Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Top News Stories Of The Day

1. "There's Nobody to Shoot Here, Sir"

Have we won the war in Iraq? It's too early to say that quite yet, but it is becoming increasingly clear that we have reached—dare I say—a "tipping point" at which al-Qaeda and even Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are clearly losing.

Below, Michael Ledeen lays out the evidence for an emerging US victory in Iraq, as well as the principles of counter-insurgency war (rather neatly summarized) that explain it. The best line is a complaint from Marines in Fallujah—Fallujah, mind you—who grouse that "there's nobody to shoot here, sir."

If there's no one to shoot, then there's also no one to bury, so another story reports that Iraqi cemetery workers have fallen on hard times as the volume of killing in Iraq has plummeted.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden has released a new tape which, rather than boasting about al-Qaeda's impending victory over the US in Iraq, instead admits to mistakes and makes a plea for unity among the insurgents—an admission that al-Qaeda's former local allies have turned against them. It is an admission of defeat, or as one conservative wag puts it, "Osama Lied, Jihadists Died."

Iraq has proven an unwinnable quagmire for al-Qaeda, not the United States.

"Victory Is Within Reach," Michael Ledeen, Wall Street Journal, October 20

Almost exactly 13 months ago, the top Marine intelligence officer in Iraq wrote that the grim situation in Anbar province would continue to deteriorate unless an additional division was sent in, along with substantial economic aid. Today, Marine leaders are musing openly about clearing out of Anbar, not because it is a lost cause, but because we have defeated al Qaeda there.

In Fallujah, enlisted marines have complained to an officer of my acquaintance: "There's nobody to shoot here, sir. If it's just going to be building schools and hospitals, that's what the Army is for, isn't it?" Throughout the area, Sunni sheikhs have joined the Marines to drive out al Qaeda, and this template has spread to Diyala Province, and even to many neighborhoods in Baghdad itself, where Shiites are fighting their erstwhile heroes in the Mahdi Army….

How is one to explain this turn of events? While our canny military leaders have been careful to give the lion's share of the credit to terrorist excesses and locals' courage, the most logical explanation comes from the late David Galula, the French colonel who fought in Algeria and then wrote "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" in the 1960s. He argued that insurgencies are revolutionary wars whose outcome is determined by control of, and support from, the population….

In the early phases of the conflict, the people remain as neutral as they can, simply trying to stay alive. As the war escalates, they are eventually forced to make a choice, to place a bet, and that bet becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people have the winning piece on the board: intelligence. Once the Iraqis decided that we were going to win, they provided us with information about the terrorists: who they were, where they were, what they were planning, where their weapons were stashed, and so forth….

As Galula elegantly observed, "which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population's stand…."

Herschel Smith, of the blog Captain's Journal, puts it neatly in describing the events in Anbar: "There is no point in fighting forces (US Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away." We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it….

Not a day goes by without one of our commanders shouting to the four winds that the Iranians are operating all over Iraq, and that virtually all the suicide terrorists are foreigners, sent in from Syria. We have done great damage to their forces on the battlefield, but they can always escalate, and we still have no policy to direct against the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran. That problem is not going to be resolved by sound counterinsurgency strategy alone, no matter how brilliantly executed.

2. Inside the "Dogma Dome"

So if we're winning in Iraq, how is it that most Americans still think we're losing?

I have linked before to some of the excellent on-the-scene reporting from independent embedded journalist Michael Yon. Below, Yon laments the "dogma dome," the media group-think that tends to screen out any information from Iraq that doesn't fit the pre-established message of pessimism.

Yon also unveils his plans for a reader-financed program to syndicate his own work to American newspapers and to translate it for the international media. It's a worthy cause to support with your money (after you're renewed your subscription to TIA Daily, of course). Check out his whole post for details. Thanks to TIA Daily reader Steve Halter for recommending this link.

As an exception to the general tone of mainstream media coverage of the War on Terrorism, today's New York Times carries a good Associated Press report on the posthumous awarding of a Congressional Medal of Honor to Lt. Michael Murphy. The article concludes with this moving description:

To his fellow SEALs, he was known as ''Murph,'' but as a child, his parents nicknamed him ''The Protector,'' because of his strong moral compass. After the 2001 terror attacks, that compass eventually led him to Afghanistan, where he wore a patch of the New York City Fire Department on his uniform.

''He took his deployment personally. He was going after, and his team was going after, the men who planned, plotted against and attacked not only the United States, but the city he loved, New York,'' said his father. ''He knew what he was fighting for.''

It's nice to know this sort of reporting can still penetrate the "dogma dome."

"Resistance Is Futile: You Will Be Misinformed," Michael Yon, Michael Yon: Online Magazine, October 22

America seems to be under a glass dome which allows few hard facts from the field to filter in unless they are attached to a string of false assumptions. Considering that my trip home coincided with General Petraeus’ testimony before the US Congress, when media interest in the war was (I’m told) unusually concentrated, it’s a wonder my eardrums didn’t burst on the trip back to Iraq. In places like Singapore, Indonesia, and Britain people hardly seemed to notice that success is being achieved in Iraq, while in the United States, Britney was competing for airtime with OJ in one of the saddest sideshows on Earth.

No thinking person would look at last year’s weather reports to judge whether it will rain today, yet we do something similar with Iraq news. The situation in Iraq has drastically changed, but the inertia of bad news leaves many convinced that the mission has failed beyond recovery, that all Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, or are waiting for us to leave so they can crush their neighbors….

Anyone who has been in Iraq for longer than a few months, visited a handful of provinces, and spoken with a good number of Iraqis, likely would acknowledge that the reality here is complex and dynamic. But in the last six months it also has been increasingly hopeful, despite what the pessimistic dogma dome allows Americans and British to believe….

I’ve written often about the near complete failure of most media reporting—as the craft is most typically plied over here—to capture the truth of Iraq and accurately portray it in an increasingly commercial news environment….

As I travel around the world, I see that even many of our close allies have a false impression of American soldiers as brutally oppressive towards people. Even our great friends in Singapore and the United Kingdom, and the pro-American people on the island of Bali, Indonesia, think we are savaging people. This loss of moral leadership will be costly to Americans on many fronts for many generations to come.

The only antidote for this toxic press is a steady dose of detailed stories about the amazing men and women who serve in the United States military.

3. Will He or Won't He?

The media is full of speculation about whether or not George Bush will choose to bomb Iran. Below, the New York Times gets a little too excited analyzing slight variations of wording in recent speeches by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, which may indicate that they are moving toward military action against Iran—or maybe not.

Niall Ferguson's final column for the Los Angeles Times is mildly encouraging of such a strike. Ferguson correctly points out the lesson President Bush should draw from the recent Israeli strike on Syria, and from Syria's muted reaction: "You can do this, and do it with impunity."

Over at the New York Post, Ralph Peters tries to work up his readers' support for just such an air strike against Iran—in December of 2008. It's a recommendation that matches the apparently glacial place of the deliberations within the Bush administration.

Investor's Business Daily is considerably more fire-breathing, offering an extended comparison to the need to stop Hitler before World War II.

"Cheney, Like President, Has a Warning for Iran," Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, October 22

Vice President Dick Cheney issued a pointed warning to Iran on Sunday, calling the government in Tehran “a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East” and promising “serious consequences” if the government there does not abandon its nuclear program.

The remarks, just days after President Bush suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III,” amounted to Part II of a one-two punch from the administration at a moment when it is trying to persuade its allies in Europe to impose stiffer sanctions on Tehran. Those efforts grew more complicated on Saturday when Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator resigned on the eve of crucial talks with Europe.

“The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences,” Mr. Cheney said, without specifying what those might be. “The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”…

That language is not radically different from what Mr. Cheney has used in the past. But people at the conference said that, placed in the context of Mr. Bush’s remarks, it represented a significant step toward increasing pressure on Iran. The speech seemed to lay the groundwork for the threat of military action—either because the administration actually intends to use force or because it wants to use the threat of force to prod Europe into action….

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who moderated a panel discussion before and after Mr. Cheney’s speech, said the vice president also seemed to draw a new red line when, instead of saying it is “not acceptable” for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, he said the world “will not allow” it.

“The first is a condition,” Mr. Makovsky said. “The second is a commitment.”…

The Bush administration, for its part, seems to be making an appeal directly to the Iranian people in the hope that they will rise up against the Ahmadinejad government…. “The spirit of freedom is stirring in Iran,” [Cheney] said, adding, “America looks forward to the day when Iranians reclaim their destiny, the day that our two countries, as free and democratic nations, can be the closest of friends.”

4. The Muslim Civil War: Pakistan

The attacks on Benazir Bhutto's convoy on her return to Pakistan may end up having one beneficial effect: galvanizing the resolve of Pakistan's relatively pro-Western, liberal faction to stand up against its Islamist faction, in the Pakistani chapter of the ongoing Muslim civil war—which is the theme of an interesting column, linked to below, from David Warren.

Meanwhile, Pervez Musharraf may have reason to regret letting Bhutto back in the country, since she is using her new political role to attack "closet supporters of militants and Al Qaeda" within Musharraf's government.

Bhutto's return was encouraged by the United States, but it is also being rather vigorously welcomed by India, which views Bhutto as fighting the same enemies—Pakistan's Islamists—that India is also fighting.

"Order in Chaos," David Warren, Ottowa Citizen via RealClearPolitics, October 20

Out of the bloody mess in Karachi—hundreds killed and maimed in Al Qaeda's latest effort to gain power through psychopathic violence and intimidation—comes a kind of order. The position of Benazir Bhutto—the seemingly perpetual once and future prime minister of Pakistan—has been immensely enhanced by the failure of the blasts to kill her. If she can remain alive, she now has an unprecedented and almost miraculous opportunity to pull Pakistan together, and inspire her people to fight against their worst enemy in the world—not "Hindu India," nor "Imperialist America," but the Islamists who are feeding on the country's entrails….

Mrs. Bhutto, and not President Musharraf, has the mass appeal, without which, at this moment, no politician or general in Pakistan has a chance against the whirlwind. It was demonstrated in the crowds of hundreds of thousands that turned out to welcome her home from exile. This "champion of democracy" has that appeal through her dynastic claims, as the daughter of the "martyred" Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She represents the last hope of the (frankly aristocratic) older ruling order in Pakistan's political life.

The judicial murder of the secular leftist Ali Bhutto, directed by the late General Zia al-Haq, can now be seen more clearly as the tipping point in Pakistan's political evolution. Before that, real power was mostly in the hands of the chief landed families, whose children were raised and educated in essentially Western ways, whose assumptions and ideals were essentially secular, and whose aspirations were to "modernize" Pakistan, whatever that word might mean from day to day….

"Modernization" and "Islamization" are alternative courses. You can't have both. And one country after another, across the Islamic world, is being wrenched, hideously, in the conflict between these two incompatible aspirations—the natural ground for civil war. I would go farther and say that the soul of every sincere Muslim, trying to make a way in the world for himself and his family, is wrenched between these competing aspirations….

The Pakistan People's Party, founded by [Bhutto's] father, has wandered over the years from one position to another on passing political and economic issues, but has remained the voice and force of secularism. It is also, at this moment in Pakistan, the only path out of hell. Many who despise the P.P.P. now realize this—the rally included thousands of its former opponents—and the bombs have helped to clarify the true situation.

5. The Abortion Litmus Test

The big issue of the Republican primaries is a test of the power of the religious right. Will Republicans reject their best candidate, Rudy Giuliani, because he is a twice-divorced, pro-choice, semi-lapsed Catholic? Last weekend provided an interesting preview of this conflict, as Giuliani and the other Republican candidates addresses a conference of religious-right "values voters."

The National Review's Byron York—representing a publication that is heavily sympathetic to the religious right—gives a good, objective report below.

Giuliani tried to find some common ground with the values voters, mostly by addressing their legitimate concerns (such as "school choice" for those who want to escape the public school monopoly), but he mostly tried to sell himself on the basis of the honesty and courage in being willing to stick to his past record rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Overall, York reports that the speech achieved what Giuliani's campaign wanted it to achieve. It will not win him the votes of the religious right in the primary, but since the religious vote is currently divided ineffectually among the other contenders, he can still win without those votes. Instead, the speech may have helped him win more religious votes in the general election, when he will need the support of every part of the Republican "base."

Meanwhile, another conservative describes the nomination battle as a contest that pits the religious conservatives, who are most ardent about former Arkansas governor and Evangelical Christian Mike Huckabee, against "economic conservatives," i.e., pro-free-marketers, who oppose Huckabee's "compassionate conservative" style welfare-statism.

In short, Republicans are being asked to decide whose endorsement is more important: the endorsement of the pro-religious-right Family Research Council, or the endorsement of the pro-free-market Club for Growth?

"Rudy's Speech," Byron York, National Review Online, October 20

Well, Rudy has made his much-awaited appearance before the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. My guess is that the Giuliani campaign is going away happy. And the FRC members here—well, they may have a bit more positive view of Giuliani than they had before….
"He didn't win any converts," one FRC insider told me. "Not in the primaries. But he might have won some of them over for a general election."…

Giuliani took a few indirect shots at his fellow Republican candidates, accusing them of flip-flopping to be popular while Giuliani remained steadfast. "Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe," he said, "rather than changing my positions to fit the prevailing winds?" "If I come out here and I take a poll and I try to figure out what you all believe, and then I try to repeat to you what you believe, then I'm a follower. I may be a good actor, but I'm a follower." (Might there be any alleged flip-floppers, or perhaps an actor, in the race?)

The crowd began to warm a bit as Giuliani talked about his record in New York. "Have you been to New York City?" he asked. "I bet you're not afraid to come there anymore." He told the story of turning the city around, emphasizing his efforts against crime and in cleaning up Times Square….

Giuliani got more applause when he went through his stand against the Brooklyn Museum of Art. "The government should never be required to give out taxpayer money to desecrate religion," he said. "It's just plain wrong." Then he covered welfare reform and got more applause when he came to education. "Every parent in America should have the right to send their child to the school of their choice, including the right for responsible parents to choose home schooling. The government should not force parents to send their children to failing or inadequate schools."…

"You and I share the same goal," he said. "A country without abortions, achieved by changing the minds and hearts of people." He went through several steps he would take, beginning with, "I will veto any reduction in the impact of the Hyde Amendment." and continuing with continued support of parental notification and the ban on partial birth abortion, and the appointment of strict constructionist judges….

"You and I know I'm not a perfect person," he said in what was probably the understatement of the entire conference. But, he went on, "We lose trust with our political leaders not because they are imperfect—after all, they are human—we lose trust with them when they're not honest with us."

6. Apr├Ęs Moi, le Deluge

The supposed demographic collapse of the West is Mark Steyn's signature issue, so it is no surprise that he does an excellent job of describing how the growing American middle-class welfare state threatens to drain the economy. And he cleverly turns the Democrats' maudlin rhetoric about "our children" against them, showing how the middle-class welfare state is a scheme to bankrupt the next generation.

Even better, Steyn recognizes that this welfare state is not just a pragmatic economic problem, but that it is also a moral crisis because it is an assault on individualism. But then he stumbles badly (as conservatives often do) by identifying the problem as "selfishness"—as if living as a ward of the state, relying on an unsupportable Ponzi scheme, were in one's self-interest.

"The Real War on Children," Mark Steyn, Jewish World Review, October 22

So what is the best thing America could do "for the children"? Well, it could try not to make the same mistake as most of the rest of the Western world and avoid bequeathing the next generation a system of unsustainable entitlements that turns the entire nation into a giant Ponzi scheme. Most of us understand, for example, that Social Security needs to be "fixed"—or we'll have to raise taxes, or the retirement age, or cut benefits, etc. But, just to get the entitlements debate in perspective, projected public pensions liabilities in the United States are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of our gross domestic product. In Greece, the equivalent figure is 25 percent—that's not a matter of raising taxes or tweaking retirement age; that's total societal collapse….

In France, President Sarkozy is proposing a very modest step—that those who retire before the age of 65 should not receive free health care—and the French are up in arms about it. He's being angrily denounced by 53-year-old retirees, a demographic hitherto unknown to functioning societies. You spend your first 25 years being educated, you work for two or three decades, and then you spend a third of a century living off a lavish pension, with the state picking up every health care expense. No society can make that math add up.

And so, in a democratic system today's electors vote to keep the government gravy coming and leave it to tomorrow for "the children" to worry about. That's the real "war on children"—and every time you add a new entitlement to the budget you make it less and less likely they'll win it….

But middle-class entitlement creep would be wrong even if was affordable, even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover it every month: it turns free-born citizens into enervated wards of the Nanny State…. As I point out in my book, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: once a fellow's enjoying the fruits of Euro-style entitlements, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest; he's got his, and who cares if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence?

That's the real "war on children": in Europe, it's killing their future. Don't make the same mistake here.

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