraq has made tremendous strides since I visited last year – in large part thanks to General Petraeus and our troops.”

“We need to take care of our men and women in uniform, both on the field of battle and when they return. We must fight to ensure our soldiers receive every resource they need.”

“Because of the dedication and sacrifices of our soldiers and their families, a greater level of security has been brought to a country which has been racked by violence and brutality for decades.”

“Terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda, are on the defense thanks to joint action between allied soldiers and Iraqi security forces. There is still much to be done, but I have full confidence in our military leaders.”

The veterans agree.

General Petraeus on The Hill

Originally Written 8 April

This week will have seen General Petraeus on Capitol Hill updating Congress on the totality of the situation in Iraq.

Liberals will have likely focused on what they believe was a defeat in Basra.

Regardless of the gains against Al Qaeda that have been achieved during the last year, they will have focused on Basra, as one of their last ditch efforts to force our defeat in this war.

Remember, things have been going so well in Iraq, that at the end of February when the Democrats in the Senate tried to push for debate and another vote to surrender, Republicans turned the table on them and voted for that motion to move forward. They wanted to have that debate. They wanted the news about Iraq’s incredible progress and the decimation of Al Qaeda in Iraq to receive the attention it deserved.

In response, Harry Reid changed the Senate’s agenda, dropping the debate and the vote. He couldn’t risk good news about Iraq being spread in the Senate or the national news.

So this week, liberals, like Reid did, will have continued to ignore the progress the Iraqi government made in the last year, the important legislation they passed, the continued reconciliation and cooperation, the growth and capabilities of Iraq’s military, and the dramatic drop in violence. They will have focused on what they believe is a negative, Basra.

So, let’s talk about Basra.

The British turned over this area of southern Iraq quite some time ago. It is an almost entirely Shiite area, which means it has been subjected to the ongoing feud between Muqtada al Sadr’s faction (JAM) and other Shiite factions, primarily the Badr organization, supported by Iran’s Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard.

Basra became the central battleground in the power struggle between these factions and was becoming lawless. Therefore, the Iraqi government was proactively planning a major offensive against all extremist Shiite factions causing trouble there. For some reason, not yet revealed, the Prime Minister launched the offensive early. As such, the fight didn’t go off without a hitch, making it historically similar to other military operations launched without proper preparation. But it was Iraqi initiated, fought, and led, which is significant.

So, how’s it going?

Hundreds of Shiite insurgents have been killed, captured, surrendered, or fled.

A few Iraqi units didn’t perform well or quit, but most of Iraq’s forces are fighting well, some quite ferociously. Less than a thousand non-Iraqi forces were called in to support the fight.

Iraq’s forces fought well enough to bring the battle to a point liberals should have loved, a politically negotiated solution. Representatives from Iraq met with Sadr’s representatives and the Quds force. Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Badr organization agreed to stop their fighting in Basra. Iraqi forces now control most of the city and are only fighting splinter elements of the Shiite factions and other fringe extremists.

So who’s wining? The Iraqi’s, that’s who.

Why? Because despite how the battle’s been reported, the Iraqi government forces actually have the upper hand, have cut off much of the insurgents’ supplies, and inflicted heavy casualties against both the Quds supported and Mahdi Army forces. The Iraqi’s kept fighting and winning, forcing both major insurgent groups to negotiate a settlement.

I know it comes as a surprise to those who believe we should surrender a fight when we’re winning, but this battle is how it’s supposed to work. When you’re winning you keep fighting (like the Iraqi’s did) and when you’re losing (like JAM and the Iranian backed Badr forces were) you quit the fight. The winner gets to stay, the loser goes home.

Not only that, but pressure is now being brought to bear by the majority of the groups in Iraq to have Sadr disband his militia, which he is now actually considering. He has sought the guidance of Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric on the matter.

This week liberals will likely have been focused on the negative aspects of Basra and anything else they could scrounge up. General Petraeus will likely have reported on all the facts about Iraq, the vast majority of which are positive, facts which won’t support the call for us to surrender.

General Petraeus will also have reported on Basra, the facts about which will also not support a liberal desire for our defeat.

And sadly, all the facts General Petraeus brought with him will have only served as a big bucket of desert sand that the defeatists will have once again stuck their heads in.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Harvard Study Links Anti-Resolve Rhetoric to Increased Violence

I can tell from the response to this column that I really struck a nerve with liberals. Guess the truth hurts, especially when confronted with the consequences of action. Some edited and printed version varied from this one and gave the impression that I was trying to endorse squashing dissent on the war, which the column clearly does not do; I would never take such a position, I fought for freedom of speech.

I have been accused of talking over the heads of some at times and I appear to have done that here. So, I'll clarify the four main points on this column for those who had this zip over their heads:
1. Arguing that we should not have gone into Iraq is a valid argument, but it is pointless with regard to solving the current conflict. Making an argument about what we should not have done 5 years ago does not address what we should do now.
2. History and this Harvard study show that anti-resolve rhetoric encourages the enemy in the kind of fight the war on terrorism is. It's an argument I've been making for four years.
3. You are more than free to dissent and protest, but you must also be aware that there are consequences for doing so, those include increased violence.
4. The dissent encourages the enemy to keep fighting.


The criticism about the war in Iraq often crosses the line from pure debate into an unwarranted concession of will and a lack of resolve in the face of terrorists.

There are some whose positions so blatantly argue for defeat at the hands of terrorists that there is no need to even extend them the courtesy of a benefit of the doubt. They simply want us to lose this war. Their rhetoric matches that position.

A recently published study from Harvard points out the danger in such statements. This rhetoric is music to the ears of the terrorists in Iraq.

For those who deny terrorists are in Iraq, those who are still trying to argue 2003 all over again, and those who ignorantly believe it’s a myth that there could be any terrorists in Iraq, wake up to the current situation and quit trying to make the irrelevant five year old argument. If defeating Al Qaeda everywhere in the world actually matters, then it no longer matters if they were in Iraq in 2003 because they are, without doubt, there now. They, along with Iranian backed terrorists, need to be defeated in Iraq.

So why are these opposing positions and statements which demonstrate a lack of resolve music to the ears of terrorists?

Because the method by which lesser military powers (terrorists organizations included) defeat far greater powers is by employing the tactics of an insurgency, the aim of which is not to defeat the greater power militarily, but to crush the will and resolve of that nation’s people.

Statements which show a lack of resolve for our nation’s victory only serve to embolden the enemy during this kind of fight. It gives them exactly what they seek. The defeatist rhetoric from here gives the terrorists what they need because it can ultimately lead to their victory.

They are not trying to defeat our military. They are trying to defeat the will of the American people. Some people happily oblige them and capitulate, and in doing so encourage the terrorists to keep fighting.

I have had some heated exchanges on the subject with politicians, their staffs, and other anti-victory individuals. Others who understand the war against terrorists have also had those same debates.

Last week Harvard confirmed what we inherently knew from our fight against the terrorists in Iraq, the history of insurgencies, and understanding of those motivations which drive the terrorists.

As reported by the UPI, the Harvard research shows that the negative public debate about Iraq has “a measurable ‘emboldenment effect’ on insurgents there.”

The study tracked “anti-resolve” statements by politicians and reports about public opinion to test the belief that criticism of our policy in Iraq encourages the insurgents.

They found “in periods immediately after a spike in anti-resolve statements, the level of insurgent attacks increased between 7 percent and 10 percent.”

”The study also found that attacks increased more in parts of Iraq where there is greater access to international news media, which its authors say increases the credibility of their findings.”

The authors identify an “emboldenment effect by comparing whether anti-resolve statements … have differential impacts on the rate of insurgent attacks in areas with higher and lower access to information about U.S. news.”

They also believe their data tells them that “insurgents in Iraq are rational actors -- responding strategically to changing perceptions of their enemy's will to fight.”

In simple terms, the study shows that where insurgents have the capability to hear the anti-war rhetoric and anti-resolve statements from our country, they are emboldened to attack even more. They also adjust their strategy based on what they hear emanating from our country.

The study’s authors cite their concern that the data will affect the debate on the war, military strategy, and foreign policy. Rightfully so; criticism and debate should not be crushed and the military is always looking for better ways to fight.

But the study does illustrate the danger of crossing the line and demonstrating a lack of resolve, thereby giving the enemy the motivation they need to keep fighting, which is exactly what many of us have repeatedly argued the defeatist crowd is doing.

This study should also tell the defeatists that if they truly want the war in Iraq to end, instead of demanding that we surrender, they should stop emboldening the enemy to keep fighting.

National Security Drives Biofuel Production

The national security need for developing biofuels outweighs what would otherwise be considered questionable government meddling in a free market.

Price supports and production requirements for biofuels bring the artificial influence of government into the realms of energy supply, demand, and pricing. Government price supports distort the monetary value of a product or service, and usually cause some sort of a chain reaction within the market. These chain reactions typically have unforeseen and often undesirable consequences.

Although the government’s influence on biofuel production is a blessing to our state, one that is sure to have a lasting impact on our rural communities, the effects in other markets are undeniable.

In Nebraska, we stand a good chance of having a pending recession buffered by the boost given to our agricultural economy by the production of biofuels. The biofuel industry is a positive development for our farmers, our communities, our state, and a necessity for our national security.

Yet the argument against government sponsored biofuels based on the disruption to free markets and the consequences of doing so has validity, but only if looked at through a free market prism alone.

But we can’t look at it through that single lens because doing so neglects the need and role of biofuels for our national security. This argument trumps free markets this time because it drives supply and innovation toward new sources and infrastructure for our energy needs which can sustain us in the event of national crisis.

The increasing dependence upon foreign sources of oil and an unwillingness to utilize our own sources demand that we fully explore all possible routes for alternative fuels and develop the best ones for our national security.

An argument can be made that tapping into our own oil reserves would rectify the situation for national security interests, but it does not fully reflect reality in our country.

The reality is that the far left is unnaturally forcing us away from petroleum, in a direction and at a pace inconsistent with supply and free markets. They have successfully impeded drilling, refining, and infrastructure expansion to the detriment of consumer needs and national security.

Because they’ve impeded the market, the government has to act quickly and outside the rules of free markets to overcome the obstacle placed in the way of their first role, the defense of the nation.

At some point we’ll run out of petroleum and would have to develop alternative sources anyway. But we’re not there yet, and the verdict is out on how long it would take us to get there without other meddling.

However, we have been forced there prematurely. The zealots of the church of global warming, the environmental lobby, and those who simply fight against capitalism at every turn have successfully blocked further development of the petroleum industry. We as a nation have been incapable of breaking the gridlock they’ve created.

Join that gridlock against domestic oil with the reality of the regimes which control much of the world’s oil, and you have a combination that demands alternative energy sources. When added to the unwillingness we’ve witnessed over the last 6 years by many Americans to sacrifice during a time of war, we end up with an alternative energy demand for both national security and national comfort.

Thus we’re forced to pursue alternatives for consumer needs and defending ourselves should a larger conflict arise than the one we’re presently involved in.

We must have alternatives. Our military is one of the biggest consumers of petroleum products in the world. Without petroleum our military doesn’t function.

Through the development of ethanol and biodiesel we are also developing the means by which our military can still fight without petroleum.

While much of the focus is often on the corn-food-fuel complex, we are also exploring and developing other sources and methods of biofuel production. Not only is the government, often the Defense Department specifically, pushing the move toward alternative sources of energy, but they are also catalyzing the research and development of new fuels for military use, as well as the means by which they can be easily produced and distributed.

Whether oil from algae, switchgrass for ethanol, or hydrogen fuel cells, and whether they’re distributed by nation-wide infrastructure systems or produced 500 gallons at a time by embedded military units, the Defense Department is exploring and driving its options for the future. These biofuel innovations are a security necessity for a nation whose political correctness is driving its energy and economic policies.

Change Based on Reality

We all want change. Whether we simply accept its inevitability or seek resolution to those things which need fixed, we want change. But shouldn’t we pursue change for the better?

To change for the better we need forward thinking leadership that has learned from both the successes and failures of the past, not leadership which seeks a change back to the failed policies of the past.

You can’t hope for a better future if you ignore the lessons of the past.

Why then change back to those tax rates which failed us in the past? Why change back to a system which punishes ingenuity, hard work, risk taking, and accomplishment through confiscatory tax rates? We need change that does not punish us for moving ourselves up from lower incomes.

Everyone under the age of 45 needs change. Millions and millions of dollars have been taken from a lifetime of their paychecks for Social Security. Those workers are guaranteed to never see that money from this “sure to be bankrupt” system. We need someone with the courage to let us keep some of our own money for retirement or to fix the problem, not someone who demagogued the issue and refused to act when someone else tried to fix it.

We need our taxes lowered so that we can save more money for our children’s college education. We don’t want change which promises a government program or intervention on their behalf. We need change that allows personal hard work and achievement to pave the way, not the government.

We want leadership courageous and smart enough to understand that government-run health care does not work. Where it exists, it fails miserably in comparison to our system. We want change that fixes the problems in the system so all can afford it, not change that advocates a government take over of the system which will only lead to poorer health care, less access, and a crippling tax burden to pay for it.

We need change that is bright enough to understand, and courageous enough to fix the entitlement programs that are on the way to breaking our country. The addition of nearly 1 trillion dollars every year to those programs and other new entitlements is not change that is either bright or courageous.

We need someone who understands the challenges of the world, and among them is confronting the threats that exist. We can’t afford to change back to someone who believes they can simply talk, be nice, and all will be solved. We’ve seen where that approach fails. Why then change back to a bunker mentality which only hopes for the best? We want change, but not change that has already forgotten what led to WWII and 9/11.

We need leadership that understands the current oil situation, the goals for alternatives in the future, and the need to bridge the gap while in transition to them. We don’t need change which promises to throw us into the abyss while attempting to leap over the divide.

We need leadership that changes the paradigm on arguments about personal freedom back to our country’s origins. Instead of asking how far we can infringe on the 2nd Amendment, we should be figuring out which gun laws to cancel. We should be championing tolerance of everyone’s faith, not championing groups like the ACLU who are intent on destroying it. We should be discussing ways to remove the barriers to everyone’s success, not promising more regulation and bigger government.

We need leadership which understands that solutions have always been found in the American people, not the American government. Why then change back to leadership which advocates a “nanny state” to address our needs? Why change back to leadership which advocates a government program for everything rather than relying on the freedom and empowerment of people to solve problems?

We need leadership that remembers it’s our role to exercise our freedom, and that the government’s role isn’t to tell us how. We need change that reinvigorates freedom from government, not change that advocates bigger government consolidating power unto itself.

That’s the change we need. Not change whose primary hope is that people have forgotten the lessons of the past. Not change which ignores the successes while resurrecting the policies and philosophies which have previously failed and will surely fail again.

True hope and change for a better future can not ignore the reality of history’s lessons.

4 Senate Candidates Views on Iraq, the Broader War on Terror, and the Military

Since originally having this column printed, it appears that Tony Raimondo's position has swung to the left and I would have to amend my closing comments. I now have serious doubts about his position on the war in Iraq.

Senate Candidates Answer Questions on Iraq, National Security, Military

I recently posed questions to four of our candidates running for U.S. Senate on the issues of Iraq, the broader war on terrorism, national security, and the military. Three of them provided enough detail to write entire columns about. I’ve provided the representative highlights.

Pat Flynn initially contacted me to discuss these issues. In Iraq, he believes in continuing to fight Al Qaeda and seeing “The Surge” through to completion, noting that “he’s always believed in it.” He added that we’ve failed in sending the message about the broader implications for winning in Iraq, and that we need to let the Generals fight the war, not the Senators. Too often politics is trumping national security.

He sees the war against Islamic extremists as a war in which America needs to have “resolve and perseverance,” one in which we must never be willing to give up, citing Churchill’s resolve during World War II. In that light, he notes this fight against terrorism as more than just a fight with Osama bin Laden.

Flynn sees China and illegal immigration as concerns for national security.

He also believes that our military is currently under-funded and that we must give them what they need to win, and then take care of them when they come home.

Via e-mail, Tony Raimondo provided detailed answers on these issues.

On Al Qaeda in Iraq, he expressed that “It is important that in the effort to defeat terrorism around the globe we must continue to fight Al Qaeda and other terrorists in Iraq.” He is “not for setting an arbitrary date for troop withdrawal,” prefers “transferring authority for security and military operations to the Iraqis as quickly as possible,” and focusing our efforts “on the missions that are in our national security interests.” He specifically noted that “we do not have an open-ended commitment there.”

Raimondo feels that “a strong partnership with NATO in Afghanistan will ease the burden on our own military and send a message to the world that defeating terrorism is a global initiative, not a U.S. unilateral endeavor.”

He says our military needs “The three R’s - recruitment, retention, replenishment” and that “The Pentagon and the Congress need to devise a plan to replenish our military, to ensure our soldiers are properly trained and equipped so they can meet the national security challenges of tomorrow.”

Mr. Raimondo also feels it’s important “to keep our promise as a nation to our returning soldiers and veterans. They have sacrificed much for our country…Our returning heroes shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves. We owe it to them to give them the care they need.”

In a phone call with Secretary Johanns, he provided comments which were quite thorough in each of these areas.

He’s been to Iraq and has no doubts that Al Qaeda is there. In Iraq and elsewhere, he believes Al Qaeda is “an enemy like none we’ve ever fought, intent on ending our role in the world. We can’t walk away from that.” He further believes there is no question that the war on terrorism is very real, not just a few isolated events of extremism we need to confront.

He says he would like to see the Iraqi government doing more and moving faster, but understands the challenges inherent to their country and the birth pains of a new democracy.

Johanns believes we need to send messages to both the Iraqis and our troops that we will stand behind them, especially given the success our troops have had with “The Surge” and the recent progress of the Iraqis, politically and militarily, under difficult circumstances.

He, as did Raimondo, noted several countries as ones to watch and others as allies to work with. He cited his experience as Secretary of Agriculture working with representatives from many of those countries as an opportunity to build upon.

“We need to stand behind our troops,” Johanns implored, noting his dismay over the mixed signals we send them with the politics surrounding the war. Not only was he adamant about equipping them to win any conflict, but to also care for a lifetime of needs when they return.

Scott Kleeb’s stand on these issues is not defined, or even outlined for that matter.

Ambiguous answers to previous questions by others showed through in the response to the same detailed questions I posed to all the candidates. The Kleeb camp simply replied that they were still building their campaign and not yet ready to answer detailed questions on these issues.

We’ll have to wait for his answers to one of the “biggest issues facing America,” and see how influential his contacts with the radical, far left, defeatists at the Daily Kos are to those answers.

It appears Nebraskans are fortunate to have three candidates who’ve taken solid positions on these issues which reflect the reality of the challenges in Iraq, the rest of the war on terrorism, national security, and our military.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More Comments on Senate Candidates

Starting today, some Nebraska newspapers will be running my column on the views of our Senate candidates' stands on Iraq, the rest of the war on terrorism, national security, and our military. I won't post the column here for a while, so that it hits the papers first.

For my columns I have to target about 750 words, and ended up with 820 for this one. I did the best I could to provide the ideas and quotes which best reflected the views of three candidates on the subjects in question. In some ways it didn't do justice to the views of Johanns and Raimondo, or the information they provided. The fourth, Scott Kleeb, was not yet prepared to answer the detailed questions I was asking.

If more space would have been available, I would have added many quotes and ideas from both Mike Johanns and Tony Raimondo. (I would add them here, heck, I'd publish my notes if I could, but I did not ask any of the campaigns if I could do so in this forum. To do so now, without permission, would be somewhat of a breach of trust, so I won't, unless they consent to such.)

Both Johanns and Raimondo provided quite a bit of detailed information on the subject that was thorough, well thought out, consistent with, and applicable to actually confronting the challenges in these areas. Their knowledge and positions were most likely to help achieve positive outcomes.

Johanns had the benefit of actually being able to talk with me about the subjects, which always provides a clearer picture of where one stands. He was unhesitant in his description, analysis, and solutions. There was no pausing to choose the right words, they just came. We should feel quite comfortable with Mike Johanns in this arena.

Not to be dismissed was Raimondo's answers via e-mail. They reflected a good command of the subject, especially with regard to the effect of other countries on our economy and national security. I had a little difficulty reaching the right people to ask those questions, but when I did, the answers came very quickly in reply. That tells me he's been thinking about, paying attention to, and preparing solutions, as we should expect of someone who wants to be our U.S. Senator.

Pat Flynn has the right take on the situation in Iraq, national security, the war on terrorism, and our military, and is starting to look at other threats we face. His overall understanding and philosophy were good, he just didn't have the details the other two did yet.

Had I had more space in the column, I'd have made further analysis of Scott Kleeb's inability to answer the same questions I posed to the others. I'd have also reviewed some quotes from an Omaha World Herald article from the 25th or 28th of Feb. (I'd have to go back and look that up. It's the same one he has on his website.)

His answer about Iraq is one of the better "non-answer answers" I've seen on the subject, and I know this subject. I've watched, read, and listened to politicians talk about Iraq for four years now. These issues are a daily study for me. Comparatively, his statements in that article, were ambiguous at best. They reflect someone who doesn't know the issues or is trying to mask an unpopular position on them.

I'll go with the non-sinister version, and assume he doesn't know the issues. I think we should be uneasy with someone who ran for Congress two years ago, has obviously been leaning toward running for something, but doesn't have a good enough grasp of the situation to answer questions on what he himself admits is one of the two biggest issues we face. Did he have a position back then?

He's had plenty of time to prepare both himself and the answers to tough, detailed questions on these issues. He's campaigned for national office before. He no longer gets the new guy pass. After all, he and Raimondo jumped in at the same time, but Raimondo was more than capable of demonstrating a good grasp of these subjects and was able to provide very detailed answers. Answers that represent where I believe other Nebraskans stand.

Maybe he'll come up with answers. I hope they're good ones that reflect the reality of the challenges in the world. But right now, he doesn't pass the test.

We'll see where the next couple months take us with these four. (No, I haven't forgotten about the other Democrat running. I only get so much space, and these were the four of highest profile.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Extremists and our Candidates' Web Site Comments on Them

During the last month we were given several stark reminders about the nature of the extremist elements who threaten us.

The latest came Monday when a man in a wheelchair blew himself up at an Iraqi police station, killing several police officers as well.
Moroccan authorities arrested 32 members of an Al Qaeda linked terrorist network which was planning to assassinate cabinet ministers and members of the small Jewish community there.

We learned that a recent suicide bombing which claimed the lives of about 100 people in a Baghdad market was actually carried out by two mentally incompetent women from a mental health facility. They were unwittingly rigged with explosives, sent into the crowded market by terrorists, and then remotely detonated.

In a series of reports in February, we followed the attempts of jihadists to take over the country of Chad. Chad has been of assistance with aid to the victims of genocide in Darfur and is instrumental to new humanitarian initiatives in Sudan backed by the U.N., E.U., and the African Union. But in a pre-emptive strike, the armed opposition of Chad backed by the Sudanese government and Wahabi extremists attacked and nearly took down the Chadian government. The Janjaweed fundamentalists nearly consolidated a larger power base in the region from which they would surely continue to inflict their terrorism on any one not like them. As if the suffering in Sudan weren't enough, these belligerents thought it also necessary to prevent anyone from coming to their aid.

We were also treated to two Al Qaeda videos, one of which showed a training session for young boys being taught how to kill and kidnap, and another of the rescue of a young boy who had been kidnapped. He was being held for ransom, threatened with death if his family did not pay. Experience tells us the terrorist's beheading threat was not idle.

Using the mentally and physically handicapped as human bombs, kidnapping and killing children, teaching children to kill, engaging in the atrocities taking place in Darfur and attacking those who would assist the victims should remind all of us what it is we face in the world.

Given the nature and facts of this threat, it is imperative that we understand and analyze the positions of those who seek to represent us in D.C. on the issues of extremism, Iraq, the rest of the war on terrorism, national security, and the military.

In addition to our newspapers, one of the most public sources for a candidate's stand on the issues comes from their websites. As of Monday, the following information was found for our Senatorial candidates on the topic:

Tony Raimondo's lone reference was three sentences, "our national security demands a fresh approach. We face new challenges every day. These new challenges demand new leadership with new ideas."

Scott Kleeb's lone reference was listing as one of the challenges we face, "a global threat of extremism."

It's fair to assume that their very recent entry into the fray explained the lack of information about their positions and more could be expected in the future.

Pat Flynn's website provided more detailed information on the issue, everything from Iraq to illegal immigration, including: "One way we will guarantee the freedom and security of our country is through a strong National Defense." He states that "The war on terror is winnable, and that includes the current battlefront in Iraq. I believe Iraq is the center of the war against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the world today. It is clear that these groups are being funded and armed by terrorist stronghold countries, and their resolve to win is great. Our resolve must be greater!"

He further adds, "We need to support our military with renewed troop strength, hardware updates, and a missile defense shield."

Mike Johanns has a section on the War on Terror with the following, "Islamic terrorists, who have proven they hate America and have no regard for innocent human life, have declared war on the United States. It is a long-term threat that requires our constant vigilance and courageII do not agree with those who advocate surrender and retreat in Iraq. I believe we must support our military and work for a quick and victorious resolution to win the war against terrorists and extremists who threaten free people and seek to do our nation harm."

Analysis will be made of all the information available on these positions for the candidates in future columns. If anyone decides to run against Adrian Smith the same will be done for that race.

It should be an interesting run into May.

Lessons During Two Years of Writing

When you write a column on a Sunday or Monday, but don’t have it printed until later in the week there’s always a chance the week’s events could change the impact of the column. After two years it finally happened.

Last week’s column calling for a Diplomatic Surge in Iraq was penned, but not printed before some outstanding news came from Iraq.

Iraqi lawmaker’s passed three long-awaited measures that bode well for the future of the country and the political process there. They passed a budget for 2008, a law which detailed provincial powers and prepared for provincial elections this fall, and approved amnesty for prisoners being held but not charged. The last measure met yet another of our “benchmarks” for success.

In combining the measures into one piece of legislation, the three major factions showed much reconciliation and cooperation, although the process was contentious at times. But the success of the process certainly gives hope to the likelihood of needed future legislation.

Although the reporting and analysis of the legislation, the events leading up to it, and its impact for the future varied from pessimistic to very optimistic, this legislation is yet another step forward for the country.

If the State Department was instrumental to assisting Iraq’s politicians with this legislation, I’ll reconsider my position, but they would need to keep up the good work. This could even be a point of hope in that the State Department has finally found a way to overcome their own bureaucracy to make something happen.

If the Iraqi’s acted of their own accord, then the Miranda memo cited here about the State Department’s ineptitude and the Iraqi’s capabilities was well timed.

Highlighting the change in the week’s events leads to one of the lessons learned during two years of daily research and weekly writing. It’s actually relearned after watching politicians and party officials be incorrect or on the wrong side of on an issue, but unwilling to change course when new facts highlight the need for change. Whether stuck in our own paradigm or adamantly following a party line without foundational principles, an unwillingness or incapacity for change is something we should avoid.

I’ve learned to look for the differences in positions and at different perspectives, regardless of an individual’s political affiliation or foundation, instead of assuming affiliation matched position. For example, Senator Nelson has a moderate stance on Iraq, contrary to many in his party, whereas Senator Hagel’s position is most likely to match what is often considered liberal. Both usually contradict their own party on the subject, and Senator Hagel’s position is contrary to his conservative ideals in other areas. I’ve learned, and am still learning when to agree or disagree with individuals and well-defined groups on specific issues, and when a broad-brush is appropriate.

I’ve also learned to give credit where credit is due. Although I adamantly disagree with Senator Hagel on the war in Iraq, he should be commended for his movement on what is being touted as a G.I. Bill for the 21st Century. The old G.I. Bill had done well in its time, but an update has been sorely needed. Senator Hagel, along with Senator Webb of Virginia, has introduced the “Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Assistance Act” to provide benefits that reflect current costs of education and living.

After spending some time in Washington D.C., I’ve learned just how busy our elected officials can be. They run rigorous, tight schedules both in D.C. and back home. Although I have disagreed with them on issues, I would never criticize or accuse them of neglect or laziness for missing a vote or declining attendance at an event. Anyone who would really needs to pay more attention to the demands on our elected officials in Washington.

I’ve learned to laugh at the contacts from those who anonymously disagree. Although their ramblings have been humorous, I’ve found the lack of courage to put a name on the criticism even funnier. While I respect those who have publicly disagreed with their names intact, the anonymous “hate-mail” ends up where it’s best suited, in the circular file.

Those who anonymously disagree have steeled my resolve to keep writing more than they know (until now), but not as much as those who’ve contacted me and asked me to keep writing. I’ve learned this perspective is in far more demand than I thought, so I will.

Diplomatic Surge in Iraq is Overdue

I have argued with lawmakers since September, given the undeniable success of the military Surge in Iraq, that what was now needed was a Diplomatic Surge. The military had succeeded, but the Iraqi government was struggling to move forward at an acceptable pace.

It’s not that we’d left the Iraqi government all alone through the process of standing up their own democracy, or so it seemed. Our country had given them what was supposed to be the advantage of hundreds, if not thousands, of State Department officials and contractors to guide them through the process. Yet despite all the expertise in diplomacy and nuance of such delicate matters so many members of the State Department claim to have, it was apparent that they were failing to assist Iraq’s legislative efforts.

Their obvious lack of progress became the cornerstone to the calls for a Diplomatic Surge.

Now, a 10 page memo to Ambassador Crocker from a recently resigned contract employee, Manuel Miranda, would confirm the need for a Diplomatic Surge. Mr. Miranda served with the State Department as the Senior Advisor for Legislative Framework in the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.

Mr. Miranda criticizes the State Department and Foreign Service throughout his memo, highlighting many areas where they are not only inefficient, but also completely ineffective, incapable of assisting the Iraqi’s with their government – the very mission which defines their presence and purpose in Iraq.

Mr. Miranda describes incredible shortcomings in several key areas and points out where the culture and incompetence of the State Department and Foreign Service are causing further failures. He provides detailed analysis of the State Department’s inadequate management profile, the false premises under which they operate, trouble with information flow and management, excuses on legislative benchmarks, and the rule of law. Most notable among his criticisms were:

“…we have brought to Iraq the worst of America – our bureaucrats…”

“…the State Department and the Foreign Service are not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq.”

“The State Department bureaucracy is not equipped to handle the urgency of America’s Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds.”

“Foreign Service Officers…are not equipped to manage programs, hundreds of millions in funds, and expert human capital assets…other than diplomacy, your only expertise is in your own bureaucracy…”

“…they do not have the leadership profiles or management experience called for by the nation’s high sacrifice of blood and treasure.”

“The embassy is also severely encumbered by the Foreign Service’s built-in attention deficit disorder…”

“At the keystone moment that America’s leaders and people were pained over the debate of our continued national sacrifice, the Baghdad Embassy was doing a bureaucratic imitation of the Keystone Cops…”

“Any American graduate school study group could do better.”

“…the State Department has been an albatross around the neck of the Coalition command...”

Mr. Miranda also provides his assessment of what he calls one of the State Department and Foreign Service’s mantras, “that political success in Iraq depends entirely on Iraqis.”

He says it “amounts to little more than excuse-making by people who cannot imagine alternative paths and who are limited by their own limited experience in government and economic development,” and “is over-used as an excuse by bureaucrats who simply do not have the ability of conceiving or executing scenarios of institution-building assistance that does not comport with their past experience and over-cautious diplomatic instincts.”

He adds that “the excuse-making tendency of the Foreign Service is most evident in the areas of meeting Legislative Benchmarks and Rule of Law objectives.”

Interestingly, those comments not only have implications for the State Department and Foreign Service, but also apply to the politicians here at home who are obsessed with the Legislative Benchmarks and use the same mantra about the Iraqis as an excuse when they try to justify a precipitous withdrawal or a change in mission.

Ultimately, our military has performed superbly, providing the necessary security conditions for Iraq to move forward. The Iraqis are competent to move their governmental affairs forward. But they need assistance. After a lifetime of dictatorial oppression by Saddam Hussein, they need someone to provide leadership in showing them the way to their own democracy. That leadership has obviously not come, nor is it likely to come from our State Department. It is past the time for a Diplomatic Surge in Iraq under and with plenty of new embedded leadership that comes from outside the State Department and Foreign Service.