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RAPID RESPONSE (Archives)...Daily Commentary on News of the Day
This is a new section.  It will offer fresh, quick reactions by myself to news and events of the day, day by day, in this rapid-fire world of ours.  Of course, as in military campaigns, a rapid response in one direction may occasionally have to be followed by a "strategic withdrawal" in another direction.  Charge that to "the fog of war", and to the necessary flexibility any mental or military campaign must maintain to be effective.  But the mission will always be the same: common sense, based upon facts and "real politick", supported by a visceral sense of Justice and a commitment to be pro-active.  That's all I promise.
GS

Click here to return to the current Rapid Response list

FRIDAY through WEDNESDAY, April 25 through 30, 2008
Army recruits who get in despite bad conduct promoted faster

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 29, 4:44 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Soldiers who need special waivers to get into the Army because of bad behavior go AWOL more often and face more courts-martial. But they also get promoted faster and re-enlist at a higher rate, according to an internal military study obtained by The Associated Press.

The Army study late last year concluded that taking a chance on a well-screened applicant with a criminal, bad driving or drug record usually pays off. And both the Army and the Marines have been bringing in more recruits with blemished records. Still, senior leaders have called for additional studies, to help determine the impact of the waivers on the Army.

"We believe that so far the return outweighs the risk," said Army Col. Kent M. Miller, who headed the team that conducted the study.

The information has not been released to the public, but the AP obtained a copy of the study.

The statistics show that recruits with criminal records or other drug and alcohol issues have more discipline problems than those without records. Those recruits also are a bit more likely to drop out of the Army because of alcohol.

On the brighter side, those with waivers earn more medals for valor and tend to stay in the Army longer.

In a key finding, the study said that nearly one in five — or 19.5 percent — of the soldiers who needed waivers to join the Army failed to complete the initial term of enlistment, which could be from two to six years. That percentage is just a bit higher than the 17 percent washout rate for those who didn't need a waiver to get in.

About 1 percent of those with waivers appeared before courts-martial, compared with about 0.7 percent of those without waivers.

Overall, soldiers with waivers appear more committed to their service once they get in. Statistics show they tend to stay in the Army longer and re-enlist at higher rates. Also, infantry soldiers with waivers were promoted to sergeant in an average of about 35 months, compared with 39 months for those without waivers.

The Army study compared the performance of soldiers who came in with conduct waivers against those who did not during the years 2003-2006.

In that time, 276,231 recruits enlisted in the Army with no prior military service. Of those 6.5 percent, or nearly 18,000 had waivers.

In a comparison of both groups the study found that soldiers who had received waivers for bad behavior:

• Had a higher desertion rate (4.26 percent vs. 3.23 percent).

• Had a higher misconduct rate (5.95 percent vs. 3.55 percent).

• Had a higher rate of appearances before courts-martial (1 percent vs. 0.71 percent).

• Had a higher dropout rate for alcohol rehabilitation failure (0.27 percent vs. 0.12 percent).

But they also:

• Were more likely to re-enlist (28.48 percent vs. 26.76 percent).

• Got promoted faster to sergeant (after 34.7 months vs. 39 months).

• Had a lower rate of dismissal for personality disorders (0.93 percent vs. 1.12 percent).

• Had a lower rate of dismissal for unsatisfactory performance (0.26 percent vs. 0.48 percent).

Waivers have been a controversial issue for the military in recent months, with the news that the Army and Marine Corps have increased their use of the exemptions to bring in more recruits with criminal records than ever before.

The Army and the Marine Corps are under pressure to attract recruits as they struggle to increase their size in order to meet the combat needs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last time the active-duty Army missed its recruiting goal was 2005. Last year it set a target of 80,000 recruits and signed up 80,410. It is shooting for another 80,000 this year.

Some critics outside the Defense Department say the military is lowering its standards in order to fill its ranks. And lower-level officers have raised concerns with their leaders that the trend may trigger an increase in disciplinary problems within their units.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the Pentagon recently for more data on troops who receive conduct waivers.

He said he recognizes "the importance of providing opportunities to individuals who have served their sentences and rehabilitated themselves." But he also noted concerns that the practice could be undermining military readiness.

Army officials say getting a waiver is a long and difficult process, particularly for those who have been convicted of a serious offense. Serious offenders have their records reviewed and must get approval from as many as nine different analysts and officers — up to the rank of general.

Gen. William Wallace, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va., dismisses the notion that waivers are creating more disciplinary problems in today's Army.

Instead, he said, when the Army brings in a young person who made a mistake and got past it, most likely "they will be a better person for having made that mistake and learned from it, than perhaps somebody who didn't make the mistake and didn't have the opportunity to learn."

Wallace speaks from experience.

As a teen he was taken into custody in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., when — as he put it — "I took an expensive baseball and put it in a not-so-expensive baseball box, and tried to check out with it."

He remembers the black and white police car pulling up, loading his and his friend's bicycles in the back and taking him downtown to the station where his father had to pick him up.

He laid out the sobering experience on his application for West Point several years later and, he recalled this week, "somebody looked at that application and said 'he apparently learned something from the experience and we'll give him an opportunity.'"

Wallace, a four-star general whose chest full of awards now includes two Distinguished Service medals, five Legion of Merit awards and an Army Commendation Medal for valor, said the Army has an obligation to give young people a second chance to make something of themselves.

"I am less concerned about the raw material that we receive than I am about the product that we produce," he said.

FRIDAY through THURSDAY, April 18 through 24, 2008

From famine to feast; news cycles are like that. 
Dear reader, I'm sorry if all of the above has put you into a deep funk.  The antidote lies in the section of this web-site entitled "A Bit Of Whimsey".  "Try it.  You'll like it!"

GS

MONDAY through THURSDAY, April 14 through 17, 2008

This is about Religion, and "Religion". 
GS

SUNDAY, April 13, 2008

I have no way of knowing...but does the following remind us of the Soviet Union in the 1980's?  GS

ITEM 13: Gordon Chang: Fragile China (Tibet, etc.)

Fragile China
Beijing struggles with unrest in Tibet.
by Gordon G. Chang
Daily Standard
04/10/2008 12:00:00 AM

THREE WEEKS AFTER THE outbreak of violence in southwest China, Beijing's officials have apparently restored order. Before they were able to do so, they often spoke in grim terms. Tibet Communist party chief Zhang Qingli, for instance, stated that the country was locked in "a life or death struggle."

From the perspective of today, that assessment appears overwrought. Yet there was good reason for Chinese officialdom to be worried. Although the Tibetans clearly could not gain their independence or destroy the one-party state, their uprising exposed the fragility of the regime in Beijing.

Fragility? The global consensus is that China owns this century and will soon push the United States off center stage. Yet the violence instigated by Tibetans last month called into question the stability of Chinese governance. As an initial matter, the disturbances shattered not only the cultivated image of ethnic harmony but also the cherished notion that economic development was molding the nation together. China remains a multicultural empire of many ethnicities--Beijing officially counts 55 minority groups--and not all of them are content remaining inside the Chinese tent. Those who want their independence from Beijing's "Han" rule are indicating that the Communist party's formula for nation-building is deeply flawed. "The central government invests billions in Tibet each year hoping for stability in return," a Chinese source familiar with Beijing's thinking on Tibetan matters told Reuters. "But money cannot buy stability."

Largely as a result of this blind faith in modernization, officials in the horribly misnamed Tibet

Autonomous Region and their bosses in Beijing believed their own propaganda on the benevolence of their minority policies and the righteousness of their actions. "The problem is that in the Party, they delude themselves by thinking that Tibetans don't have legitimate grievances," says Tsering Shakya of the University of British Colombia. Due to this perception, Chinese leaders were convinced that Tibetans should have been happy and that problems, when they occurred, were fomented from the outside. Therefore, Beijing quickly came to the conclusion that the recent unrest must have been orchestrated by the revered Dalai Lama, whom state media smeared as "a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast." Yet any casual visitor to Tibet could see that, even in the calmest of times, the Tibetans deeply resented Han rule. No independent observer endorses Beijing's charges that the Dalai Lama was behind this year's disturbances.

The self-delusion in this instance led to Chinese officials, both in Beijing and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, being taken by complete surprise when they should have been prepared. The protests started on an especially sensitive date-March 10, the 49th anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising in Tibet--and Tibetan lamas often take to the streets to commemorate the event. Moreover, the violence did not start until the fifth day of the disturbances, giving the state plenty of time to get ready. As a result of the almost complete paralysis of the government in Lhasa, the "scum of Buddhism"--Beijing's term for angry Tibetans--fought police and went on a rampage, attacking Hans and burning their property. They even managed to take control of the center of the capital city. "The whole day I didn't see a single police officer or soldier," said one American woman to the New York Times. "The Tibetans were just running free." Free-running Tibetans exposed another fundamental flaw in Beijing's governance. The Communist party's inflexible top-down political system is especially ill-suited to respond to fast-moving events. As a senior police officer in Lhasa told a Han businessman whose properties were damaged in the rioting, "We could not act without orders from above." Although the Chinese state is massive, its size is as much a disadvantage as a strength, as we saw last month--and in every crisis in China this decade.

While Chinese officials deliberated during the breakdown of order in Tibet, the protests spread fast throughout Tibetan areas in southwest China. Within a day of the initial outbreak on Monday, similar demonstrations had taken place in Qinghai and Gansu provinces. By Sunday, the 16th, Tibetans in Sichuan province burned down a police station and engaged in other disruptive acts. Neighboring Yunnan province was also scarred by Tibetan unrest.

And now ethnic protests have jumped from Buddhist Tibetan lands, in China's southwest, to Muslim Uighur areas, in the country's northwest. Although authorities in the so-called Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have taken extraordinary precautions in recent weeks, such as banning weddings, they were not able to prevent the bombing of a bus in the capital city of Urumqi on March 18. Since then, there have been scattered incidents, most notably a demonstration, beginning on March 23 in the city of Hotan, of nearly 600 Uighurs. At the end of last week, authorities in the northwestern part of Xinjiang, also known as the "other Tibet," reportedly found bombs and made arrests. Fu Chao, an official there, said that Uighur protesters "want to echo the things in Lhasa."

Beijing has employed the same harsh--and abhorrent--tactics to repress both its Uighur and Tibetan populations. The forceful Chinese methods have stopped the worst rioting, but they have not been entirely successful. Some demonstrations continue even in the presence of hundreds of troops. In the past week, despite repeated government pronouncements of victory, sporadic disturbances continue to occur.

And at this time, it appears that the government's increased reliance on force is itself creating even more public dissent. Fresh violence, for instance, occurred in Sichuan province on April 3 when almost 800 monks and other Tibetans marched to seek the release of a monk and a monastery worker who had been incarcerated for possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama. The pictures were seized when 3,000 paramilitary troops invaded a remote monastery. Police opened fire on the protestors, killing as many as 15 and wounding dozens. Others have been reported missing. The incident is bound to fuel even more resentment and ultimately unrest. As Nicholas Kristof noted last week, China's repressive policies in Tibet have "catastrophically failed."

It's true that force has so far succeeded in keeping Tibetans and Uighurs from breaking away from the People's Republic, and almost no one thinks they will prevail in the foreseeable future. After all, Tibetans number approximately six million and the Uighurs about eight in a nation of approximately 1.5 billion souls.

Yet the recent Tibetan disturbances show what may happen in other circumstances and in other times. In the last few weeks, protests flared, escalated quickly, and spread uncontrollably. Central and local officials were surprised, reacted slowly, and now employ tactics that cause further unrest. In a future crisis, over different issues and involving different peoples, we will likely see the same themes we witness today, but then the mighty one-party state may not succeed.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China and Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World (both Random House). He blogs at contentions.

FRIDAY and SATURDAY, April 11 and 12, 2008

The most important Amendment in the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment, protecting freedom of speech and expression.  That allows us to speak Truth to Power and facts to politics, pessimism and hysteria.  In that vein, the following article warrants the broadest readership at this time.  GS

ITEM 14: Fred Kagan: Why Iraq Matters

Why Iraq Matters        
National Review Online  
Publication Date: April 7, 2008
 
Losing wars is always bad. One of the major reasons for America's current global predominance economically and politically is that America doesn't lose wars very often. It seems likely, however, that the American people are about to be told that they have to decide to lose the Iraq war, that accepting defeat is better than trying to win, and that the consequences of defeat will be less than the costs of continuing to fight. For some, the demand to "end this war" is a reprise of the great triumph of their generation: forcing the U.S. to lose the Vietnam War and feel good about it. But even some supporters are being seduced by their own weariness of the struggle, and are being tempted to believe the unfounded defeatism--combined with the unfounded optimism about the consequences of defeat--that hyper-sophisticates have offered during every major conflict. Americans have a right to be weary of this conflict and to desire to bring it to an end. But before we choose the easier and more comfortable wrong over the harder and more distasteful right, we should examine more closely the two core assumptions that underlie the current antiwar arguments: that we must lose this war because we cannot win it at any acceptable cost, and that it will be better to lose than to continue trying to win.

The hyper-sophisticates of the American foreign-policy and intellectual establishment direct their invective at the whole notion of winning or losing. What's the definition of winning? If we choose to withdraw from an ill-conceived and badly executed war, that's not really losing, is it? We can and should find ways to use diplomacy rather than military power to handle the consequences of any so-called defeat. Less-sophisticated antiwar leaders on both sides will ask simply why the U.S. should continue to spend its blood and treasure to fight in "a far-off land of which we know little," as Neville Chamberlain famously said in defense of his abandonment of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. We have, after all, more pressing problems at home to which the Iraq war is only contributing. As is often the case, there is a level between over-thinking and under-thinking a problem that is actually thinking. Yes, in the world as it is, whatever line we sell ourselves, there really is victory and there really is defeat, the two are different, and their effects on the future diverge profoundly. And yes, the reason we must continue to spend money and the lives of the very best Americans in that far-off land is that the interests of every American are actually at stake.

Deciding that we made a mistake in 2003 or that we don't like what has happened in the intervening five years does not make it possible to hit some global rewind button and start again from scratch.

We will consider below just how much of a diversion of resources away from more desirable domestic priorities the Iraq war actually is, but the more important point is simply this: Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain. As drug addicts can attest, this kind of instant-gratification temptation is very seductive--it's what keeps drug dealers in business despite the terrible damage their products do to their customers. "Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here" is as bad a strategy for a great nation as it is for a teenager.

The antiwar party has continually adapted its arguments, but not its conclusions, to the changing circumstances on the ground. At the end of 2006, the argument was that Iraq was in full-scale sectarian civil war, that no conceivable additional American forces could reduce the violence, that the whole notion of having American troops try to do so was foolish, and that we should instead slash our forces dramatically and turn to diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors. When the surge began, the antiwar party crowed loud and long that success was impossible, rising violence inevitable, and the whole business doomed to failure. When Coalition operations brought the violence under control, the antiwar party admitted that security had improved but insisted that the political progress the surge was supposed to enable had not occurred and would not occur. Additional arguments popped up to explain that the fall in violence had nothing to do with the surge anyway--it resulted from the Anbar Awakening, which had preceded the surge; or, alternatively, from the fact that American troops were simply buying and arming former Sunni insurgents; and from Moqtada al Sadr's ceasefire that he could lift at any moment, plunging Iraq right back into complete chaos. The antiwar party rather gleefully seized upon recent Iraqi Security Forces operations against Sadr's militia and other illegal gangs as proof of this--the general glee with which the antiwar party has greeted any setback in Iraq is extremely distasteful and unseemly, whatever domestic political benefits they believe they will receive from those setbacks. Even if one believes that defeat is inevitable and withdrawal necessary, no American should take pleasure in the prospect of that defeat. But the key talking points now seem to be two: that the war costs too much, and that it is already inevitably lost whatever temporary progress the surge may have achieved. What follows is an exploration of these and a few other key antiwar talking points.

The War Costs Too Much

An increasingly popular talking point of the antiwar party is that the war simply costs too much and that we must end it and refocus on domestic priorities. This talking point has a number of variants:

The "$3 trillion war." Simplistic economic analysis declares that the war has cost the taxpayers $3 trillion since its inception, implying that this is a $3 trillion dead loss to the economy--a price too high to pay.

Modern economics has long understood that the notion of a one-for-one guns-versus-butter trade-off is simply wrong. A high proportion of money spent on defense goes back into the U.S. economy in the form of salaries paid to the more than 5 million Americans employed directly or indirectly by the Defense Department, and payments to the defense industry and the long and complex supply chains from which they draw their raw materials. Military spending has traditionally been a form of economic stimulus, and wars more commonly end recessions or depressions than start them. That's not a good reason to start a war, but neither is it a good reason to lose one. The impact of the current war on the U.S. economy, finally, is far smaller than the impact of previous major conflicts. Military spending in World War II ranged from 17.8 percent of GDP to 37.5 percent; in Korea from 5.0 percent (in 1950--7.4 percent in 1951) to 14.2 percent; in Vietnam from 7.4 percent to 9.4 percent. Current expenditures on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars bring total defense expenditures to something well below 5 percent of GDP. Even granting the simplistic and misleading $3 trillion figure, $3 trillion is about 5 percent of the nearly $60 trillion American GDP over the five years of the war.
The war has caused the upcoming recession. Using mercantilist arguments common in the 18th century but subsequently shown to be wrong, war opponents have successfully spread the notion that military spending is causing the economy to slow and contract--they have been successful enough that a large majority of Americans believe this falsehood to be true.

In line with the points made above, the burden of the war on the American economy has simply not been heavy enough to have caused a recession on its own. The collapse of the housing bubble, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, rising oil prices (which losing the war will not lower), and a variety of other factors have been far more important in slowing the economy than any brake the war might have put on it. Defense spending as a percentage of total federal spending is now around 20 percent. In World War II, it ranged from 73 percent to 89.5 percent; in Korea it ranged from 32.2 percent (1950--51.8 percent in 1951) to 69.5 percent; and in Vietnam from 42.8 percent to 46 percent. In more context: at the height of spending on this war, defense spending was only 12.3 percent of all public spending (including federal, state, and local expenditures); in World War II the high was 82.1 percent; in Korea, 52.5 percent; and in Vietnam 31.3 percent.
While it is true that security spending (including Homeland Security and many costs not related to the Iraq war) is the largest single line-item in the 2008 Federal budget at $656 billion, mandatory programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP, and other non-security discretionary programs received $610 billion, $391 billion, $211 billion, and $481 billion respectively. The $100 billion or so of direct war costs that could theoretically be recouped by withdrawing all of our forces from Iraq and Afghanistan is less than 6 percent of the $1.7 trillion spent on mandatory and discretionary domestic programs. The financial cost of the war, high though it is, is simply not a large enough part of the federal budget, to say nothing of the GDP, to have played a significant part in the American economy, particularly considering the fact that a high percentage of defense dollars go back into that economy. The argument that the Iraq war has caused the recession is just wrong.

High gas prices are the result of the war--and ending the war would lower gas prices.

There is a huge failure of logic here. Oil prices do not rise because American forces are in the Middle East--they rise because of instability and fighting in the Middle East. One of the most dramatic increases in oil prices in history occurred during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when no American forces were present. The antiwar party argues that American failure in Iraq is inevitable and the violence will inevitably increase whatever we do. That is not true, but if it were, then it makes this talking point silly. If violence in Iraq is destined to increase, then the oil premium is destined to remain at least this high if not higher. In the real world, American forces are playing a key role in keeping the violence in Iraq down and preventing it from engulfing the region--if they are withdrawn prematurely, violence will spike and so will the price of oil.
The war is consuming money that would otherwise be spent on more important domestic programs.

If only our schools were fully funded and the Air Force had to have bake-sales to buy bombers. . . . Well, the Air Force is just about at the bake-sale level thanks to consistent under-spending on defense since 1991. But if we stopped the war tomorrow, would our schools get all the money those who make this argument think they need? Of course not. The war is being funded on an emergency basis (for good or ill) and its cost has not been offset by tax increases (as the antiwar party periodically points out). In the real world, there is no way that even a Democratic Congress would spend $100 billion a year in non-offset emergency authorizations for education or health care, even if some war critics think that they would like it to do so. As for increasing domestic spending, those who believe that we should raise taxes and spend more money on domestic programs can still advocate that policy, whatever its wisdom. This isn't an argument about the cost of the war--it's an argument about whether we want to have higher taxes to pay for increased domestic spending. Alternatively, it can be an argument about the cost-benefit of government borrowing versus tax increases, or of government borrowing versus economic stimulus in the form of government spending. It is not about the one-for-one tradeoff of dollars spent on the war versus dollars spent on schools and health care.

America just can't afford this war any more, whatever the outcome.

This talking point is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to make recent successes and the probability of future successes irrelevant. If the U.S. and its Iraqi allies can build on recent progress and move toward a situation in which Iraqi is stable, peaceful, and a U.S. ally--thereby avoiding the collapse of Iraq, the explosion of violence, and the likely increased intervention of Iraq's neighbors that serious historical studies as well as facts on the ground show are very likely--then the U.S. can afford the price as put in its proper context above. If success is not possible, then we must discuss the best course of action to extricate ourselves. In no circumstance is it appropriate to argue that the probability of success or failure in Iraq has become irrelevant. This is not an argument over how best to secure America's interests--it is an argument that ends discussion by appealing to emotion and short-term thinking. Can America afford the consequences of an immediate withdrawal? What would they be? What would they cost? If those costs include the possibility of re-engaging against al-Qaeda or regional instability in the future--as Sen. Obama has bizarrely hinted--what will that undertaking cost? The antiwar party has the obligation to explain to the American people the probable and possible costs of its own proposals, something it has so far utterly failed to do.
The War Is Inevitably Lost, Recent Progress Notwithstanding

This argument, one of the most common among the antiwar party, recognizes that the situation in Iraq has improved significantly over the past 15 months, but asserts that further efforts in Iraq will lead only to inevitable failure. The credibility of many making this argument suffers from the conviction with which they declared early (and, in some cases, even late) in 2007 that no progress of any kind was possible. And arguments from historical inevitability are problematic either to prove or to disprove (except for Marxists and other historical determinists). To the extent that this argument is anything other than an assertion of superior abilities to predict the future, it generally rests on one of a handful of bases:

Iraq is a made-up state: Iraqis hate each other, and only armed might can keep the peace.

The high degree of Sunni-Shi'a intermarriage in the mixed areas of Iraq, the large numbers of such mixed areas, and the increasing anger with which many Iraqis in those areas now denounce the idea of sectarian conflict all run against this argument. Those who closely followed the evolution of the sectarian civil war in 2006 noticed the surprise and resentment with which many Baghdadis greeted the idea that they had to interact with one another on the basis of sect. The fact that many reacted by acquiring dual identity cards--one with a Sunni name and one with a Shi'a name--suggests that they did not see sect as a core identity that must be defended at all costs. The alacrity with which Iraq's Shi'a shifted their condemnation from the "Sunni" to "al-Qaeda" in 2007 as the Sunni Awakening marked the Sunnis' revolt against the terrorists is another indicator. In truth, it appears now that most Shi'a who do not live in the vicinity of Sunnis really don't care very much about them. And many Sunni, even those who still call the Maliki government "Persians," are increasingly more concerned about local political developments and what they can get out of that government than about the sectarian split. The Sunni-Shia fault-line is important and likely will be for a long time. In particular, it will continue to provide the potential to rally the Iraqi masses in internal strife that suits external actors. But its existence in Iraq does not condemn Iraq to endless sectarian violence any more than the once-volatile Protestant-Catholic divide in Germany continues to generate violence today.
Iraqis are not ready for democracy; it was an error for Bush ever to imagine that the U.S. could impose Western values on an Arab (or Muslim) state.

As for the notion that democracy is incompatible with Islam, tell it to the hundreds of millions of Muslims in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Europe who have embraced it. As for the notion that democracy is inappropriate for Arabs, the enthusiasm with which the liberal elite that insists on the universality of its own moral relativism engages in such overtly racist argumentation is astounding. More concretely, the millions of Iraqis who risked their lives to vote in previous elections and the polls showing that upwards of 90 percent of Iraq's Sunni Arabs intend to vote in upcoming provincial elections suggest that Iraqis don't agree. Many of the other counts of the inevitability argument spring from some version of this hyper-sophisticated racist viewpoint--Iraqis are too corrupt for legitimate government; they won't fight because they're weak, lazy, or just would rather have us do it; they won't take responsibility for their state or security; and so on. To each argument there is an on-the-ground rebuttal (like the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died fighting al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, for instance), but this talking point isn't really about on-the-ground realities; it's about preconceptions that can be very hard to sway.
Recent Progress Really Has Little To Do with the Surge Anyway

This has become one of the favorite talking points of the antiwar party, and it has three major components:

The Anbar Awakening began before the surge, had nothing to do with the surge, and will continue (or not) with or without U.S. forces present.

This argument is a bit like saying that the French people, finally tiring of the Nazis' occupation, rose up of their own accord in 1944, engaging in increasing partisan and insurgent activities culminating with the re-appearance of the Free French military units that liberated Paris--and that none of this had anything to do with the Normandy invasion, since the Free French movement and partisan activity within France predated that invasion. One interesting thing about this argument is that it requires a real detachment from the scene to believe in--Anbaris don't say this, American troops and leaders who were in Anbar in 2006 don't say it, Americans who oversaw the full blossoming of the Awakening in 2007 don't say it. It's a good argument to make from 6,000 miles away, but it isn't true. Resistance to al-Qaeda in Iraq's presence had been growing steadily throughout 2005 and 2006, and local leaders had begun both developing resistance movements and reaching out to Coalition forces for help before the surge. But al-Qaeda in Iraq had responded with fearsome brutality that greatly slowed and restricted the speed and scope of the movement. American forces in Ramadi in 2006 fought hard to establish the preconditions in the city for a clearing operation that would make possible the dramatic turn of the tribes in 2007, but they were not able to conduct that operation until reinforcements arrived with the surge. The exponential expansion of the Awakening movement--and particularly its spread to areas outside of Anbar that had shown no inclination to resist al-Qaeda before the surge--is testimony to the synergy between these two phenomena.
The violence in Iraq has fallen not because of the surge's success, but because of its failure: sectarian violence is down only because the sectarian cleansing has largely been completed.

This argument doesn't even work from 6,000 miles away. There has been sectarian cleansing in and around Baghdad, but it has not resulted in homogeneous cities, let alone provinces, and it has not generated stable dividing lines between communities. Traditionally, Shia have dominated Sadr City, of course, as well as its various neighboring areas of Shaab, Ur, and much of 9 Nissan. Shia have also predominate in Khadimiya, west of the Tigris River, around an important Shia shrine there. Sunni have historically been the majority in the Mansour and Rashid Districts west of the river and in parts of Adhamiya to the east. The central areas of Karkh, Rusafa, and Karada have generally been mixed. This sectarian division of the city remains stable today--the Sunni are still in Adhamiya; Shia still in Khadimiya; the center of the city is still mixed; and there remain Shi'a enclaves in Rashid and Sunni enclaves in 9 Nissan. In other words, the river does not form a sectarian boundary, individual districts remain mixed, and there are plenty of sectarian edges to create the basis for sectarian fighting if anyone wanted to engage in it. The same is true in areas south and northeast of Baghdad, such as the former "triangle of death" (that is now a triangle of relative peace where Sunni and Shia both live) and up the Diyala River into Baquba, still a mixed city despite ferocious fighting in 2007. The completion of sectarian cleansing did not occur.
Violence fell only because Moqtada al Sadr ordered a unilateral cease-fire. But he's as strong as ever and can and will end the relative calm at any moment that suits him.

Sadr's cease-fire has always been less of a free choice than many imagine. When the surge began, the Sadrist movement had seats in the Council of Representatives and a number of key ministries in the government. The government, despite his objections, developed the Baghdad Security Plan in conjunction with the U.S. forces stationed there. From that point on, Sadr faced a dilemma--if he called on his people to fight the U.S. and Iraqi forces executing the government's plan, he was casting himself explicitly outside the Iraqi political system and relying on his military abilities to prevail. Since his last effort to rely on force (the uprising of 2004) had been a disaster for him and his fighters, Sadr was not attracted to this option. But the alternative of continuing to play a role in Iraqi politics required that he at least nominally accept the government's decision and at least nominally order his followers to comply. Since the Maliki government has held firm to its original intent and decision, Sadr has never been able to escape from this dilemma. But his reaction in January 2007 created yet another dilemma for him. Coalition and Iraqi forces began to attack elements of the Jaysh al Mahdi and affiliated Special Groups that were continuing to fight--Sadr declared that any such JAM groups were "rogue elements" violating his orders. As U.S. forces moved into Baghdad's neighborhoods, they gained visibility not only on these "rogue JAM" members, but also on the "regular JAM" leaders who were adhering to Sadr's order. In addition to having to abandon any pretext of participating in Iraqi politics if he ended the ceasefire, therefore, Sadr also had to face the likelihood that well-informed U.S. and ISF troops would take out his key leadership cadres the moment he ordered them to fight. And that is what happened when Maliki launched his offensive in Basra and JAM and Special Groups began to fight in Baghdad--which is one of the main reasons Sadr ordered his people again to stand down.
The degree of Sadr's influence and power--even of his control over his own movement--is increasingly open to question, but his ability to make Shi'a Iraq explode at will appears to be substantially diminished. One need only think back to the bad days of 2004, when U.S. forces had to clear Sadrist fighters methodically from around the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf and it took an entire American Cavalry Division to subdue Sadr City with great loss to see that the most recent combat was not even a pale echo of that cataclysm.

Now that the Surge Is Ending, We'll Be Right Back Where We Started

For those who believe the myths that the violence has dropped only because Sadr ordered a cease-fire and because the Americans have been "buying" the Sunni insurgents with arms and money, this talking point makes sense. The repeated assertion that American troops are "arming" Sunni militias is flatly untrue, as the military command and independent observers have stated repeatedly. One of the defining characteristics of an insurgent is that he is armed--at all events, one usually doesn't have to worry too much about unarmed insurgents. To the extent that U.S. forces are bringing former insurgents into the "Sons of Iraq" movement, the one thing we don't need to do is arm them--and we don't. As for paying them, we do, and we should continue to do so. But the tribes in Anbar and elsewhere did not turn to us because we offered them money. They turned to us because they knew that if they continued to fight us we'd kill them. We started to pay them only after they turned, and this continues to be the sequence of events as the movement spreads--first they abandon the insurgency, then they are vetted and some are paid, but none are armed.

The worst flaw in this argument, however, is that it naively assumes that the situation in Iraq today is the same as it was in January 2007 apart from the temporary increase in U.S. forces and the (supposedly) temporary drop in violence. In fact, the situation has changed profoundly both in the provinces and in Baghdad itself, where the central government has made remarkable progress even on the "benchmarks" that Congress set for it last year. It is conceivable that the Sunni Arab community could again become so disenchanted with or frightened of the Shia-dominated government that it took up arms against it (although it is much harder to see how or why that community would start to attack Americans again, unless we do something egregiously stupid), but the resulting insurgency will not be the same one that we have already defeated. New power blocs, new political organizations, new social movements have changed the dynamic within the Sunni community, and a similar phenomenon is also occurring in the Shia community. We can't say with certainty that current positive trendlines will hold, but we can say with a lot of confidence that, if they don't, we'll see something new and not just a return to the problems we had before the surge. In other words, we have defeated the Sunni Arab insurgency we faced, and we are on the road to defeating al-Qaeda, which suggests that broader success is possible with those foes out of the way.

We Should Never Have Fought this War in the First Place

There are no do-overs in the real world. Deciding that we made a mistake in 2003 or that we don't like what has happened in the intervening five years does not make it possible to hit some global rewind button and start again from scratch. Historians and partisans will debate the merits of the decision to invade, the nature of the invasion, post-war planning, weapons of mass destruction, the legality of the operation, and many other things for decades. But George W. Bush is not running for president in 2008, nor is Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. Senators McCain and Clinton both voted to authorize the use of force in 2003; Senator Obama had an opinion then but not a vote. Today it just simply doesn't matter who was right. What matters is what we should do now, in the current situation, to advance our interests and ensure our security. The American people will make the 2008 election another referendum on George Bush's 2003 decision-making at their great peril. For those who want to judge the candidates' judgment, their predictions about the likely results of the surge--when all three candidates had the same information available and the same rights to speak and vote--are more informative than their attitudes toward the invasion. And for those who want to apply a "commander-in-chief test," the coming days will see all three presidential candidates take a report in their official senatorial capacities from the overall commander of the war and the ambassador. Let's see who's willing to listen to and accept reporting and recommendations from a military commander that conflicts with their own positions and who isn't.

Iraq Is a Distraction from the Real War on Terror

Is it? Let's see what al-Qaeda leaders have had to say. (For more detail, see "Iraq: The Way Ahead," Phase IV Report of the Iraq Planning Group at AEI).

At the end of March 2007, al-Qaeda senior leader Abu Yahya al Libi declared:

My brothers, the jihad fighters in Iraq, today you are the avant-garde, the vanguard of the caravan; you are on the front-lines, and there will be implications to your victory. Therefore, strengthen the attack and fortify your determination. . . . and know that your [Islamic] nation in its entirety stands behind you. . . . Do not let it down. Your glorious war is not the jihad of the Iraqi people alone, nor of one group or sect. It is the jihad of all the Islamic nation. . . . Oh jihad-fighting brothers, today you are at the crossroads, since your occupying enemy is showing signs of breakdown and defeat in the military arena. . . . [and the enemy] knows well that it has lost the battle.

By the end of last year, al-Qaeda's tone was not remotely as optimistic. In a December 2007 address, Osama bin Laden declared that

when America was stopped by its army's inability, it increased its political and media activity to trick the Muslims. It sought to seduce the tribes by buying their favors by creating damaging councils under the name of the ‘Awakenings,' as they claimed them to be. . . . What is unfortunate is that groups and tribes that belong to people of knowledge and the call and Jihad are participating in this great betrayal, and have confused right with wrong, and people have seen these groups cooperate directly with the Americans, like the leader of the so-called ‘Islamic Party,' as he publicly called for longterm security agreements with America.

Bin Laden added that Zarqawi

and his brothers have already helped to thwart these people and stop their advance and expose them. But instead of supporting them, you [the Sunni insurgents who joined Awakenings] turned against them and stopped the Mujahideen from attacking these people, dividing the fighting into two parts. Fighting against the Americans alone is honorable resistance, but fighting these apostate groups and the members of the [Iraqi] police and army, who are the supporters of America and the tools of its occupation of Iraq and the killing of its free people, has become for you a dishonorable resistance of which you wash your hands. These divisions were not laid down by Allah, and the Prophet . . . used to fight his own tribesmen who were from Quraish, for religion trumps blood, and not race nor nation. . . . I remind my precious Muslim Ummah that there are many lessons in what has pas[sed], so stop playing around and become alert for the matter is dangerous. Where are you heading?! What are you waiting for?!" (Translation from the SITE Intel Group).

A posting on an al-Qaeda forum in February 2008 presented a similar message even more strongly:

Brothers, the truth is that I admire the intelligence of the present Crusader, General Petraeus, for through his intelligence and cleverness he was able to achieve in one month what his colleagues couldn't achieve in five years. . . . After the sly Petraeus became in charge, he started to play his game with us unfairly. We established the Islamic State of Iraq, so he established the Awakening Council to fight it by the method of guerilla warfare, and they started setting up booby traps for the Mujahideen and detonated the explosive packages on them. Al-Furqan Media Foundation was formed, so he established a media council to defame the S[t]ate and to erase it media productions."

This posting went on to address proper al-Qaeda responses to the new American tactics and strategy, beginning with "Possess weapons of mass destruction as a mean[s] to the balance of terrorizing" and "Carry out a counter attack in the depth of the enemy's land with great accuracy" as well as "build strong and very modern trenches." (Translation from the SITE Intel Group).

Is there really any question about whether or not al-Qaeda in Iraq is part of the global al-Qaeda movement? Considering, then, that there are very few and very small al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, that al-Qaeda in South Asia is mostly in Pakistan, and that none of those insisting that the U.S. abandon Iraq to fight the "real" enemy in Afghanistan have proposed any meaningful plans for dealing with Chitral and Waziristan where that "real" enemy actually is--considering, finally, that the one place American soldiers are actually fighting al-Qaeda every day and decisively winning is Iraq, how, exactly, is Iraq a distraction from the war on terror? This is the war, and we're winning it. Let's not decide that we'd rather lose.

Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at AEI.

TUESDAY through THURSDAY, April 8 through 10, 2008

Short and to the point.
GS

SATURDAY through MONDAY, April 5 through 7, 2008

As the world continues to be tied in that Gordian Knot called "Israel / Palestine", we cannot know from what direction Alexander and his sword will come.  GS

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ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
News Agency
==================================================

Retiring Jerusalem Prelate Speaks on Mideast Conflict

The Main Obstacle to Peace Is the Fear of Peace

ROME, APRIL 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The retiring patriarch of Jerusalem has completed his mission as the leader of the Latin Church in the Holy Land, a mission he characterized as very difficult for his entire 20-year tenure.


Archbishop Michel Sabbah offered an interview to the news service of the Custody of the Holy Land reflecting on the conflict that has plagued the region he led as pastor since his appointment in 1987.

The Nazareth-born prelate, who turned 75 on March 19, contended that it is the fear of peace that is the main obstacle for peace in the land of the Resurrection.

Q: Beatitude, what is your message to the Israelis and the Palestinians for Easter?

Archbishop Sabbah: As a Christian, Easter in the celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and this means the victory over death and over every sort of evil.

Here in this country, which is the country of the Resurrection, which is a land of God and which is the Holy Land, we continue to be at the heart of a conflict and in a situation of death and hatred. Our message to the Israelis and to the Palestinians is this: "Up to the present time, and for almost 100 years, you have walked in the paths of violence and despite this, after 100 years, you have not reached peace or security. Take different paths, find other ways and you know them: talks, dialogue, understanding the needs of others, putting oneself in the place of the other to reach an agreement that [you] can find and give everything that is due to each of the parties."

The Israelis want security and they want peace; the Palestinians want their independence, their security as well, and peace. And they are capable of attaining it. There is much opposition for ideological reasons, for political reasons because of a fear of peace. In my opinion, the main obstacle to peace is the fear of peace.

In Israel, peace is a risk that the Israelis consider it premature to take. It is a risk that would expose them to allowing the Palestinians to become stronger and to develop their means of resistance and violence. This is why the Israelis are afraid of peace.

My advice is not to be afraid. Fear does not let any person or people live their lives to the full. Quite simply, they have to run the risk of peace. And this is the only means to obtain real and total security. The political powers have an alternative: either peace, and they will have security, or no peace and extremism will grow and insecurity will increase. They have to choose. And they should choose peace.

Now, choosing peace may be a risk for the personal life of the head of state who signs a peace agreement. But if a political leader is there to serve his people and not to keep hold of his seat, he has to accept the risk of giving his life for his people.

Q: As the first Palestinian Latin patriarch in centuries, do you have a different interpretation of what is happening in the region?

Archbishop Sabbah: I simply have the interpretation of the facts that occur. There are the Israelis with their needs and the Palestinians with their needs. For me, in both cases, they are human beings with the same dignity, rights and duties. As a Palestinian and as a Christian, each ought to have what is due to them: Israel its state recognized, its security, its peace, no longer needing its soldiers and reservists who kill or are killed. For the Palestinians it is the same thing. It is a question of walking toward peace, to put an end to everything that is militia, irregular arms and every form of violence on their side.

Q: Now that you are at the conclusion of your long career as the Latin Patriarch, is there hope for peace?

Archbishop Sabbah: There must always be hope, because we believe in God, and here in this country, in the whole of the Middle East, everybody is first and foremost religious and a believer, although not all are practicing. The Jew is first Jewish and then Israeli, the Palestinian is first a Muslim and then Palestinian, the Christian is Christian first and then Palestinian. We believe in God. We hope because we believe that God is good, that he is watching over us, that he is providence.

Q: You say that courage is needed to make peace. Is it the Israelis who ought to have more?

Archbishop Sabbah: Both, but the greatest decision is in the hands of the Israelis. If the Israelis say: "We have decided to make peace," there will be peace. The Palestinians are ready. The Arab world is ready to normalize relations with the state of Israel. The Palestinians have already chosen peace. They are holding talks to obtain peace. Israel still hasn't decided. There is a lot of opposition against this decision.

Q: In Israel, is there a political will to make peace?

Archbishop Sabbah: No, there isn't. It doesn't exist yet. The Israelis are afraid of peace, for them it is a risk. They would be throwing themselves into the unknown and this could increase insecurity for them. In my opinion, the only future for Israel lies in peace. Violence is a permanent threat for their security, and even for their existence. The Palestinian population is growing. Twenty percent of Israeli Arabs with full citizenship rights are Palestinians. Tomorrow 20% of Palestinians will become 40% or 50% and the Jewish character of the state will disappear, and therefore it will be Israel that disappears as a Jewish state. It is up to them to make a decision, and their salvation is only in peace. The risk of their death or their insecurity does not lie in peace but in the continuation of this situation of war.

Q: Do you think that the Annapolis peace process really does not offer any hope of peace?

Archbishop Sabbah: It simply offers it; it has to be acknowledged and accepted. The United States wants that. President Bush is determined. But we have to ask whether Israel has decided. The Palestinians are ready.

Q: When you met [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert (before Christmas), did you get the impression that he had a political will?

Archbishop Sabbah: Mr. Olmert has a real political will. He has decided to make peace but, as he has said, he encounters obstacles. It is his job to convince his opposition and then we will have peace.

Q: What are these obstacles?

Archbishop Sabbah: The far right, the religious extremists, the religious party that believes that the whole land should remain Israeli and not an inch of this land should be given to the Palestinians. And the religious party has political power, they have seats in the Knesset. They are the opposition Mr. Olmert has to deal with.

Q: You said that the Arab world was ready to normalize its relations with Israel. But we cannot ignore -- and Israel cannot ignore -- that Hamas continues to refuse to recognize Israel. Moreover, fundamentalist Islam is growing in Arab countries.

Archbishop Sabbah: Hamas exists. Hezbollah exists. They are a threat. But what makes Hamas exist and what makes it grow is this situation of war in which there are injustices, there is poverty and misery and as long as this situation exists, there will always be Hamas and all its declarations and its will to have it destroy Israel. But when there is serious and lasting peace, the influence of Hamas and Hezbollah will decrease and in the end they will lose it.

There will always be extremists on the Palestinian side, as on the Israeli side, but these parties will be reduced to a minority without influence on the future of the country. If there is peace, there will be fewer extremists and people will no longer need them.

Q: Do you think that Israel should speak to Hamas? Should dialogue with Hamas be by Israel and the United States and the European Union?

Archbishop Sabbah: Israel, the European Union and the international community must speak to the Palestinian Authority and accept that the Palestinian Authority reconciles with Hamas. But as soon as Hamas enters the Palestinian government, the international community boycotts everything that is Palestinian. It is a question of recognizing that the Palestinian Authority has the possibility of forming an alliance again, because peace cannot be made only with a part of the Palestinian people.

There are more than 1.5 million people in Gaza. That has to be taken into account. Therefore the two groups have to unite and become a single Palestinian entity, representing together the Palestinian will so that the international community and Israel can make peace agreements. But as long as Hamas is subject to a boycott and, as soon as it enters the government, there is a boycott against the whole Palestinian people, we are in a blind alley.

Q: When you met Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas], did you advise him to resume dialogue with Hamas?

Archbishop Sabbah: This is our advice. The two parts of the Palestinian people have to be put back together again. This alliance does not depend only on Abu Mazen, but on the international community. Once the union has been made and as Hamas has the right to be part of the government, the international community will again boycott everyone.

Q: What advice can you give to the international community?

Archbishop Sabbah: To leave the Palestinians in peace, to let them be united and simply to act together. And if ever Hamas were in the Palestinian government, then that the Palestinian will be respected.

Q: You have been Patriarch for 20 years. What was the most difficult time?

Archbishop Sabbah: All the times have been difficult because we have never ceased living in the same conflict. Each day is a repetition of the other. Each year in the repetition of the previous year: violence and victims on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side.

There have been times of truce; we were able to celebrate the Jubilee in 2000, the visit from the Pope. This was the least difficult time. Otherwise, at all other times, we have experienced difficulties and difficult life has become our vocation and our routine.

Q: In your pastoral letter you said you have no money or a bank account. How will you live now?

Archbishop Sabbah: I will live in the patriarchate. I do not have a salary or a bank account, but the patriarchal institution takes care of this as it does for every other priest of the patriarchate. It is the patriarchate that looks after the health, the food, the home etc. of retired priests. We are part of a community which never abandons any of its members.

Q: Are you sorry to retire?

Archbishop Sabbah: Sorry? But when you are at the service of God, you don't want a job! We live a mission. A mission is assigned to us. When it is over, we put it into the hands of [the one] who assigned it to us, simply. There is a difference between a religious leader and a political leader.

Q: You were the first patriarch of Palestinian origin since the times of the Crusades: Does being a Palestinian patriarch change anything?

Archbishop Sabbah: It changes something in the sense that the Church has had a pastor chosen from its clergy. Having a Palestinian patriarch in a Palestinian church is a normal fact, not an extraordinary one. It is the situation of all the churches in the world. Pastors are chosen from their clergy and their people.

What could change here in our situation, which is a situation of conflict, is that the Palestinians are on one side and the Israelis on the other -- the fact that all the Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, feel supported they have felt that a new figure could speak on their behalf, share with them and act for peace.

But always being careful. Because if we say to the Israelis: "You are in your full right to serve and protect your people," to the Palestinians: "You are Palestinians, you are in your full right to serve and protect your people," a priest, a bishop, whether Palestinian or something else, is for everyone.

He is not confined to his people, he is for his people, but at the same time he is for every human being with whom he lives; and here we live with two peoples. Therefore our responsibility as a bishop and as Christians extends and covers and includes Palestinians and Israelis. Now, the Palestinians are the oppressed, they are under an occupation and we say: "The occupation has to come to an end." We say to the Israelis: "You are the occupiers and you have to put an end to this occupation."

Q: What will your role be now?

Archbishop Sabbah: The bishop has three functions: to sanctify, to teach and to govern. With retirement, the function of governing passes on to another; the other two remain; sanctifying and teaching. So there will still be a great deal to do.

Q: Will you give your mission a more political role?

Archbishop Sabbah: Not so much political as Christian. But a Christian who will step into the political field. Because here politics is human life. It is not the politics of left- or right-wing parties; it is human lives that are threatened. Whether they are Palestinian or Israeli. It will be the continuation of the commitment for every human person in this country, Israeli and Palestinian together.

THURSDAY and FRIDAY, April 3 and 4, 2008
GS

TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, April 1 and 2, 2008

It is the
VETERAN,
not the preacher,
who has
given us freedom of religion.

It is
the
VETERAN,
not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.
 
It is the
VETERAN,
not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
   
It is the
VETERAN,
not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the
VETERAN,
not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the
VETERAN,
not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the
VETERAN
who
salutes the Flag,

It is
the
VETERAN
who serves
under the Flag,

ETERNAL REST GRANT THEM O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM.

- Unknown Author


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