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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.

Click here to return to the current Rapid Response list

WEDNESDAY through SUNDAY, December 27 through 31, 2006

After a year like 2006, I'm having difficulty motivating myself to write any more this year. 
"Score one for narcissism with Time magazine's selection for Person of the Year - You...This reasoning ignores the reality that most of what people spend their time viewing on and submitting to the web is banal, lewd and often uninformed.  It may be amusing to see someone on YouTube bashing beer cans against his forehead, but it's hardly great thinking or heroic action.
For good or ill, society evolves and changes through the genius, authority and innovation of exceptional individuals.  While the web may provide more opportunity for such greatness to emerge, most who use it are quite ordinary. 
Person of the Year?  Sorry, you don't deserve it."    

TUESDAY, December 26, 2006

"HARK, THE HERALD ANGELS SING..." about women, in society and in the Catholic Church.  GS

ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome 

Feminism's Future; Her Majesty's Cavaraggio
A Conference on Where Women Are Going

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, DEC. 21, 2006 ( Ever since the end of my adolescent years, I have
become a huge fan of Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon. And I dare say that
ever since the end of my adolescence, Glendon has found me considerably more
tolerable. This is, of course, to inform readers that the following article does not
come from an unbiased source. Mary Ann Glendon is my mother.

On Dec. 15, my professional and personal worlds collided as my mother came to Rome
as featured speaker in a conference held in one of my favorite art galleries, the
Palazzo Colonna.

Under the dramatic ceiling fresco of the Battle of Lepanto (a Colonna ancestor,
Marc'Antonio IV Colonna, had led the papal fleet at the clash) the Centro di
Orientamento Politico organized a discussion between Glendon and Lucetta Scaraffia,
professor at the La Sapienza University in Rome.

The theme of the day was "Feminism and the Catholic Church" (surprise, surprise),
but for a well-worn subject, some interesting new insights enlightened the
attendees. The event was attended by mostly Italians, with a healthy smattering of
Americans thrown in for good measure. Comparing the Italian idea of feminism with
the American version was one of the most stimulating elements of the evening.

Scaraffia, who teaches contemporary history, opened the proceedings with a
historical overview of the role of women in the Church. Contrary to common opinion,
she said, it was Christianity that liberated women from the second-rate status they
held in the pagan world of the time.

>From Jesus' own example and teaching, through the numerous lives of women saints to
the great figures of St. Catherine of Siena and many others who have had important
interaction with the Holy See, the Church has historically demonstrated a great
respect for the importance and dignity of women.

The last two centuries brought new challenges. Numerous differences and
misunderstandings arose that made many women feel as if the Church couldn't or
wouldn't understand them.

However, recent years have brought about a positive current in the tides of
women/Church relations particularly after the Second Vatican Council and the
pontificate of John Paul II. Although professor Scaraffia noted that there weren't
enough women in high Church positions, she said she believed that a "new alliance"
could be formed between the Church and women of today.

Professor Glendon, while in agreement with Scaraffia's remarks, tackled the vestiges
of 1960s feminism with the same directness and energy of the Colonna fleet taking on
the Ottomans in 1571. She set the tone by explaining that the world today was
dealing with new challenges regarding women in society -- the increased
participation of mothers of young children in the labor force, the sexual revolution
and the alarming proportion of female-headed households in poverty.

Glendon also took into account the demographic origins of 1960s feminism in the
United States, emphasizing the anger that propelled it. These feminists displayed a
peculiar combination of "man-hating and man-chasing," a paradox from their
inception. To gain support, these feminists made what Glendon vividly described as a
"Faustian bargain" with the abortion industry, homosexual organizations and
population control groups.

Although old-line, hard-line feminists received funding and plenty of media coverage
from their new allies, including the Playboy Foundation, they also lost touch with
everyday normal women. The feminists were looking toward a "unisex" world where the
strictest equality between the sexes would be maintained, while most women were
beginning to wonder why their "spokespeople" wouldn't take any interest in their
concerns of reconciling jobs and families.

Despite dark pacts and the fundamentalism of feminisms past, Glendon noted a
positive new trend. Today, most women have fallen away from radical feminism and, in
the meantime, the Church has been moving forward. As never before, seminary
formation prepares priests to be able to address the problems and questions of
women. And at the highest level, Pope John Paul II in no uncertain terms set a new
course for relations with women through not only his teachings but his own personal

Scaraffia, in her insightful talk, brought out the historical foundations of
feminism. She proposed that the ultimate solution to the feminism-in-the-Church
question lies in more women holding decision-making positions in the Church. Indeed,
one of the most amusing moments of the evening came when one woman in the audience
demanded to know when a woman would be placed as the head of something in the
Vatican. The three cardinals present pointed in a single gesture to Glendon, who is
the president of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences.

For her part, Glendon did not suggest that the answer is flooding the Holy See with
r?sum?s to become head of this or that, but to courageously live out the vocation
common to all lay people, men and women, to bear witness to Christ out in the
secular world. She speculated that an implicit "clericalism" still lingers behind
much of the push for women occupying positions in parishes, while the more
fundamental work of evangelizing the secular world is neglected.

The beautiful marble floors of Galleria Colonna are marred by a cannonball lodged in
the stairs, a souvenir of Queen Christina of Sweden, who moved to Rome in the 1650s
after her conversion, renowned as the "woman who chose to be Catholic rather than
Queen." This fascinating foreigner fired a cannonball from the Castel Sant'Angelo,
missing the Tiber but hitting the Colonna Palace.

Last Friday, however, the foreign star who came to the Galleria Colonna definitely
hit the mark.

* * *

Terminal Art

Train stations are usually the sort of places that tourists avoid when not actually
transiting, and Rome's Termini station had the reputation of notable seediness. In
recent years, however, Rome has been trying to overturn the unsavory image of its
central train depot.

One of the cleverest attempts involved carving out an exhibition space in the
station where a number of significant art shows have taken place. At the moment,
Termini is hosting one of the most important Caravaggio events in several years, the
rediscovery of the lost work "The Calling of Peter and Andrew."

The oil on canvas, which belongs to none other than Queen Elizabeth, was probably
purchased by King Charles I in 1637, twenty-seven years after the artist's death.
After having been varnished and re-varnished, the work was placed in the deposits of
Hampton Court. Ten years ago, Italian art historian Maurizio Marini proposed the
possibility of the painting being an original work by Caravaggio.

With the intervention of Sir Denis Mahon, famous British art collector and
historian, Queen Elizabeth gave her permission for the cleaning of the painting. The
two-year restoration has brought to light certain characteristics of Caravaggio's
work which have convinced many art historians of its authenticity.

Unlike most artists, Caravaggio did not draw directly on his canvases before
painting, but made little incisions to note the placement of his figures. During the
cleaning of "The Calling of Peter and Andrew," similar incisions were found on
Jesus' eyebrows and nose as well as in other parts of the work.

Another Caravaggio characteristic was his tendency to paint quickly on the canvas.
The Milanese painter didn't completely work out the subject in a drawing stage
first, but left room for a certain spontaneity while actually applying the paint.
Caravaggio often changed his mind as he was painting and the resulting changes, or
"pentimenti," on the canvas can be detected. These traces of repainting in oil are
present in several places on the queen's painting.

Finally, it seems that Caravaggio left his fingerprints in the wet oil paint. This
is a bit ironic as Caravaggio was arrested some 40 times in his life, although of
course he was never fingerprinted at the time. As a matter of fact, the hot-tempered
artist would have been at home in the rough and tumble neighborhood around
metropolitan train stations.

The presentation of the subject shows all the signs of Caravaggio's unique
reflection on the idea of vocation. Jesus is on the far right, turning slightly back
toward the two apostles although his body is moving forward. Christ's motion is
underscored by his hand gesturing forward -- a visual interpretation of his call to
"follow me."

Peter is almost completely submerged in shadow. The strong shoulder and neck muscles
are visible but his face eludes us. He stands, arms akimbo, one hand open toward
Christ while the other still tightly clasps his fish. Peter's decisive moment to let
go of things of this world in order to open himself to the kingdom of heaven, is
masterfully captured by this painter.

Andrew, on the other hand, looks troubled with his furrowed brow and downcast eyes,
but his illuminated face is inclined in the same direction as Christ's. Similar to
Caravaggio's 1598 painting of the "Calling of St. Matthew," Andrew points to
himself, bewildered as to what he can give to God.

The light, emanating from an invisible source, seems to propel the figures forward.
Instead of the tractor beam effect of the "Calling of St. Matthew," this divine
illumination pushes the figures along the path. The darkness that surrounds the
group echoes the difficulties of discernment, but brightness of Christ shows that he
is indeed the way.

Tickets to the exhibit are a bit pricey at €8 (about $10.50), but the possibility of
seeing this work for the first time since the restoration makes it a real Christmas
treat. It will be on display until Jan. 31.

* * *

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's
Italian campus. She can be reached at

SUNDAY and MONDAY, December 24 and 25, 2006


Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

> I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was
> just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit
> her on the way my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no
> Santa Claus," she jeered.  "Even dummies know that!"
> My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to
> her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I
> knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth
> always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one
> of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns I knew they were
> world-famous, because Grandma said so . It had to be true.
> Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites,
> I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?"
> she snorted...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been
> going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now,
> put on your coat, and let's go."
> "Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my
> second world-famous cinnamon bun.
> "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store
> in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we
> walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars.
> That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said,
> "and buy something for someone who needs it I'll wait for you
> in the car."
> Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's. I was only eight
> years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but I never
> had I shopped for anything all by myself.
> The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to
> finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just
> stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill,
> wondering what to buy , and who on earth to buy it for. I
> thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my
> neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.
> I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby
> Decker.  He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right
> behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class.
> Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never
> went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote
> a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we
> kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't
> have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing
> excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!
> I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked
> real warm, and he would like that.
> "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the
> counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.
> "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."
> The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby
> really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but
> she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry > Christmas.
> That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag
> fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in
> Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa
> Claus" on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy.
> Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's
> house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever
> officially, one of Santa's helpers.
> Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I
> crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Gr andma
> gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."
> I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present
> down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the
> bushes and Grandma.
> Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door
> to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
> Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent
> shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes.
> That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus wer e
> just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and
> well, and we were on his team. I still have the Bible, with
> the coat tag tucked inside:  $19.95.
> May you always have LOVE to share, HEALTH to spare and FRIENDS
> that care..
> And may you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus!

SATURDAY, December 23, 2006

Finally, a clear statement by this government regarding what everyone knows...or should know. Among other valid reasons, we are in the Middle East in our own vital self-interest. Get used to it, everybody. GS

U.S. to maintain long presence in Gulf region: Gates

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An increased U.S. naval presence in the Gulf is not a response to any action by Iran but a message to all countries that the United States will keep its regional footprint "for a long time," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.

CBS News reported on Monday that a projected naval buildup was intended to discourage what U.S. officials view as increasingly provocative acts by Tehran pressing for a nuclear program and support for Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

"I don't think it's a response to anything anyone else has done," Gates told reporters during a three-day visit to Iraq.

"I think the message that we are sending to everyone, not just Iran, is that the United States is an enduring presence in this part of the world. We have been here for a long time. We will be here for a long time and everybody needs to remember that - both our friends and those who might consider themselves our adversaries," he said.

The U.S. command responsible for Middle East operations has asked the Pentagon to add a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf region as a warning to Syria and Iran and to help it carry out other operations, according to a senior defense official.

The war-fighting Central Command wants the carrier strike group and its warplanes by end-March for "deterrence" and to increase "flexibility," including for potential noncombat operations, said the official who asked not be to be named.

Gates on Friday acknowledged the increased U.S. presence in the Gulf.

"There has been an increase in naval strength in the Gulf in the past several weeks," he said.

But the new defense secretary, who replaced Donald Rumsfeld on Monday, said he did not know if United States would send another carrier to the Gulf.

FRIDAY, December 22, 2006

Our leaders evidently knew very little about the Middle East at the beginning of this Iraq war - or they ignored what they knew.  We citizens must not let that happen again; we must ourselves be as thoroughly informed as possible.  For the "best case scenario" is that the Middle East will be to the next few decades what the Cold War was to the last few decades.  GS

December 20, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Mideast Rules to Live By

For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.

Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany — not Iraq.

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all — they won’t believe it.

Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I could paper my walls.

Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning’s paper.

Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.

Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: “We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it’s too late. It’s all your fault for being so stupid.”

Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas — like liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. But there is no Abe Lincoln in this war. It’s the South vs. the South.

Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, “I’m weak, how can I compromise?” And when it’s strong, it will tell you, “I’m strong, why should I compromise?”

Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. Saddam used to be the iron fist in Iraq. Now it is us. If we don’t want to play that role, Iraq’s civil war will end with A or B.

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

Rule 12: Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do.

MONDAY through THURSDAY, December 18 through 21, 2006 GS

SATURDAY and SUNDAY, December 16 and 17, 2006

In this holiday season that celebrates both the Jewish and Christian Religions, we celebrate the commonality between them, and the debt we Christians owe to our Jewish brethren.  In addition to the message reprinted below, see this week's Newsweek article: "The World of the Nativity: How First-Century Jewish Family Values Shaped Christianity".  GS

ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome

U.S. Cardinal Rips "Revisionist" History of Holocaust
Echoes Holy See in Wake of Iran Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 14, 2006 ( Cardinal William Keeler says the U.S.
bishops stand in solidarity with the universal Church in condemning "revisionist
history" that seeks to minimize the horror of the Holocaust.

The cardinal, who is episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations for the U.S.
bishops' conference, today issued a statement entitled "We Must Remember the Shoah."

That statement cited, in turn, a communiqu? issued Tuesday by the Holy See alluding
to the teaching of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI: "The Shoah was an enormous
tragedy, before which one cannot remain indifferent ? the memory of those terrible
facts must remain a warning for consciences with the aim of eliminating conflicts,
respecting the legitimate rights of all peoples and calling for peace in truth and

Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, said: "Here in the United States, we have
a wide range of resources to use in fostering Holocaust education not only in
Catholic schools but in private and public schools as well."

He noted that in preparing those resources, the U.S. bishops' Committee for
Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs cited two major reasons why studying the
significance of the Holocaust should be central to the curriculum of Catholic

"First, the Holocaust was not a random act of mass murder but 'a war against the
Jews as the People of God, the First Witness to God?s revelation and the eternal
bearers of that witness through all the centuries,'" the cardinal wrote in his
statement. "Second, future generations need to be ever vigilant so that 'the spoiled
seeds of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism (will) never again be allowed to take root
in the human heart.'"

Cardinal Keeler issued the statement against the background of a two-day conference
this week in Iran at which speakers sought to diminish the scope of the Holocaust.

THURSDAY and FRIDAY, December 14 and 15, 2006

ON IMMIGRATION.  In recent weeks we have read about communities like Hazelton, Pa.  "solving" their own immigration problem through draconian ordinances directed against just plain people who were "invited" here by the actions of American citizens and American corporations...a gigantic magnet.  Then we heard about the "sweep" of thousands of illegal aliens in raids by the INS throughout the country.  On our southern border, barbed wire is being strung by self-appointed "Minutemen"; and a 700mile "Berlin Wall" is being built by our Federal government.
What a sham - and what an exercise in futility - all generated by the abject cowardice of our U.S. Senators and especially by our Congressmen.  They are falling over each other running away from an honest, principled and comprehensive solution to one of the cornerstones of this nation.  Please read "Immigration Nation", by Tamar Jacoby, in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs (pp 50-65).  As noted in the introduction to that piece: "The United States is far less divided on immigration than the current debate would suggest.  An overwhelming majority of Americans want a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.  Washington's challenge is to translate this consensus into sound legislation that will start to repair the nation's broken immigration system".   In the meantime, we should remember those immortal words that brought the Cold War to an end: "Mr. Gorbachov...TEAR DOWN THIS WALL".   President Bush, take note.  If you don't want Iraq to be your legacy, embrace and solve this issue with all your strength.  Then you will have earned a positive legacy.


WEDNESDAY, December 13, 2006

The stakes in Iraq have just become higher...if that is possible... with the announcement by the Saudis that they would support the Sunnis if America withdraws.  That would guarantee a civil war in Iraq, a regional conflict, a probable attack on Israel, and World War lll.  General Colin Powell's early pottery barn rule ("you break it, you own it") now stings.  Herewith follows some more informed opinion, certainly better than the "consensus" document of the "Baker Commission".   And my proposal is still valid, also.  GS

Beyond Baker-Hamilton
One Approach to a Last Try at Stability in Iraq
By Barry R. McCaffrey
Washington Post
 Wednesday, December 13, 2006; Page A21

A collapse of the Iraqi state would be catastrophic -- for the people of Iraq, for the Middle East and for America's strategic interests. We need a new political and military approach to head off this impending disaster -- one crafted with bipartisan congressional support. But Baker-Hamilton isn't it.

Our objective should be a large-scale U.S. military withdrawal within the next 36 months, leaving in place an Iraqi government in a stable and mostly peaceful country that does not threaten its six neighboring states and does not intend to possess weapons of mass destruction.

The courage and skill of the U.S. armed forces have been awe-inspiring. Our soldiers, Marines and Special Operations forces have suffered 25,000 wounded and killed, with many thousands permanently maimed, while fighting this $400 billion war.

But the situation in Iraq is perilous and growing worse. Thousands of Iraqis are killed each month; hundreds of thousands are refugees. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is largely dysfunctional. Our allies, including the brave and competent British, are nearly gone. Baghdad has become the central battlefield in this struggle, which involves not just politically inspired civil war but also rampant criminality and violence carried out by foreign jihadists. Shiite and Sunni Arabs overwhelmingly anticipate and endorse a U.S. strategic withdrawal and defeat.

We could immediately and totally withdraw. In less than six months, our 150,000 troops could fight their way along strategic withdrawal corridors back to the sea and the safety provided by the Navy. Several million terrified refugees would follow, the route of our columns marked by the burning pyres of abandoned military supplies demolished by our rear guard. The resulting civil warfare would probably turn Iraq into a humanitarian disaster and might well draw in the Iranians and Syrians. It would also deeply threaten the safety and stability of our allies in neighboring countries.

There is a better option. First, we must commit publicly to provide $10 billion a year in economic support to the Iraqis over the next five years. In the military arena, it would be feasible to equip and increase the Iraqi armed forces on a crash basis over the next 24 months (but not the police or the Facilities Protection Service). The goal would be 250,000 troops, provided with the material and training necessary to maintain internal order.

Within the first 12 months we should draw down the U.S. military presence from 15 Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), of 5,000 troops each, to 10. Within the next 12 months, Centcom forces should further draw down to seven BCTs and withdraw from urban areas to isolated U.S. operating bases -- where we could continue to provide oversight and intervention when required to rescue our embedded U.S. training teams, protect the population from violence or save the legal government.

Finally, we have to design and empower a regional diplomatic peace dialogue in which the Iraqis can take the lead, engaging their regional neighbors as well as their own alienated and fractured internal population.

We are in a very difficult position created by a micromanaged Rumsfeld war team that has been incompetent, arrogant and in denial. The departing defense secretary, in a recent farewell Pentagon town hall meeting, criticized the alleged distortions of the U.S. media, saying that they chose to report a few bombs going off in Baghdad rather than the peaceful scene he witnessed from his helicopter flying over the city. This was a perfect, and incredible, continuation of Donald Rumsfeld's willful blindness in his approach to the war. From the safety of his helicopter, he apparently could not hear the nearly constant rattle of small-arms fire, did not know of the hundreds of Marines and soldiers being killed or wounded each month, or see the chaos, murder and desperation of daily life for Iraqi families.

Let me add a note of caution regarding a deceptive and unwise option that springs from the work of the Iraq Study Group. We must not entertain the shallow, partisan notion of rapidly withdrawing most organized Marine and Army fighting units by early 2008 and substituting for them a much larger number of U.S. advisers -- a 400 percent increase -- as a way to avoid a difficult debate for both parties in the New Hampshire primaries.

This would leave some 40,000 U.S. logistics and adviser troops spread out and vulnerable, all over Iraq. It would decrease our leverage with Iraq's neighbors. It would not get at the problem of a continuing civil war. In fact, significantly increasing the number of U.S. advisers in each company and battalion of the Iraqi army and police -- to act as role models -- is itself a bad idea. We are foreigners. They want us gone.

Lack of combat experience is not the central issue Iraqis face. Their problems are corrupt and incompetent ministries, poor equipment, an untrained and unreliable sectarian officer corps (a result of Rumsfeld's disbanding the Iraqi army), and a lack of political will caused by the failure of a legitimate Iraqi government to emerge.

We need fewer advisers, not more -- selected from elite, active military units and with at least 90 days of immersion training in Arabic. Iraqi troops will not fight because of iron discipline enforced by U.S. sergeants and officers. That is a self-serving domestic political concept that would put us at risk of a national military humiliation.

All of this may not work. We have very few options left. In my judgment, taking down the Saddam Hussein regime was a huge gift to the Iraqi people. Done right, it might have left the region and the United States safer for years to come. But the American people have withdrawn their support for the war, although they remain intensely committed to and protective of our armed forces. We have run out of time. Our troops and their families will remain bitter for a generation if we abandon the Iraqis, just as another generation did after we abandoned the South Vietnamese for whom Americans had fought and died. We owe them and our own national interest this one last effort. If we cannot generate the political will to take this action, it is time to pull out and search for those we will hold responsible in Congress and the administration.

The writer is a retired Army general and adjutant professor of international affairs at West Point. He served four combat tours and was wounded in action three times.

TUESDAY, December 12, 2006


 The Veil Controversy
 Islamism and liberalism face off.
by Olivier Guitta
Weekly Standard
12/04/2006, Volume 012, Issue 12

IN 1989, the first hijab incident in Europe took place in Creil, a suburb of Paris, when three high school girls tried to go to class wearing the Islamic headscarf. The students were expelled. Fifteen years later, with the hijab spreading fast among Muslims in France, the government formally banned the wearing of religious symbols in public schools. At the time, most European countries criticized French "intolerance" and deemed the issue a uniquely Gallic problem. But it wasn't. Today most European countries--and a number of Muslim countries--are debating what to do about this increasingly problematic sign of Islamization.

The British were among the most vocal critics of the French ban--back when they were still quite pleased with their own multicultural model. But on October 5, ex-foreign minister Jack Straw revealed that he regularly asked women who came to see him wearing face veils to take them off. Straw pointed out that veils are bad for community relations, and Prime Minister Blair added that the veil is a "mark of separation." This debate coincided with the decision of a British principal to fire an assistant teacher who refused to remove her full-face veil, or niqab, while teaching. Joining the fray was author Salman Rushdie, whose elegant contribution was the statement, "Veils suck." Tensions are rising, fueled by accusations of Islamophobia from some Muslim officials. There is fear that race riots could break out in some British suburbs.

Then there is Germany, where four states have barred public school teachers from wearing the hijab.

 Some brave female politicians born in Turkey spoke out on the issue in an October 15 interview with Bild am Sonntag. One of them, Ekin Deligoz, a Green party member of parliament, advised fellow Muslim women: "You live here, so take off the headscarf." She added that the headscarf is a symbol of female oppression. Because of her comments, Deligoz has received death threats and is now under police protection.

Finally, in Italy, where the niqab is banned, the controversy has reached new heights since the broadcast of a heated exchange on a television talk show. Right-wing member of parliament Daniela Santanche clashed with the imam of a mosque near Milan, Ali Abu Shwaima. Said Santanche: "The veil isn't a religious symbol and it isn't prescribed by the Koran." Retorted Shwaima: "The veil is an obligation required by God. Those who do not believe that are not Muslims. You're ignorant, you're false. You sow hatred, you're an infidel."

Coming from an imam, this rant carried almost the weight of a fatwa, or religious edict, in certain quarters, where it could be seen as a death sentence. Santanche has been given 24-hour police protection. She says she is speaking out because Muslim women forced to wear the veil have asked her to. She told the Sunday Times, "It's time to turn our backs on the politically correct. It's a question not of religion but of human rights."

And not only in Europe. Muslim countries are not immune to the controversy over the veil. In Egypt--where some 80 percent of women are now veiled, according to sociologist Mona Abaza--the dean of Helwan University has recently expelled female students for wearing the niqab. Interestingly, Soad Saleh, a former dean of the female faculty and Islamic law professor at the most prestigious Islamic university in the world, Cairo's Al-Azhar, confirmed that the niqab is not an obligation. Gamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, goes further: "Neither the Koran, nor the hadith require women to wear a headscarf."

ut the country whose government is currently going after the hijab most vigorously is Tunisia. The wearing of the hijab has been spreading rapidly in Tunisian towns, prompting President Ben Ali recently to reactivate a 1981 decree banning the wearing of the hijab in government offices, schools, universities, and public places in general. His government views the hijab as one more sign of the unwelcome but growing influence of Islamists in Tunisian society. This past Ramadan, in a reversal of the standard pattern for Muslim religious police, Tunisian police were seen tearing headscarves off women in the streets.

The authorities consider the hijab unacceptable in a country that enshrined women's rights as long ago as 1956, with the banning of repudiation (male-initiated casual divorce), polygamy, forced marriage, and the granting of women's rights to vote and sue for divorce. Ben Ali sees women "as a solid defense against the regressive forces of fanaticism and extremism."

Interestingly, the Tunisian author and feminist Samia Labidi, president of A.I.M.E., an organization fighting the Islamists, recounts that she personally started wearing the veil before puberty, after Islamists told her the hijab would be a passport to a new life, to emancipation. After a few years, she realized she had been fooled and that the veil made her feel like she was "living in a prison." At first, she could not bring herself to stop wearing it because of the constant psychological pressure. But the 1981 ban on the hijab in public places forced her to remove it, and she did so for good.

Labidi's experience suggests that in both Tunisia and France the recent banning of the hijab has actually helped Muslim women who are subject to Islamist indoctrination.

For Islamists, the imperative to veil women justifies almost any means. Sometimes they try to buy off resistance. Some French Muslim families, for instance, are paid 500 euros (around $600) per quarter by extremist Muslim organizations just to have their daughters wear the hijab. This has also happened in the United States. Indeed, the famous and brave Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan recently told the Jerusalem Post that after she moved to the United States in 1991, Saudis offered her $1,500 a month to cover her head and attend a mosque.

But what Islamists use most is intimidation. A survey conducted in France in May 2003 found that 77 percent of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups. A series in the newspaper Libération in 2003 documented how Muslim women and girls in France who refuse to wear the hijab are insulted, rejected, and often physically threatened by Muslim males. One of the teenage girls interviewed said, "Every day, bearded men come to me and advise me strongly on wearing the veil. It is a war. For now, there are no dead, but there are looks and words that do kill."

Muslim women who try to rebel are considered "whores" and treated as outcasts. Some of them want to move to areas "with no Muslims" to escape. However, that might not be a solution, as Islamists are at work all over France. The Communist newspaper L'Humanité in 2003 interviewed two Catholic-born French women who said they had converted to Islam and started wearing the niqab after systematic indoctrination by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In light of this, wearing the hijab may or may not be a manifestation of the free exercise of religion. For any individual, it may reflect the very opposite--religious coercion. In fact, millions of women are forced to wear the veil for fear of physical retribution. And the fear is well founded. According to Cheryl Benard of RAND, every year hundreds of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan alone are killed, have acid thrown in their faces, or are otherwise maimed by male fanatics.

Given the Islamists' ferocious determination on this point, it is worth asking: Why exactly is covering the female so important to them? The obvious answer is that it is a means of social control. Not coincidentally, it is one of the only issues on which Sunni and Shia extremists agree. It's not by chance that use of the hijab really took off after Iran's Islamic regime came to power in 1979. Some Shiite militias in Iraq have actually started forcing women--Muslim or not--to wear the veil or face the consequences.

If this issue were not vital for Islamists, how can one explain their reaction when France banned the hijab in public schools? Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, "strongly condemned" President Chirac's decision and threatened actions against France. Likewise, Sheikh Fadlallah, founder and spiritual leader of Hezbollah, wrote to Chirac threatening "likely complications" for France. Mohammad Khatami, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, called on the French government to "cancel this unjust law."

Commenting recently on the veil and the Islamists' strategy, Professor Iqbal Al-Gharbi, from the famous Islamic Zaytouna University in Tunis, explained: "The veil is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the veil, there is the regressive interpretation of the sharia [Koranic law]. There are the three essential inequalities which define this interpretation: inequality between man and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, between free man and slave."

"Islam is the solution" is the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, the real solution to the veil problem in Europe and in modern countries elsewhere is the defeat of radical Islam, making possible the peaceful integration of normal Muslims into Western societies on Western terms.

Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington.

MONDAY, December 11, 2006

ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome

"Be Proud to Be a Jew!" Pius XII Told Visitor in '41
Incident Was Published in Palestine Post

ROME, DEC. 3, 2006 ( An article published in 1944 by a young German Jew
in the Palestine Post, the future Jerusalem Post, points up Pope Pius XII's
appreciation for the "Chosen People."

The article was published April 28, 1944, on Page 6 and headlined "A Papal Audience
in Wartime." It was signed by a "refugee"; a footnote states that the article's
author arrived in Palestine on the ship Nyassa.

The writer recounts that in autumn of 1941 he was received in audience along with
numerous other people by Pius XII.

When the young Jew approached the Pope, he revealed that he was born in Germany but
was a Jew.

The Holy Father responded, "What can I do for you? Tell me, my son!"

The young Jew told Pius XII about a group of shipwrecked Jewish refugees, saved by
Italian warships in the Aegean Sea, who were then starving in a prisoner of war camp
on an island. The Pope listened carefully and showed concern about the physical and
health conditions of the Jewish prisoners.

According to the article, Pius XII then said to him: "You have done well to come and
tell me this. I have heard about it before. Come back tomorrow with a written report
and give it to the secretary of state who is dealing with this question. But now for
you, my son. You are a young Jew. I know what that means and I hope you will always
be proud to be a Jew!"

Then, the author of the article wrote, the Pope raised his voice, so that everyone
in the hall could hear it clearly: "My son, whether you are worthier than others
only the Lord knows, but believe me, you are at least as worthy as every other human
being that lives on our earth! And now, my Jewish friend, go with the protection of
the Lord, and never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!"

Archival find

The author goes on to say that, after having uttered these words in a pleasant
voice, Pius XII lifted his hands to give the usual blessing, but he stopped, smiled
and touched the author's head with his fingers, and then lifted him from his
kneeling position.

Pius XII uttered these words during an audience attended by cardinals, bishops --
and a group of German soldiers.

Details of this incident were discovered in an archive in Tel Aviv University by
William Doino, contributor to the magazine Inside the Vatican, and author of an
annotated bibliography on Pius XII, published in "The Pius War: Responses to the
Critics of Pius XII" (Lexington Books, 2004).

According to Doino, "This testimony is significant because it shows the attention
and great love with which the Pontiff regarded the Jews, in addition to reaffirming
the rejection of the Nazi racial theories that pointed to the Jews as the last of
the earth."

On this matter, Doino will publish a full-scale commentary in an upcoming issue of
Inside the Vatican magazine, in which, among other things, he will evaluate the
importance of this testimony for Pius XII studies.

SATURDAY and SUNDAY, December 9 and 10, 2006

Iraq and the "Baker Commission".  Here are some more facts to counterbalance the cheerleading taking place, especially by Mr. Baker...who doesn't want any cherry-picking among the many recommendations.   Yea, sure.  GS

It's Up To Bush
 The Baker group and many of Bush's advisors have failed the president. It's up to the commander in chief now.
by Robert Kagan & William Kristol
Weekly Standard
12/18/2006, Volume 012, Issue 14

It's all up to the president now. The James Baker public relations blitz will of course continue, and the members of Baker's Iraq Study Group will go to book signings and be regulars on morning TV, and maybe even go on a nationwide tour like the Rolling Stones. Alan Simpson will continue to underline the gravity and earnestness of the group's endeavors by insisting that anyone who disagrees with him (like, say, John McCain and Joe Lieberman) has "gas" and "B.O."--subjects about which, unlike the military situation in Iraq, he probably has real knowledge and expertise.

But as the James Baker-Alan Simpson Steel Wheels tour and vaudeville act drags on and ultimately passes into well-deserved oblivion, the problems that they failed seriously to address will remain. And responsible people in Iraq, in the Pentagon, and in the White House will have to decide, very soon, how to achieve the president's goal of creating a stable, secure, and democratic Iraq. The president's military and political advisers are reviewing options now. Presumably, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is taking a fresh look at the situation in Iraq and is open to any strategy that has a chance of succeeding.

We worry, however, that little good may come out of these reviews unless the president takes a role in the deliberations and provides specific direction. The collective wisdom of the president's advisers for the past three years has not produced a strategy to achieve his goals. Bush rightly rebuked the Baker commission for calling for early withdrawal from Iraq before the mission was completed. But the Baker group's recommendations were little more than an endorsement of the failed strategies of the past three years. Train the Iraqis and pull out U.S. forces? That was Don Rumsfeld's and General John Abizaid's approach from the beginning. No one was more eager to get out of Iraq than Rumsfeld, but his unwillingness to commit enough troops early in the occupation and in the years that followed have actually had the effect of prolonging the American presence in Iraq, as well as putting us on a downward path toward failure.

>From what we can tell about deliberations within the administration, we would expect many of Bush's current advisers to recommend continuing roughly along this failed path. Abizaid remains in place, and in his Senate testimony at least, Gates did not challenge Abizaid's assertion that no more troops are needed. As recently as June, the New York Times's Michael Gordon reports, General George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, came up with a plan to draw down American combat forces from 14 brigades to just 5, in the expectation that Iraqi forces would "pick up the slack." But, as Gordon reports, "no sooner did General Casey present his plan in Washington than it had to be deferred. With sectarian violence soaring in Baghdad, the United States reinforced its troops there." Nor was this a novel failure. In every year since the occupation began, senior military officials have set out plans to draw down American forces in the expectation that Iraqi troops would step in and fill the gap. And in every year, these plans have had to be abandoned. But Casey too is of course involved in the policy review.

 And people and bureaucracies being what they are, it's not easy for them to change course, even when that course is obviously failing--unless they are instructed to take a different course by their commander in chief. The same people who brought us the current policy will likely recommend continuing it, albeit at a stepped-up pace. They will predictably focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces rather than on increasing the level of American combat forces sufficiently to do the job of securing Baghdad and other parts of Iraq as quickly as possible. It will be more of the same, only with a faster but, as in the past, unrealistic timeline. This could well be the last chance the administration has to turn things around in Iraq, but there is little sign yet that most of the president's advisers will propose the necessary dramatic shift.

That means the president will have to be, much more than he has been, his own general and strategist. He will have to decide on his own that incremental measures, such as stepping up the pace of Iraqi training, will not make enough of a difference in a short enough time to prevent a collapse of American policy and of Iraq itself. He will have to decide, contrary to the advice of many of his top advisers, that many more American troops need to be sent to Iraq, and as quickly as possible.

Of the many disappointments of the Iraq Study Group's report, none is greater than the failure (or was it unwillingness?) to offer any remotely plausible suggestions for bringing security and stability to significant parts of Iraq. The Baker group instead chose to entertain the fantasy that political reconciliation in Iraq can take place in the absence of basic security for the average Iraqi. But basic security for Iraqis is the prerequisite for any successful political reconciliation, because if the United States cannot provide protection to Iraqis, they have little choice but to turn to those who can, namely their own sectarian militias. People talk about what a power broker Moktada al-Sadr has become. But American policy made Sadr what he is today. First we failed to take him out of the game early on, when he posed less of a menace. Then our failure to protect the Shia from insurgent and terrorist attacks by al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency all but guaranteed that many would turn to Sadr's army for such protection.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has been calling for a substantial increase in American forces in Iraq since the summer of 2003. More troops could have helped dramatically then, as almost everyone, including Gates in his Senate testimony, now agrees. Almost everyone now agrees more troops could have made a big difference in 2004 and 2005, too. And a rapid and substantial increase in American forces in Iraq remains key to solving our predicament today.

But isn't it too late? And are there troops to send?

No, it's not too late. And yes, the troops exist. We have addressed both these questions in recent weeks. Our colleague, Frederick W. Kagan, has written extensively in these pages and elsewhere on why 50,000 additional troops are needed in Iraq, what exactly they would do, and where they would come from. But you don't have to take our word for it.

General Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff, who has traveled to Iraq frequently to meet commanders, has become an outspoken advocate for a substantial increase in American forces, especially in Baghdad. He has expressed disdain for those both inside and outside the Pentagon who claim that it is impossible to restore order there: "The notion that we can't provide protection for people in one of the capital cities of this world is just rubbish."

Keane is not alone. A few months ago, Army Maj. General Paul Eaton, who until his retirement had been in charge of building up the Iraqi Security Forces, told Senate Democrats what they didn't want to hear: that American force levels in Iraq were not nearly high enough, and that "we are, conservatively, 60,000 soldiers short." And the Wall Street Journal recently reported that "most military officers . . . seem to believe that a pullback of U.S. forces would only trigger more violence and make political compromise in the country impossible. These officers argue that 20,000 U.S. troops are needed to bring order to Baghdad. Another 10,000 U.S. soldiers would also be needed" as advisers to the Iraqi army. As the Journal reports, the officers "bristle at the idea that it is too hard or impossible."

Then there is retired general Anthony C. Zinni, staunch opponent of the Iraq war, close friend of Colin Powell, and former head of the Central Command under Bill Clinton. General Zinni rejects the entire logic of both the Baker report and current administration strategy. As he recently told the New York Times, "There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence." Instead of taking troops out of Iraq, Zinni, according to the Times, believes that "it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to 'regain momentum' as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces."

Beyond these generals and other military officers, an increasing number of political leaders support an increase in force levels in Iraq. First and foremost has been Sen. John McCain, who has long called for an increase in troops to Iraq and continues to believe it is the only workable answer. He is joined by Senate Armed Services Committee members Joseph Lieberman, John Cornyn, and Lindsey Graham. A new addition to this camp is the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Sylvestre Reyes. The man who will have about as big a role as anyone in reviewing the course of Iraq policy over the next two years has recently called for an increase in American forces in Iraq of 20,000 to 30,000 troops "for the specific purpose of making sure [Iraqi] militias are dismantled."

We understand that many people don't even want to think about such possibilities. We note that most of those who denounce these proposals as unworkable, impossible, and indeed unthinkable simply want to leave Iraq as quickly as possible and don't want to hear any nonsense about actually trying to succeed there. This was certainly true of the Baker commission. One adviser to the commission recently admitted that the panel never sought to present a plan that could succeed. Former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas W. Freeman candidly revealed to the Washington Post how Baker and his colleagues approached the problem of Iraq. "Very early on, the notion of achieving some sort of victory didn't take. So if victory is not possible and not feasible, even if you could define it, then what you're left with is to find some way to mitigate defeat." No surprise, then, that the commission did not come up with a plan that has any chance of producing success in Iraq.

President Bush, on the other hand, wants to succeed, and he has staked his presidency and his legacy for decades to come on the success of the Iraq mission. He has, after all, had many opportunities to give up on Iraq--notably, in the 2004 election year, and before this last round of congressional elections. He could have looked at various times for a "graceful exit." Last week he could have used this Baker commission, as so many people expected he would, to provide political cover for a retreat. Instead, President Bush has courageously stood firm.

Now he needs to display a different kind of courage. He has to take into his own hands the fate of Iraq and make his own decisions about what needs to be done. Of course, he should listen to all his advisers. But he must also know that his advisers, both civilian and military, have been failing him for the past three years. American policy, if it is to have any hope of turning the tide, must change dramatically in the next month or two. No one other than President Bush can make that change. No one other than the president can insist on policies that would save Iraq now. It is up to him to seize the moment. Indeed, the utter failure of the Iraq Study Group to propose a strategy that could work provides him a fresh opportunity to devise and implement a strategy that can.

 Back to Your Studies
 The unbearable shallowness of the Iraq Study Group.
by Reuel Marc Gerecht
Weekly Standard
12/18/2006, Volume 012, Issue 14

For the second time since 9/11, Americans have been treated to the undemocratic phenomenon of private citizens assuming the responsibilities and prerogatives of elected officials. First we had the 9/11 Commission. Not content to present its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress, the commission went on a nationwide lobbying campaign to persuade America, and pressure its representatives, into accepting its "advice." Now we have the Baker-Hamilton Commission, officially known as the Iraq Study Group, self-consciously following in its predecessor's footsteps.

>From its paltry discussion of America's counterinsurgency in Iraq, to its recommendations about troop levels, to its scathing condemnation of American diplomacy under Condoleezza Rice and Iraqi politics under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to its embrace of "engagement" with Syria and Iran, and to its unstated but clear call for American pressure on Israel to concede more "land-for-peace" to the Palestinians, the ISG report is strong on assertions but weak on arguments. Let us look quickly at the commission's core commentary and recommendations, starting with Iraq, and then, like the report, radiating outward toward Iraq's neighbors.

The ISG opens by telling us that "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating" and that the country "is vital to regional and even global stability, and is critical to U.S. interests," but then fails to tell us what the U.S. military has done right or wrong since 2003. Nowhere in the report can we find a thoughtful discussion of those counterinsurgency campaigns where the American military has done well (Tal Afar) and those where it has done poorly (most of our operations in Baghdad since the fall of 2003). I suspect that the ISG has not done so because any serious review of the past would give the reader a profound sensation of déja vu: Baker and Hamilton assert boldly that their commission's conclusions do not amount to "staying the course." Yet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his generals John Abizaid and George Casey could have written the report's Iraq portions. Take a look at Secretary Rumsfeld's final "options" memorandum, and read the ISG report. The similarities are overwhelming.

For three years, Rumsfeld and Abizaid have tried to train Iraqi military and police forces to replace U.S. soldiers. They stand up, we stand down. For three years, American and allied troops have increasingly withdrawn from directly policing Iraqi cities and roads. The result: a Sunni Arab insurgency and holy war against Shiite Arabs and Kurds that has slaughtered tens of thousands and engendered enormous anger in the Arab Shiite community, which had been defined in 2003 and 2004 by its astonishing forbearance. A once moderate Shiite community has radicalized. The Shia now seek protection from their own pitiless men. Where once Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a bulwark of moderation and pro-democratic spirit, could check the young firebrand Moktada al-Sadr in the Shiite slums of Baghdad, now Sadr, if he chooses to, can overwhelm Sistani in the holy city of Najaf, the seat of Sistani's power. As America's feeble counterinsurgency strategy--aptly named by General Abizaid a "light footprint"--helped wreck Iraqi society, Rumsfeld scolded the Iraqis for not doing enough.

 And what does the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommend? More of the same, except faster. We are going to embed more troops and contractors in Iraqi military and police units as America simultaneously withdraws from Iraq? This is a strategy, already proven wrong, that can end only in the collapse of the Iraqi army, numerous American hostages, and a pointless increase in U.S. casualty rates. Embedding more U.S. soldiers in Iraqi military units is a good idea--an American presence among Iraqis clearly fortifies the confidence and combat potential of these units. But this is at best--as we have learned over and over again since 2003--a long-term approach to building an Iraqi army capable of waging perhaps the most tactically and spiritually challenging of all military exercises--counterinsurgency and urban warfare.

In a country like post-Saddam Iraq, where sectarian nerves are raw, only forceful American leadership can ensure the necessary combat ethics and discipline to keep military units from imploding into militias. If the United States is going to embed enough soldiers to ensure Iraqi military integrity, then we are talking about continuing U.S. military control of the Iraqi army. And we ought to admit that the Iraqi police forces, roughly 200,000 men, are unreliable and cannot be used in counter insurgency efforts, perhaps even in basic crime prevention. We may, after a few years, make the Iraqi army more effective. At present, its official troop strength of 135,000 bears no relationship to the number capable of counterinsurgency operations. But Iraq is likely to descend much further into hell while we wait for this improvement. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army will fracture as internecine strife rips up the nation. Sunni versus Shiite, Sunni versus Sunni, Shiite versus Shiite, and Sunni and Shiite Arabs versus Kurds--all are probable unless the United States soon reverses the dynamic in Mesopotamia.

The ISG tells us that things are "dire" and that urgent changes are called for. They are obviously right, which is exactly why the United States must take the lead. Only the U.S. military is capable of moving quickly and decisively in clearing and holding Baghdad and other centers of the Sunni insurgency. Iraqis will have critical supporting roles in both these functions (as they have had in every single successful counterinsurgency operation in Iraq). But they will be supporting us. We will not be supporting them.

Let us be clear: The Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shiite community cannot be broken unless the cities of Baghdad and Ramadi are pacified. Unless these two towns are cleared and held, there is no way any Shiite government in Baghdad can begin the process of slowly neutralizing the murderous Shiite militias that now operate often with government complicity. The militias have gained increasing support from the Shiite community because they are the only effective means of neighborhood protection and offensive operations against Sunni insurgents and holy warriors. Only the militias slake the very human desire for revenge.

The Iraqi army, despite the strenuous efforts of Generals Abizaid and Casey, simply isn't effective, either on defense or on offense. And the Americans, who started withdrawing from Baghdad's streets in the fall of 2003 (perhaps the most catastrophic decision ever made by General Abizaid), have retreated further into large, well-fortified bases. Revenge killings of innocent Sunnis are an ugly and unavoidable outgrowth of this process. They cannot be stopped unless the United States and the Iraqi government first significantly diminish the Sunni Arab menace--that is, clear and hold Baghdad and Ramadi.

According to the ISG, the bulk of American manpower in Iraq could be out of the country by 2008. How in the world does this happen? The Iraqi army is going to take down Baghdad and Ramadi without us in the lead, while we are withdrawing? The ISG didn't cite one--not one--military operation in Iraq since 2003 that would lend credence to the idea that Iraqi military forces any time soon can handle small clear-and-hold operations, let alone massive efforts to neutralize major cities. The ISG does cite the critical need for the United States and the Iraqis to have better intelligence in Iraq. But how does good tactical counter insurgency or anti-sectarian intelligence develop? Physical control of the terrain that comes through troop saturation. The more physical security Americans and Iraqis bring to a given area, the better our intelligence is.

The ISG's troop-withdrawal scenario would probably destroy meaningful intelligence collection throughout the Sunni triangle. The ISG wants to erect political "milestones" for the Iraqi government that would be impossible to meet but would trigger U.S. troop reductions regardless of the security situation. Contrary to its intent, the ISG would guarantee that radical Sunni Islamist groups, including al Qaeda, would expand their bases of operations in an intelligence void. The notion that the United States can maintain small units of special-operations forces inside Iraq, or "over the horizon," to neutralize al Qaeda and other Sunni holy-warrior organizations is impractical since we are very unlikely to have the intelligence to make special operations feasible. We won't know where their personnel are with any precision. We won't be able to distinguish between radical Islamists who just loathe us and radical Islamists using Iraq as a refuge and training base for attacks against Americans in the Middle East and elsewhere.

If the Americans start to withdraw precipitously from Iraq, intelligence collection will likely deteriorate even more quickly than the Iraqi army. Posting a much larger contingent of CIA officers inside the Green Zone to train more Iraqis in the American way of intelligence collection and analysis, which the commission recommends, is unlikely to compensate for the lack of U.S. forces on the ground. Once we are perceived as ineluctable losers in Mesopotamia--and we're not quite there yet--the quality and quantity of American intelligence will plummet.

The report's laundry list of 79 recommendations bespeaks the ISG's disconnectedness from Iraq, where the country's continuing implosion surely allows for only a few American options, all military. When violence is the common denominator of life, and all believe that they or members of their families may die tomorrow, breathless advice about Iraq's judicial system, the need for more economic reconstruction, the country's systemic corruption (welcome to the Middle East), or the Iraqi constitution are surreal distractions.

No error of the Baker-Hamilton Commission is greater than its insistence that there is no military solution to Iraq's instability, that it's the responsibility of Iraqis to solve the country's primary problems, and that America can only play a supporting role. The Iraq Study Group, many Bush administration officials, and Central Command talk incessantly about "national reconciliation" and a "political deal" between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs as the key to stability and peace. In other words, the solution in Iraq is Shiite concessions to Sunnis. For three years, Americans have been trying to convince Sunnis to accept the new Iraq, which will be dominated by Shiite Arabs and Kurds, who represent 80 percent of the population. Put another way, Shiite Arabs, who represent around 65 percent of the population, must give much more power to the minority Sunni Arabs than could be gained by them at the ballot box.

However, America's efforts in this have gone unrequited: No major Sunni Arab organization--especially not the all-critical Muslim Clerics Association--has ever condemned the insurgency or even suggested that foreign holy warriors, responsible for much of the suicide bombing, are beyond the pale. The ugly truth is that many, perhaps most, Iraqi Sunni Arabs are not much distressed by the killing of Iraqi Shia. Although it may still be possible to get the Shiite community to allow Arab Sunnis more checks and balances inside the government (for example, through the creation of an upper legislative house, permitted by Iraq's constitution), unless the United States changes the dynamic on the ground by surging troops (which would also better protect Sunnis against Shiite militias), the Shia are unlikely to compromise. They will not turn away from the militias, who offer the best protection against insurgents and holy warriors.

In short, no "national reconciliation" will be possible unless it is preceded by more physical security for all communities. Greater security for both Sunnis and Shiites will allow more flexibility in the political system. Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group gets this backwards.

And the "external approaches" of the Baker-Hamilton Commission are substantively even thinner than its discussion of Iraq's internal challenges. The ISG envisions Iran and Syria, which have abetted the radicalization of Iraq, helpfully interfering in the country.

Repeatedly, the ISG asserts that "no country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq." Really? If the self-interest of Iran and Syria is so clearly in favor of stability, why have they been fostering violence in the country? Syria and Iran have been aiding both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. According to U.S. officials, there is a pile of intercept and electronic intelligence clearly showing these two countries have been abetting both sides.

The ISG propounds that Iraq's neighbors "should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq." Leaving national reconciliation aside, Tehran has given aid to the militia of Moktada al-Sadr and the Badr corps of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both groups are deeply implicated in death-squad killings. Iran has also aided in the importation of the Lebanese Hezbollah into the Shiite south and helped it set up offices. SCIRI has tried to convince the Iraqi government, and the Americans behind it, that 16,000 members of the Badr Organization who are still resident in Iran--that is, young men who are culturally perhaps much more Iranian than they are Iraqi--should be incorporated into the Iraqi army and the security services. Baker might possibly conceive of this SCIRI deployment as a "support group" "reinforcing security" and "national reconciliation," but it's a good bet that not a single Iraqi Sunni Arab would agree with him. Approaching Iran and Syria on Iraq isn't cunning and clever realpolitik. It's just stark naiveté.

Finally, the call for a renewed Israeli-Palestinian push also makes no sense. Let us ignore for the moment the Palestinian internecine strife, in which none of the contenders believes in a lasting peace with the Israelis. The war between Hamas and Fatah has made both organizations more anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. How in the world would rancorous Israeli and Palestinian talks have any effect on Iraq or the Sunni-Shiite collision in Mesopotamia?

If the Iraqi Shia are provoked into conquering the entire Sunni triangle, which will send a massive wave of Sunni Arab refugees into Jordan, how will Israeli-Palestinian talks help the Hashemite monarchy survive the radicalization of its politics by Iraqi Sunni supremacists, fundamentalists, and former Baathists? As much as our European allies would love to see renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, it's difficult to envision a scenario where these talks could be productive. It's difficult to see how the United States could back this enterprise without appearing to be scared and weak, hardly a formula to engender moderation in the other parties to these discussions. Failed talks are not better than no talks at all.

We didn't really need to wait nine months for a report that could have been written eight months ago. We already had Secretary Rumsfeld's and General Abizaid's unsuccessful tactics. We already knew what James Baker thought about Syria, Iran, Israel, and Palestine. For those of us who saw some of the deliberations of the Iraq Study Group, the report is less than the discussions that produced it. Even a Washington establishment hopelessly spooked by Iraq should have done better.

 Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. He served on one of the expert working groups of the Baker-Hamilton Commission.

THURSDAY and FRIDAY, December 7 and 8, 2006

Talk about "conspiracy theories", the grand-daddy of them all began on this day 65 years ago...and continues to the present time.  Did FDR and company allow the attack on Pearl Harbor to happen, with all its attendant death and destruction, in order to prod this isolationist country finally into the World War surrounding it?  The most recent review of this theory, armed with more current information - but still lacking some classified documents even at this late date - was presented by Oliver North in last week's "War Stories" on the Fox channel.   In groping toward a conclusion, a review of some definitions from Black's Law Dictionary is instructive.

We know that FDR rightly wanted us in that world war, which was then being lost on two fronts.  And we know that he wanted the Japanese to strike first.  Perhaps he did not realize that not only was MacArthur's air force in the Phillipines vulnerable, but also our entire Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.  But, as it is expressed in law: "he knew, or should have known".  Thus, in my opinion, the actions of the Roosevelt administration and the upper eschelons of the American military were somewhere betwen Gross Negligence and Recklessness.  I cannot believe that all those American leaders would allow such carnage  to take place intentionally.  But this is bad enough.


WEDNESDAY, December 6, 2006

Iraq - and the "Baker Commission" report.  "This country has hit very rough waters".  "The situation is grave".  This is hyperbole!   Even on a day when 10 more Americans died in Iraq, when nearly 3,000 have given their lives and ten times that number have been wounded...terrible statistics, how many American citizens would agree with those quotes?  We are in a war, after having been attacked.  We did strike back to defend ourselves; but our leaders grossly understimated and mis-identified the enemy.  In the process, the Iraqi people are only potentially better off...a potential which only they can achieve.  But the roughest waters for America are not in Iraq, but rather with our divided or at least impatient citizentry.  Compare today with December 7, 1941.  Those were rough waters.  That situation was grave, and remained so for at least two years.
So, let's not get lost in hyperbole.  The Commission has made some useful suggestions, mixed in with some naive ideas.  The ball is still in our court. We can still act, and not react.  In fact, the main value of the Commission report, intentionally or otherwise, should be to put the politicians of Iraq on notice that America has not written them a blank check.  All options are on the table, and they are our options.  So, settle down, folks.  Act lll is about to begin.


MONDAY and TUESDAY, December 4 and 5, 2006

From Metternich to Jim Baker
The high price of restoring the ancien régime.
by Ralph Peters
Weekly Standard
12/11/2006, Volume 012, Issue 13

THE SUPERANNUATED membership of the Iraq Study Group shepherded by former secretary of state James Baker conjures a line from the film The Sixth Sense: "I see dead people." Two centuries ago, Europeans dreaming of reform and freedom must have felt just as crestfallen as they watched their continent's ghoulish elder statesmen gather for the Congress of Vienna. Both assemblies symbolize a victory for the ancien régime, the bloody-minded refusal to accept that the world has changed profoundly and will continue to change.

If the Baker commission is the K-Mart version of the Congress of Vienna, its influence may prove no less pernicious. Baker is the dean emeritus of a reactionary school of diplomats--inaccurately labeled "realists"--whose support of the shah of Iran, the Saudi royal family, Anwar Sadat, then Hosni Mubarak, and, not least, Saddam Hussein delivered short-term stability that proved illusory in the long run. It was the "realist" elevation of stability above all other strategic factors--echoing Prince Metternich--that gave us not only the radical regime in Iran, but, ultimately, al Qaeda and 9/11.

The leading modern practitioner of this profoundly reactionary approach to international relations was, of course, Henry Kissinger, whose doctoral thesis championed the diplomats and heads of state who redivided Europe into reform-school states after Napoleon's defeat. A classic revisionist, Kissinger ignored the wisdom of 19th century observers who recognized that the oppression sponsored by the Congress of Vienna created only a mockery of peace. The century of Biedermeier sensibilities and Victorian manners was, in fact, punctuated by

 a long series of failed--and often grisly--revolutions that radicalized those who found the status quo unbearable. The Staats ordnung of the day created the cult of political assassinations that haunts us still. Metternich and his peers induced the social forced labor that gave birth to Marx and all the utopian extremists who came afterward. From the lesser figures, such as Kropotkin or Bakunin, down to Lenin and Hitler, the political distortions of the "orderly" 19th century led to the unprecedented bloodbaths of the 20th century.

The Kissinger school amplified our Cold War support for authoritarian and even dictatorial regimes, deforming the Middle East as Metternich, Talleyrand, Nesselrode, Castlereagh, Wellington, and their lesser contemporaries crippled Europe. For his part, Baker argued--wrongly--that Saddam Hussein should be spared in the wake of Desert Storm; tried to persuade the Soviet Union to remain whole after its comprehensive collapse; and pretended against the increasingly gory evidence that Yugoslavia could be preserved as a unified state. He tolerated Saddam's savage suppression of a Shia revolt we incited, and only grudgingly--and belatedly--acquiesced in our protection of Kurdish refugees.

One of the many tragedies of our experience in Iraq is that the incompetence of the Bush administration's occupation policy has obscured the necessity of igniting change in the Middle East. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was both an intelligent act and a moral one. But the aftermath was so badly botched that many in Washington now long--as did those powdered cynics in Vienna--for the status quo antebellum. They would renew our commitment to Saudi Arabia and other autocracies, while quietly selling out the Lebanese, the Kurds, and the region's moderates in order to get us out of Iraq. We would return to a version of the old order and might gain a brief respite from our troubles in the region. But the greater effects of a renewed stability-über-alles doctrine would play into the recruitment schemes of the most radical Islamist elements in the region, while instigating human rights violations on a breathtaking scale. We would throw away any hope of a better future for a brief timeout today.

 Stability at any price isn't the answer. Stability imposed from above empowered Khomeini and bin Laden as surely as it did the 19th century revolutionaries and nihilists who became the 20th century's nationalists, demagogues, and mass murderers. Terror is an inevitable by-product of all grand clampdowns.

The statesmen of the Congress of Vienna sought to turn back history's tide, and their philosophical heirs on the Baker panel are trying to do the same. Democrat or Republican, superficially liberal or conservative, the Iraq Study Group is deeply reactionary. Its recommendations, which will be couched in terms of "sensible" Realpolitik, envision an impossible restoration of a peaceful Middle East that never existed. No matter the politically correct language in which it may be couched, the group's fundamental recommendation will be to return to a foreign policy in which the quest for stability trumps freedom, ignores human rights, frustrates the will of ordinary people, and violates elementary decency. By resisting change, the study group will only make the changes that do come to the Middle East even more explosive and anti-American.

The Middle East problem was difficult enough when the Bush administration stood for a benevolent revolution in possibilities against a range of reactionary enemies, from al Qaeda and Shia militias to various Baathist regimes and the apocalyptic nihilists ruling Iran. For all of the administration's practical ineptitude, its recognition that the Middle East could not continue in its current state was correct. Now we verge on a new clash of civilizations that will oppose our reactionaries to their reactionaries. It is a formula not for stability and peace, but for brutal conflict and spectacular terrorism.

The 19th century was far bloodier within Europe than historical glosses pretend, yet the political order the Congress of Vienna sought to preserve in amber did last, more or less, until 1914, when the inevitable explosion came on a massive scale. But history marches double time today, and any attempt to effect a restoration of rigid, top-down order in the Middle East will fail far more rapidly than did the Concert of Europe. Yesterday's solutions--Jim Baker's solutions--didn't work yesterday. They certainly won't work today.

Since the end of the Cold War, every one of our military engagements has come in response to failing states and flawed borders: Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq . . . we send our men and women in uniform to defend a world designed in Berlin and Versailles according to the macabre political philosophy of Metternich. The greatest democracy in history has been conned by its own political elite into fighting for the carto graphic legacy of dead czars, kings, kaisers, and emperors.

The Iraq Study Group's members will assure each other of their conscientiousness, while carefully guarding their legacies for future biographers and historians. And the group's recommendations will suggest, in one form or another, a return to the ancien régime.

Of course, the salient difference between the Congress of Vienna and the Iraq Study Group is obvious: The diplomats of the former had just achieved a military victory, while the members of the latter seek to avert a strategic defeat. The freedom of action that the Baker commission might imagine for itself is illusory.

There are no good solutions to Iraq, but some "solutions" are markedly worse than others. Any formula that attempts to extend the lives of dictatorships and oligarchies at the expense of already restive populations will end in disaster--even should it promise us the illusion of a "decent interval."

Ralph Peters is a retired military officer, columnist, and the author of 21 books, including the recent Never Quit the Fight.

SATURDAY and SUNDAY, December 2 and 3, 2006

More on Iraq and the future.  If the Baker Commission lives down to expectations, its product will be another camel: a horse designed by committee, always in an effort to achieve "consensus" all cost.  Then there is the article published this week by Charles Krauthammer entitled "Realism's Bad Name" (in The Day Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, Commentary, pA7) which offers a rare, realpolitic approach to our problems and opportunities in the Middle East even now.  There is the obvious but nevertheless important reminder by Thomas Friedman about the vital role of energy independence from foreign oil in avoiding a clash of civilizations ("The Energy Wall And Today's 'Clash of the Civilizations'", in The Day yesterday, Commentary, pA7).  There is the always important commentary by Bernard Lewis entitled "Freedom and Justice in Islam" (see Imprimis, Sept. 2006, "I think that the effort is difficult and the outcome uncertain, but I think the effort must be made.  Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us."
And then there is today's report about the belated ruminations of Secretary Rumsfeld.  Am I getting cynical, or just more experienced in the ways of our leadership?  I see this unhelpful laundry list of "options" as just another example of CYA Plan A vs Plan B.  This is the "if I get sacked" plan.
However miserably the plan of pre-emptive self-defense was implemented, it toppled Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, demonstrated the desire of millions of Iraqi people for democracy, supports a free Lebanon and Jordan, keeps Syria and Iran on the defensive, puts a sometimes duplicitous House of Saud on notice of our reach, and demonstrates to the entire Muslin world that Israel, our client State, is there to stay...all by having injected American power into that "mad, mad world".  And there we must stay, for our own vital self-interest and that of the Western World, at least until we have achieved independence from the blackmail of black gold.


FRIDAY, December 1, 2006

STUPID IN SEATTLE.  Granted, many "Seattleites" (?) originally came from southern California.  But haven't they been drenched in enough rain to have washed out the sunstroke by now?  Evidently not when it comes to that oxymoron: "public education".  See George Will's article entitled "The Supreme Court, Diversity And School Assignment By Pigmentation" (in The Day yesterday, Commentary, pA9.  This case, now before the U.S.Supreme Court, is a time warp back to the idiocy of the 1970's and 1980's, when children were forced out of their good suburban schools and transported miles across town to attend failed inner city schools populated by other victims.  This was never right, socially, ethically or practically.  The only defensible action, then and now, is one-way transfers out of the failed schools and into the better schools, coupled with charter schools, magnet schools...and VOUCHERS.  Our national public school system can only be saved by a huge dose of competition...for students and for demonstrably competent teachers, and by Federal action to prohibit teacher strikes and the abuses of political action regularly perpetrated by the national teachers' unions in their cynical defense of the status quo.
And who should be demanding such changes: the very "pigmented" families that are wasting generation after generation while meekly following the line of the Democratic Party, a wholly owned subsidiary of those unions.  WAKE UP!!


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