Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why Not Stay Home?

An AP story tells of Senator-elect Jim Webb's desire to avoid the President in a White House reception for new Congress members.

Democratic Sen.-elect Jim Webb avoided the receiving line during a recent White House reception for new members of Congress and had a chilly exchange with President Bush over the Iraq war and his Marine son.

"How's your boy?" Webb, in an interview Wednesday, recalled Bush asking during the reception two weeks ago.

"I told him I'd like to get them out of Iraq," Webb said.

"That's not what I asked. How's your boy?" the president replied, according to Webb.

At that point, Webb said, Bush got a response similar to what reporters and others who had asked Webb about Lance Cpl. Jimmy Webb, 24, have received since the young man left for Iraq around Labor Day: "I told him that was between my boy and me."

Webb, a leading critic of the Iraq war, said that he had avoided the receiving line and photo op with Bush, but that the president found him.

It was a White House reception for crying out loud. Who did Webb expect to meet there? And why act offended when the host seeks you out and asks a question any normal, caring person would ask? Maybe the President should have acted like he didn't know Webb from a hill of beans or that Webb's son was serving in Iraq. Of course, then the story would have been that President Bush doesn't care enough about the troops to know that a freshman Democrat Senator has a son serving.

Webb was Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. He obviously didn't learn anything from Reagan about the importance of civility and treating leaders of the other party, not to mention the President, with respect.

Hopefully, in the next six years he'll learn some manners he missed during his time serving under President Reagan.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Democracy Win or Lose

In his November 19th column, Mark Steyn makes the case for the Bush push for democracy in Iraq--even if it fails.

1. Just because it's right for the US to promote and support democracy wherever it sprouts.

However, I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds -- first, for "utopian" reasons: If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists' preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats).
[emphasis mine]

2. Because it is the only ideology that has a chance to stand against the totalitarian islamism now being imposed on the Middle East.

But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective: Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs' heads. It's one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective. In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang. However it turns out, it's the "realist" option.
[emphasis mine]

But, why, oh why, does the President state the case so poorly? Not with the eloquence of Prime Minister Tony Blair nor with the clear-headed analysis of Mark Steyn. Is the problem that President Bush is basing his calculations on a false assumption? While we do hold it as self-evident that

all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . .

The salient point is that they are "endowed by their Creator" with rights. Which is different than saying that those rights are the highest value for the individual. Steyn points to the problem in how President Bush explains the issue.

The president doesn't frame it like that, alas. Instead, he says stuff like: "Freedom is the desire of every human heart." Really? It's unclear whether that's the case in Gaza and the Sunni Triangle. But it's absolutely certain that it's not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, Toronto and New Orleans. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government "security," large numbers of people vote to dump freedom -- the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, seat belts and a ton of other stuff. I would welcome the president using "Freedom is the desire of every human heart" in Chicago and Dallas, and, if it catches on there, then applying it to Ramadi and Tikrit.
[emphasis mine]

If you assume that people will rush for freedom even against great odds, you will make policy choices differently than if you assume that there has to be some real chance of success for people to risk their lives to choose freedom and democracy over authoritarian government.

Perhaps this false assumption that the deck is overwhelmingly stacked in favor of democracy is why every so often it comes out that we are handicapping ourselves to play fair even when the other side never plays fair.

When the other side doesn't play fair, you have to toughen the response.

We have recognized this in our laws in dealing with organized crime and drug cartels.

We recognized this in World War II. The rate of taking prisoners-of-war was much higher in the European theater than in the Pacific theater because the enemy's rules of engagement was decidedly different in each theater. German prisoners-of-war didn't try to kill medics and those who tried to help them. Japanese prisoners-of-war did.

Along with Mark Steyn, I believe the current policy is the best one on the table. But, the implementation of it needs to be re-worked to conform with the realities of dealing with a brutal enemy that values neither freedom nor human life.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Helping Orphans in Afghanistan Criticized

I picked up the Wednesday Oregonian and to my surprise there was a front page story with two, count 'em two, photos on Oregon Guard members serving in Afghanistan. Not only that there were two more short stories about Oregon Guard aid projects inside.

Wow! After complaining about the lack of Oregonian coverage of Oregonians serving in Iraq, I would have been pleased to take it all back for coverage of Oregonians serving in Afghanistan.

The story started out great. It noted how the Oregon Guard is training Afghans to protect themselves and helping the Afghan people via projects that aid orphans and build clinics, roads, and schools.

Suicide bombers are emerging, winter is coming, and Americans are in no mood for more war. Can Afghanistan be saved?

From his plywood office in Kabul where he commands 4,565 soldiers, Oregon's Brig. Gen. Douglas Pritt says yes -- because the Afghans want better lives.

Despite daily frustrations in what they say is "the forgotten war," Oregon National Guard soldiers say they are teaching the Afghan National Army to fire heavy artillery. They are clothing orphans and dicing $2 million into as many clinics and roads as possible "to touch as many lives as possible," said Pritt.

"We just built a school," Pritt said. "The whole town turned out and began singing to us like it was a parade."

Apparently reporter Julie Sullivan got her information from a distance, via telephone calls and e-mails, but, hey, that's a start.

In telephone calls and e-mails, Pritt and his staff describe a role much like the Guard's role at home: turning ordinary guys into an army, showing up in a crisis, rendering relief to those in need.

But in a nation staggering from poverty and new waves of violence, reality is far more complicated. Five task force members, including Staff Sgt. Brad Lindsey of Troutdale and an Afghan interpreter, have died from roadside bombs and enemy fire. Although some soldiers move safely in many areas, others in the southern region around Kandahar and the Pakistan border face all-out combat. In all, 289 soldiers have been killed.

However, embedded in the story is a criticism of the help the Guard is giving.

But even delivering such aid has unintended consequences. Humanitarian experts say that when aid is delivered by an army -- and linked to political, diplomatic, economic or religious goals -- it jeopardizes the security of civilian aid workers who rely on the local population's trust that they are there only to provide aid. Experts say plenty of nongovernmental organizations and United Nations organizations could distribute that assistance.

I hate to break it to "humanitarian experts" but being a foreigner in itself is cause for the population to distrust those who distribute help. And in Islamic countries, being non-Muslim, is also cause for distrust.

If "humanitarian experts" really wanted to be effective, they would pump all their aid and resources through Afghan Islamic charities and hire only Afghan Islamic doctors and workers to do it. But, that would cut the channels of aid down to a trickle--not to mention deprive aid agencies of taking credit for aid given.

Beside the fact that the UN has shown a talent for siphoning off big chunks of aid (Food for Oil) to enrich people all along the UN/diplomat pipeline, it's interesting that no one is keeping the UN or NGO's out of Afghanistan. The International Red Cross has a lot of aid projects going on there. I guess Julie Sullivan didn't telephone or e-mail them.

The reason more NGO's are not giving aid like the Oregon Guard is because it's dangerous.

"I do not want to question the generosity of individuals; I know the soldiers on the ground, at the individual level, are really moved by very sincere convictions and generosity," Fabien Dubuet, an international law specialist and the U.N. representative for Doctors without Borders, said in an interview. "But in the war on terror . . ., in Iraq and Darfur, humanitarian work is more and more perceived as part of the Western agenda."

In June 2004, five staff members of the international medical humanitarian organization were shot to death in northwest Afghanistan. Doctors Without Borders withdrew from the country where it had worked for 24 years and has not returned in large part because no one has been convicted of the crime.

It's a not so hidden secret that NGO's, though doing much good in low level crisis areas, are ineffective in high crisis areas--and war zones. Say, in Rwanda. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. They tend to pull out when it gets too unstable and dangerous--like in Darfur where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has also withdrawn even though no US, Coalition or UN troops are there "destabilizing" the aid situation. But, Western, UN and African leaders are talking about intervening in Darfur, and MSF has blasted them and Western advocacy groups for contemplating intervention in Darfur and causing the ruckus that is shutting MSF out.

The question here is if MSF isn't willing to go in until it's safe, who is going to give aid to the people? Or is the answer that the poor and suffering will just have to wait until MSF feels safe before they get any aid? It's almost a dog-in-the-manger attitude. We won't do it. Therefore, no one else should either.

The Oregonian did report on Oregon Guard members in a war zone who are helping poor and suffering Afghans as well as training Afghan troops to fight Taliban terrorists. But, it managed to find a dark side to troops giving aid to widows, orphans and the poor.

How sad that the Oregonian and "humanitarian experts" care more about who gives aid to those in dire need rather than that it is given.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reflections on the Election

As it looks now, Democrats control the Senate with 51 senators to the Republicans’ 49 senators. The House is divided with 231 Democrats, 197 Republicans and 7 seats are still undecided.

What might be the result?

1. Gridlock. If the Republicans play the filibuster card as the Democrats did, there will probably be enough votes to get basic issues passed like funding the military and ongoing programs. But, not much new legislation will be coming out. Overall less government action is a plus.

2. Nominees. Except for Robert Gates (because Demos hate Rumsfeld so much), nominees will have a tough time getting through. So what’s new? After four years of having the majority in both houses and the presidency, the Republicans never figured out how to confirm crucial conservative nominees except on Roberts, Alito and a few other cases.

3. Expectations. Republicans have failed pretty miserably in terms of conservative expectations. Now the Democrats have a load of expectations put on them by their leftist base. But most of those issues do not resonate with the American electorate. So it will be tricky to pull out a win with the base and a win with the electorate at the same time.

4. Conservative Democrats. Though still an extreme minority in the party congressional caucus, conservative Democrats have been strengthened in this election. (A clear indication that the American electorate leans to the right.) This could result in forging an alliance between conservative Republicans and conservatives Democrats, since both are now in the minority (the Republicans at large and the Democrats within their party). Any cooperation between the two groups is a plus for the nation. And any strengthening of conservative principles within the Democrat party is a plus for the party which has too long been veering toward the leftist fringe.

5. Election 2008. Republicans will have a clear target to shoot at. Democrats won’t have the leisure to run on a mere anti-Bush platform (though undoubtedly they will try that again). Already the pass that they have been getting on having a plan for victory in Iraq is evaporating. Mixing tax cuts with a strategy to balance the budget and add new social programs will be pretty much impossible. Two major campaign issues used against Republicans in 2004 and 2006 will be difficult to sustain.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You Won't Read This in the Oregonian

Here are excerpts from a few of news stories you won't read in the Oregonian.

Iraqi tipping point – toward unity, security, prosperity
Thursday, 09 November 2006
By Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV
. . . More than 100 U.S. service members and three times more Iraqi Security Forces were killed during October; in addition to scores of civilians.

A couple of weeks ago, I was widely quoted saying that this violence was disheartening. [You might have read about Gen. Caldwell's remarks on being disheartened. Chances are you'll never find this follow up in any of the media outlets that published Gen. Caldwell's previous statement.]
. . .
However, what is encouraging is how hard the Government of Iraq is working — through Iraq’s political, religious and tribal leaders — to unite all factions of Iraqi society.
. . .
Also promising are indicators showing most Iraqis support unity efforts.

In July, a poll by the nonprofit International Republican Institute found 94 percent of Iraqis said they support a “unity” government. Seventy-eight percent opposed Iraq being segregated by religion or ethnicity. Even in Baghdad, where sectarian violence is heightened, 76 percent opposed ethnic separation. According to a September poll, 97 percent of Iraqis said they “strongly disapprove” of attacks against Iraqi civilians, and 96 percent of Iraqis disapproved of attacks on Iraqi Security Forces. And in a State Department poll released Oct. 5, large majorities of Iraqi youth in six regions surveyed agreed “It is essential that Iraq remains one nation.” These findings confirm that Iraqis want to live in a unified, multi-ethnic country.

Military efforts can only set the conditions for a political solution for the reconciliation needed to reduce violence. But if Iraqi leaders are rejecting violence and the vast majority of Iraqis seek unity, what gives? What will it take to reduce the violence?

First, the Iraqi people must reach a tipping point where they actively — not just passively — renounce the extremists creating violence and work with security forces in getting rid of those extremists. For this to happen, Iraqis must trust their security forces. So secondly, the government must deal with the serious problem of militias, which undermine Iraq’s police and military. Further, the government must continue to train those police and military forces and rein in rogue elements within these forces that contribute to violence.
. . .
[emphasis mine]

Or how about:

Nov. 8, 2006

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – Coalition Forces killed ten al-Qaeda terrorists associated with foreign fighter organizations today near Muqdadiyah and rescued a kidnapped Iraqi Policeman.

Acting upon numerous credible intelligence sources, Coalition Forces launched an operation to detain individuals running a known terrorist cell. At the objective, Coalition Forces made contact with and killed 10 terrorists carrying AK-47s, a rocket propelled grenade launcher, and a machine gun.

Once inside the building, Coalition Forces found a hostage blindfolded and shackled to the floor. The hostage revealed he was an Iraqi Policeman that was taken hostage six days before with two other Iraqi Policemen and was being held ransom to raise money for the terrorist cell. He said the two other policemen had been ransomed earlier by the terrorists.

Coalition Forces also found a 60 mm mortar system with ammunition, a sniper rifle, numerous IED components, a significant amount of ammunition and other terror related material.
. . .


Nov. 8, 2006
BAGHDAD IA, MND-B Soldiers detain 17 terrorists

Multi-National Division – Baghdad PAOBAGHDAD – Iraqi Army and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers detained 17 terrorists at approximately 9 p.m. Monday in central Baghdad.

The Soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, and MND-B’s 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, conducted a combined cordon and search in the Karkh neighborhood of central Baghdad to capture members of a suspected death squad.

The Soldiers apprehended 17 suspects, all of whom were identified by witnesses as members of a death squad operating in central Baghdad.

There were no reported injuries to IA or MND-B personnel or damage to their equipment.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld's Legacy

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reminds me a lot of President Harry Truman. They both spoke the truth. They both spoke directly. And they often spoke with humor. That wasn't always popular in the 1940's and early 1950's, and it hasn't been popular in the first decade of the 21st century.

Some humor from Rumsfeld's speech at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, March 2, 2006:

After some prodding I'm told that Mrs. Truman agreed to hold a press conference of her own for the first time. Then she canceled it. She did, however, apparently eventually agree to answer reporters' questions. She had the following ground rules. The questions had to be written and submitted in advance. Her responses would be in writing. She reserved the right to respond with short, one-syllable answers, and frequently, no comment. She was onto something. [Laughter]. She had it figured out pretty well, I like that.
. . .
I don't think it would surprise anyone to hear that Mr. Truman was a proud and enthusiastic partisan. He used to say, "Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me." [Laughter].
. . .
After the President's typically frank reply and undiplomatic response, Molotov apparently said to President Truman, "I've never been talked to like that in my life." Truman replied, "Carry out your agreements and you won't be talked to like that again." [Laughter]. Sounds reasonable to me.

Though in the context of a smaller war front, like President Truman with the decision to drop the atomic bomb, Rumsfeld has been villified by those who do not understand the stakes in the probable loss of human life, and American life, if hard decisions are not made.

Secretary Rumsfeld's changes to the US military are impressive.

Here's part of Mario Loyola's assessment:

The transformation of a nation's military is the rarest of historical accomplishments — vested interests almost always win, leading the nation into the great danger of increasing vulnerability. As Rumsfeld likes to say, "weakness is provocative," and as the Russians learned in World War I and the French in World War II, an untransformed military can look good on paper and prove worthless on the field of battle. In this case, the vested interests are angry at Rumsfeld because they have lost so many battles in their effort to cling to a military capable of defeating a Soviet Union that no longer exists. Rumsfeld understands what his critics don't—as Charles de Gaulle said, no institution lasts unless it is constantly renewed.
. . .
What Rumsfeld has created is a fully modular, rotational "total force" that achieves division-size effects with brigade-size formations, is vastly more lethal, agile, and integrated than what we had before, and has spread its capabilities across a spectrum of possible challenges. That's how Rumsfeld has helped the country prepare for a future of unknown unknowns. We saw the results in the rapidity with which the U.S. military responded to the Indian Ocean tsunami, orchestrating almost over night one of the largest humanitarian relief operations in history. This saved countless tens of thousands from thirst, disease, and starvation in the critical early weeks after the disaster. It was totally unexpected — but we were ready.

Victor Davis Hanson had this to say about Rumsfeld's strategy in Iraq:

So we are down to his supposed responsibility for the later effort to stop the 3-year plus insurgency, whose denouement is not yet known. Rumsfeld's supposed error that drew such ire was troop levels, i.e., that he did not wish to repeat a huge presence in the manner of Vietnam, but sought to skip the 1964-1971 era morass, and go directly to the 1972-5 Vietnamization strategy of training troops, providing aid, and using air power.

I think he was right, and that most troops in Iraq today would agree. I was just talking to a Marine Lt. back from Haditha and Hit; his chief worry was not too few Americans, but rather Iraqi Security Forces insidiously expecting Americans to do their own security patrolling. Since sending in tens of thousands to do a Grozny-like smash-up is both politically impossible and antithetical to American policy, I don't see the advantage of more troops at all, especially when we will soon near 400,000 Iraqis in arms, which, together with coalition forces of ca. 150,000, would in theory provide 555,000—or more than the "peacetime" army of Saddam's. As a rule in history, it is not just the size, but the nature, rules of engagement, and mission, of armies that matter.

For the future, neither precipitous withdrawal nor a big build-up are the right solutions, the former will leave chaos, the latter will only ensure perpetual Iraqi dependency. As it is, there are too many support troops over in Iraq in compounds, who are not out with Iraqis themselves; more troops will only ensure an even bigger footprint and more USA-like enclaves. Abezaid, Casey, Petraeus, McMaster, etc. understand counter-insurgency and the need for a long-term commitment that marries political autonomy for the Iraqis with American aid, commandos, and air support. Rumsfeld supported them all.

A crucial key to victory is the belief that it is possible to succeed and then find a way to do that. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has helped the US prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. That's a legacy that deserves the nation's gratitude. It has mine.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Polls Show Fall of the Democratic Lead in the USA

That's a lead headline in the world press.

Sub-headline of O Estado de S. Paulo which serves one of the largest cities in the world (population 19 million or so in the metro area):

Encouraged, Republicans Head in to the Final Campaign of the Legislative Election.

Will we see the same election results as we did in 2002 and 2004 where the Democrats lost their early advantage in the polls? Major news outlets in international press seem to think it likely.

The only poll that counts is today. I've voted. Have you?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Metro Population Grows, But Oregonian Loses Readers

The Portland Business Journal reports that the Oregonian’s circulation figures keep decreasing.

Circulation in one year dropped:

weekday - 310,803 (down 6.8% from 333,515 in 2005--a loss of 22,700 subscribers)
Saturday - 297,303 (down 7.8% from 320,863 in 2005--a loss of 23,500 subscribers)
Sunday - 375,757 (down 4.8% from 394,992 in 2005--a loss of 19,200 subscribers)

Even though I often take the Oregonian to task for its bias, this is bad news. Especially since the Metro area is growing in population. From 1990 to 2003, Portland’s population went up 25%. Growth in the next four years is expected to average about 1.8% a year. If population grew last year by 1.8% that means the Oregonian lost more than 6.8% of its share of readers. Weekday readership should have gone up 6,000 instead of decreasing 22,700. So, in one year readership really dropped the equivalent of 8.5%.

The Oregonian, along with all old print media, is swimming against the tide of sound bites and video coverage.

It’s also going against the tide of the internet which allows people interested in more coverage on a story to go directly to original sources or to get alternative views of what happened and what it means. AP, NYT, Reuters, LA Times, Hearst are no longer the last word. Neither is the Oregonian. In fact, its dependence on the above news services, whose stories are often published on the internet the day before the Oregonian publishes them, makes it all too often a déjà vu source. Strike one.

The Oregonian is also losing young readership who, if they are interested in political and social affairs, are more likely to find their news on the internet (most of it free), in blogs or via podcasting. Strike two.

To survive the Oregonian needs to win a majority of what is left of the serious reading audience. That audience spans the political, not to mention the social and religious, spectrum.

But, the Oregonian is also losing traditional newspaper readers. Conservative readership. Military readership. Traditional religious values readership (Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons). For these readers the question is why pay to read a source that bashes or ignores your views rather than seeking to report on what is important to you. Strike three?

I’m not sure what the answer is. Perhaps affirmative action hiring to bring the percentage of reporters with conservative or traditional values up to near the equivalent percentage of conservative and traditional value people in society at large.

Perhaps bringing in commentary from liberal and conservative, secular and traditional value sources in such a way that news stories are frequently illuminated by different perspectives. As Fox News does.

Whatever the answer, the Oregonian has not found it and continues to lose readership even as the metro population grows. Not a good prognosis for its future.

Helping the Oregonian

Since the Oregonian has a hard time finding things on the internet, I thought I should help by publishing the great news photo of the response of some of our troops in Iraq to the John Kerry study-hard-or-you'll-get-stuck-in-Iraq story. These troops are bright and funny as well as being courageous. Don't we wish they were doing our political ads this season?

Yesterday the Oregonian buried the story on the last page, last column, last item, in small type in the first section. It was so hard to find that two people I talked to who take the Oregonian didn't think there was anything in the paper on the story.

Today it was upgraded to page A7, given a third of a page in regular type with a reasonable headline and two rather dull, stock photo, head shots of Sen. Kerry and Pres. Bush. This Iraq troop photo is head and shoulders above their stock photos.

The Oregonian continues to be stodgy in news reporting and in graphics. It also continues to ignore what Oregonian troops are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if any of the troops in the photo had a Pacific Northwest connection. We'll never know because old media like the Oregonian could care less.

Hat Tip: Drudge Report (new media)