Showing posts with label Military. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Military. Show all posts

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WSJ: "Why the Surge Worked"

The Wall Street Journal has an interview with retired 4-star general Jack Keene - the architect of "The Surge" in Iraq. It is an interesting read.

Keene is asked about why the surge worked, and what the current threats in Iraq still are. These are critical things to understand as whoever wins in November takes control of Iraq policy in January.

In late 2006, after the midterm election debacle for Republicans, pressure rose for a quick if dishonorable exit from Iraq. Gen. Keane met Frederick Kagan, who was putting together a report on an alternative strategy for Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute. On Dec. 11, both men found themselves at the White House to push the plan. Congress, the Joint Chiefs, Iraq commander Gen. George Casey and the Iraq Study Group all wanted a fast drawdown. President Bush ignored their advice. Gen. Petraeus was sent out in February to oversee the new, risky and politically unpopular surge.

Even Gen. Keane didn't expect the new strategy to work so fast. "It's a stunning turnaround, and I think people will study it for years because it's unparalleled in counterinsurgency practice," he says. "All the gains we've achieved against al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency, the Iranians in the south are sustainable" -- a slight pause here -- "if we're smart about it and not let them regroup and get back into it."

Gen. Keane wants to make sure people understand why the surge worked. "I have a theory" about the unexpectedly fast turnaround, he says. "Whether they be Sunni, Shia or Kurd, anyone who was being touched by that war after four years was fed up with it. And I think once a solution was being provided, once they saw the Americans were truly willing to take risks and die to protect their women and children and their way of life, they decided one, to protect the Americans, and two, to turn in the enemies that were around them who were intimidating and terrorizing them; that gave them the courage to do it."
For the future, he noted some items:
  1. Gen. Keane still considers a robust American ground force "the secret to success" in Iraq.:
    "It is a myth for people to assert that by pulling away from the Iraqis, by pulling away from the Iraqi political process, that somehow that becomes a catalyst to do things that they would not do because of our presence. That is fundamentally wrong. It is our presence that is helping Iraqis move forward."
  2. helping the Sunnis back into the political system.

  3. Sectarian tensions remain a worry:
    "It appears that Maliki is using the guise of security to enhance his political base and to diminish his political opponents," says Gen. Keane, citing the Baquba incident. "That is a danger and that is something we should not tolerate."
  4. Another potential threat looms from Iran.
    Iran wants a weak Iraqi central government unaligned with America. "We know that they intend to come back on the kinetic side, attack U.S. forces exclusively with less attacks, but more spectacular. I don't believe for a minute they're going to be able to resurge and be successful as long as we stay on top of it, keep our head in the game, maintain our force presence in the south."
This is a discussion (outside of tanning beds in the Alaska Governor's mansion) that folks need to have. The vision for how American policy will evolve in Iraq is critical to the Presidential race - since Commander in Chief is one of, if not the, the President's most important jobs. Indeed, as Keene points out:
"Despite the fact that President Bush did preside over a strategy that was failing for three plus years, and he has been criticized for that," says Gen. Keane, "he also deserves a significant amount of credit because all around him people were advocating a failed strategy, particularly key leaders around him, and he had the wherewithal to make a tough decision that flew certainly in the face of political opposition even in his own party."

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Monday, July 30, 2007

How Big the Split? And another "Five Things" post

Joe Carter is on the kind of roll that has made Evangelical Outpost huge. In "This I No Longer Believe: 5 Lessons Learned from the Iraq War" he responds to the request of Rod Dreher, in his post at - "Once Upon a Time I Believed" - who asked

What are five illusions the Iraq War has shattered for you?

Keep in mind, these are things you believed then you do not believe now because of the Iraq War. If you were always a smarty-pants it doesnt count here. :-) There is no implication in this question that you must be opposed to, or in support of, either the original Iraq invasion, the conduct of the war, or our continued involvement. Just - how has the Iraq War changed your views.

Rod's and Joe's lists are below the fold

[Note: I really haven't processed this much. The blockquotes are Joe Carter again, while any italics you may find are me again.]
Such exercises can be instructive, particularly when, like with Dreher's short list, the reflections reach for the significant rather than political banality (i.e., trite Bush-bashing). Still, I don’t think Dreher's list goes far enough in separating the long term implications from the naively held delusions.
Rod's List:
  1. Having been absolutely certain that the war was the right thing to have done, and that we would prevail easily, I am no longer confident that I can discern when emotion is affecting my judgment unduly.

  2. I no longer implicitly trust governmental institutions, including the military -- neither in their honesty nor their competence.

  3. I no longer believe the Republican Party is superior in foreign policy judgment to the Democrats.
    While I agree with this assessment it fails to illuminate the road ahead. Currently, the Republicans are exhibiting a level of foreign policy incompetence that is the birth-right of the Democrats. But will that always be the case or is Bush just exceptionally incompetent? A better observation would be to note that just as 9/11 proved political realism to be obsolete, Iraq has killed neo-con style idealism.

  4. I no longer have confidence in the ability of our military, or any military, to solve deep cultural and civilizational problems through force alone. I mean, I thought nothing could stand in the way of the strongest military fielded since the days of ancient Rome. No more.

  5. I have a far greater appreciation for how rare and fragile liberal democracy is, and a corresponding revulsion at the American assumption that it's the natural state of mankind. Which is to say, the war has made me rethink my ideas about human nature, and I'm far more pessimistic now than I ever was.

Joe's list:
  1. I no longer believe that our reaction to the Vietnam War was an anomaly. Instead, I view the reaction to World War II as the true aberration--the one war in which Americans had the will to fight and win (and that was only after we were attacked). During WWII we lost more than 400,000 servicemembers. In Vietnam the number was more than 58,000. In Iraq, we've lost 3,636. These numbers show that our the anti-war sentiment is due not to an intolerance for mass casualties but rather to an ingrained opposition to foreign entanglements. For better or worse, America is at heart an isolationist, semi-pacifist nation.

  2. I no longer believe that we can fight wars by proxy. During the 50-year long Cold War we preferred to fight out enemies abroad, often indirectly. One of our main priorities, a primary strategic objective, was to prevent the expansion of Soviet-style Communism. Today, politicians and military leaders cannot expect the American people to go to war for such abstract concepts as "national security." The concept of "defending America" is taken in the literal sense of defensive actions necessary to guard the homeland. The American people will now only authorize war after we have been directly attacked on our own soil -- and then the warfare must be proportional and brief, otherwise we will withdraw our support.

  3. I no longer believe that Arab nations are capable of sustaining liberal democracies. The empirical evidence for this belief is overwhelming: Arab culture is currently unable to sustain democratic forms of government. Some people will decry this belief as racist or xenophobic. But it is simply being realistic. I used to think that Samuel Huntington was an intelligent crank; now I think he's prophetic. As he once noted, the Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous. Thinking that freedom could take root in the blood-soaked soil of Arab culture was a naive assumption. Iraq has disabused me of such notions.

  4. I no longer believe America cares about genocide. After the crimes of the Holocaust became internationally known, the world vowed it would never happen again. Whatever the phrase "never again" once meant, it no longer has applicability after Iraq. Indeed, we no longer even give lip service to such ideals as preventing ethnic cleansing or the mass slaughter of civilians. The New York Times recently published an editorial saying that it was time to leave Iraq, even though it would likely lead to genocide. Barack Obama agrees, saying that a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there. After Iraq, the use of military force for humanitarian intervention will be all but nonexistent. Darfur, you're on your own.

  5. I no longer believe we have the will to win against global jihadism. Consider our current situation: we have the majority of our legislators and a significant portion of the American people willing to concede defeat in Iraq even though they realize such a move will empower the jihadists and lead to the murder of more American civilians. Six years into the "Long War" we are ready to withdraw into our own borders. Oddly, we are not maneuvering to "bunker down" for we chafe at even the mildest sacrifices necessary to prevent terrorism. We are opting instead to consider the death of Americans to jihadism as an inevitable cost of living in a free society. We have considered the cost-benefit analysis and have determined that until the attacks reach the levels of Israel, we can bear the cost. (Of course, when it reaches that level, it will be too late.)

Rod notes a couple of points from paleocon Daniel Larison's list:

2. One of my other false beliefs connected to this was that most conservatives were conservatives first and GOP partisans second (if at all), and would therefore be just as outraged by GOP government activism and overreach as they had been in the 1990s. This was the worst sort of naivete on my part, and it was repeatedly shown to be false. ...

5. Yet another false belief was that most conservatives were not nationalists, when obviously the defining feature of most Americans who call themselves conservatives is that they are, in fact, nationalists. Had I been reading more Lukacs in my younger days, I would have already known this.

The other part of my title comes from my belief that evangelicals are more and more pulling away from a general political identification with the Republican Party. It never really should have been there - but appeared to have been; and it definitely seems over now. What do you think about that as well.

My list:
  1. I would start with my belief that the sectarian leaders in Iraq would put subvent their sects interests and place the future of Iraq first. It may yet come - but it hasn't yet

  2. Coupled with that, that the sectarian leaders would place the peace and safety of the Iraqi people over their own sect's interest and power. In retrospect, why should they be different than anyone else - including us.

  3. That it would have been easier to establish a representative government in the face of the lethal opposition of Iraq's neighbors - Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.

  4. That we as a country would be more ethical and moral about our responsibilities to the Iraqi people. We destroyed a government, and disbanded an army, that - however brutal - maintained control of the country; and maintained a national state. We have a human responsibility to stay until there is a government, and army, capable of maintaining control when we leave - or it becomes obvious that it will never happen. That is not yet completely obvious to me, despite my first two points.

  5. Coupled with that, that we would not repeat the mistake of 1991 and leave the democratic elements in Iraq hanging out to dry by abandoning them again. We seem on the verge of doing that.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

It is "0-Dark-Thirty" and we are preparing for my daughter to arrive for Christmas.

She is in the Navy and very quickly she will be going to sea for a 7 month tour. She is one of those folks who forwards all sorts of emails to everyone she knows; and asks folks to pass them on.

Mostly, I ignore them; and never pass them on - except now . . .

A Different Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

This Christmas morning please remember "who they are" that stand on the front lines even if you disagree with "what they do".

And, if you pray, lift one up for them this morning.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Kingdom Character and Secular Responsibility

Tgirsch is someone I have had a few blogathons with over at Evangelical Outpost. We usually start out some fair distance from the fence on opposite sides and end up both leaning on the fence (on opposite sides) and chatting. That is actually rare in my experience. tgirsch listens, and cares not as much about defending his position and talking points; but in looking for agreement and some unity on the issues.

tgirsch: "I wanted to respond to you concerning our debate
at Evangelical Outpost, but Joe has closed the comments."

Me: "[We] were discussing Matthew 5-7 and whether the interpretation of that section of scripture (and related parts of Jesus' message) should be broadened beyond an analysis by Jesus of what our individual character should be to a call for certain qualities in society/government."

Here are some posts from the discussion to set the tone for the discussion here:

Stavrogin: how does one interpret "turn the other cheek" to define pacifism as a sinful and un-Christian attitude? Even Christ would not permit a sword to be raised in his defense, however noble the intention.

Joe: [On turn the other cheek] "that passage has nothing overtly to do with violence. To turn the other cheek is to literally allow someone who has slapped you to give you a backhanded slap on the other cheek. To receive such a blow was a great insult in Judaism; an offense against oneƂ’s dignity. While I agree that Christians should bear insults with meekness and humility, I do not believe that the passage intends for us to stand by and allow our neighbor to be raped,murdered, or mutilated . . . [On Christ and sword] Christ would not allow such a defense on his behalf because it was his intention to lay down his life willingly for us all."

Stavrogin: [On pacifism generally being sinful] ". . .Thee impression I get [is] that abandoning oneself to the mercy of God in the face of oppression, torment and even martyrdom at the hands of the unrighteous is a supremely Christian value.

Me: Would it be equally true if you were watching someone rape and kill your neighbor; and you abandoned them to the mercy of God? No, I think not. Could you interject yourself and become the victim while the other escaped? Of course. Could you harm, and even kill, the rapist to stop the killing? I think you could. There is ample justification in the Bible for government having the responsibility to use the sword to defend its people. I think calling people un-Christian for being personally pacifist is incorrect. Christians have been interpreting scripture, and God's will, to require their personal pacifism for a long time . . . it is almost impossible to use the bible to say the US government should be pacifist. We would be required, of course, to refuse participation in an unjust war: say a war of genocide.

Joe: I will agree that personal pacifism may not be inherently un-Christian (though there are times when non-violent resistance can be as unjust a use of power as violence). But I think that the right to pacifism, like the right to swing one's fist, ends at your neighbor's nose.

Mike: Commandments are by and large directed to individuals and not governments. Thou shalt not murder is directed to us as individuals. You only have to go down the page a little to find a list of circumstances under which society should exercise the death penalty.

Tgirsch: This illustrates a great problem with a literalist interpretation of scripture. It takes what Jesus likely intended as a larger message and pigeonholes it into something very specific and very narrowly applied. You take a very legalistic reading of Jesus' words here, and I think it's to your detriment.

Me: Damned if we do, damned if we do not. I think it is actually very necessary to take the Bible as literally as possible - in order to stop the use of scripture to support all those things you talk about. [Quoted Matt 5:38 - 42]. Everything here is about personal revenge or offensives to your person by another person. What reason is there to broaden it? In fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount was about personal righteousness and the personal traits of a Kingdom member. Let's let Christ say what Christ wants to say.

Tgirsch: The "eye for eye" verses don't concern personal revenge at all, but adherence to the law. [Quotes Lev 24:17-22: ] . Take the entire passage in context and you see that it's a conversation between God and Moses wherein God is proscribing His laws. Personal revenge has little to do with it; this is God's law. It is Biblical justice. A broad reading of the passage is advisable precisely because that's what makes sense in the context. I find it difficult to imagine that Jesus was speaking strictly of avoiding personal revenge against those who have wronged you personally, and nothing else . . .Notee that the Leviticus verse isn't saying what a wronged person would be within his rights to do, which is what you'd expect if revenge were the motivation. It talks about what must be done, and it doesn't say that the wronged party should be the one to do it. Someone who wrongs another must be wronged in similar fashion

Me: The whole context of Jesus's "ministry" (lame word really), and the Sermon on the Mount, is that the law needs not to be written in stone but on our hearts. Christianity is not a legalistic, law-driven belief structure - it is God's attempt to change our character and how we center our lives: To love God with our whole being; and our neighbor as ourselves. That is taken one individual at a time. He was HEAVILY amending (if not revoking) the Levitical law you quoted. He was, after all, here to revoke ( fulfill (as in complete) and replace the Mosaic covenant. Again, all of Matthew 5-7 is about the internal qualities and character of members of the Kingdom; and not about how society and government should behave. If you make the argument that a society of people having this character would approach its collective life, and relationship with other societies, differently - we would be on the same page entirely. [A quote from CS Lewis saying that the problem with political programs flowing from Christianity is that we go there to find support for our opinions rather than to see what our opinions should be]. The emphasis of Christianity is building our individual character to match that of Christ's, and have that character act as "salt and light" in the society around us - and that was the emphasis of the Sermon on the Mount.

Tgirsch: Jesus clearly is admonishing against violence here, even if in a limited context. I'd argue that it does Jesus' teaching a disservice to try to limit the scope of this admonition . . . I'm not aware of Jesus advocating violence anywhere, in any circumstance. So there's nothing else in Jesus' teaching that tells us we should limit our interpretation of that admonition. I believe he intended it to be broad (and many, many Christians concur, I might add). Given his habit of speaking in parables and using specific examples to illustrate broader principles (neither of which I suspect you'll dispute), the broad application makes the most sense here. Which brings us back to Stavrogin's original point: how is pacifism un-Christian? . . .Until you can show me where Jesus advocates war and capital punishment, I'll continue to argue that neither of these things helps "[build] our individual character to match Christ's," and in fact both are counterproductive to this end, and as such, Stavrogin's point stands.

Me: I think capital punishment is untenable from a Christian standpoint - but not everyone agrees (even the Catholics, who generally oppose it, aren't ironclad). As to war, you yourself I believe would fall into the just/unjust category on this - unless you would have bowed out of WWII even after Pearl Harbor; or finding out about the slaughter of the Jews. There is plenty of New Testament ground for government not having the same responsibilities as individuals. I think there are political responsibilities that flow from the character traits in the Sermon on the Mount - but I still argue for narrow interpretation of the Bible. I think we should be careful to fill in blanks with our own thoughts.

Nick: [on separation of Biblical view of individual vs state roles] I think that can be the basis of a Scripturally consistent defense of Christian pacifism. People like to point to Romans 13 for the role of government as an agent of God's wrath bearing the sword. But we might note that Paul is instructing the Roman Christians on how to respond to government. He doesn't indicate whether or not they should participate. However, in Chapter 12, he describes Christians as agents of God's mercy in a way that dovetails nicely with Christ's instructions in the Servant on the Mount and doesn't fit very well with the responsibilities of government in Chapter 13 . . .We might conclude that the code of conduct required of Christians is very different from the actions of government. We might also ask if it there is any support in Christ's instructions for the idea that it is possible to morally separate the things we do as private individuals from the things we do for the government. Even if we agree that government is established by God (perhaps in much the same way that he established the Babylonians and Assyrians as agents of his wrath in the Old Testament), weshouldd be very careful about concluding that we are permitted to do things as servants of government that we are not permitted to do as servants of Christ. To claim that Christians must always be ready to fight may be arrogating to much responsibility to ourselves. Christ calls us to be agents of love and mercy. He'll handle the wrath.

This is a magnificently important "brain cramp" for Christians and I have invited some people to help it continue. There are a couple of things I do not want this sidelined too: this is not a discussion on Iraq and whether we should be there; or whether any politicians who call themselves Christians are following Christ's example. I am inviting folks to the party - hopefully some will attend.

UPDATE: This topic does not need to be limited to the death penalty and pacifism. Discussion in general about how faith should, and should not, impact a Christian's secular political life would be great

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