Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Language Abuse Watch III 
“Alpha Company can’t do it—they’re undermanded.”

Language Abuse Watch II 
I rise in objection to constant and regular use of the term VBIED, or “vehicle-born improvised explosive device.” I’m grateful for the acronym, which prevents the unwelcome necessity of voicing the entire term being slopped upon me like a ladle full of cold gravy.

But what’s wrong with “car bomb?”

The Army is Broken II: Pay Problems 

It’s even worse than it looks. The only reason the other 6% got paid correctly is because they are AGR soldiers—“active guard and reserve,” who are full time employees of the National Guard or Army reserves. As such, their pay never needed to be reprocessed in the first place, other than to be inputted for hazardous duty or family separation pay.

When you adjust for those soldiers, the actual systemic failure rate is much closer to 100%.

Some problems were more severe than others: I had one mortarman who left his civilian job and family on just a few days notice, who didn’t get paid at all for over two months. His problem was submitted multiple times at Fort Stewart, but the request was never entered into the system.

Unlike active duty troops, our families don’t live near military installations where pay experts can help family members resolve problems while their husbands are deployed.

Compounding the errors: when National Guard units reached Iraq, ostensibly they were brought under the control of larger brigades, regiments, and divisions—each with an attached or organic finance unit, who’s job it is to see that these problems are fixed. When we got to theater, though, we were informed we were “on a different pay system,” and the active duty finance units were not able to make the necessary changes to correct the errors.

Units were forced to correspond with pay clerks all the way back at their state headquarters via phone, e-mail, and snailmail. But many units went weeks without access to phones or e-mail, and snailmail was taking three weeks and more to reach the U.S. So not only were soldiers processed incorrectly for pay in the first place, but their unit leaders didn’t even have anyone in the country to go to who could accept responsibility to see that the problem was fixed.

Of course, this led to pay problems which could normally have been corrected with a few keystrokes to fester for weeks and even months. We are even now still trying to get pay problems fixed—for example, ensuring married soldiers actually collect housing allowances at the married rate, rather than at the lower single rate.

After months of discouragement, many soldiers have given up on reporting their pay problems, figuring they can get them fixed at the demobilization station when they go home.

The Army’s effort to integrate its reserve and active duty component personnel systems has been a miserable failure.

Sorry for the Delay... 
All is ok. Serious network problems on this end. I can check emails once in a while, if I'm willing to sit and stare at a screen for 30 minutes waiting for the page to download. Not much to do but wait and let the techies try to get things going again.

Plenty of content coming...if I can just get it onto the site. Keep checking in!

Thanks for coming back, and for reading, and for all your support.

Slash, Out,

Saturday, December 27, 2003

The Emperor Has No Armor 
Here's something that makes me want to tear my hair out:

A.P.----Fearing roadside bombs and sniper bullets, members of the U.S. Army Reserve's 428th Transportation Company turned to a local steel fabricator to fashion extra armor for their five-ton trucks and Humvees before beginning their journey to Iraq earlier this month.

But their armor might not make it into the war, because the soldiers did not obtain Pentagon approval for their homemade protection.

The Army, which is still developing its own add-on armor kits for vehicles, does not typically allow any equipment that is not tested and approved by the Army, Maj. Gary Tallman, a Pentagon spokesman for Army weapons and technology issues, said last week.

"It's important that other units out there that are getting ready to mobilize understand that we are doing things" to protect them, Tallman said, "but there's policy you have to consider before you go out on your own and try to do something."

I’m glad to see this story finally hitting the national press. Of course, it doesn’t make the desk-jockeys at the Pentagon look good, but what else is new?

What the story’s missing—some tough questioning from the reporter about why it’s taking so long to figure this out. After all, here we are over ten months into the most widely anticipated war since Yeats wrote The Second Coming, units are still scrambling to acquire the rare “up-armored” M1114 Humvees, and we still haven’t come up with a practical, authorized vehicle-hardening solution that commanders who’s units are rotating into Iraq this spring can actually implement before they hit the war zone?

And why are they leaving it up to Central Command to authorize the proposed solution? CENTCOM doesn’t have an Aberdeen proving ground. Why can’t Forces Command—FORSCOM—the command actually responsible for mobilizing units before they arrive in theatre—cough up some vehicle mileage money and tell some wizened old Chief Warrant to get in his car and drive to Mississippi and evaluate the hardening solution for the unit, and make his recommendation, or propose any modifications right there on the spot?
I’m not suggesting that the Pentagon is wrong to want to make sure the plate metal is going to work as planned. Here’s a story from out here in the real world:

Last spring, shortly before we rolled into Iraq, we decided we wanted to harden our own 2 ½ ton trucks against land mines and IEDs. So we selected one ‘Beta’ truck, and sandbagged the back and sides, according to some manual we saw somewhere, and shored the sides up with plywood.

Unfortunately, the pennypinching procurement officers in the State of Florida opted to equip us with the cheaper but inferior M35A3 model, with four wheels, rather than the M35A2 model, which has dual wheels in the rear, on each side.

(The A3’s are so obsolete that when we got to Iraq and we were hooking up with the 3rd ACR’s maintenance system, they told me to forget about getting parts for them—the active duty army didn’t even stock their parts anywhere in its inventory.)

As a result, the rear axle couldn’t handle the load, and except for a vigilant chief maintenance warrant officer, we could have caused severe damage to a vehicle we couldn’t fix. Ergo, we were never able to harden those trucks to standard. Those trucks still transport our troops through Ar Ramadi every day. Yes, several of our soldiers have been wounded in them.

Meanwhile, in the absence of guidance from echelons above reality, the units here on the ground have resorted to all manner of equally unauthorized Rube Goldberg contraptions in order to protect themselves on the road.
Most of our Hummers have thin canvas doors. “Hang your flak jackets over the windowsills,” the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment told us, helpfully.

Actually, when we got the new Kevlar body armor vests, we took the old Viet Nam era flak jackets, procured for us by the same farsighted geniuses who bought us the A3s, we strapped them like balustrades along the outsides of the truckbeds. You haven’t seen a finer sight since The Grapes of Wrath.

Other units contracted with Iraqi machine shops to make metal doors to replace the canvas doors with which the light infantry units had been so thoughtfully provided. (Did we really think that light infantry would not, sooner or later, get embroiled in a counterinsurgency campaign?).

Engineer units, with their easy access to plywood and powertools, are the worst—some of their trucks are driving around looking like British double-decker buses, for all the home-made, gee-whiz erratica they’re schlepping around in their truckbeds.
Somehow, despite the Pentagon’s fears, the units manage to continue functioning, and the trucks continue to roll. We’re not that stupid, after all, thank you.

Only now, nearly ten months into our deployment overseas, is the Army finally addressing the hardening issue with our own vehicles. We’ve contracted with someone called Armox, and they’ve been out this week welding metal and Kevlar panels to our vehicles. Well, to 20% or so of our vehicles. We’ll see how it works out. In the meantime, the soldiers riding in the rest of our vehicles are still hunkering down behind flak vests strapped to the outside of the truck.

The bottom line: if the Pentagon wants to stand in the way of a reserve commander taking initiative to protect his troops, then they must come up with an alternative plan pronto. Get the chiefs out into the field. Unleash that American know-how we keep lording over the French and Canadians.

After all, urban counterinsurgencies are nothing new. After Mogadishu, after Grozny, after Afghanistan, after Belfast, after years of intifada already, and after nearly a year of our own hard experience here, and after the Humvee’s been in the inventory for nearly 20 years, and the deuce and half truck at least since Vietnam, it’s inconceivable to me that we’re still trying to figure out how to do this.

Baba Noel 
Here’s the reason I like Riverbend’s blog—she’s the best teacher I’ve got. I so often learn something new about life in Iraq that I had never imagined! Check out her charming description of Christmas in Iraq:

Kids in Iraq also believe in Santa Claus, but people here call him 'Baba Noel' which means, "Father Noel". I asked the children what he looked like and they generally agreed that he was fat, cheerful, decked in red and had white hair. (Their impertinent 11-year-old explains that he's fat because of the dates, cheerful because of the alcohol and wears red because he's a communist!) He doesn't drop into Iraqi homes through the chimney, though, because very few Iraqi homes actually have chimneys. He also doesn't drop in unexpectedly in the middle of the night because that's just rude. He acts as more of an inspiration to parents when they are out buying Christmas gifts for the kids; a holiday muse, if you will. The reindeer are a foreign concept here.

I don’t know if kids out in Ramadi believe in Santa, or even know who he is. Ramadi seems to have a fairly conservative Muslim reputation, and while there’s plenty of secular influence (“PEPSI COLD! PEPSI COLD!”), I haven’t seen any evidence of Christianity in town. Next time I am privileged to have a conversation with some Iraqi children—I’ll be sure to ask them about “Baba Noel.”

Friday, December 26, 2003

Don't Romanticize Terrorism 
So Iraqi insurgents in and around Baghdad have launched a series of Christmas strikes against hotels, banks, and embassies. All of these strikes deliberately target civilians.

Nevertheless, the Associated Press graces them with all the misguided, Soldiers-of-the-Lost-Cause romanticism the word ‘rebel’ implies.

Sorry, but no.

Luke Skywalker was a “rebel.”
Robert E. Lee was a “rebel.”

The English language is a very rich and nuanced language. And we already have a word for those who deliberately target noncombatants in hotels and embassies: We call them “terrorists.”


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas, Everyone! 

The Bargaining Chip 
Here’s one of Salon’s bloggers, Scott Rosenberg, joining the gleeful pileon over Iraqi reconstruction contracts v. debt forgiveness, in a December 11th post:

Bush's and Baker's new Iraq debt-relief initiative has its knees kicked in before it even starts, as Russian and other leaders scorn the U.S.'s overtures…

Much of this sorry affair is chronicled in today's New York Times. As one official puts it in the Times: "What we did was toss away our leverage." In the short term, it means that Bush will have a much harder time trying to ease Iraq's debt burden; in the long term, it means that the total cost of the Iraq adventure to the deficit-strapped American people will end up far higher.

Is revenge against perfidious "old Europe" -- and lucrative contracts for former employers and pals of Bush and Cheney -- more important than building a financial coalition to share the prodigious cost of Iraqi reconstruction? Or is the train wreck more simply a sign of an administration that can't coordinate important policies at the most basic levels?

Whatever the answer, shouldn't we expect our executive branch to not trip itself up in such bizarrely self-defeating ways?

How's that Kiwi shoe polish tasting, Scott?

Since then, of course, France and Germany have agreed to consider forgiving or restructuring Iraq’s debt, and Russia just offered to completely write off up to half of Iraq’s $8 billion dollar debt to his former patrons. Other members of the Paris Club of creditor nations are talking 90%, according to the Wall Street Journal.

No, Rosenberg doesn’t revisit the issue, although he does find time to devote a couple of paragraphs to the axis of evil of public speakers who read their own slides.

What Rosenberg and others have failed to grasp is that the decision to forgive Iraq some or all of its debt has a logic entirely separate from the comparatively minor issue of reconstruction contracts. Russia, France, and Germany could all read the writing on the wall—their fist-full of Iraq’s star-crossed bonds was rapidly becoming a poster child for odious debt syndrome.

Iraq’s economy has no hope of servicing the debt on its own. The secondary market for Iraq’s debt is about as liquid as a bowling ball. The Paris Club’s fist-full of Iraqi paper was losing value by the day. And everybody knows that absent a major restructuring of the debt in advance, Iraq was going to restructure it for them by defaulting, under the political cover of odious debt. And Russia couldn’t say a word in protest—they defaulted on their own debt themselves as recently as 1998.

The Axis of Weasels was on the wrong side of the bargaining table, and on the wrong side of history here. They and their bankers were faced with a choice: either short-circuit any odious debt default by appearing magnanimous now, or have the Iraqi Governing Council simply tell them to put the full amount of their Saddam debt paper to its highest and best use by wiping themselves with it, as soon as they regained sovereign authority to do so early this summer.

That was the real bargaining chip all along.

Splash, out,


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

It's JOHN Keegan. Not James Keegan, who wrote the book on the limits of battlefield intelligence. I regret the error. Thanks to an alert reader.


Monday, December 22, 2003

...So I Met Darryl Worley Yesterday... 
Yeah, the country music star. He came by our compound as part of a USO Tour. Supposedly, we were also waiting for the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad, too, although I wasn’t sure what they were supposed to do. Provide us with a motivational cheer or something.

Anyway, we had set up a borrowed PA system on the back of a truck, and set some chairs out in front, and since I just got off shift, I jumped at the opportunity to grab my electric violin and plug into the PA system and play some fiddle tunes.

I figured I’d have time for two or three sets and the USO tour would roll in and I’d get out of there and just enjoy the show. But the USO tour was late, and so it turned into an impromptu violin concert that lasted over an hour—until I started having a hard time thinking of tunes I hadn’t played yet. Unlike the last impromptu concert, this one had an audience of about 200 people.

I’m accustomed to a drunker audience, but it was fun nevertheless.

Finally Worley arrived with another guitar player. No sign of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, unfortunately. I overheard some sergeant major briefing Worley and his group on his audience:

“This is Ar Ramadi. This is the real thing. These guys have been shot at, they’ve been blown up…they’re front line soldiers. They’re infantry.”

“Ummm, was that Ar Ramadi we just drove through?”

I had to laugh.

“You guys didn’t TELL them in advance that they were going to Ar Ramadi!?”

Worley only played a couple of tunes. It was a difficult environment to sound good in. Cold weather, lousy PA, no sound check at all. No mic stand—one of our soldiers had to hold the mic up so he could sing.

Afterward, though, his guitar player and I had a chance to talk a bit of shop. (I’ve always been more interested in the anonymous studio and touring side musicians than the stars, anyway.)

Worley was great—very generous with his time afterwards, and signed a lot of autographs for the troops. All around class act. He even hung out after they guys driving the vehicles in his convoy were pressuring him to leave so they could get back before dark.

So, a big thanks to Darryl Worley for coming to see us!


On Time's Person of the Year 
So this year’s Time Magazine Person of the Year is “The American Soldier.”

I’m sure the Marine Corps appreciates the gesture.

Last year they couldn’t settle on anyone in particular, either. It was corporate whistleblowers like Sherron Watkins.

Don’t these guys ever go out on a limb, anymore? If there was ever a year for a President to be named “Man of the Year,” 2003 was it! This war was not some Tolstoyan tital wave of popular sentiment that carried President Bush along with it. The war that toppled Saddam Hussein--for good or for ill—was overwhelmingly the product of a single will—George W. Bush’s.

Time is defining their “Man of the Year” concept out of all usefulness.

Media Borgs 
This Boston Globe article is a good example of the downside of a professional reporter class: they’re congenitally incapable of policing themselves.

Lead graf: News executives of most Boston television stations are decidedly unenthusiastic about a Bush administration plan to transmit news footage from Iraq for local TV outlets in an attempt to supplement media coverage from that war-torn country.

Imagine a reporter interviewing a bunch of oil company executives about the merits of solar power, and going to press with the interview without any mention of the fact that these oil company execs just might have a financial stake in discouraging alternative energy sources.

Unthinkable. Irresponsible. Bad journalism. Bad joojoo. But I guess that’s what passes for journalism at the Boston Globe’s Iraq and media desks. Television news executives have a vested interest in discouraging any additional information outlets on the Iraq war. Any C-SPAN Baghdad station will compete for viewers and potentially depress advertising revenue which will affect these news executives directly in the pocketbook.

Now, the reporter could have interviewed some communications and media professors. It’s not like there are no universities in Boston.

We have no interest in this," said WBZ-TV (Channel 4) news director Peter Brown. "The Fourth Estate is independent and should remain so."

Public Access TV stations have been broadcasting unedited footage of school board meetings and city council deliberations for years. Miraculously, our republic has managed to wither the assault on the independence of the press perpetrated by such insidious institutions as C-SPAN. If the mere existence of a channel broadcasting unedited press conferences and interviews with soldiers somehow threatens the independence of WBZ-TV—or in any way interferes with its usual practice of accepting large amounts of advertising money from the campaign funds of major party candidates, then Peter Brown ought to start selling aluminum siding and give up his job to someone with a spine.

But Brown’s not content to stop there!

"As news providers, we should go there and see for ourselves."

Except news providers have been miserable failures at doing just that. Check out Instapundit.com’s hilarious account of the New York Times’ embarrassing botch-job of coverage of the December 10th demonstrations against terrorism in Baghdad (you might have to scroll down a bit.)

The New York Times blames their failure, on poor publicity (even though I somehow managed to find out about it two days ahead of time, housewives all over the U.S. somehow found out about it ahead of time, and thousands of Iraqis somehow found out about it far enough in advance to, well, show up.)

But back to C-SPAN Baghdad.

"I'm kind of appalled by it. I think it's very troubling," said Charles Kravetz, vice president of news at the regional cable news outlet NECN. "I think the government has no business being in the news business."

At first blush, I thought Kravetz must just be a very easily troubled guy. Is he that insecure about the quality of his own news programming that he doesn’t think his station can hold its viewership against the edgy, scintillating journalism of the Armed Forces Network?

And is he so certain that giving the public the choice of tuning in to another channel which happens to be operated by the government is a greater evil than awarding the full news spectrum to the interests of corporate America?

And why does he have such low regard for his viewership that he opposes giving them that choice?

WCVB-TV news director Coleen Marren said the station is well served by the reporting resources of CNN and ABC and expressed concern at what she called "a government-sponsored television station."

But the reality is even worse. Not only are Kravetz and Marren apparently insecure about their own lousy programming, but they’re also half blind. Neither one of them mentions how they feel about government-sponsored programming at Agentes France Press, the BBC, Pravda, or NPR and PBS. Nor does the reporter note the glaring analytical omission anywhere in the article.

This article is a gem, indeed. It is a rare treat to see journalism’s inbred mentality of self-congratulation, its mistargeted skepticism, and holier-than-thou cultural elitism so neatly encapsulated in a single piece. This isn’t just the subjects: the reporter himself seems to have been taken over by the Media Borgs. He has become the perfect medium for their message, the perfect tool for the would-be robber barons of his own industry.

If this is the kind of “filtering” we get from the news media’s professional class, then we’re better off without it.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Taking Liberties 
The Iraqi police brought a couple of detainees to the front gate yesterday. They also brought a note from Ar Ramadi police chief Ja’ardan explaining that they had been arrested for demonstrating against coalition forces, and he was turning them over to our custody. The guards at the front gate had phoned us and wanted to know if we were going to detain them.

“On what charge?”


“That sounds like a police matter,” I said.

“No, but they were demonstrating against coalition forces.”

“Ok. Was it a violent demonstration?”

“No. It wasn’t violent. It was a peaceful demonstration.”

“Ok. Did they come up on anybody’s wanted list?”


“Ok. That’s just not something we’d be interested in. Demonstrating is not a crime. Hand them back to the police, and unless they have something else on them, I’d recommend release.”

These Iraqis just are not getting the whole “civil liberties” thing.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Military Speak: Documenting Military Abuse of the English Language 
I’m keeping a running list of misuses of the English language out here—especially by leaders.

My favorites, so far:

“We don’t want any fragmacide.”

“We’re too laxadatial on this issue.”

“What is your current location at this time, over?”

Battalion Operations Officer: “Were expecting a platoon of Moldavians and a company of Azerbaijanis within two weeks.”

Company commander: “Where are they from?”

(scratching head) “It behooves the hell out of me.”

“These mosquitoes are driving me crazy! I gotta get one of those salmonella candles.”

“You guys are screwing me over! I’m going to wind up getting a letter of recommend!”

“Hey, anybody! What does CBT stand for?” (In THIS context, it stands for “Combat Bridge Team.”)

I'll keep you posted!


Reporters and Maneuver Warfare Theory 
I thought this was a very useful article from Dave Kaplan, writing for Slate. I'd like to take it a bit further, though.

There’s a lot of carping these days about faulty intelligence—as if battlefield intelligence were ever much more than a blind man groping around in the cellar for his opponent’s collar. John Keegan just wrote a book on the limits of intel, anyway.

So it’s good to see someone mention faulty intelligence, but actually come up with specific reasons why that intelligence was faulty, and how it might be fixed.

Whether we ought to use a smart bomb to attack a high-value target in a residential area is absolutely a valid ‘just war’ question.

Personally, I suppose you could justify it if the strike has a reasonable chance of killing or incapacitating the target, and if the killing or disappearance of that target individual has a reasonable chance of saving lives by hastening the collapse of military resistance, or disrupting the command and control of major enemy units so severely that they become paralyzed by indecision, or poor decision, become unable to react to the Protean nature of the mechanized battlefield, and so become simply irrelevant to the battle.

Unfortunately, this side of the equation seems wholly absent from Human Rights Watch’s analysis. Nor has it appeared in any of several articles I’ve read covering their report. Only Kaplan—a veteran national security affairs writer and a damned good one—even touches on the issue. And that is only indirectly, when he glances against the concept of proportionality from the Just Warfare tradition.

If military reporters were up on their beat, though, they would be familiar with the principles of maneuver warfare, which provide a good deal of theoretical basis for the strike. In part, these principles are as follows:

1. It is better to win by outmaneuvering an enemy and placing him in a hopeless position than it is to outshoot him. Or as Sun Tzu wrote: "To win without fighting is the acme of skill."

2. Firepower should be focused not just on enemy weaknesses, but critical vulnerabilities.

3. The armies of totalitarian regimes, and those with weak or nonexistent NCO corps, are especially reliant upon centralized command and control.

4. Put enough pressure on the command and control nodes, and their decisions will become unsound. They will be reacting to false information, or information which is hours old. If it takes your division 24 hours to conceive, plan, and execute an operation, and it takes him 36 hours, then his decisions will become increasingly removed from the reality on the ground. The errors will compound geometrically, and you will appear on his flanks or rear (or overrun the Baghdad Airport) before his command and control procedures can grasp the fact that you’re within miles of his critical point. This is called “getting inside his decision cycle.”

If the reporters and editors assigned to the military were really up on their beats, they would have boned up on the basic theoretical underpinnings of U.S. military doctrine. B.H. Liddell-Hart’s “Strategy,” Warfighting,” an excellent Marine Corps manual on the theory of maneuver warfare for the unit level leader (which the Army should immediately adopt and distribute, by the way), and The Art of Maneuver

Unfortunately, in most cases, they have not done their homework. A few of them have a passing familiarity with concepts like jus in bello and jus ad bellum, but no one I’ve seen has yet grasped the indirect battlefield effects of violently attacking nodes of command. Nodes like Saddam, Qusay, and Uday themselves. No reporter I’ve seen writing on the HRW report has yet demonstrated an understanding that it is better to cripple an enemy’s command and control and then bypass his irrelevant army than it is to allow things to devolve into a head-to-head mutual slaughter. No reporter I’ve seen writing on the HRW report has yet seemed to grasp that one of the best ways to do that is to hit the boss so hard and so often that he becomes terrified of using his cell phone.

As a result, the public is ill informed.

Some facts to put things in perspective: The strike point of smart bombs are accurate to within 10 meters. But the smallest smart munition payload we have has a blast radius quite a bit larger than that. I would not want to be within 100 meters of any 500-pound bomb. That said, we need to recognize that no one is going to take us on in the countryside for some time. The enemy will remain in developed areas, hide behind women and children, and force us to pay a political price for every media-saturated strike.

The technology exists to hit these kinds of targets and still minimize the suffering borne by the innocent: We need to develop and field 250 pound, 100 pound, and even 50-pound guided munitions payloads for use in urban areas.

The intelligence Kaplan describes in the article suggests that we knew with reasonable certainty that, “Sir, Saddam Hussein, and/or his two sons have been located within 100 meters of X location. The source is SIGINT—a cell phone intercept. Reliability of the source is high. Time of intercept was ten minutes ago. They are in a developed area of Baghdad. We have no ground forces in Baghdad. But we can hit the target from the air with a 500 pound bomb within 45 minutes. There is a substantial risk of collateral damage to nearby civilians.

Sir, what do you want us to do?”

It happened way above my pay grade, but I would have had just one word in reply:


Friday, December 19, 2003

Rank Ignorance III: The Wall Street Journal 
I can't link to it now, unfortunately. From the Dec. 18th Wall Street Journal (The home of the most predictable editorial page this side of the Washington Times!)

“He handed the news to two junior U.S. military-intelligence [sic] analysts in Tikrit, Lt. Angela Santana, 31, and Cpl. Harold Engstrom, 36, both with Alpha Co., 104th Military Intelligence Battalion.
The two officers say Maj. Murphy’s orders to them were: Figure it out, draw the lines, make me a chart, and find every crucial person related to Saddam.”

Earth to Manhattan: Only one of them was an officer.

A minor point, sure. But if their man on the ground in Iraq doesn’t even know what an officer is, then what else can he be missing?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Looks Like I Picked The Wrong Week to Stop Sniffing CLP... 
In the "Political Football," "linebacker" should be amended to "Running back."

Obviously, I should stick to baseball analogies.

Thanks to a reader for pointing out the error.

I'm going to sell myself on a street corner for a little while, until I get back my sense of self-esteem.


The Rhetoric of Body Counts II 
Here’s another reason I don’t trust body counts:

Every day, the brigade staff sends us what amounts to a “police blotter,” -- a daily list of all the contacts, ambushes, the daily horoscope, IED sites, intel reports, assessements, and other conspiracy theories, along with the stock tip of the day. Ok, well, they edit out some of the more useful stuff for the sake of brevity.

Yesterday we received a report that a civil affairs unit ran into an ambush on the freeway just north of town. They were engaged at a range of 150 meters with a volley of several rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire from an unknown number of assailants, who were firing from behind a berm on the side of the highway.

The convoy commander, quite reasonably, just stepped on the gas and booked on down the highway and out of the kill zone. No U.S. personnel were injured.

Despite not holding the battlefield after the engagement, and despite having engaged the enemy while down the highway at between 45 and 60 mph, and despite the fact that the insurgents were firing from behind a berm, the brigade claimed 3 insurgents killed, and an unknown number of wounded.

Now, it may come to pass that the brigade had sent another element to clear the ambush site and found the bodies of three insurgents, but no mention was made of that in the report. As far as I can tell, the convoy commander must have had the luckiest bunch of wild-eyed shooters in the history of warfare, and some kind of psychic connection with the souls of the dead.

I dunno...Maybe he’s the guy who writes the horoscope?

An Example of Hindsight Being Blind... 
“Saddam never had any connection to terrorism in the first place.”
--Robert Dreyfuss, writing for TomPaine.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

UPDATE: France Budges! 
The New York Times: Seizing the initiative a day after the announcement of Saddam Hussein's capture, France said today that it would work with other nations to forgive an unspecified portion of Iraq's immense foreign debt.

The offer was a conciliatory gesture to Washington as much as it was a helping hand to Baghdad.

Maybe the so-called "Slap in the face" over contracts wasn't so counterproductive after all?

Sometimes you gotta throw the inside pitch.

Pardon me for Asking, but... 
…if the governments of France, Germany, and Russia were ever seriously considering restructuring or forgiving Iraq’s crushing debt, or providing any other meaningful assistance with the rebuilding of Iraq, don’t you think they’ve had an opportunity to do so by now?

The argument that the Administration’s contract policy somehow makes their help less likely to be forthcoming sounds pretty disingenuous to me. As far as the Iraqi people are concerned, their help was never coming at all.

Which brings us to…

Odious Debt 
There’s a lot more legal background to the subject than I can deal with in IraqNow, but readers should be familiar with the concept of “odious debts.”

Here’s the skinny:

The question before the world here is this: Does a nation’s obligation to repay an international debt attach to a people, a land, or a government?

Put another way—when a brutal and oppressive dictatorship such as Saddam’s has incurred mountains of debt, with no democratic participation in fiscal policy whatsoever, and the proceeds from the loans are spent irresponsibly, or even used against his own subjects, then very serious questions can be raised about the obligation of the people of Iraq to pay back the loan. The debt may be considered “odious” to the Iraqi people, and while they may take a purely pragmatic decision to honor those debts in order to secure cash flow and financing from other sources, they are not under any moral obligation—and perhaps under no legal obligation to do so.

Now, creditor nations have argued long and loud—going back at least to the turn of the century--that the obligation to repay attaches itself to the land, not to the government. Note the artful avoidance of the argument that the obligation attaches to the people, since that would require the postulate that the people are somehow represented by the government—obviously a perverse argument in Saddam’s case.

In either case, though, Saddam’s foreign debts, by some counts, total near 100 billion dollars—a near hopeless figure for an economy in which laborers make less than five bucks a day.

So here’s another econ concept with which IraqNow readers should familiarize themselves…

The Dukes of Moral Hazard 
I’m (ahem) borrowing this term from the financial world. Essentially, the doctrine of moral hazard means that the lender must accept responsibility for the credit risk of the borrower. If the lender feels that he can rely on government or the courts, or any other third party to bail him out of a loan gone bad, then he will have no incentive to perform normal due diligence on the credit-worthiness of the borrower. Rather, when you remove risk from the lender’s equation, he has a perverse incentive to lend his capital to the riskiest debtors he can find, since those loans pay the highest yields.

(We’ve seen this logic play out before, domestically, in the central American debt crisis of 1981-82, when Citibank and Bank of America both found themselves overexposed to central American debt in the middle of an economic collapse there—so severe that it threatened the financial structure of the entire U.S. banking system--and the S&L Bailouts of the late 80’s and early 90’s.)

If France, Germany, Russia, and others lent more money to Saddam’s regime than they can afford to simply write off in a spirit of largesse, then doesn’t that raise serious questions about the financial and moral judgement of their own bankers?

If we hold ordinary Iraqis’ feet to the fire and force them to repay these loans, we risk compromising the principle of moral hazard. French, German, and Russian capitalists will continue to lend their money to profligate and irresponsible regimes, confident that the debts will be made good—at UN and U.S. taxpayer expense, if necessary—even if their scumbag creditors collapse in a hail of bullets.

Now, I don’t think the United States is going to declare Iraq’s debts “odious” and unilaterally erase the debts. It is simply not necessary for us to do that ourselves. To do so would needlessly roil U.S. relations with France and—more importantly—Russia, all over again.

European bankers should begin to accustom themselves with the taste of a mouthful of sand. By next summer, Iraq’s new government becomes fully sovereign.

The Shadow Cast by a Covenant 
Now, I haven’t read it anywhere yet, but this seems like a pretty obvious point to me:

Couldn’t the reason the Administration restricted prime reconstruction contracts to coalition members be that this was the deal he made to attract coalition partners in the first place?

If the President backs down under pressure from France and Germany now, he breaks faith with our real allies in the Coalition, endangers their continued participation in Iraq, and seriously undermines the U.S.’s credit rating when it comes to recruiting coalition partners in the future.

So...Are you Discreet? 
The quote in the title is from Glenn Close’s character in the movie “Fatal Attraction.” Nation states, of course, have to behave a bit more rationally on the world stage.

Obviously, the Administration can’t be too public about the private deals the State Department cut with the different coalition partners. Their political heads are counting on the Administration to provide political cover, and shield them from embarrassing domestic charges that they sent troops off to die to benefit their own corporate interests—lest, to borrow another literary allusion, their voters send them out behind the figurative barn and let them pet the bunny rabbits.

Contracts as a Political Football 
That being the case, the President has committed to this policy. It does no good, for example, for the Baltimore Sun to call for Paul Wolfowitz’s resignation over this relatively trivial matter.

This is State Department stuff, anyway. It’s not a Pentagon thing. But it seems like the White House is content to allow long-time neo-con lightning rod Wolfowitz to take the heat. Seems like a reasonable decision to me, for the same reason quarterbacks hand off the football to a linebacker rather than make a bruising run themselves.

Why let your star player take the bruising?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Saddam the Vulgar 
I hope someone who was there, and fluent in Arabic, writes down verbatim this conversation between Saddam Hussein and members of the Iraqi governing council, and distributes it to the Arab world.

It will show a lot of the more observant Muslims that Hussein was no Knight of Arabia; it will show him for the cruel, petty, and vulgar man that he is.

I wrote before, in War of Ideologies, it's not enough just to capture Saddam Hussein. It's not enough to militarily defeat the Saddamites and radical Muslim sects. This war will not be over until those movements are discredited on their home turf.

The facade stripped away, Saddam can no be exposed--in terms the Arab street can understand--as the unislamic sociopath he is.

We should print copies of this transcript by the millions.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Smoking Gun? 
Is this just another Yellowcake?

We'll see. I'll let it play out more. Given Saddam's willingness to shelter Abu Abbas, it's at least plausible. Although I don't see what he would have to gain by backing the 9/11 plot.

The risk/reward ratio just wasn't favorable.

I'll let this one play out some more.

Splash out

Meatgrinder Metrics: A Statistical Analysis  
There’s a very useful site on coalition forces casualty figures here

Unfortunately, I don't see very many journalists using it very well.

The media focuses overwhelmingly on the number of lives lost. It’s easy to see why—it tugs more heartstrings in Peoria. But if you’re going to accept coalition casualties as a metric for measuring the progress of the struggle for Iraq, then I believe it’s much more instructive to focus on the numbers of wounded.

Why? Because the sheer numbers of wounded dwarf the number of dead, any statistical analysis of wounded is going to provide a much smoother graph with a smaller margin for error. Further, when you focus exclusively on the number of soldiers killed, then your analysis excludes the vast majority of attacks on coalition forces.

Let’s look at the numbers.

The United States took 270 wounded in September, 433 wounded in October, 344 in November, and 119 through 11 days of December. I’ll count three more wounded I have personal knowledge of from the 12th of December (plus one KIA, and another dead in a separate possible suicide, from the site’s press releases), for a total of 122 wounded through 13 days of December.

You can see the table on the Website. I would adjust the December daily average figures to 8.7, based on the information available to me here.

To reduce increase the number of data points and reduce the standard deviation of daily figures, I would add the number of those killed and wounded from enemy action together, while excluding non-battle casualties, which don’t tell me much about the enemy.

That yields:

September Total casualties: 277 9.23/day
October: 466 15.03/day
November: 441 14.70/day
December: 128* 9.8/ day

So what can we learn from the numbers? The first thing you see is that from the point of view of total U.S. casualties, November was not the worst month since the President declared an end to major combat operations; that honor actually belongs to October.

Moreover, the November figures for those killed in action were skewed upwards by two statistical outliers: two downed helicopters—one in Fallujah killed 17, I believe, and another near Mosul killed, for a total of 23. Eliminate the outliers, and the average number of wounded/day drops below 14. The difference between 15.03 and 13.93 is not particularly significant, except that the trend continues into December, which thus far has only produced 9.8 casualties per day—the best day since September.

Again, though, December’s figures are skewed by two significant outlying data points: last week’s car bombing in Mosul (wounding 26), and Friday’s car bombing at the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters in Ar Ramadi, which wounded 14 and killed one. Subtract those two events, and the remaining guerrilla activity throughout the country caused 6.69 U.S. casualties per day so far in December—well under the September’s pace.

This is not to suggest that the casualties in these events ought to be dismissed as insignificant. They themselves reflect disturbing trends about the enemy’s ability to 1.) obtain and use surface-to-air missiles against U.S. aircraft, and 2.) Recruit people actually willing to blow themselves up.

Equally significantly, though, the figures suggest that a smaller and smaller number of insurgent cells may become responsible for a greater number of casualty-producing operations.

I’m also struck by the casualty figures’ seeming lack of correlation with Ramadan. If Ramadan were going to bring a grass-roots rash of religiously motivated attacks, then you would expect that November’s total casualties would be significantly greater than October’s. I’m not entirely surprised by it, though. Littlegreenfootballs.com links to a good statistical analysis of intifada casualties, and I could find no evidence of a Ramadan boost in terrorist activity there, either. Ramadan isn’t about killing, anyway.

Lastly, the overall drop off in casualties may well be weather-related. Night time temperatures are dropping into the 30s, which probably makes it tough for Joe Sheik’s-pack to motivate himself to get off the couch at night and pick up his remote control and go out and kill some infidels. Why not wait until spring, when it’s warmer?

Someone with more time than I have might be willing to go back through casualty figures and weather data and do a regression analysis of temperatures vs. guerrilla activity in Afghanistan and other areas. Anyone with an econometrics background ought to be able to do this.

I’m surprised I haven’t seen any respectable statistical analysis of casualty figures yet from the NY Times. Maybe they should get someone on their financial desk on the story.

I have no solid answers for why total U.S. casualties seem to have markedly increased in October. My own unstudied sense is that the number of total incidents seems to have remained constant, or even declined since July. One possibility: somewhere along the line, the insurgent changed his tactics. Direct fire engagements on U.S. troops are less common now. His emphasis has shifted to improvised explosive devices, and more recently, to more spectacular car bombings.

I haven’t seen anything like this 10th grade level of statistical analysis from the New York Times or other major media outlets yet, though. Maybe they should get their political and financial desks in on the story. Time, Inc., on the other hand, should probably contract it out to Morningstar.com.

*Note: The KIA count is updated through the 13th, so I’m assuming the Ar Ramadi fatality is included in this figure. Monthly wounded figures prior to September are apparently not available, and any aggregate would be highly skewed from the March and April casualty figures. I’m therefore excluding them for the purposes of this post.

Splash, out


Scare Quote "Watch" 
What’s the deal with the scare quotes in this Reuters article?

Also Saturday, eight Jordanian, Lebanese and Syrian prisoners were flown home after being released from several U.S.-run detention centers in Iraq.
Three of the eight suffered "serious injuries which may result in partial disabilities," International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Muin Kassis told The Associated Press. He said their injuries were the result of an "accident" during their detention.

It’s impossible to determine if the ironic quotes refer to the skepticism of the Red Cross spokesperson or are the creation of the reporter. In either case, though, if there is reason to doubt that their injuries were really an accident—if there’s any evidence of abuse—the reporter has an obligation to spell it out.
If there is no such evidence, then why use the scare quotes at all?

Splash, out


Letters, Oh Christ, do I Get Letters!!!! 
One reader of unknown nationality takes issue with this passage:

I still carry a photo of Anne Frank around with me. One of the reasons I volunteered for this gig in the first place is because I didn't want young women in Iraq to have to live in fear of their own government.

His response:

I would support this war and urge my government to support it as well, if I thought for one moment your government would do it properly. But it hasn't, it isn't and it won't. To leave Iraq with a culture that respects the rule of law and therefore protect these women, would take more resources and will than America is willing to spend.

Yeah, thanks for standing up in the clinch, buddy.

Splash, out,


The Ace of Spades? 
Did we get him?

Just coming off my battle captain shift. A couple of soldiers came in and said "Hey, we got Saddam! It's on CNN!!!"

Keeping my fingers crossed. That'll be great news.

Reaction from the troops varies:

"This will make the whole trip worthwhile"
"Man, why couldn't it have been US?"
"Will it get us home earlier?"

Splash, out

Saturday, December 13, 2003

The Nation, Divided 
One wonders if Roger Normand, writing for The Nation, was under the influence of mind-altering substances (say, Patchouli), when he wrote this passage:

It is the world's sole superpower--the primary architect of the United Nations and its Universal Declaration--that is now shaking off all legal constraints to unleash the most destructive military machine in history.

Is our military more destructive than that of Saddam Hussein’s? In what sense, precisely?

Is our military more destructive than the Nazi war machine of World War II? You know, the one that engineered the Holocaust?

Is our military more destructive than the Red Army that enforced the starvation of the Ukraine that killed millions?

Is our military more destructive than the Khmer Rouge, which murdered almost a quarter of the population of Cambodia in the 1970s?

Are we more destructive than the Japanese in their murderous occupation of China, Korea, and the Philippines in WWII?

Are we more destructive than the Mongols, who may have killed up to 800,000 people in what is now Iraq alone?

You want destruction? Let me throw out a few more examples of real destruction:

Caesar in Gaul.

WWI. On either front. Which left a shell of an entire generation of British, French, and German youth.

Scipio Africanus in Carthage.
The Assyrians at Lachish
The 30 Years War.
The Crusades.
The Ottomans in the Balkans. The Christians right back against the Ottomans.

I could go on. Not one of the above conquerors even attempted to create anything approaching a democratic Republic among their subjects. Rather, entire cities were slaughtered, or sent into slavery. Caesar financed his Gallic campaigns with the capture, transport, and sale of thousands upon thousands of slaves.

All this is to say that Normand’s critical thinking skills seem to have been completely trumped by a rabid and reflexive rage. There is nothing going on here--even in the U.S. military's very worst moments, that is even remotely comparable to the tragic but established norms of warfare, even in the 20th century.

I’m wary of throwing the term “America-hater” around to describe the handwringers on the left. But it certainly seems apropos in this case.

No wonder Christopher Hitchens told these guys good riddance (Thanks to Ranting Profs for pointing this out.)

I’d like The Nation to publish more work like this superlative article from Lauren Sandler.

That’s what progressive left journalism should look and feel like. Sandler sticks with a sober-minded focus on the facts involved and the women and girls tragically affected by them. In so doing, focuses our attention on the dispossessed in a disciplined, credible, and moving way. She lets the Iraqi women she interviews tell their own story, and the story stands on its own merits. It does not self-aggrandize, it does not puff itself up. It does not distract the reader with a blinding salvo of straw men, red herrings, and reckless, easily falsified assertions.

Normands’ incoherent rant, on the other hand, accomplishes little more than turning his article into a grotesque caricature of itself.

In a larger sense, the two articles, appearing side-by-side on The Nation’s website, encapsulate the struggle for progressivism’s soul. Sandler appeals to empathy; Norman appeals to cynicism. Sandler evokes sympathy, Norman anger. Sandler draws in the swing voter; Norman alienates him. Sandler expands progressivism; Norman marginalizes it.

I still carry a photo of Anne Frank around with me. One of the reasons I volunteered for this gig in the first place is because I didn't want young women in Iraq to have to live in fear of their own government.

Anne Frank and Lauren Sandler both help keep me grounded.

Splash, out,

Mommy At the Gates! 
Every soldier's worst nightmare.


Friday, December 12, 2003

A "Fraudulent Coalition?" 
I just don’t get sentiments like this:

The president made a series of promises to us--number one, that he was gonna make every effort possible to build a legitimate coalition. He did not--he built a fraudulent coalition.
--Senator John Kerry, in this interview with Rolling Stone magazine

I’ve been in Southwest Asia since April. In that time I’ve personally met and talked to soldiers and civilians from The United Kingdom, Denmark, Poland, Azerbaijan, Moldavia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Japan, and Spain. I haven’t met any Italians yet, Japanese, or Spaniards yet, Koreans, but I know they’re here. Some of them lost their lives on this ground.

There are also, at any given time, thousands of Iraqis risking assassination or mass murder in order to help rebuild Iraq. I see them almost every day. Are they frauds?

All of them are here on the ground, risking their necks along with us. Is that fraudulent? Within the last couple of weeks, men from Italy and Japan have sacrificed their lives along with our troops. Was that fraudulent?

A soldier from Fiji was wounded—shot through both knees—while providing security for an Iraqi Currency Exchange program in the Battle of Samarra. Was that fraudulent, too?

Why don’t you come out here and speak to the boots on the ground from our coalition partners? Try calling them ‘fraudulent,’ Senator.

I'm gonna lift this country up to a greater engagement in the world. I mean, think of what we could do to reach out and begin to present a different face of our country.

I guess for Kerry “reaching out” means slapping our partners in the face. Frankly, I don’t even see Kerry building a coalition large enough to win the New Hampshire primary, at this point—let alone project a multilateral force under a unified command halfway around the world.

Splash, out


Soldier Killed in Suicide Attack in Ar Ramadi 

When the bomb went off at about 1:35pm local time, I was in my bunk in a building 1000 meters away.

The blast shattered several windows.

There was no reliable word on casualties for some time. Strange—in the moments after the blast, the prevailing sentiment on our compound seemed to be a nervous giddiness and exhilaration at the fact that—this time—it wasn’t us.

Of course, that was before it was confirmed that a soldier had been killed.

Splash, out


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Anatomy of a Decision II: The Rally 
The Baghdad press corps seems to have missed a larger story. This article, from United Press International
describes an antiterrorism demonstration in Baghdad attended by an estimated 4,000 people. An Iraqi blogger-on-the-scene has this report:

The rallies today proved to be a major success. I didn't expect anything even close to this. It was probably the largest demonstration in Baghdad for months. It wasn't just against terrorism. It was against Arab media, against the interference of neighbouring countries, against dictatorships, against Wahhabism, against oppression, and of course against the Ba'ath and Saddam.

What you don’t see in the UPI story is that the demonstrations were not limited to Baghdad: there was actually a series of coordinated rallies across in cities across the country, including one scheduled from 0930 to 1200 hours at the government center here in Ar Ramadi.

Here’s what things looked like from my little corner of the Army:

I have recently been temporarily assigned to the post of battalion “battle captain.” For nonmilitary readers, that means from 0100 to 1300 hours every day I am the battalion commander’s representative in the TOC, and basically run all routine operations in the absence of the battalion commander or executive officer. If this were Star Trek, I’d “have the conn.”

At about 1100 hours on the 10th of December, we received word from a civil affairs detachment at the government center that the demonstrations had wound down, which allowed us to stand down a mounted quick reaction force we had standing by “just in case.”

After terrorists had murdered 15 people in the bombing of a police academy graduation ceremony just 20 yards away last July, we were very concerned that the rally would become a target for terrorist attack. We were also concerned that the march itself could turn ugly, and had decided to hedge our bets by maintaining a reserve to react to anything that could happen. But hearing that the rally was winding down without serious incident was certainly good news.

A few minutes later, though, my RTO took a call from the civil affairs team stating that a counterdemonstration had formed, and a slogan-chanting mob of about 200 people had come from the east, and was throwing rocks at Americans and Iraqi police inside the compound. “By our lives, by our souls, we will preserve Islam!” The team was not part of our unit. I actually didn’t even know they were there until they called in. They were in our area of operations, though, and the RTO told me they wanted permission to fire a warning shot.

I hate to be the guy sitting in a safe place on a radio and a room full of maps denying a request to someone in a tight spot in the field.

But on the other hand, I had to weigh the immediate needs of the guy on the ground against the broader mission: the stability of Ar Ramadi in the long term.

The problem with using warning shots in this kind of situation -- when you’re not confronted with an immediately lethal threat -- is that once you fire, you’ve played out your hand. If the rock throwing continues, you either have to kill people or appear impotent. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

Furthermore, put yourself in the position of some average Joe Iraqi in the crowd. You can hear the shots ring out, and you can hear the difference between an M16 and an AK-47. So you know it was the Americans who fired first, but you have no idea that the first shots didn’t hit anybody. If there’s a gun available, and you’re a male, and there are women around, you’re going to grab one. (Arab machismo makes people do nutty things.)

Now, we know that there’s an AK-47 inside almost every shop, and almost every apartment immediately above and behind the shops. Iraqi families keep them around for home protection. There are more AK’s in Ar Ramadi than there are Elvis plates in Vegas. There is also a known extralegal weapons market just a couple of hundred meters away. If a warning shot is misinterpreted, the crowd could quickly arm itself with implements far deadlier than swords, and it could do it in minutes.

I didn’t consciously thought about it at the time, but one of my NCOs on duty reminded me that we’d seen this happen before, in July, at the very same location. We had most of a company stationed at the government center at that time. A bunch of kids started throwing rocks at the compound. A crowd gathered. The compound started taking small arms and RPG fire from across the street. To the west, a man was skipping around behind a bunch of kids handing hand grenades to children and encouraging them to throw them at our troops behind the compound.

Our soldiers couldn’t get a shot at him without endangering the children. So they returned aimed fire at the RPG shooters and small-arms fire to the north, but they held their fire to the west, and just took the grenades.

When it was over, at least three Iraqis were dead.

If we fired warning shots, and they were misinterpreted or ignored, then chances were good that things could escalate to a pitched battle within minutes.

“Have them hold their fire and hunker down,” I ordered the RTO. “Meanwhile, let’s stand that QRF (quick reaction force) back up before they break down completely.”

But the guys had anticipated that order and were already transmitting it before I even thought of it. Sharp team.

I explained my reasoning to the RTOs real quick, though, so they’d have some guidance from me. “I’m not going to meet non-deadly force with deadly force,” I said. “We can always go deadly later.”

At that time, though, I still had no idea how many U.S. soldiers were at the government center. The civil affairs unit had not coordinated with us that morning to tell us they were showing up. So I decided to tell the QRF to roll towards the government center and deploy in a show of force.

Once the order to hold fire and the order to roll the QRF was clear, I picked up the radio myself and called the CA team.

Generally, I don’t pick up the radio, personally. We’ve got tremendous, sharp RTOs, with tons of common sense, who’ve been directing battalion operations for months. My role is to track happenings on a map, monitor the overall situation, and make sound and timely decisions. Which means my job isn’t to yap on the radio. (That’s a common mistake young lieutenants make).My job is to think!

But this time I picked up the radio, because a guy on the ground in a tight spot is going to want to talk to the decision maker, and I wanted to hear the voice of the guy on the ground and get a couple of points of information in person.

“Hey, how many soldiers do you have?”

He told me…which I won’t be specific about, but it was enough to defend themselves for the time being, if need be.

“Ok. Do you have enough transportation assets to mount everyone up and leave if you have to?”

“Oh, roger, that’s not an issue!”

“Ok. Are you getting any assistance from the Iraqi Police?”

“Roger. They’re doing a good job. They’ve showed up in enough force to move the crowd away. Things are going ok for now.

“Ok, roger. Now, I don’t know what your mission is. But will it fuck your mission up to withdraw and come back tomorrow? Are you done for the day?”

“Roger, that’s not a problem. We’re done for the day!”

“Roger, wait one. Out.”

So my NCOIC I went over to the map and worked out a plan—talking it over out loud, because I’ve been on the job long enough to know two RTOs have good, sound tactical ideas of their own, and they’re not afraid to voice them. (if anything, they voice them TOO much, but I can always tone that down or cut through that if I really need to. I’d rather have to reign someone in than drag them along, any day).

We agreed to roll the QRF and have them set up a blocking position between the government center and the mob, and cover the withdrawal of the civil affairs team. If air was available, we’d ask it to monitor the crowd, but we wanted to get our people out of there, for the same reason that you want to remove the oxygen supply from a fire. If it were a pro-Islam demonstration, the hope was that it would fizzle out in the absence of Americans.

Once everyone knew what the plan was, all we had to do was set the RTOs loose to communicate the plan, and monitor events.

Because I don’t normally pick up the radio, but work through my TOC NCO and let the RTOs do their job, when the battalion commander walked in, I was able to take a minute to brief him up on the situation without the flow of information skipping a beat.

The QRF arrived within minutes. The civil affairs team trucked up and left, with the infantry withdrawing immediately after. Everyone called in with updates. The civil affairs team was also had enough on the ball to take some digital photographs of the rock throwers and leaders of the violent counterdemonstration, and emailed them to us within a day.

A couple of Iraqi policemen received minor injuries from the rocks, but no one was killed, no shots were fired, no property was destroyed, as far as I know, and everyone on both sides made it home alive.

It wasn’t a difficult day, nor a particularly difficult decision. It’s just one of a very few points during this deployment where I managed to earn my meager officer's pay.

Which brings us to…

Leadership Lessons from Iraq V 
1. Army precommissioning programs tend to esteem reflexive decisiveness over measured judgment. But lieutenants and leaders in all kinds of contexts need both. And in my own experience (over 11 years commissioned service) the measured judgment part of the equation is immeasurably more important.

2. Officers, like all execs, are paid to think, and make sound and timely decisions. They are not paid to flap their pieholes on the radio, anymore than they are paid to write unmotivating emails (or blog entries, for that matter.) Stay in your lane.

3. Put sharp soldiers on the radio. It’s worth the investment. Then take a minute to communicate your plan clearly. Your soldiers will make you look good. Monitor just to make sure.

4. Officers should work through their NCOs and maintain situational awareness.

5. You're not a dog, Firing your weapon isn’t like licking your balls. It’s not one of those things you want to do just because you can. In the urban, low-intensity warfare environment, just firing your weapon is a commitment. Don’t make it lightly.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Rank Ignorance II: The New York Times Blows it Again! 
And it’s in an otherwise tremendous article!

“The other day I told General Petraeus about a young specialist fourth class I had met while waiting for a military flight out of Baghdad.”
The problem is, there’s no such thing as a “specialist fourth class” in the Army.

The author, Lucian K. Truscott IV, is himself a West Point graduate. I suspect he used the outdated abbreviation, Spec./4 in his copy. That would have been correct when he was in the service, when there were several different 'specialist' ranks. That hasn't been the case for a few decades, though. And the 4 refers to a pay grade, not to a class. That’s one difference between Navy and Army ranks.

I suspect some copy editor, looking to eliminate jargon from the article, decided to spell it out, and guessed wrong.

Once again, a New York Times writer is let down by the exclusion of veterans in the editorial ranks.

Cultural diversity counts.

Splash, out


Civil/Military Projects Key to Ar Ramadi 
If it bleeds it leads, goes the journalism proverb. But there’s a lot more going on in Ar Ramadi than fighting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the urban renewal projects currently being coordinated by the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry in Ar Ramadi, Iraq.

-The repair of the ‘River Road,’ a commonly used bypass along the Euphrates River on the north edge of the town.

-1 Remodeled/upgraded fire station

-We’ve provided significant remodeling and improvements to 17 schools. So far, we’ve delivered 1,000 sets of school supplies and backpacks to kids in two different schools in Ar Ramadi.

-17 mosques received $1,500 each toward remodeling and repairs. Our own people verify that the work was done before contractors are paid.

-We’ve renovated or are in the process of renovating 7 police stations.

-We’ve spent almost $10,000 on equipment for police special investigations unit.

-Funding is approved for a new prison facility in Ar Ramadi. Still trying to figure out a location, though. NIMBY is a universal phenomenon.

-Ar Ramadi General Hospital and Ar Ramadi Women’s and Children’s Hospital have received $100,000 each for repairs and upgrades. (Laborers get about $5 a day around here. So $100,000 is more money than it sounds like.)

-We’ve renovated eleven different health clinics around town.

-Made renovations and needed repairs to the Sofia Water Treatment Plant.

-1 Bank is being remodeled.

-We’ve bought $10,000 in paint for an Iraqi-run graffiti eradication program.

-We’re assisting local officials in making needed repairs to an amusement park downtown, complete with a full-sized Ferris wheel.

-My radiotelephone operators are busily inflating dozens of soccer balls as we speak. These will be distributed to area schools and playgrounds in the next few days.

Splash, out.


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Time's Known Unknown Unknowns 
Here’s another good example of how major media outlets can get stung by what Don Rumsfeld would call their “unknown unknowns: the things they don’t know they don’t know.”

Time Magazine’s Brian Bennett and Michael Ware went above and beyond the call of duty to bring us this revealing look at the faces behind the insurgency in Iraq. It’s good, informative, well-reported stuff.

Again, though, Time apparently suffers from a lack of veterans in its fact-checking ranks back in the States. Otherwise they might have caught this:

“Encased in a green storage tube with a flip-lock lid, the weapon [apparently an 82mm mortar round] has liquid sloshing inside a bulbous head reeking with a putrid odor that burns the nostrils. The Russian markings on the weapon identify it as a TD-42 liquid, high-explosive mortar…[Abu Ali] is convinced that the mortar contains a highly lethal gas.”

Attention Time, Inc. editorial employees! Put down your complimentary lattes, folks, and listen up: A round is not the same thing as a mortar. You cannot use the two terms interchangeably.

These are the same guys who didn’t understand that helicopter flares don’t do anything to disrupt a shoulder-fired, unguided weapon like an RPG-7 or RPG-14.

This is a minor quibble with a really good piece, to be sure. But there’s no getting around the fact that Time’s man on the ground is no weapons expert. Or even a respectably knowledgable layman.

But this is the second time that he's been let down by a reporting and fact-checking staff in their mid-town Manhattan editorial offices Center that doesn't seem to include any military veterans, who would have caught and corrected the error in a heartbeat.

We know that. But it’s unknown if that’s unknown to Time. But it’s pretty clear that whether it’s a known unknown or an unknown unknown, they act as though they don’t know that they don’t know that.

Jews in the Service: A Tale of Two Commands 
Well, some stories just speak for themselves.

AP: Missing Army Class for Jewish Holiday Brings Discharge

Refael and Margaret Chaiken were supposed to be seven months into a five-year Army commitment by now, studying to be much-needed interrogators in the war on terrorism. Instead, they are civilians looking for jobs.

The two were discharged after disobeying orders by skipping class so they could attend services for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

"They didn't meet the requirements of the course," said Tanja Linton, a spokeswoman at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where the Chaikens were training. "You have to meet the requirements of the course. We really just don't see the story here."

She said the Army acted within its regulation on religious practices, which says it will accommodate religious practices "unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on unit readiness, individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, safety, and/or health..."

The legal problems disappeared when they filed a complaint with the Army's Equal Opportunity Department, the couple said. They were simply given a general discharge that mentions "misconduct" as a reason behind their return to civilian life."


So what kind of defanged, pathetic Equal Opportunity Department can we possibly have that would allow this to happen?

Just to add a little illumination to this story—I’ve got two Jewish soldiers in my company. We’re terribly shorthanded, out here in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. We've already taken dozens of wounded, without replacements. But for Yom Kippur, we managed to shake these two guys loose and drive them to Division headquarters. Division freed up an entire helicopter (actually, two helicopters, since no helicopter travels alone around here), and they picked up Jewish soldiers from airstrips all over the Al Anbar province, and even out in Tikrit, and flew them all to Baghdad for Yom Kippur services. They also organized a return trip. That’s two missions that require a lot of coordination ahead of time, and a lot of staff man-hours to plan.

For some reason I can’t remember, our guys missed the flight time. The 82nd Airborne Division Commander, a two-star general, came down over the net and said a helicopter WILL be made available to take our guys to the services, even if it was just for only two soldiers.

We got them out, and they got to attend the services. It was almost five days before we got them back. They were gone so long I started to call them my “M I Oys.”

But getting them to that service was a no-brainer.

So if we were able to do that in combat, I don't think it's unreasonable for Fort Huachuca to bring in an instructor on sunday or in the evenings to help these two soldiers make up instruction missed.

See, that’s the difference between a combat commander who knows that it pays dividends to take care of troops, and a rear-echelon bureaucrat who’d rather stick two soldiers with a general discharge for the rest of their lives rather than admit to an error of judgment.

Here’s how to write your congressman.

Splash, out.


Monday, December 08, 2003

Guardian Gaffe 
First, look at this passage from a recent article in the UK daily The Guardian:

US army spokesmen initially claimed 200 guerrillas had been killed when they tried to ambush two armoured convoys on Sunday, in a strike that triggered the biggest battle since George Bush declared an end to the war in Iraq seven months ago.

Point one: George Bush never declared an end to the war. I defy anyone out there to pop me a link from a reputable news agency that he declared an end to the war in Iraq. He declared that ‘major combat operations are over,’ essentially marking a transition from a high-intensity conventional war to a low-to mid-intensity counter-insurgency. The Fedayeen never formally surrendered, and combat operations against the Fedayeen never ceased. This is very different from declaring an end to the war. So the declaration that Bush did so is a glaring factual error.

Point two: The writer, Claire Cozens, doesn’t refer to a press conference or provide anything to source her claim, so that the reader can check things out for himself. So it’s not clear to me if she’s relying solely on the claim of ITV correspondent Julian Manyon, whom she quotes from Spectator magazine:

The US military spokesman, who caused an excited ITV news desk to wake me at 1am, claimed that they had defeated co-ordinated attacks by about 200 'terrorists', some of them wearing the uniform of the feared Saddam Fedayeen

Now, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but there’s a big difference between claiming to have killed 200 guerrillas and claiming to have defeated them. You don’t have to annihilate a force in order to defeat it.

Now, I was reading the official action reports from the 1-66th within hours of the fight on a secure internet connection. No one anywhere was claiming a body count of 200 guerrillas. One possible explanation: Claire Cozen’s violated the first commandment of journalism: Thou Shalt Rely On Thine Own Reporting. Cozen’s not even relying on second hand reporting; she's actually passing third-hand reporting along as truth. Julian Manyon never even talked to the military spokesman. It was an unnamed figure at the ITV news desk! And the editors just let this go?

Guardian, you’re busted!

The Perils of Passive Construction 
Not to pick on Clair Cozen or The Guardian, but here’s an example of why being a media reporter is incredibly difficult. It’s hard to be objective when the professionals you’re covering are also your friends and coworkers.

The lines between truth and spin were blurred on a regular basis, and the demands of 24-hour news meant items were often broadcast before journalists had the opportunity to check their accuracy.

Don’t you just love mealy-mouthed passive sentence construction? Nothing absolves one of responsibility quite like the combination of an impersonal noun, a passive voice, and a form of the verb “to be.”

“lines were blurred.”
“Items were broadcast.”
“Mistakes were made.”

A sharp editor could easily remedy the second clause. Strike the impersonal, colorless phrase “The demands of 24 hour news” and replace it with “The spinelessness of cable news journalists, producers, and executives.”
There. That’s much clearer, isn’t it?

Finally…News flash--spokespeople spin. It’s what they do. It's what they're paid to do. If the lines between truth and spin become blurred, isn’t it a reporter’s job to unblur them, rather than blaming others for their failures?

From the Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don't Dept. 
Here’s a tidbit from AP’s Niko Price:

Headline: Iraq to Create War Crimes Tribunal

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein and hundreds of his aides could go on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide in an Iraqi-led tribunal that will be established in the coming days, Iraqi and American officials told The Associated Press on Friday.

Some human rights groups criticized the plans, saying Iraq's U.S. occupiers have too much of a hand in them and that Iraqi judges and prosecutors may not have the experience needed to try the cases.

Ok, I don’t get it. On one hand, these groups are saying the U.S. is too involved. On the other hand, they claim that the little dark swarthy savages—you know, the ones who invented the rule of law in the first place--aren’t competent to try the cases. So if the Iraqis can’t do it themselves, and we can’t help them, then the only option left is to forget about the tribunal at all.

Here’s what they don’t get: If you look at a map of Iraq, superficially looks like one political entity. Ok, we know it really isn’t. Almost everyone by now has figured out that it’s really three: the minority Sunni muslims, and the Shias and ethnic Kurds who were so savagely oppressed by Saddam and a few of his favored Sunni clans.

So most informed people can draw two rough lines on the map and divide the populated areas of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, stick a Sunni, Shia, or Kurd label on the map as appropriate, and think that passes for a sophisticated understanding of the situation on the ground.


The reality is that there is no bright line along which the ethnic groups can be separated. Further, Sunni areas are further subdivided into tribes, clans, and sheikdoms—some of which—particularly the al-Tikriti tribe, had closer ties to Saddam than others. Other tribes, even in the Sunni areas, were marginalized and brutalized by Saddam themselves and are aching for payback.

Most people simply do not grasp how deep the interclan rivalries and jealousies are, even among Sunni tribes. Saddam the strong man kept a lid on things in the same way Tito kept a lid on ancient grudges between Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians in the Balkans.

But clans here in Ar Ramadi, and throughout the Al Anbar province, have been arming themselves for years. Some have built up huge neighborhood arsenals, with truckloads of artillery shells. Hundreds of mines. Mortars. RPG-7s, all buried in communal farmlands and behind houses.

Generally, these arsenals were not intended for use against Saddam, or even—for the most part—against coalition troops. The sheiks accumulated these stocks on the sly as a hedge against the collapse of Saddam’s regime, in order to be able to defend themselves against other clans.

Many Iraqis resent being occupied by a foreign power, to be sure. But they’re still human, and share a human thirst for justice. If their thirst cannot be channeled and controlled through the rule of law, then the tribes may well seek rough justice themselves. Don’t believe me? Then jear it from an Iraqi.

Those militants don't understand any language except the language of force. Fuck human rights. Those aren't humans anyway. We desperately NEED to see some heads rolling. Believe it or not. Theres going to have to be some bloodshed for this to work. Bomb the hell out of Tikrit and Al-Awja. Massacre every last person of Saddam's tribe. Rape his women. Yeah. Let them taste some of what we have endured the last 30 years. I don't want to see my dreams ruined because of those trianglees. If the CPA doesn't want to do it, send in a force of IP and civil defense forces and turn your face the other way, they'll be more than glad to do it, believe me.

Apparently, though these human rights groups would prefer to let Iraqi justice disintegrate into blood vengeance, tribal warfare, and vendetta.

Did the United States “have too much of a hand in Nurenburg?”

What’s wrong with these people?

Credit Where Due... 
This was a terrific piece of community journalism, courtesy of Stars & Stripes. It came out a month or two ago, but this is the first I’ve seen it online. (Hat tip to Buzzflash).

Mostly of interest to military readers. But their findings caught the attention of the Chairman of the JCS and congress, and congress is grilling Gen. Peter Shoomaker about what can be done to improve things.

This is an example of how good community journalism can improve people’s lives. Good work, guys.

The U.S. Army: Sultans of Spin 
Some things are just too funny to make up. Believe it or not, this exercise in non-linear reasoning is verbatim from an actual operations order my unit recently received.

“Non-compliant forces continue to attack U.S. Military and Iraqi civilian targets throughout AO [Area of Operations] YONKERS*. Many of these attacks are attributed to recent coalition successes throughout the AO that have potentially degraded threat capabilities and affected their ability to attack US military forces with effectiveness.”

Hmmm...maybe if we adopted a deliberate policy of avoiding successes,--even downright ineptitude, we could bring the insurgency to its knees!


*Not the actual code word. Everything else is the same.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Blogger of the Day 
At the risk of feeding the vicious circle of bloggers quoting endlessly from other bloggers, I thought this was a great sentiment:

From Ranting Profs...

Do you really think that stories like these about what Iraq was like before the war were unavailable before the war? Do you really think American reporters didn't know where they were living? Every time they did a "man in the street" interview with a citizen of Baghdad, and didn't remind us that there was a government official standing right off camera recording that Iraqi's names and comments, every time they covered a "peace march" and didn't tell us that they knew it was a choreographed exercise, they covered up the truth. These are the people we rely on to bear witness for us. And if we forget the quality of work we got out of them then, we let them off the hook.

You bet I'm still mad about it.

Double Digit Midgets!!! 
Less than 100 days until we're due to rotate back to the U.S!


The West Case and the Politics of Torture 
I have written on this page that loyalty to your troops and loyalty to your boss isn’t enough: "You also owe loyalty to your mission, to your boss’s mission, to the theatre commander’s mission, and to the democratic principles of the republic you are sworn to defend.”

That last point wasn't a throwaway.

Enter lieutenant colonel Allen B. West, a former battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Division, which operates in and around Tikrit. LTC West is facing court martial on charges of using threats or psychological torture while interrogating an Iraqi police officer suspected of conspiring with others to assassinate LTC West and his personal escort.

Details here.

What surprises me is that all the media stories about this incident I’ve read seem to be treating the incident as though the use of force or threat of force to extract information from prisoners is a novel issue. It is not. Tyrannies need not bother with navel-gazing on the subject, but among free societies, the ethics of torture have been a knotty problem for military, intelligence, and law enforcement for years.

The first thing to bear in mind is a matter of pure pragmatism: Information provided under torture is historically unreliable, because the prisoners under torture are liable to say anything it takes to get the torture to stop. In West’s case, the suspect did, in fact, name his alleged co-conspirators. But I’ve found no mention of any physical evidence corroborating the coerced testimony of the suspect.

That’s not to say no corroborating physical evidence exists—I just haven’t seen the press push the Army to present it.

Torture Warrants?

Alan Dershowitz—who’s got a lot of credibility as a powerful advocate of defendant’s rights, has floated the idea of ‘torture warrants.’
They’d work like this: investigators who believe that a suspect has information which will save the lives of innocent people could apply for a warrant to a judge to apply some sort of coercion in order to force the information. The officials would have to convince a judge that a ‘ticking time bomb scenario’ exists, and that the state’s interest in protecting innocent lives trumps the prohibition of torture.
Although the federal judiciary branch is, by design, not immediately accountable to the electorate, torture warrants would preserve the separation of powers, preserve the flexibility of the state to defend its citizens against the ticking time bomb, and provide a useful check on the power of law enforcement or intelligence officials.

It would also put a thin veneer of due process on a monstrous practice.

The Command Climate

George Bush’s guidance is extremely clear. The use of torture and the abuse of detainees will not be tolerated.

The President has not, at least publicly, made any exceptions for the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario.

I’ve got a secret clearance, but I can tell you that I’m not aware that there’s been any behind-the-scenes exceptions to the policy, either, with the possible exception of sleep deprivation protocols.**

It’s already been reported that the US has made a practice of transferring Al Qaeda suspects to Jordanian and Egyptian officials—in full knowledge that their government’s policies concerning coercion are nowhere near as restrictive--and letting them handle interrogations on our behalf.

The Geneva and Hague conventions make no exception for the ticking time bomb, but as the Attorney General has been careful to establish, they also do not provide the same level protections to terrorists, spies, or criminals as they do to captured uniformed service members.

**When we first arrived in Iraq in May, some of our soldiers were temporarily detailed as guards at the prisoner detention facility at Al Asad. They were under orders not to let the detainees sleep—if any detainees fell asleep, our troops were instructed to wake them every half an hour by pounding the pavement near their heads with a sledgehammer.

The Army of the Republic

Enter the military justice system. West himself admits that he knew his actions were in violation of the laws of land warfare. But that’s why we have juries. Juries provide the final line of defense against poorly crafted or unrealistic laws or guidelines. When West’s case is presented in a court martial, the jury is going to have to consider everything that our politicians won’t, or can’t.

 Does this case warrant consideration as a ‘ticking bomb scenario?’
 Should we consider a ‘ticking bomb’ to be a mitigating factor?
 Since the conspiracy was against LTC West personally, should we consider his actions as taken in self defense?
 If we allow killing in self-defense, does it then follow that we should allow otherwise illegal actions short of killing?
 Does ‘self-defense’ extend to the protection of soldiers under the accused’s command? If so, can we extend this without awarding higher ranking soldiers a ‘blank check’ to commit other acts of torture or coercion?

It’s pretty clear to me that LTC West’s actions should not go unexamined, and we need a formal and deliberate process to do that. A court martial seems reasonable in the short term. But now that we confront the spectre of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unaccountable terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, it is time for us to take a long, hard look at our policy.
This is not a question that should be left to civil service and law enforcement careerists and policy wonks. Nor is it a question that should simply be left up to commanders in the field without clear guidance about what the people of the United States are willing to sanction. Our Army serves a democratic republic, and is subordinate to its civilian leadership, which itself is subordinate to the people.
In the end, question of coercion, the question of torture, is a question for all of us.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Equivocation Nation 
I love The Nation. But I just couldn’t let this twisted bit reasoning slip by:

From the first paragraph:

[Terrorists’ main objective] is less to kill than to sow anxiety and panic. Ironically, from this perspective, Al Qaeda and the US Administration, as well as the Israeli right and Hamas, have a common aim: namely, to increase fear in order to recruit and manipulate their own people against their respective "other."

Kimmerling wastes no time in drawing a moral equivalency between the Bush Administration and Al Qaeda. Which really does the reader a favor, because the reader need waste no time in identifying the moral bankruptcy of Kimmerling’s premise.

When Iraqi loyalist forces realized that they could not confront Anglo-American military might on the conventional battleground, they simply dissolved their army and handed the invaders an easy victory.

This assessment is pretty far removed from the reality. For the most part, the Iraqi army “dissolved” because of the corruption, brutality, and incompetence of its leadership. From the opening days of the war, entire units were laying down their arms and walking home. Yet even as the U.S. forces were in the suburbs of Baghdad, Saddam was wasting entire brigades of his best Republican Guard units in suicidal charges against tanks and Bradleys. If Saddam had made a conscious decision to go irregular from the start, then he would have husbanded his Guard and Fedayeen units for unconventional operations rather than destroy them in foolish charges. Iraq’s army wasn’t “dissolved” by its leaders. It “dissolved” because of them.

Once the allied forces entered this trap, the Iraqis (joined, it appears, by foreign Arabs) began waging a highly efficient guerrilla war against them…
Well, I don’t know what “highly efficient” means in this context. I suspect that even Kimmerling doesn’t know exactly what he means by “highly efficient.”

…and against anyone associated with the occupier, including the United Nations.

Hey, Kimmerling! Why did you leave out the International Red Cross?

Acutely sensitive to the threat, the American government has denounced these guerrillas as "terrorists."

Oh, I get it now. The absurdity of Kimmerling’s argument requires him to ignore relevant facts like the bombing of the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad, because that would expose his bankrupt position for what it is. It would also make it difficult for him to use the “scare quotes” around the word “terrorist.”

Anyone who writes about terrorism is faced with the notorious problem of defining it.

Actually, when you make a practice of clarifying the language rather than trying to muddy and confuse it, it’s not such a big problem at all. I would refer readers to The Language of Insurgency on this page for more on this point.

Arab defenders of suicide bombing, notably Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, an influential Shiite cleric in Lebanon, have argued that any Israeli is a legitimate target since all Israelis, men and women, serve in the military.

I wonder if Kimmerling can produce the military service records of Israeli schoolchildren killed in bus bombings deliberately set during school commuting hours?

It is, of course, a commonplace that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter.

Yes, it’s fashionable for the professor set to raise their eyebrows and wag their pinkies at one another and say that to impress their friends and gullible students at cocktail parties.

It’s also true that in other times and places, it was equally “a commonplace” that one man’s negro was another man’s nigger, and one man’s Jew was another man’s subhuman.

The fact that these views were commonplace does not mean that both sides of the equation were equally valid. The attempt to equivocate between the two is often mistaken for cleverness. But it is certainly not wisdom.

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