Thursday, August 30, 2007

Iraq: Where do we go from here?

Eight months ago, when Bush announced his surge, I surprised the hell out of myself by supporting it. The reasons were many and complex – go see my entry of January 14 for a complete rundown. And I gave it less than a 50-50 chance of succeeding. Now the surge is roughly eight months old, and in two weeks General Petraeus is scheduled to brief Congress on its status. I think things are clear enough right now that I don’t need to wait for Petraeus. I know what we must do.

It’s time to start pulling out of Iraq.

And the reasons are pretty simple. Our surge has been successful in bringing down the level of violence in Baghdad. But the Iraqi leaders have failed their country completely, having done nothing to build a working government and quell the violence. The militias (a fancy name for heavily armed street thugs) aren’t anywhere near ready to lay down their arms. Iraq is just another failed state like Somalia, and it’s time to recognize that.

The American soldier has (as usual) done an unbelievable job carrying out impossible orders. Read the blog An Army of Dude for insight into what it’s like on the ground. See the August 18 entry for a discussion about our “allies” against Al Qaeda in Iraq – they’re just working with us until AQI is gone, and then they’ll start killing our soldiers. And see his March 25 entry for a description of what ground combat is really like.

Now read the Time Magazine article titled “An Ambush in Karbala” from July 26, which describes an attack on U.S. forces, aided and abetted by the very police forces that the U.S. forces were there to train.

Today a GAO report was leaked that said the Iraqi government had failed on 13 of 18 benchmarks. The report was leaked in order to prevent the Bush administration from watering it down.

Earlier this month, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that the Pentagon can’t account for over 190,000 AK47’s and automatic pistols that it gave the Iraqi security forces. That’s a bit over 30% of the total given.

The U.S. shipped $23 BILLION in cash to Iraq soon after the war. At least $9 BILLION of that disappeared completely. Anyone want to guess how much of the remaining $14B actually accomplished anything?

Speaking of cash, we're spending $3 BILLION a week on Iraq. Think of what we could buy for that money. Medical insurance for every single person in the USA, for one thing ... legal or illegal.

I could go on, but I won’t. The bottom line is clear: Iraq is a quagmire (to use Dick Cheney’s own term), with an incompetent/corrupt “government”, run by thugs who have no interest in establishing peace. It’s sucking the life out of our country (figuratively) and our soldiers (literally). And there’s no end in sight.

It’s been credibly reported by current and retired American military logistics planners that a complete US withdrawal would take two years, even moving at high speed, simply because we have so many people and so much stuff over there. That’s two more years for the Iraqi government to use our forces as a fig leaf and try to get their act together.

But I think we need to start now. Get our troops, our friends (the translators and others who’ve trusted us), and our equipment out of Iraq. Let the al-Sadr’s and their ilk finish ripping their own country to shreds. Whenever they’re ready for peace, we can help them. But until then, we need to get out and stay out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

You Must Read This

One of the links on this blog is to another blog entitled "Army of Dude". It's written by a young soldier now in Baquba, Iraq. His writing is always extremely powerful. Right now he's about to finish up a 15-month tour in Iraq, and his latest post eloquently describes the situation on the ground. Forget Wolf Blitzer or Christiane Amanpour or those idiots at Fox: if you want an idea of what life for a soldier in Iraq is like, you must read Army of Dude.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Week In Review

It's been a busy week for just about everybody, it seems. In Washington, more rats are abandoning the sinking Bush ship of state. Both Karl Rove (a.k.a. "The Devil Incarnate") and Tony Snow (the President's press secretary) will leave within a few weeks. Rove's departure is about six years overdue. What a sleazebag: he's done more to foment partizanship and "us vs. them" mentality than anybody since Newt Gingrich. I like John Edwards' epitaph for him. "Goodbye and good riddance." Nuff said.

Regarding Tony Snow, he says he's leaving for financial reasons, that "his money's running out". Umm, excuse me, he makes over $168,000 per year from the government, but I guess that's just lunch money for the Republican power elite.

Now if we could just get rid of Alberto Gonzalez ... but that ain't gonna happen. Gonzo is the only thing standing between the wolves in Congress and Bush's ass. Congress can demand special investigators all they want, but Gonzo's the guy who would have to implement it, and of course he won't. And if Gonzo goes, his replacement would have to be confirmed by Congress, and they won't confirm anybody who would stand in their way. No, Gonzalez can pretty much plan on spending the next 17 months giving unbelievably bad testimony to Congress, while the Justice Department falls apart behind him.

And Dennis Hastert announced his retirement. Everybody forgets that he was Speaker of the House, but that's because he let Tom Delay (nominally just the leader of the Republicans) actually run everything. Goodbye, good riddance.

I got a copy of Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance". Although I'm just a chapter or so into it right now, he really is an amazingly good writer. And the book is about more than just climate change, it's about the entire picture: overpopulation, economics, conservation, CO2 levels, sea levels, sustainability, politics, the whole thing. How he weaves all these disparate elements together into a compelling narrative is just amazing. And moving.

This week was pretty productive in my own little world. I finished up a corporate commission and also got another painting done in my "Meditation on War" series. Janis and I started talking about selling the Land Rover and getting something a bit easier on gas and maintenance costs. The Land Rover is a great car - solid as a bank vault, reliable, comfortable, and does everything we need it to, and more - but its mileage isn't that good (16.5 mpg ever since we bought it) and the regular maintenance is a expensive ... repairs are even worse. So we're thinking that maybe now would be a good time to trade for something else, while it's running great and everybody is pretty much used to $3/gallon gas.

Time to sign off ... my dog is pestering me to play, and since she is the Princess, I have to obey!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pictures of the Grandson

His daddy's raising him to be a Padres fan ... off to a good start!

I dunno about this "ocean" thing ... it doesn't taste so hot ...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New Painting

Here's my newest painting, "Riverside Rebuilding", size 18"x24". It's the riverside in Mostar in Bosnia, from my time there in 1996. The river was the front line between the Croat and Muslim sides, so the buildings were heavily damaged during the fighting. These buildings were being repaired and re-opened for business.

"Lost" TV Show

Janis and I just finished watching the first two seasons of "Lost". We got ourselves a Netflix account a while back and gave "Lost" a look to see what the buzz was all about. And we got hooked. The story line is always full of surprises and they almost always have a cliffhanger ending. So it was a lot of fun.

The basic storyline: an airliner gets lost over the Pacific and crashes on an island. A lot of people inexplicably survive in perfect health, but then find out that the island is really weird, and there are other people on the island (they call them the "Others" ... duhhh) who have some sort of unexplained mission in life.

But there are also some very disturbing elements to it that bothered me more and more as the series went on. Primarily, the "heroes" are really violent people. Quite a few of the main characters have committed cold-blooded murder, either in the show's real-time or in the flashbacks. And there are lots of other killings, too. By my count, the heroes have killed at least 14 people by the end of the second season. Some of them are their own people, too. We're supposed to identify with this?

The relationship with the Others is a central theme. We don't know much about them, except that they lie, are prone to using force, and they kidnap people. To my knowledge, though, they haven't killed anybody, although the "heroes" have killed at least six Others at this point. Frankly, I'm starting to have more sympathy for the Others than the main heroes.

It seems like every time there's a hint of trouble, the heroes go for the rifles and pistols and start ordering people around at the point of a gun. "Others", their own people, doesn't matter. "Do this or I'll kill you" is their main message. It all reminds me very much of the Bush Administration: shoot first and don't even bother asking questions afterward. I mean, if you want to know who the "Others" are, why don't you just leave your frickin' guns at home and go talk to them? Do you think you're going to get very far by stuffing an M-16 in their face and screaming at them? Doesn't sound like a very sound approach, either in TV or in Iraq.

I've heard that the show lost a lot of fans in season 3 because of unlikable characters and unbelievable (even by "Lost" standards) plot twists. I'll see it when it comes out on DVD. Meanwhile, I think I'll stick with re-runs of "Whose Line Is It, Anyway".

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Luddite Joins the New Millenium

With any new technology, there are "new adopters". These are the people who stand in line to buy an iPhone the moment it goes on sale. At the other extreme are the "late adopters", who don't buy into a new technology until it's been around a long time. Me, I'm an "antique adopter". I don't buy into a new technology until the old one isn't even available on eBay anymore.

I guess I've always been this way. I'm a guy who had not one but two cars with 8-track players installed. None of those newfangled cassette players for me! And I didn't get a CD player until it was hard to find vinyl LP's. Our very first DVD player is only a couple of years old. If the old technology works okay, why replace it?

One reason I'm this way is I'm a cheap bastard. I don't like having to replicate my music collection every time some geek invents a new way to play it and some marketing genius convinces the world that everybody must have it.

Another reason is that I've seen a lot of hot new technologies fall by the wayside. Remember Betamax? That was Sony's videocassette recorder/player system. It was a lot better than VHS and there was a marketing war between the two formats for a long time. But Betamax was proprietary to Sony and they wouldn't license it and it was expensive. Meanwhile, everybody else started making VHS machines and prices plummeted and the Betamax quietly went away. Me, I'd have bought a Betamax back in the day and then been pissed off when Sony dropped it. Experiences like that have a way of staying with you.

As for large-scale hi-definition liquid-crystal TVs, well, our old 32" tube set works just fine, thank you very much.

Despite all that, I bought my first album from iTunes a few days ago. Yes, it's a current phenomenon, so with my track record I shouldn't have even heard of it yet. But you can't miss the hype anymore. So I tried it out and it worked pretty well. It's a lot cheaper than going to your local overpriced department store, they're always in stock, and you can pick and choose which tunes you want to hear. Pretty cool. No, I don't have an iPod yet, but that'll come this fall. One thing at a time!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The FISA Flap

There's a lot of discussion in Washington these days (and hence in the political pundit world) about FISA and the need to update it. FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and it governs the collection of counterintelligence information in the U.S. It's one of the sources of Bush's "warrantless wiretap" programs. Who cares? Well, as a former intel guy, I do. So bear with me a bit.

Everybody agrees that FISA is outdated. When it was passed in 1978, it was designed around communications systems and "foreign" organizations that were very different than they are now. Today we have the internet, packet-based communications, GPS, satellite phones, cell phones, calling cards, IM, email, MySpace, and a host of other ways to communicate. In 1978, we were still getting used to push-button phones. Today we have do counterintel operations against foreign governments, known terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, unknown groups that do an attack and then vanish, "sleeper" cells connected to who knows what groups, trans-national organizations that may work with terrorists occasionally, and any permutation of the above that your brain can conceive. Basically, the entire problem is incredibly more difficult. Back then, you pretty much knew who your enemies were and what kind of communications they were likely to use. Now, we need to find out who our enemies are, and they can use (okay, they are using) the same communications systems that all of us are using.

This week I'm hearing a lot of noise about getting a new FISA bill passed before Congress goes out on recess for a month. To me, this is bad news. Any bill that's rushed through is a bad bill. They're rushing it because they don't want people to take a close look at parts of it.

One part that I don't like is that (reportedly) the proposed bill gives the Attorney General more leeway to authorize counterintelligence programs. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have a problem with this as most of our Attorneys General have been forthright, honest, and ethical men. But our current Attorney General is, unfortunately, Alberto Gonzalez, who has proven to be neither forthright, honest, nor ethical. Giving him expanded powers would be like giving automatic weapons to Attila the Hun. Pass this bill now and say goodbye to any protection for our civil liberties by the Justice Department.

Mike McConnell, our National Intelligence Director (and a forthright, honest, and ethical man), is right when he says we need a new FISA and we need it yesterday. But something this important needs to be carefully vetted first.