Monday, January 30, 2006

Is America at War? Yes, actually.

Today's Boston Globe carried a James Carroll opinion column entitled "Is America Actually in A state of War? (registration required). Interestingly enough, Mr. Carroll argued that America is not at war. And the rationale he applied for determining we are actually in a time of peace (peace, of course, being the opposite of war):

1. In Iraq, Carroll opines, "something essential is lacking that would make [the conflict there in Iraq] a war -- and that is an enemy. The so-called ''insurgents," who wreak such havoc, are not America's enemy. They are not our rivals for territory."

2. And concerning the overall war on terror, it "is not real war either, since the Pentagon has proven itself incapable of actually engaging Al Qaeda. . . Bin Laden was a self-mythologized figure of no historic standing until George W. Bush designated him America's equal by defining 9/11 as an act of war to be met with war, instead of a crime to be met with criminal justice.

Carroll concludes his argument that we live in a time of peace by summarizing "Iraq is not a war, because, though we have savage assault, we have no enemy. The war on terrorism is not a war because, though we have an enemy, the muscle-bound Pentagon offers no authentic means of assault."

The easy counter to this column's weak argument is to ask Soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan if they are indeed at war. My guess is their answer would be a resounding yes. That is the low hanging fruit, however, and Caroll's weak argument deserves a more vigorous intellectual drubbing than a mere statement of the obvious.

Carroll proffers the fact that the insurgents aren't attempting to seize territory from us, so therefore do not qualify as a valid wartime enemy. The United States has engaged in several conflicts against foes who have never so much as contemplated stepping foot on the lower 48. We fought the Germans in Europe, not Cape Cod, and my guess is there wasn't a single Globe opinion column in the 1940s entitled "Is America Really at War with the Nazis?".

Carroll's second argument for not being at war is actually twofold: first, he states that we are not at war with Al Qaeda because the Pentagon is too inept to engage the organization; but then Carroll falls back to a 1990's view of terror as a crime, not an act of war, and faults the administration for engaging terrorists as combatants instead of criminals. You can't really have it both ways, James. This argument is more insidious than the first one, since to heed it would actually
imperil American society. To see the war on terror as anything less than a global struggle with a competent, organized (though loosely networked and cellular), ruthless foe is an error that could have tragic, even irreversible consequences. It is safer for all Americans if the government views contemplating the use of chemical or nuclear weapons as an act of war, rather than a felony.

Like the aforementioned example of World War II, it is better to leave nothing to chance, and harness all of the elements of national power to protect the nation and end the threat of terror on a global scale. Law enforcement is just one aspect of the tools available to reduce the threat of terror. Let's face it, on its own, the FBI would have had a much more difficult time of rooting out Al Qaeda in Afghanistan than the United States Army (who, four years later, are still having a pretty rough go of it over there). My guess is the Taliban would not have allowed too many warrants to be served in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

The absolute worst thing about Carroll's argument is that it is illustrative of what the American left offers as a coherent national security plan: absolutely nothing. People who see terror as a true and deadly threat to America have had a peach of a choice during the last few national election cycles: choose the party that is fighting the War on Terror/Iraq in an arguably poor manner, or choose the party that denies we are even at war.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Recommended Reading

A book reminded me of some other books I've read, all of which help me better understand the world we all live in.

I started reading
Collapse by Jared Diamond, who previously authored the excellent Guns, Germs and Steel. In his latest book, Diamond advances a theory of why some societies stand the test of time, while others disappear, sometimes rapidly. I am about halfway through the book and so far it has been quite interesting. Diamond has analyzed Easter Island, the Mayan and the Viking civilizations so far, along with goings on in present day Montana. I have a little way to go before I'm done, but so far it is a recommended read.
Studying the success or failure of civilizations is a pursuit that has concerned mankind; we always look back to the societies of the past, if for no other reason than to better understand ourselves.
Which is why Diamond's theories led me to think of ideas advanced in some other books I've read. Diamond's theory identifies many variables that inevitably determine whether or not a civilization stands the test of time. But I feel Diamond does not address the complex relationships between all of the variables he uses in gauging why a society succeeds or fails. A scientific discipline that places values on the complex interactions between variables, and the emergent effects they produce, is system theory. While Diamond touches slightly on the interrelationship between variables he's studying (ie climate change and environmental degradation in the case of polynesian islanders), he does not take the next step to look at how the rest of the variables within the society are connected as well.
So read the book, and when you want to look at how all the various aspects of a society interact and connect, pick up a book on system theory. I would strongly recommend General System Theory, by Ludwig Van Bartalannfy as a start. This book is out of print and a little tough to come by. And yes, it is a tad on the dry side. Another short book to introduce you to system theory is The Logic of Failure
by Dietrich Dorner. This is a really interesting book (hence an easier read), but Bartalannfy's book is truly the bible of systems theory, so get that one too!
There you have it, what I'm reading, and what I am led to think about while I read. I hope you find the time to pick these books up at some point; the two theories advanced definitely provide some tools to examine the world we live in today.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Google, Another Look.

Michelle Malkin collected some of the best graphic takes on Google's collusion with totalitarianism in the PRC. Here are my personal favorites:

The internet has been abuzz for a few days on this story; I hope that the company (who, by the way, created the software that makes my attempting-to-be-several-cuts-above-mediocre-blog-possible) reconsiders the actions it took to enter the Chinese market. It's never to late to do the right thing.

Google in China

Little Green Footballs takes an interesting look at Google's "modified" search engine in China. Time to dust off 1984 and re-read it, I guess.

In their successful drive to enter the Chinese market, Google at best showed they are a corporation like any other, driven to increase the bottom line for shareholders; at worst, the company violated its own stated credo, "Don't Be Evil".

It made me think about the relative versus absolute value of information, and freedom.

Chinese computer users with access to Google no doubt have an effective search engine to instantly access an exponentially large amount of information. But as the search demonstrated on LGF indicates, they don't have total access to the truth. If the Chinese government deems that something is worth keeping from the masses, they will not find the truth of the matter on Google. So, the next time there is a rural uprising, or worse, a toxic spill of chemicals threatening a city or town, and the government wants it kept quiet, no doubt Google will comply. A lie by omission is still a lie.

I wonder how the brilliant software engineers, who revolutionized the free exchange of information and ideas when they designed the Google search engine, feel about Google in China. Instead of advancing the freedom of information, their tool has become an an authoritarian regime's apparatchik.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cindy Fumigates Her Wisdom

More golden nuggets from Cindy Sheehan in a recent interview while traveling in Ireland:

"The only reason we're fighting in Iraq is to make people rich and to control Iraq's natural resources. To me, that's deplorable and despicable and monstrous."

"about Bill Clinton . . . . His policies are responsible for killing more Iraqis that (sic) George Bush. I don't understand why to rise to the level of being president of my country one has to be a monster."

"our government also exploits our fears; they try to demonize people and marginalize people, so many people in my country don't believe that when we kill an Iraqi baby that that's an innocent human being."

Follow the link if you want to read more, especially if you are in the mood to psychoanalyze a bit.
Now even Bill Clinton is a blood-soaked warmonger; who knew? I wonder why the media outlets that gave Cindy a free ride all summer long took a pass on reporting this? Cindy is still newsworthy enough after all, since she is a (all expenses paid!!!) guest of honor at this year's World Economic Forum in Venezuela.
From the tone of this interview, it would seem that a free trip to Ireland did little to assuage the anger and vitriol Cindy is carrying inside her. What a shame. I truly hope she can mellow out a bit during her all-expense paid sojourn at the world social forum this week. Caracas is a beautiful city, the climate mild, and people are friendly, unless things have changed since my last foray there. It's a good place to hang out in a cafe with a little sangria and collect one's thoughts, and maybe unload some of the hateful baggage a person is carrying around to no good end. Oh well, one can only hope for the best. . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cindy Sheehan Heads South

CARACAS (AFP) - Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in
Iraq, joined more than 10,000 anti-globalization activists in Caracas, where she hailed Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez.

"I admire him for his resolve against my government and its meddling," said Sheehan, who gained notoriety when she camped outside US
President George W. Bush's ranch last year to protest the Iraq war. She said she hoped to meet Chavez later in the week.

Sheehan was among more than 10,000 people from across the Americas who took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital Tuesday in an anti-war protest that launched the six-day Caracas World Social Forum (WSF).

She said Venezuela's foreign ministry sponsored her visit.

Hugo Chavez remains a total puzzle to me. I fail to understand the Venezuelan caudillo's appeal to the American left. So he thumbs his nose at the U.S. and throws the lucre from oil exports around on socialist photo ops; is that really enough to make everyone get on the first thing smoking out of Miami to stand beside him? And I wonder how easy a sell he would have with his populism if the price of oil did a hard drop? I also question how much of Venezuela's oil revenue is being saved and/or invested to help the country in the long term (like Norway does with its petroleum exports). My guess is that Mr Chavez is spending a great deal of money on things like the lovely Cindy's visit, and supporting similiar leftist politicians in the region. It's too bad; the Venezuelan people deserve better than this.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Cindy Sheehan: The Heat and the Fury

Cindy Sheehan is advancing a trendy new term today in an essay entitled “Matriotism”. A matriot, according to Ms. Sheehan:

"loves his/her country but does not buy into the exploitive phrase of "My country right or wrong.”

Matriots would fight their own battles, but take a dim view of having to do so, and would seldom resort to violence to solve conflict! Patriots cowardly hide behind the flag and eagerly send young people to die to fill their own pocketbooks.

War will end forever when we matriots stand up and say: "No, I am not giving my child to the fake patriotism of the war machine which chews up my flesh and blood to spit out obscene profits."

You can follow the link I provided if you want, but the essay is along the same line of the stuff I dissected from it in the excerpt above.

One of the reasons I started my own blog was to express opinions on ideas or issues I believe are important, backing them up with reasoned out thought.

Ms Sheehan does the exact opposite in nearly every single public appearance, or in the muddled thoughts she commits to writing. She falls back on two devices to justify positions: the moral gravitas her opinion gains from having lost a son in war; and, arguably worse, the annoying, dogmatic sloganeering so typical of some radical 1960s movement.

Let’s face it, the term matiotism itself sounds like the shrill drivel that emanates from those on the fringe who want to spew mindless disdain at "the powers that be", with much emotion and little thought. It appeals to the university set and the professional protesting class, but I could not ever see my grandparents, lifelong democrats, buying into Cindy's radical chic.

So I say to you Cindy, if you really want to change my mind about the war or any policy of this administration or the next, argue with reason, and leave the emotion and cliché back wherever it is that you call home.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reorganizing the State Department

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning a dramatic restructuring of the U.S. diplomatic presence around the world, redeploying hundreds of diplomats from Europe and Washington to developing countries including China, India, Lebanon, and Nigeria over the next five years.

She said her plan was part of a strategy for "transformational diplomacy." She said she hoped to create a new kind of diplomatic corps that can work with people abroad, as U.S. diplomats are doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the intent of helping to transform developing countries into democracies and to fight terrorism.

Rice portrayed the changes as a move away from outdated vestiges of the Cold War.

Follow the link and read the rest of the article. This is a terrific move, however modest, that should have come years ago. The State Department has needed an overhaul for a long time, and this looks to be the beginning of keeping the organization relevant in the 21st century and beyond.

Shifting foreign service officers to areas more vital to US interests is one item mentioned in the article; changing the skill sets and ethos of the foreign service officer corps is the second major change that Secretary Rice says she will address. The State Department, according to Rice, is seeking out foreign service officers with organizational skills to help direct humanitarian activities and democracy assistance programs. State, like the Department of Defense, is planning to provide more effective language training as well. In short, the state department is looking to build a corps of foreign service officers who have the ability to accomplish US foreign policy objectives wherever they are posted.

I have often thought that the State Department is one element of the US government that has been largely neglected by people of all political philosophies, and that its effectiveness has atrophied considerably as a result.

State Department reform could be a great platform for the democrats in particular; building an effective organization that can engage and achieve US objectives without defaulting to military force is definitely a pragmatic alternative to the current administrations posture.

Likewise conservatives, ever cynical with government largesse and perceiving ineffectiveness in every bureaucracy, could demand more accountability and effectiveness for every dollar sunk into the State Department.

Alas, no brave soul from either party has demanded State restructure to achieve a greater return on the taxpayers' investment. It looks like Secretary Rice's modest initiatives will have to suffice for now. Someday, hopefully, Congress will enact Goldwater-Nichols type legislation to create a diplomatic corps to effectively address foreign policy issues the US has in her relationship with the rest of the world.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Murtha Marches Left

Representative Murtha continues his advance leftward to the Lunatic Fringe, Bob Novak reports this morning.

Murtha recently met with leaders from the radical organization Code Pink, whose activities to advance world peace have included giving money to people connected to the insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq, picketing outside of Walter Reed Army Hospital, attempting to indict President Bush for War Crimes, supporting anti-semitic leftist Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, etc., basically page one out of the leftist playbook on how to achieve lasting peace in our times.

Rep Murtha has kept himself in the news lately largely because the press attaches extra gravity to a combat veteran calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. I did a little reading on the Congressman's official website this weekend, and I find it a little disingenous that he is meeting with groups like Code Pink while simultaneously claiming he wants to bolster American security here at home. Murtha’s stated position against the Iraq war is largely predicated on his belief that

“It is time to “change the course” of our Iraqi policy. It is time to wage an effective war against international terrorism.”

Jack Murtha’s “strong defense” stance is hard to believe when he is taking time for photo ops with Code Pink, who have no agenda whatsoever to defend Americans from the threat of terror. Their plan to keep America safe is akin to the Vichy plan to keep France out of the hands of Nazis, if not worse. Standing alongside a group that is not only anti-war, but arguably anti-American as well, makes one doubt any politician’s sincerity on issues of national defense.

Like the rest of us, Rep Murtha has a right to his opinion, however foolhardy and shortsighted it may be. In my humble opinion, it is important to expose the dichotomy between a politician’s statements and his actions, which is what I am trying to do here. Regardless of one's opinion on Iraq, I hope everyone who believes we must defend ourselves against terror will take a minute to think whether Rep Murtha meeting with Code Pink is doing anything to make this nation safer against terrorists with a global reach, which is one of the Congressman’s key points to opposing continuing support for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Friday, January 13, 2006

More Military Readiness

I enjoyed writing the piece below on body armor, and will post on other issues concerning military readiness that aren't normally discussed in the media, like military education and doctrine. Please stay tuned!

Body Armor and Military Preparedness

Who is to blame for the lack of body armor and protected vehicles?

A recent Pentagon study supposedly concluded more lives could have been saved had body armor been fielded to more troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Senator Hillary Clinton raised American consciousness on this issue after her appearance on Good Morning America and blamed the Bush Administration for failing to adequately protect American Troops. Bloggers like Michelle Malkin countered SEN Clinton’s stance, citing impressive figures on the amount of Body Armor fielded to date as well as the issues the Department of Defense has in producing body armor rapidly on a mass scale. Adding more fuel to the fire, recent news reports discussed the problems soldiers have with the cumbersome amounts of armor they are required to wear while out on patrol.

Something that has not been examined in this debate is the military’s overall readiness going into OIF and OEF. Did the military prepare itself for the rigors of low intensity conflict prior to finding itself in counterinsurgency fights in Afghanistan, and then later in Iraq? I would argue that it was NOT adequately prepared for these battles, and that it squandered time and resources in the decade preceding 9/11 that could have made it a more effective force.

Most of the reporting on this issue focuses on the lack of body armor in some units, or on the current efforts to rapidly equip deployed units with the best armor available. Is the lack of force protection an oversight that could not have been foreseen prior to the outset of the war? I think not.

Throughout the 1990’s, American ground forces were deployed in large numbers to places like Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans, and Africa. While these garden spots may have lacked the intensity of the current fight in Iraq, they definitely foreshadowed the role Army and Marine Corps units would likely find themselves in for the next several decades.

So what was the Army investing in throughout this time period? Well, the Comanche Helicopter, for starters. The military spent nearly 9 billion dollars developing the Comanche reconnaissance helicopter, despite the fact that advances in unmanned aerial vehicles were rapidly making the Comanche’s role obsolete. The Army did not cancel this helicopter until early 2004, well after it was clear what the Army was being asked to do on the 21st century battlefield.

The army spent another 11 billion dollars on the Crusader self propelled artillery gun before canceling the cold war holdover in 2002. The gun was so big that only two of them could have been transported on our largest military aircraft, and its impressive firing rate meant that new logistics units would likely have been required to effectively keep them armed.

These were the two big ticket items that the Army hedged their bets on in the late 1990’s, despite all of the evidence coming in from the field that ground forces weren’t likely find themselves fighting a Soviet-style motorized rifle division anytime soon.

Former Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki, who is often cited for his prescience on the amount of forces a post war Iraq would require, did the current Army no favors when he made long term decisions about equipping priorities for the future Army. Instead of focusing on making the Army more effective in the environments it was likely to find itself in, one can argue that the army's investment decisions were made on the basis of the kind of wars that it wanted to fight. Quick, mid intensity conventional wars with limited objectives were good, while long term stability or counterinsurgency fights were frowned upon.

And so the U.S. Army found itself in Iraq and Afghanistan lacking some of the basic equipment required to fight an urban counterinsurgency, despite a decade of experience in similar operations across the globe. The President, Congress, and the Pentagon responded admirably to the shortfalls identified on the battlefield. The Department of Defense promptly started many initiatives and invested money on gear and vehicles to keep soldiers alive and counter the threats seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alas, had our General Officers shown more foresight in the decade before. . .

While it is true that hindsight is 20/20, there is tremendous value in examining shortfalls in military preparedness. It is easy to cast blame on a particular administration of political party for problems that arise in military deployments and wars, but in the end it falls upon military leadership to advise civilian leaders about the threats of today and tomorrow, and determine the resources that will be required to defeat them. The Military leadership of the past decade failed to anticipate all that would be required of them at the dawn of the 21st century; let us hope that current and future generals better anticipate the requirements of coming decades, when even more may be at stake.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Chairman of Joint Chiefs Sounds off on Murtha

Washington Post, 6 January 2006 (Subscription required)

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized Rep. John P. Murtha yesterday for sending "the wrong message" to American youth when the congressman indicated in an interview this week that he would not join today's military.

Pace, who just returned from Iraq, sternly told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that the U.S. Army is the best-trained army in the world, and he expressed disappointment in Murtha's comments.

"That's damaging to recruiting, it's damaging to the morale of the troops who are deployed, and it's damaging to the morale of their families who believe in what they're doing to serve this country," Pace said, adding that 2.4 million volunteers protect the nearly 300 million U.S. residents.

"When a respected leader like Mr. Murtha, who has spent 37 extremely honorable years as a Marine, fought in two wars, has served the country extremely well in the Congress of the United States, when a respected individual like that says what he said, and 18- and 19-year-olds look to their leadership to determine how they are expected to act, they can get the wrong message."

GEN Pace set the right tone with his rebuke to Murtha's comments about military service. Congress is responsible for raising and supporting armies, according to our constitution. That task becomes infinitely harder if the members of that august body openly disdain the value of military service in public commentary.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Murtha says he wouldn't join military now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rep. John Murtha, a key Democratic voice who favors pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, said in remarks airing on Monday that he would not join the U.S. military today.

Would you join (the military) today?," he was asked in an interview taped on Friday.

"No," replied Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees defense spending and one of his party's leading spokesmen on military issues.

"And I think you're saying the average guy out there who's considering recruitment is justified in saying 'I don't want to serve'," the interviewer continued.

"Exactly right," said Murtha, who drew White House ire in November after becoming the first ranking Democrat to push for a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as it could be done safely.

No one on either side of the Iraq debate picked up on Murtha's comments today, which is surprising, since the Reuters article was posted on Drudge early this morning. It's hard to believe that a Congressmen on a defense subcommittee would opine so negatively about serving in the armed forces of the United States of America. John Murtha may not agree with the Administration's Iraq policy, but one can infer from this interview that he believes the value of serving within the military has been tarnished because of the war. I beg to differ.

We must never allow the debate over this war, or the next one, to be framed in such a way that it degrades the value American society places upon those who volunteer to serve within our Armed forces. It is inexcusable that a member of Congress, the body tasked within our constitution with raising and
supporting Armies and Navies, would speak poorly of the value of military service, especially when our nation is at war.

And whether or not someone believes the war in Iraq is justified, the crucial role our military plays in securing American interests around the globe, and here at home, cannot be refuted. For example, the U.S. military's rapid response to the Tsunami last year no doubt saved thousands of lives, eased the suffering of thousands more, and contributed greatly to reconstruction efforts in places affected by the cataclysmic event. Does Congressman Murtha want to contribute to a mindset that diminishes America's ability to respond to events like this in the future? And who would pick up the slack if the U.S. no longer could field naval and ground forces?

The nation requires a highly effective military to deal with the threats and challenges we face today, and the unseen problems of tomorrow. Those who volunteer to serve in uniform are the key and essential factor to whatever capabilities our military will or will not have. Human capital, more than firepower or technology, is what makes the American military so effective and lethal. A member of congress who states there is no justification for the best and brightest to serve in the military today does his constituents, and his country, a great disservice.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Looking Back at '05, Forward to '06

2006 is quickly upon us, and as I sat here this evening contemplating what to post today in The Wilsonizer, I thought about the big changes my family and I experienced in 2005:

1. Of course, the biggest change of all was the birth of beautiful Samantha Kathleen in March. She started crawling two weeks ago, and along with her two brothers is helping to keep our house in cheerful chaos (It is diffficult to blog when baby Sam is racing towards that stray penny on the floor that one of her brothers dropped there just moments ago!).

2. We moved from sunny and hot Kansas to sunny, hot and humid North Carolina. We live on the coastal plain in Fayetteville (Fayette-Nam!) now, sandhills and pine trees.

3. Traded in the tiny townhouse for a not so small ranch with a big back yard. More space = lots more stuff, so 2006 will be the year of paying down visa.

4. Transitioned from a student life of leisure in a Master's program to the daily grind of a regular Army unit.

5. Star Wars Episode III meant my two boys would henceforth be armed with toy light sabers in every available color, and that I would be tripping over the battalion of stormtrooper figutrines deployed all over our floor ( of course, I'm the one who bought the DVD and watched it with them like 50 times, so I only have myself to blame).

6. Lest we forget, Wilsonizer launched on the last day of 2005!!!!

All in all, 2005 was a banner year for us here at Wilsonizer. Here are some thoughts and hopes for what lies ahead in 2006:

1. Elections should prove to be extremely interesting this year, and I am sure we'll follow them closely.

2. Hopefully we will continue to move forward in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that our efforts in both those conflicts aren't imperiled by political machinations here at home. Expect some good discussions right here.

3. With any luck my unit and I will deploy to one of the aforementioned places and I will find updating Wilsonizer on a daily basis to be a challenge!

4. Again, I hope I find my stride with this blog, and that I prove interesting enough to get more traffic and dedicated readers.

Happy New Year, everyone.