Saturday, March 06, 2004

Report from an Old Soldier, Part 2
"Somebody should get relieved for this."

This is the second installment of this series. You can read the first one here.

Del's mission in Iraq was to run a team that provided convoy security. Without getting into specifics, the purpose of these convoys was to follow-up on reports of things, or perhaps people, that the U.S. wanted to find.

The first thing Del discovered was that his team had never been trained for the mission. They were part of a combat support unit that might have had a viable mission during the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent march to Baghdad. But once the war shifted from conventional combat operations to suppressing an insurgency, the unit no long had anything meaningful to do. So somebody attached them to Del's unit and they became convoy escorts.

The second thing Del realized was that his team members were not the least bit proficient with the weapons they carried. In addition to their M16s, they each had a 9mm Baretta pistol when they went outside the wire. They also carried M4 Carbines (shorter version of the M16) and a couple of M249 Squad Automatic Weapons (SAWs) in each Humvee.

Normally (outside a combat zone) only officers, military police, and some special operations troops carry a Baretta. Likewise, the SAW is usually only found in infantry, scout and MP units. These are not weapons generally carried by soldiers in support units. And as a result, the soldiers on Del's team had received no formal training in their use.

Del understood that the two most important considerations of an army leader -- accomplishing the mission and taking care of his soldiers -- could very well hang on the ability of those soldiers to use their weapons if they had to. And they would have to do it with the proficiency and confidence that only comes from good training. So Del instituted a training program to make sure that his soldiers would be ready.

Between missions, Del was on the range with his troops, starting with the basics of each weapon, and gradually building proficiency and confidence. In addition to the basic instruction, Del shared techniques he had learned in more than 30 years of soldiering. His team got good with their weapons. And when they went out on a mission, they had confidence that everybody on the team knew how to do his or her job.

Word spread, as it always does in the army. Del started getting requests from the other convoy security teams, asking to provide them with similar training. Del found the time. And pretty soon all the convoy security teams were rotating through the ranges, learning the basics, improving their technique, gaining confidence.

That's when Del was advised that the weapons training would have to cease. He was informed that the training was using up too much ammunition.

Del was incredulous. He asked, "You're telling me that here in a combat zone there is not enough ammunition for soldiers to become proficient on the weapons they take on their assigned missions?"

The answer was "Yes."

Del said, "Somebody should get relieved (fired!) for this. I'd just like to know who it's going to be."

Del told me that, by the time he left Iraq, no officer had been relieved over the lack of training ammunition. It has all been conveniently forgotten.

I'll be posting more on my conversations with Del soon.

True Leadership
from a real War President

Legal Fiction has added the perfect coda to my piece yesterday on An Absence of Presidential Leadership.

I invite you to take a minute to visit there and read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. To quote Publius:
Notice the differences between the words of Lincoln and the words of our current self-proclaimed "war president" - Lincoln's speech is intellectual and religious (the two aren't mutually exclusive). And it's much less polarizing than Bush's speeches -- and Lincoln actually had a reason to be polarizing. Anyway, enjoy. It's the best speech America has ever produced.
It's short, and it's a striking reminder of the American standard of leadership during a time of real national crisis. Read it now.


Friday, March 05, 2004

An absence of Presidential Leadership
Loyalty and Conviction are not Enough

It's difficult to say if George W. Bush is intelligent enough to effectively be the leader of his party, the nation, and the free world (that fake study on the I.Q. of recent presidents not withstanding). But it's a good bet that he does not have the necessary leadership skills.

And now that he has the U.S. military bogged down in an increasingly bloody quagmire in Iraq, trashed the budget surplus he inherited and run up massive deficits, cut taxes for the rich at the expense of education, the environment, and social security, that failure of leadership is beginning to create serious doubts within his own party.

As Robert Novak writes in the Chicago Sun Times:
What worries the GOP faithful is the absence of firm leadership in their party either at the White House or on Capitol Hill.
The lack of a ready response to Greenspan, while Democrats quickly turned his comments into an indictment of President Bush's tax cuts, was not an isolated failing. Today, Republicans on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue seem to be going in opposite directions.
*Disagreement between congressional Republicans and Bush over the size of the highway bill reflects mutual recriminations over runaway federal spending in general. While the president's aides are angered by the lawmakers' addiction to concrete, conservative lawmakers are furious that Bush's budget has preserved and actually increased federal funding for the arts.
*Bush's call to make his tax cuts permanent and to repeal the estate tax for all time leaves Republicans in Congress perplexed about how they will be able to write a budget without a massive increase in the huge deficit that never will command a majority vote.
*House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and his allies are bitter that they received no backing from the president and administration in their efforts to keep the independent 9/11 investigation from extending into the campaign season.
*The president came out for a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage without consulting congressional Republican leaders, which helps explain the unenthusiastic reception from his own party on Capitol Hill.
*Congressional Republicans still have not recovered from the shock of the President's Economic Report extolling the outsourcing of industrial jobs -- good economics perhaps, bad politics definitely.
The disaffection is such that over the last two weeks, normally loyal Republicans -- actually including more than a few members of Congress -- are privately talking about political merits in the election of Sen. Kerry. Their reasoning goes like this: There is no way Democrats can win the House or Senate even if Bush loses. If Bush is re-elected, Democrats are likely to win both the House and Senate in a 2006 mid-term rebound. If Kerry wins, Republicans will be able to bounce back with congressional gains in 2006.
To voice such heretical thoughts suggests that Republicans on Capitol Hill are more interested in maintaining the fruits of majority status first won in 1994 rather than in governing the country. A few thoughtful GOP lawmakers ponder the record of the first time in 40 years that the party has controlled both the executive and legislative branches, and conclude that record is deeply disappointing.
But incipient heresy also reflects shortcomings of the Bush political operation. Its emphasis has been on fund-raising and organization, with deficiencies in communicating and leadership. The president is in political trouble, and his disaffected supporters who should be backing him aggressively provide the evidence.
There have been some attempts recently to understand why Bush governs the way he does. They seem to boil down to a rigid view of the world that sees everything as either black or white. Intellectual thought that can perceive shades of grey is held suspect. And if facts don't match the perception of reality, they are either discounted or re-written.

The White House is trying to trumpet this as a steady hand on the reigns of government. Despite protests that they are inappropriate for a political campaign, the Bush administration is using images from 9-11 to portray Bush as a strong, steady leader. According to the Washington Post:
Officials in both the Bush administration and his reelection campaign stood by the ads, saying the Sept. 11 images are justified by the president's record. "Sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "The president's steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism."
At Legal Fiction, Publius says Bush got lucky with 9-11:
I thought Bush responded well in the six-month period following 9/11. I thought his moral clarity was refreshing and appropriate given the circumstances. But having seen the way he applied that same black-and-white view to everything from tax cuts to Iraq, I've lost a lot respect for his post-9/11 response. Before, I thought Bush had recognized a novel situation, assessed it, and responded appropriately. Now, I see that Bush just got lucky. He happened to have been faced with an event that just happened to fit well within the black-and-white framework that he applies to everything. [Ironically, our greatest president - Lincoln - saw everything in shades of grey.]
Writing in Slate, Will Saletan does a good job of capturing the essence of what Bush's limited leadership skills get us:
From foreign to economic to social policy, Bush's record is a lesson in the limits and perils of conviction. He's too confident to consult a map. He's too strong to heed warnings and too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends. He's too certain to admit error, even after plowing through ditches and telephone poles. He's too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle isn't enough. Watching the stars instead of the road, he has wrecked the budget and the war on terror. Now he's heading for the Constitution. It's time to pull him over and take away the keys.
The current Bush re-election talking point is to accuse John Kerry on frequently flip-flopping his position on the issues. That is to say, he has changed his mind from time to time, something President Bush simply does not do. Josh Marshall puts this into perspective rather nicely:
President Bush and his team have given a new turn to John Maynard Keynes famous response when challenged for changing his opinions so often.
Quipped Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind -- what do you do, sir?"
For the Bush White House, when the facts change, you just change them back again. Why get distracted?
If you supported Bush in 2000, there's still time to change your mind.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

Civil Marriage Equality
Get good at talking about it

There is an awful lot riding on the issue of who can marry who in America. If you've never considered the wide array of rights that are extended to married partners as opposed to those who are not, take a look at this extensive list that Atrios posted last week.

A major part of shaping public opinion about this issue is the way in which we talk to others: our friends, family, co-workers, and associates. As the Human Rights Campaign says:
Hearts and minds are changed not by acts of Congress or by media talk shows, but when people talk to each other. When a mother stands up for her lesbian daughter by challenging bigoted comments, when a friend talks to her family about the gay parents she knows, then friends and family listen. Our opinions are shaped by our families and friends much more so than by any other influence. It is critical that we all engage our family and social circles in these dialogues as soon as possible!
HRC has added a great feature to their web site: a guide to talking about Civil Marriage Equality. It covers common questions and offers honest, sensible answers about why marriage rights should not be denied any American, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Thanks to Natalie Davis for picking up on this.

Report from an Old Soldier, Part 1
"They are either liars
or they are incredibly stupid"

I had lunch today with an old friend who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He and I worked together a number of years ago, and we've stayed in touch. So I was very glad to hear that he had returned, safe and sound, home to his wife and family.

Let's call my friend Del. I need to protect his identity, at least for the time being. He has worked in the intelligence and special operations communities for a long time. As he pointed out to me, he enlisted before most lieutenant colonels were born.

Del has been a chief warrant officer for more than 20 years. He's been around and he's seen a lot of stuff. He summed up his measured assessment of our operations in Iraq this way: "I have never seen such a fucked-up operation. It is being run by people who don't have the slightest idea what they were doing. And as a result, they're getting a lot of young soldiers killed."

Lest you think Del is some kind of closet liberal, don't be fooled. Del has been a hard-core conservative hawk for as long as I've known him. He believes there are bad guys in the world and they need to be dealt with. And he is a shooter who keeps his troops alive by making sure that they know how to use their weapons.

But Del doesn't suffer fools easily, especially when they are in his chain of command. And this is his assessment of the people who sent the U.S. Armed Forces into Iraq: "They are either liars or they are incredibly stupid. The net result is about the same."

I'll be posting more about my conversations with Del soon.


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Real Danger
Losing control in a country
that really does have nukes

In its hopes of restoring some credibility to the war on terrorism soon, before too many swing voters give up on Bush forever, the White House and the Pentagon are pushing hard to capture Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden is believed to be holed up somewhere within a 100 square mile box in the rugged Hindu Kush Mountains that form the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. U.S. forces would like to have the flexibility to operate on the Pakistani side of the border, rather than being limited to working the Afghan side and occasionally spilling over the border in "hot pursuit."

But there is the rub. The U.S. has no agreement with the Pakistani government that would allow U.S. forces to conduct operation on sovereign Pakistani territory. Or does it?

In a recent article in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh suggests that such an agreement my have been made in secret.

Remember those reports over the last couple of weeks about A. Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist known as the Father of the Islamic Nuclear Bomb, who has been selling nuclear technology to other nations, in particular Iran and Libya? Many commentators thought the Bush administration's response to Pakistan giving Khan no more than a slap on the wrist was uncharacteristically mild (considering the U.S. invaded Iraq on what turned out to be no more than bad rumors of weapons of mass destruction).

The Hersh article suggests that the U.S. used the nuke issue to pressure Pakistani President Musharraf to allow U.S. troops to secretly enter Pakistan. Musharraf has, of course, denied this.

As Kevin Drum points out, this could be a very dangerous move:
Our relationship with Pakistan has run hot and cold for decades, and at the moment our biggest nightmare -- bigger than Iran, bigger than North Korea -- has to be the possibility of Musharraf getting overthrown and replaced with a distinctly less friendly regime, potentially one that's as unfriendly as the Taliban was.
That has to be avoided at all costs, because an unfriendly, nuclear-armed Pakistan is clearly the biggest threat we can imagine, and one that we'd be helpless to do anything about. If allowing U.S. troops into Pakistan elevates that risk even slightly, it's not clear that we'd even want to do it, let alone pressure Musharraf over it.
If one accepts the argument, put forward by people who have worked in the administration, that nothing happens in the Bush administration that is not driven by political calculations, that would mean that Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld have decided that the need to capture bin Laden before the November election is worth the risk that Pakistan's nukes could fall into the hands of elements that are not at all friendly to the United States.

Do you feel safer now?

God Bless the Dixie Chicks

Picking up on a couple of earlier threads that dealt with the self-rightous hypocracy of those flag waivers who never served their country, I was listening to the Dixie Chicks with my kids this afternoon. And I was thinking about all that crap they took from the country music industry last year because of an off-hand remark Natalie made about Dubya.

That ol' county music industry really had itself a hissy fit. Because everybody knows that country music is 100 percent red-blooded American, and there's just no room in it for any commie pinko faggots or uppidy women with opinions.

That made me wonder, and I'm going to need your help with this so please use the Comments option below, who can you name in the country music industry who actually served in the Armed Forces?

I'll mention Johnny Cash and, heck, let's say Elvis, too. Anybody else you can think of from this super-patriotic multi-million dollar industry?

I was just wonderin'.

Now the Big Fight begins
Here's something you can do

President Bush is going on the air with his first campaign ads of the season. I've joined MoveOn PAC's campaign to fight back -- a massive grassroots-driven effort to take back our country in November. I'm hoping you will, too -- you can sign up right now by following this link.

Bush has already raised hundreds of millions for his bid. Our great hope is in our collective power to get out the vote. We'll work via the Internet, the telephone, and face-to-face conversations with voters. And we'll take back our democracy, city by city, block by block, and voter by voter.

Once again, it looks like this race will be a squeaker -- even now, polls place it in the margin of error. Strategists on both sides agree that ultimately the outcome will turn on person-to-person contact: the side that talks to its voters more and better wins. That's why together we can be so powerful. By making phone calls, writing letters, and talking to our neighbors, we literally could help provide the margin of victory.

Are you in? Please join me and thousands of others in pledging to help defeat Bush this fall.

This is the Big One. Let's win it for America.


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Where was the Hammer?
Tom DeLay's lame excuse for never serving his country

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ann Coulter questioning the patriotism of Max Cleland. In it I asked the question: why are there so many vocal flag wavers on the right who never found the time in their busy schedules to serve their country.

Then I went on to ask, "So Coulter, Limbaugh, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cheney, et al, what were you doing with your important lives while Max Cleland and the thousands of other veterans were shedding their blood on foreign soil?"

To my great regret, I forgot to include Tom DeLay in that list of great Americans.

As noted by Billmon, Timothy Noah wrote a piece in Slate that mentions an article in the Houston Press, (later repeated by Molly Ivins) about a response DeLay once gave about his lack of military service during the Vietnam War.

According to the story, DeLay was in New Orleans for the 1988 Republican convention. Dan Quayle had been getting some heat in the press for getting into the Indiana National Guard during Vietnam. DeLay was asked why he didn't serve. Here's how he responded:
He and Quayle, DeLay explained to the assembled media in New Orleans, were victims of an unusual phenomenon back in the days of the undeclared Southeast Asian war. So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like himself. Satisfied with the pronouncement, which dumbfounded more than a few of his listeners who had lived the sixties, DeLay marched off to the convention.
I'm sure that all those who were drafted in the late sixties and early seventies will be interested in knowing that the military didn't really need them, as the ranks were swollen with the less fortunate joining up to escape poverty.

There's a wall in Washington filled with the names of those who, according to DeLay, weren't really needed by their country after all.

Can the Deanies be Team Players
or will they take their ball
and go home?

Coincidentally, on the day that John Kerry locked up the nomination with his Super Tuesday victories, I chanced upon the blog of an avid Dean supporter.

Before I go on, let me say that I supported Wes Clark until he gracefully bowed out of the race. But I believe that all Democrats should thank Howard Dean for two things. He (or some smart people on his staff) demonstrated the feasibility of raising campaign money on the internet. And more importantly, by leading the charge against the Bush administration, he gave the other candidates the courage to say what they should have been saying all along. Just for fun, read this piece from Legal Fiction. I think he captures the historical significance of the Dean campaign very well.

Perhaps the strongest sentiment to come out of the Democratic primary season has been the overwhelming sense that Democrats, regardless of who they were supporting, would gladly rally behind the eventual candidate and lend their full support in the general election, because their number one priority was not electing their personal favorite, but kicking George W. Bush the hell out of the White House. The energy behind ABB (Anybody but Bush) is the single most unifying theme I have seen in the Democratic Party in the 40 years that I have been following politics.

Consequently, I was, to say the least, taken aback by some of what I read on the blog of the Dean supporter. Some of the rhetoric sounded straight out of a New Age mind control religious cult. Maybe I've been around too many elections to go completely ga ga over any candidate. And their love for Dean is matched by their disdain for the Democratic Party leadership, who they believe sabotaged the campaign of their beloved candidate.

In fairness, for many Deanies, this was their first venture into mainstream presidential politics. They had found their great white hope, put their faith and dreams into his vision of America, and were left bitter, disillusioned, and devastated when the political winds didn't blow their way.

And they were left wondering if they would ever have a voice in the shaping of policy, in making the better America that Dean had promised them. Many pols and pundits wondered out loud if the Deanies would just pack it in, give up on American Democracy altogether, and in all likelihood stay home on election day.

So I wondered, too, what happens to the Deanies, now. Can we count on their energy, their youthful enthusiasm, their faith in the dream of a better America when we need them the most, or will they turn cynical and give up on politics and the party altogether, leaving us short of critical votes in keys states when it came down to crunch time in November?

In the end, I was heartened. These are the words of the Dean blogger, mean and angry, perhaps a tad immature, but definitely ready to kick some Republican butt in November and bring about Regime Change in America come 2005:
I hope Dean is able to jump-start the electorate in MI and sweep up most of the Super Tuesday delegates. But if that doesn't happen, Kuttner's clear exposition of the stakes should give you pause, lest you do anything stupid, like voting for Nader, or sitting out election day, or letting anyone you know sit out election day.

This is the most important election in nearly a century, certainly the most important of our lives so far. I would vote for a syphilitic chimp in preference to Bush... hmmm, perhaps there isn't enough contrast in that example... I would vote for a plucked parrot addled by glossolalia in preference to Bush... wait, this is harder than one would think... I would vote for a pimple on the ass of a mad-cow addled milk cow... aw heck, you get the idea. No matter what happens to Dean, the idiot prince must be deposed.

Keep your eyes on the prize: a future without that hateful pretender babbling out of the idiot box at you while he actively works to destroy your country, your future, and that of your progeny. Focus, and hold fast to your fellow Dean supporters and to Dean. We will be every bit as powerful if Dean drops out of the race as we were with Dean in the race. Dean won't disappear in a puff in smoke. He will not be lost to us; we will all simply be freed of the constraints of running for President.

We will still be Dean supporters, but his purpose, and ours, will cease to be Dean's election, becoming instead to help elect an acceptable President, and to eradicate a terrible one, as well as the Wrong Wing-nuts that have infested our government.
God bless them everyone.

Be Careful What You Edit
Just when you thought things
couldn't get any more bizarre

File it under "Trading with the enemy."

Having done some editing in my time, both in and out of government, I couldn't help but notice this news gem from the New York Times (registration required):
Anyone who publishes material from a country under a trade embargo is forbidden to reorder paragraphs or sentences, correct syntax or grammar, or replace "inappropriate words," according to several advisory letters from the Treasury Department in recent months.
Adding illustrations is prohibited, too. To the baffled dismay of publishers, editors and translators who have been briefed about the policy, only publication of "camera-ready copies of manuscripts" is allowed.
The Times points out that, while this particular guidance referred specifically to Iran, it probably applies to editing any works from other nations with which most trade is banned, such as Cuba, Libya, and North Korea.

Don't know what I'd do without my government protecting me from whatever threat this amazing policy is protecting me from. I feel so much safer. Don't you?

Thanks to Mark Kleiman for catching this one.


Monday, March 01, 2004

Return of the Extremist Right
Judge Roy Moore and the Militia Movement

Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy (Ten Commandments in the Court House) Moore has been on a speaking tour recently, sharing his vision of spirit-filled government with the faithful throughout much of the U.S., especially in the west. There has been talk that this was a prelude to Moore making some kind of third party run for the presidency this year.

David Neiwert at Orcinus has a very informative piece on Moore and the Constitution Party, a political organization so far to the right, it's out where the buses don't run. But in the 2000 election, the Constitution Party was on the ballot in 41 states.

The Constitution Party is closely aligned with the militia movement, which got a lot of attention following the Oklahoma City bombing, but hasn't had much press since then. The Great Falls Tribune reported last week that the Constitution Party enlisted the help of the Militia of Montana "to drum up ticket sales for Moore's talk and to help gather petition signatures to place the party on Montana's election ballot."

There are two schools of thought as to the impact Moore running for president this year would have on the election. One, perhaps the most obvious, is that Moore could siphon off enough conservative votes to tip the balance for the Democratic nominee in any state where the race was close. The other, less obvious but certainly more ominous, is that Moore could breath new life into the patriot and militia movements, emboldening their more volatile members, and perhaps resulting in an increase in domestic terrorism when the election turns against them. If that happens, we may actually need a Department of Homeland Security.

Bush, Greenspan, and Social Security
You're being mugged.
Just hand over your retirement
and nobody gets hurt

Last week Alan Greenspan said we'll have to cut back on Social Security.

Want to know why? Pay attention -- you're being mugged!

After those Bush tax cuts for the rich, the federal budget just can't stand the strain of Social Security. Not with all the baby boomers getting ready to retire and planning on getting (at least some) of that money they've been paying into the system since they got that first job bussing tables or changing tires or whatever it was they were doing 40 some odd years ago.

Here's the kicker. As the Washington Post reminds us, 20 years ago Greenspan co-chaired a Reagan administration commission that came up with a plan to ensure the solvency of Social Security.
That commission recommended stiff increases in the payroll tax to create a surplus that would help fund the retirement of baby boomers down the road. The higher payroll taxes, which put a heavy burden on lower-to-middle income taxpayers, were signed into law and remain in effect to this day.
But in 2001 Mr. Greenspan endorsed a fiscally irresponsible income tax cut that effectively gives away the Social Security surplus he created primarily to high-income taxpayers. Now he suggests that those tax cuts be made permanent, while we reduce the enormous deficits that they've created only through cuts in spending, especially on Social Security.
Giving away Social Security to the rich in the form of Bush tax cuts is especially egregious when you consider that, unlike income tax, payments into Social Security stop at the $85,000 income level. So, while the rich get a tax break with your Social Security, they are paying (as a percentage of gross income) much less into the system.

There's more good coverage on this from Billmon and Kevin Drum.

Just hand over your retirement, pal, and nobody gets hurt.


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