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July 31, 2003

Reports from the frontlines

One of the best things about the web is that it enables ordinary folks to write about their first hand observations and experiences and share them with a potentially huge audience.   When these ordinary people are in the middle of extraordinary events (like the occupation of Iraq, for example) these observations can be a very useful source of information.

Here are some recent posts that I have stumbled across from soldiers on duty in Iraq.

Also, be sure to read any one of a number of posts from these military bloggers based in or near Iraq:

Finally, the always interesting Salam Pax is worth reading to see what at least one educated, articulate Iraqi thinks about what's going on.

July 31, 2003 at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 30, 2003

We'll show Al Queda some "suicide hijackings"

Does anyone take seriously the intelligence warning that our friends in Al Queda may be planning to try some more hijackings of civilian airliners this summer?   If its true (and it may well be), those bastards will learn something about the American people up close and personal.   Simply put, there is no way in hell that a plane load of Americans is going to allow themselves to be hijacked without a violent struggle.

If the terrorists have some chemical weapons or debilitating drugs, it may be possible for them to prevail even though they are outnumbered.   But there is absolutely no way that passengers will allow themselves to be conned and intimidated into cooperating with their abductors.

For my part, I would welcome the privilege of being on board one of the targeted flights.   As long as I got to bring home an ear or an eyeball from one of the terrorists as a souvenir.   All I know is that I would either come home with blood under my fingernails and in between my teeth or else I wouldn't be coming home at all.   I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one who feels this way, either.

After my blood pressure returned to normal and I re-read the previous paragraph, I decided that it was kind of silly.   What I meant to say was that Americans are not sheep and are not stupid.   When faced with certain death, they will do everything in their power to resist, as the heros on Flight 93 demonstrated.   This time around, the cockpit door will be locked and armored.   The pilots will have their fire axe, and quite possibly a pistol or two.   And the passengers will be kicking, screaming, punching, scratching, biting and throwing things.

The plane may crash in the ensuing chaos and destabilizing shifts in weight and balance.   People may well be killed.   But I think that it is highly unlikely that anyone will be able to successfully use an airliner as a guided cruise missile again anytime soon.   At least not here, and certainly not now.

July 30, 2003 at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Those poor, poor Palestinians

First they turn down a negotiated settlement that would have given them an independent state on more than 90% of the occupied territories.   Then they started a bloody war against Israeli civilians, using suicide attacks.   While they succeeded in killing a lot of Israelis, the Palestinians lost this war; leading to the Israeli re-occupation of Palestinian towns and the destruction of much of the administrative infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.

As part of the Israeli effort to defend its population from the barbaric suicide bombs in restaurants, nightclubs and crowded marketplaces, Israel began building a wall around its borders to keep Palestinian terrorists out.   Now the Palestinians are protesting that a wall around Israel will prevent their people from getting jobs in the only developed economy in the region.

My heart really goes out to them.  

July 30, 2003 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 28, 2003

Is it possible we may be winning the peace?

If you've been reading the mainstream press or watching television network news, you might be tempted to believe (along with Dick Gephardt) that US troops in Iraq are facing a "looming quagmire... on our shoulders".   Leaving aside the practical question of whether one can ever have a quagmire on one's shoulders, there may be some early evidence that things in Iraq may actually be heading our way.

For example, read this encouraging piece from the WSJ's Paul Gigot regarding his recent visit to Iraq.   Gigot reports that the morale of US troops is far better than is being reported, and that the Iraqis' greatest fear is that US forces will leave Iraq too soon.

Or this article from today's WaPo by Thomas Hicks, reporting on the aggressive new tactics being used to counter guerilla attacks on US forces.   According to Hicks, senior US military commanders appear to be confident that that we have seen the worst of the attacks from the remaining Baathist diehards.

Only time will tell, but I believe that those who wringing their hands about the lack of progress being made in Iraq will eventually be proven to be as wrong about this as they have been about all other aspects of the war.

July 28, 2003 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2003

Ever seen a purple bear?

Look here.

July 27, 2003 at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Baroque horror in Bagdad

Today's UK Sunday Times has an interview with the late Uday Hussein's chief executioner, Lt. Col. "Abu Ahmad":

The executioner said that he was ordered to seize two 19-year-old students and take them to a farm of Uday Hussein, Saddam’s oldest son who was killed by American forces last week.

As soon as they arrived the students were dragged to a cage containing the lions and forced inside. “I saw the head of the first student literally come off his body with the first bite,” he said. He then had to stand and watch the animals devour the two young men: “By the time they were finished there was little left but for the bones and bits and pieces of unwanted flesh.”

Unbelievable.   Read the whole thing.

July 27, 2003 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 26, 2003

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld...

As I have previously written here and here, I think its time that we created a new branch of the armed forces (to complement the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines).   This new service, the Reconstruction Corps, for the sake of discussion (anyone else have a catchier name to suggest?), would specialize in peacekeeping, disaster relief, and nation building...   Exactly the kinds of mission that we have been dropping the ball on in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and (potentially) Liberia and the Congo.

Why do we need a specialized force to carry out these missions?   Well there are many reasons, but first and foremost is that the challenge facing any peacekeeping or stabilization force are very different from the missions that our armed forces are trained for.   Furthermore, the task of rebuilding a war-torn society is very difficult, even under the best conditions, and requires special skills, attitudes, and capabilities not often found in our existing service branches.

These capabilities are becoming more important for protecting US national security. As the world's only "hyperpower", the US will increasingly be called upon to intervene in foreign conflicts (witness Kofi Annan's recent calls for US intervention in Liberia).   Prior to 9/11, it was far from clear that "nation building" (as the abortive humanitarian mission in Somalia had been termed) was in the US national interests.   However, post-9/11, it is clear that failed states and power vacuums are vital sanctuaries for international terrorists.   To protect NYC and Washington (not to mention London or Bali) from Al Queda and its other nihilist allies, the US is going to be forced to ensure that effective governments committed to fighting international terror are in place throughout the world.   Unpleasant and costly though this effort may be, it is imperative if we want to have a chance of preventing another major terrorist attack on a Western city.

Secretary Rumsfeld is right when he argues that modern military technology, innovative tactics, and judicious use of air power have reduced our need for the traditional heavy armored divisions that were the mainstay of the Cold War era military.   However, as the recent debate over necessary troop levels in Iraq, and the limited resources currently available to relieve the troops on duty in Iraq, release the reservists called up to active duty, maintain the peace in Korea, and respond to new challenges in Liberia or elsewhere, there is a need for more "boots on the ground".   But, I would argue, the boots we actually need are not those belonging to soldiers from the heavy, expensively equipped, war fighting units like the 3rd Infantry Division.

Instead, a manpower and skill intensive infantry force, lightly armed but heavily trained, would be far better suited to the constabulary duties required for peacekeeping.   Such a force, staffed by an officer corps that has dedicated their careers to the specialized duties of peacekeeping and reconstruction, would be much more effective in restoring order and essential services in areas where they were assigned.

Because this Reconstruction Corps would train and "war game" realistic scenarios similar to post-war Iraq or Liberia, they would be faster off the mark in responding than would conventional forces.   Similarly, since they can anticipate needing to coordinate with other nation's forces, NGOs, and specialized civilian contractors (for example, telecommunications providers and suppliers of specialized help in restoring or establishing adequate water, sewer and energy supplies, etc.), procedures and working arrangements would be developed before they needed to be put into operation.

From a domestic political perspective, the Administration might face opposition to requests for funding to, say, reactivate an additional Army or Marine Corps division.   However, creating a non-combat oriented service, dedicated to humanitarian service and peace keeping, would be much more popular among the traditional left than would traditional military spending.   Recruitment for this all volunteer force might also be easier among people who might otherwise be reluctant to join a war fighting branch of the service.

Finally, this Reconstruction Corps would develop and refine capabilities that would be sorely needed to adequately respond to a major domestic terror attack.   For example, the fast responding medical and logistic resources of this Corps would be invaluable in a chemical or nuclear attack on a major US city.   While other similar resources exist in the conventional armed services, non of them train to respond to mass casualty scenarios in a domestic setting.

Mr. Secretary, the Reconstruction Corps is an idea whose time has come, and you are just the sort of visionary leader that can help make it a reality.

July 26, 2003 at 10:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cuba on the Precipice

Thoughtful OpEd essay in today's WaPo on the challenges facing Cuba as Fidel's mental and emotional stability declines, by Brian Latell.   (Latell is a retired CIA Latin American specialist who is now writing and teaching at Georgetown's Center for Strategic & International Studies.)   His essay points out that as Cuba's creaking economy faces its greatest crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro's leadership has become increasingly erratic.   Its worth a look.

July 26, 2003 at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 24, 2003

A tale of two dailies

There is an interesting opportunity to compare and contrast the NYT's and the NY Sun's handing of yesterday's tragic City Hall fatal shooting of City Councilman James Davis.

The NYT ran a rather flat profile of the larger-than-life Councilman Davis written by Jonathan P. Hicks (with Diane Cardwell, as per the NYT's new post-Blair attribution policy).   They also ran a closing-the-barn-door lead editiorial focusing on the need to require everyone (including public officials) to go through security searches.  (Yawn.)   They also managed to get in a dig at the murdered Councilman (and advance their own political agenda) by describing him as "a community activist who campaigned against gun violence but was licensed to carry a gun".

In contrast, the Sun ran a superb profile of Councilman Davis by Errol Louis, who not only knew Davis well, but actually ran against him for public office in 1997.   They also ran a moving lead editorial lamenting Davis' passing and recognizing his admirable grit and energy.

Now, which of the two is NY's "quality" daily?

July 24, 2003 at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 22, 2003

Where is Mr. Blackwell when you need him?

U.S. Ambassador John Blaney - wearing a flak jacket and helmet Can't the State Department afford to get this guy a decent flak jacket?    This is embarrassing.

July 22, 2003 at 08:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack