Friday, December 29, 2006

A Dark December

Modern western society operates at such a frenetic pace that we as individuals often remark at "how time flies." Yet it is not time per se that moves at different speeds but our ability (or dis-ability) to absorb the plethora of events that flood our sensory organs and cascade like a huge waterfall into our mental faculties.

December, with 31 days, has been a "long month" -- and two days remain. There have been the holidays and the holy days. There has been joy and sorrow. There has been life -- and death.

Much death.

I did not believe -- or rather I could not believe -- going into December that the fatality rate for U.S. forces in Iraq would be the worst of any month in 2006 and the third deadliest month of the war. With 3 day's reporting still due -- that is, through December 28 -- 107 U.S. troops have died in Iraq in December. This total equals one other month -- which will be surpassed. Only November 2004 with 137 deaths and April 2004 with 135 will be bloodier.

Four more U.S. fatalities will mark the 3,000 U.S. military death in Iraq.

Deaths among the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians for December are down by 200 -- to "only" just over 1600.

Meantime, the Transitional government of Somalia, which at the start of December appeared to be on its knees, swept into Mogadishu on the tanks of the Ethiopian army. How mnay died is unknown.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Numbing Numbers

Last week three climers in Oregon perished from exposure. The thnree were experienced mountaineers, but they were caught in an unexpectedly severe blizzard. Moreover, one cliber seemed to have suffered a serious shoulder injury, which might well explain why the other two men left the injured climber in a snow cave and set out to find help -- a search that cost them their lives and ultimately the third climber's life.

Half a world away, an icyness is descending on Iraq. Iraqi's highest court affirmed Saddam Hussein's death sentence handed down in his first trial. Under Iraqi law, the sentence must be implemented not later than 30 days after being affirmed.

One Life.

Two thousand Nine Hundred Eighty Four U.S. dead in Iraq, with December 2006 already the sixth deadliest month since March 2003 and four more days left in the month.

One Hundred Twenty Six UK soldiers and One Hundred Twenty Five other coalition soldeirs dead in Iraq.

Three Hundred Fifty Seven U.S. dead in Afghanistan.

Forty Four UK and One Hundred Fourteen other coalition soliders dead in Afghanistan.

And now some in Congress and in the White House are clamouring for an additional 20,000-30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for 12 to 18 months.

The flags are already at half-staff to mark the passing of former President Gerald Ford. What will the administration do when the 3,000th U.S. soldier dies in Iraq?

Monday, December 25, 2006

December 25, 2006

To be held in the light is to hold peace.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Hiding "Consorting with the Enemy"

Once again the Bush White House has covered its face in mud – Big Time.

The issue is an old one. It goes back to the earliest attempts by humans – make that the predecessors of homo sapiens – to communicate across space and time a message to another being without a third being learning the content of the communication, and sometimes even the fact that a communication occurred.

Opposing this bureaucratic tendency to scoop up and conceal even the existence of a “secret,” let alone possessing substantive information is the principle that the public in a free society is entitled to be informed by government of what those elected are doing and not doing in the peoples’ name. This is so fundamental to the social contract of a modern democracy that a government that does not “push” information to the public (as opposed to the public having to demand it from the bureaucracy), let alone a government that actively works to prevent the public from learning something about government operations, that refusing to release information or attempting to alter or destroy documents or data can lead to constitutional crisis and even the demise of the state.

This time, the White House pressured the CIA to heavily redact an editorial going over the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, meetings, and communications over the past six years to argue for limited engagement now on Iraq. The CIA originally had cleared the op-ed for publication as written, finding nothing classified in it. Data and information came from news reports, the State Department web site, and a publicly available think tank report.

But both Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have said emphatically “NO” to discussions with Iran on stabilizing Iraq. Apparently, they now wish to hide the extent to which the administration has had exchanges with Tehran. The question is why?

In case you cannot access the op-ed by Ftynt Leverett and Hillary Mann on the New York Times website, it is available – redacted – on Truthout at

Happy redacted reading.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hello? Reason Calling Earth. Hello?

I listened to President Bush’s press conference this morning. Of everything he said in his opening statement, what caught my ear was his exhortation for the U.S. people to go out and shop. This was his exhortation – remember – right after September 11, 2001 and again following Hurricane Katrina.

During the question and answer period, Bush said the most important challenge and concern for the new Congress is sustaining the economy, including making permanent the tax breaks that are set to expire in the next two to four years.

While dodging the question of whether he is at odds with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on sending more troops to Iraq, Bush spoke of possibly expanding the Army and the Marines. He then squares the circle by saying that he is confident that the U.S. military can “win” in Iraq – indirectly stating the “clear mission” that the Chiefs say they would want before increasing troop totals in Iraq.

This is insanity on insanity.

Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman acknowledged that Iraq and Afghanistan war spending in Fiscal 2007 will be more than the projected $110 billion. Independent estimates put the years total at $170 billion. Seventy billion has already been appropriated, and OMB reportedly has a supplemental request from the Pentagon for $99.7 billion more. (Okay – that is “only” $169.7 billion, not $170 billion.)

Then there are the long-term costs of reconstituting the equipment damaged and destroyed in Iraq – money that Congress, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, will approve – conservatively estimated at $100 billion. And that sum does not include operating expenses, people costs, or facilities for a post-war expanded force.

So why is Rob Portman not perturbed? Well, it seems tax revenues “are up because of the growing economy. That has enabled us not just to afford the relatively high supplementals, higher than expected, but also to have a declining deficit.”

There it is in a nutshell – the Republicans, who for years have labeled Democrats the party of “tax and spend” – are doing the same thing. They differ only in that Democrats (according to Republicans) spend on social programs whereas Republicans spend on military programs. Moreover, because the war is so expensive, the higher revenues are unavailable for fundamental health or education needs or for reducing the national debt (as distinguished from the deficit) as happened in the late 1990s.

Were that not enough bad news, the same day (December 20) the Government Accountability Office released its latest scathing critique of the Army’s oversight of the 60,000 contractors working in Iraq. GAO found that this failing had translated into lowered military effectiveness and declining morale.

But this day brought more bad news about another subject that surfaces from time to time -- the burgeoning medical costs of this war, both the physical and the psychological damage to bodies and minds The Army reported that more troops deploying to or deployed in Iraq complained about stress, depression and anxiety. But the possible significance of this finding was devalued by the assertion that the higher numbers are the result of better and more frequent surveys. Among troops deploying to Iraq for the first and second times stood at 12.5 and 18.4 percent, respectively. The numerical suicide rate– 22 – among soldiers stationed in Kuwait and Iraq was nearly double the total in 2004 – 12.

In all, more than 650,000 soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq; of this number, 170,000 have served two or more tours. With repeat tours coming with greater frequency, troops are going back without having fully recovered their “background” or "normal" “peacetime” stress levels.

Monday, December 18, 2006

War is Hell -- As Other Things Can Be

“War is Hell.” That is as true today as it always has been.

In today’s “global war on terror,” the same phrase could as easily apply to the psychological and legal uncertainty confronting the inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay where hundreds of men who fought U.S. and Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan were incarcerated after their capture. These are the “unlawful enemy combatants” the Pentagon labeled “among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth.”

It is a description that could have been coined by the same man who said “war is hell” –Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. He burned Atlanta and implemented a scorched earth policy in his infamous “march to the sea” through Georgia and into South Carolina as the U.S. Civil War drew to a close. But Sherman was not through.

Named after the early 19th century Shawnee chief who fought the expansion of white settlements in the Ohio River valley, Sherman was uncompromising toward Native American tribes in his post-Civil War assignment as commander of the vast Missouri District which stretched across the Great Plains from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains. Sherman thought that all Native Americans should be forced to live on reservations and reportedly declared that those not on reservations were “hostile and would remain so until killed off.” In an echo of his “march to the sea,” he also advocated destruction of the native economy through the mass slaughter of the great herds of bison that roamed the west. Promoted to the Army’s top position, Sherman by the late 1870s succeeded in forcing the Plains tribes – once described as the best light cavalry in the world – onto prison-like reservations or forcing them over the border into Canada.

Had George Bush been president in the 1870s, the tribes that resisted the cavalry’s destruction of their livelihood and way of life would undoubtedly have been labeled “enemy combatants” – even though it was their land, including land promised them by treaty – that was invaded and taken. As great as is this injustice, given the passage of 125 years of supposed democratic enlightenment, it is rivaled as one of the blackest episodes in U.S. history by the indefinite incarceration of more than 750 men at Guantanamo Bay.

With the release over the weekend of 33 more detainees, the camp’s prisoner total dropped to 395. Only nine men have been charged with any crime, and none have been tried as the Bush administration’s plan to use military commissions as courts of law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress subsequently passed enabling legislation, but this law is on hold while on appeal.

One might think that the Pentagon’s description of the detainees, including those returned to their countries of origin under lock and key as “still dangerous,” would prompt foreign governments to immediately incarcerate the returnees. Quite the contrary is happening, as the Associated Press discovered when tracking the fate of detainees after leaving direct U.S. custody.

Of the 245 former prisoners who could be traced, 205 had been freed immediately without charges involving misconduct under international law or were cleared of charges presented at Guantanamo. Of the other 40 still in custody and charged, 14 have been tried, with eight acquittals and six still waiting for verdicts

Tellingly, all 83 Afghans transferred back to Kabul’s jurisdiction were sent home upon arrival in their nation. All but three of the 80 repatriated Pakistanis are free after 12 months in Pakistani prisons because Islamabad regards them as innocent. The nine British and some of the 20 other “most dangerous” men from Australia, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Libya, Kazakhstan, Yemen, Bangladesh Saudi Arabia, Maldives, and Bahrain were freed within hours of landing in their countries. The status of and restrictions on another 80 detainees is being discussed by the U.S. and foreign potentially reducing the prison population even further.

But what might be to date the most bizarre aspect of the whole Bush military commission ploy is the leveling of a murder charge against a Canadian teenager (then 15 years old) who killed a U.S. Special Operations noncommissioned officer during a fire fight in a small Afghan village in July 2002. The whole purpose of declaring war is to remove the moral burden of killing another human being – as long as the actions of the soldier conform to high humanitarian codes and principles of fighting “justly.”

When the vast majority of countries in the world come together in opposing the interpretation of events by and the actions of one country in response – even when (or especially when) that one country is the United States, the intelligent observer and the pragmatic policy maker might enlightening and worthwhile to ask “why?”

The answer may lie in the probability that a good number of “Taliban” soldiers had little choice and were “drafted’ into the anti-Northern Alliance-U.S. army. (The same considerations and circumstances were widespread in the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein.) The failure of the U.S.-led coalition to acknowledge these conditions for more than three years only exacerbated the psychological injustice done to Guantanamo prisoners and succeeded in creating even more anti-U.S. militants.

Perhaps George Bush should have taken to heart another Sherman position: “If drafted I will not run; if elected I will not serve.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

‘Tis the season to be …what?

The traditional completing sentiment – “jolly” – for this phrase seems particularly inappropriate this holiday season. The exact cause or causes impelling this unsettled feeling are opaque, suggesting that their discovery will entail a painstaking unraveling of numerous trends and policy proposals and identifying reciprocal interactions that have created today’s bleak contextual atmosphere.

Americans like to think of themselves as among the (if not the) most straight-forward, plain-talking, “what-you-see-is-what-you get” people. So many have for so long believed this legend that it has attained the status of a “true myth.” In this sense, one is reminded of Thoreau at Walden Pond. A select few are able to live out an idyllic existence because the rest of society is willing to tolerate their illusions of an absolute self that finds expression in absolute self-reliance. But when one looks at collective life in the U.S. as most live it, the image that springs to mind is not that of a single powerful stroke slicing the Gordian knot of obfuscations and euphemisms. It is, rather, the patient peeling of each layer of an onion until there is nothing left – except the discovery that life is essentially process devoid of a static central core.

Process involves transition, and the end of the calendar year always involves transitions of some kind. This year there will be more than in recent years in that the Congress will be controlled by the Democrats, although tenuously in the Senate. Expectations are that the Bush administration will be held to stricter accountability for its programs. But in terms of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the early signs are that the Congress will not do much of anything to change “Bush’s war,” preferring to let the White House muddle its way for the next two years.

The Pentagon has a new civilian in charge, a familiar face albeit in another role in the 1980s and early 1990s. Bush has received outside advice from the Iraq Study Group (ISG), and earlier this week, he huddled with his National Security Council and the uniformed military leadership. Apparently, Bush still believes the U.S. can “win,” something the ISG thinks is unlikely. Secretary Rice has already cut key ISG recommendations by refusing to open discussions with Syria and Iran. And while the ISG counseled against send in more troops, the Chiefs of Staff for the Army and Marines are pushing for a permanent increase in their services end-strengths to have enough troops to fight the “global war on terror.”

Bush says he will not make a decision on changes affecting the war until January. Regardless, between now and then – and for at least another year, more Iraqis, more Afghans, more U.S. and other coalition troops will die needlessly trying to strike the decisive blow that, by severing the Gordian knot of global terrorism, can achieve by military means the unachievable end state of a world free of terror.

So far in 2006, 760 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq or supporting operations in Iraq. At mid-month, 51 have died; at that rate, the total fatalities in Iraq will exceed 3,000 within the first five days of 2007 (current total is 2,940). More than 46,000 have been injured or wounded and two are missing. Coalition fatalities are 126 from the UK and 121 from all other countries.

In Afghanistan, total U.S. fatalities stand at 356; 97 have died this year, just two under the 2005 total with 16 days left in 2006. Coalition forces have suffered 158 fatalities in 2006, with the largest number of deaths among Canadian (44) and British (43) troops.

Indeed, “‘Tis the season…” for thoughtful reflection, pragmatic planning, and that comprehensive quietude that enfolds within it the silence of the grave, the end state of death, and the silence of the germinating seed, the unfolding process of life.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Politics versus Humanism

The initial announcement of Senator Tim Johnson’s (SD) sudden incapacitation and emergency brain surgery struck political Washington like the proverbial bombshell.

And listening to the commentaries on the television, hearing others describing the reaction of colleagues who were mingling at holiday parties last night, and eavesdropping on conversations of people on the commuter train this morning, it was quite clear that the first response of Washington-area residents to Johnson’s medical emergency was political.

Not concern that he will survive the surgery.

Not concern for his family’s well-being after the shock of a major medical emergency.

Not concern for his recovery – how complete it will be and how long that will take.

No, the first thoughts and the first words were political – what would happen if Johnson died or decided to resign. Rarely would the balance of power in the Senate be affected by a single vacancy, but it can make a great deal of difference when one party holds a one seat majority as do the Democrats after last month’s election.

Should Johnson’s seat become vacant, South Dakota’s Republican governor would appoint a successor to finish Johnson’s term in office. With a free hand as to the appointee’s political affiliation, the governor would probably select a Republican, thereby throwing the Senate into a 50-50 party split. This would tilt control of the Senate to the Republicans as the Senate’s presiding officer and “tie-breaking” vote is the Vice-President of the United States – Republican Dick Cheney.

Politically speaking, Johnson’s medical condition and his ability and willingness to continue in office will determine where power resides in the Senate to organize the calendar and agenda, to chair committees, to issue subpoenas, to conduct investigations, etc. Call it Fate, Destiny, happenstance, divine intervention; should the seat become vacant and be filled by a Republican, the result will be to frustrate the voters’ decision last November to empower Senate Democrats.

With the political angle analyzed, pause a moment and consider what the nature of the reaction to Johnson’s medical emergency says about the U.S. public – or at least many who live and work in Washington. The deep fissures between the legislative and executive branches, the chasm between Republicans and Democrats, and the fragility of the nation’s political psyche are all reflected in the consternation that swept Senate Democrats and even some Republicans who resent being hostage to those whose only goal is to gain and retain political power at all costs.

But this may be too hard a judgment on Washingtonians. Perhaps characterizing as “political” the reaction of many to the news of Johnson’s medical emergency ignores the unspoken – indeed even the unconscious – concern that a Republican-controlled Senate could frustrate the anticipated “human agenda” that the Congress might enact if both Houses were controlled by the Democrats. Put another way, compassion for the plight of the poor and the disempowered in general – and in his medical emergency this would include Tim Johnson – is concealed by the political reaction that finds emotive, vocal expression.

Maybe it’s only in Washington that this happens. Maybe elsewhere people are more direct both in expressing concern for the individual and in vociferously rejecting those who distort and derail for their own ends the nation’s domestic human priorities and support for international humanitarian efforts.

Maybe the Republican governor will appoint a Democrat should the seat become vacant. Maybe the seat will remain with Tim Johnson as he recovers his health. Maybe the programs for the disempowered will not be stymied after all.

Maybe those here in Washington will relearn the lesson that we are first of all human beings with responsibilities to care for and be concerned about the well-being of each other as individuals as well as collectively regardless of where we live in our neighborhoods, our nation, our world.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

On Travel -- and a Word on Somalia

Sorry to have missed yesterday's posting. I am traveling and am therefore at the mercy of TSA and the airlines. Regular inputs will resume next Friday.

One comment from this week's news other than the very chilly reaction from the White House on the Baker-Hamilton report. The UN approved a new peace enforcement mission for Somalia to be run under the auspices of East African countries. This may create more troubles as this mission may end up draining troop resources from the undermanned African Union contingent in Darfur. But that may be part of the game, as Sudan, which is one of the East African countries involved in Somalia, would like to shift the world's attention from Darfur to any place else.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report -- First Blush

CNN had reporters at the White House and at multiple locations on Capitol Hill. One Capitol Hill location that used as a backdrop the white domed building that is home to the Congress, appeared to be outdoors. But with Members of Congress not bundled in coats sitting for interviews starting shortly after first light on a clear, cold morning, one suspects that this location was a mobile studio with an extremely large glass or plexiglass side – very clean and very polished.

The “event,” of course, was the delivery of the Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) long-awaited, much leaked, and somewhat discounted report whose most important section – “The Way Ahead – A New Approach,” is a challenge to the administration’s position of the last 45 months. Listening to President Bush’s remarks as he accepted his copy of the report from the ten-member bipartisan commission that was established by Congress, the extensive chill that pervaded the Washington weather seemed as nothing compared to the atmosphere in the White House.

To be sure, the politically correct phrases were there: careful review of the report’s recommendations by the administration; much hard work by the commissioners appreciated by the U.S. public; bipartisanship etc. But the White House clearly was not going to budge on two critical points: no schedules, or timetables for withdrawal and no one-on-one negotiations with Iran.

(White House press secretary Tony Snow made the latter point during the regular afternoon press gaggle. However, the ISG report did not suggest, let alone recommend, direct talks with Iran. It did say that Iran’s nuclear dispute should be handled by the UN Security Council and completely separate from the Iraq issue.)

In its analysis and recommendations dealing with the internal situation in Iraq, the ISG, disappointedly, did not acknowledge that the U.S. is responsible for the chaos affecting 40 percent of Iraq’s population. The report instead leaves open the possibility of adding more troops to be used, in part, for a further shift in the focus of U.S. military forces from combat operations to training and working with Iraqi military units even though that training and advisory effort has serious shortfalls.

Indeed, the ISG concedes that “A primary mission of U.S. military strategy in Iraq is the training of competent Iraqi security forces. By the end of 2006, the Multi-National Security Transition Command–Iraq under American leadership is expected to have trained and equipped a target number of approximately 326,000 Iraqi security services. That figure includes 138,000 members of the Iraqi Army and 188,000 Iraqi police,” with Iraqis exercising operational control over about one third of the total.

Even the army still has serious problems: “Significant questions remain about the ethnic composition and loyalties of some Iraqi units—specifically, whether they will carry out missions on behalf of national goals instead of a sectarian agenda.” Leadership is uneven, equipment is missing, people are often missing. These factors plus the report’s call for the U.S. to “significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units” are reminiscent of the late 1960s in Vietnam when, as part of “Vietnamizing” that conflict, the U.S. ran “crash courses” in leadership and other military skills. Such efforts didn’t work then, and they probably won’t work now.

Where the ISG report seems most promising is its consideration of the situation outside of Iraq – recognizing that through a sustained New Diplomatic Offensive begun not later than December 31, 2006, the U.S. could draw on Iraq’s neighbors and other interested countries for support in ending the violence, stabilizing Iraq’s borders and economy, and aiding reconstruction. In particular, the report clearly declares that the U.S. “cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East” without dealing directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The civil war now raging in Iraq will not end until the large majority of nationalist insurgent groups are brought back into the political process. The report’s reference to the importance of national reconciliation, emphasizing the need especially to bring Sunnis into the political process; a comprehensive reworking of the provisions dealing with the distribution of revenues from petroleum exports; and the need to provide for a broad amnesty are all necessary steps, but insufficient in themselves, to escape disintegration of the country.

But combined with the sustained New Diplomatic Offensive that the ISG proposes, Iraq just might reach a tipping point that would allow the U.S. and other foreign forces to leave – and leave a survivable and viable Iraq to Iraqis.

Monday, December 04, 2006


John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, was on C-Span last night talking about Iraq. Inevitably, given that he had served in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon during the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, he was asked about some of the parallels that pundits posit between the two wars. Among other points, Negroponte said that Iraq’s major urban areas are much less secure that were South Vietnam’s and the real enemy in Iraq is much more difficult to clearly identify than in Vietnam – the Soviet Union and its support of North Vietnam.

I’m not sure that this was the same Vietnam I saw or is today’s Iraq. Tet 1968 demonstrated just how insecure the cities of Vietnam were. Provincial capitals were “secure” to the maximum range of the artillery available to the province leader (a military officer) and the size of the ground forces under his command. When it came to district capitals, security was less assured and depended in part on the activities the Viet Cong were up to – e.g., was a district used for rest and recuperation or as a conduit for men and materiel to get closer to Saigon.

Negroponte’s remarks about security in the urban areas recalled to mind two recent articles about the condition and the numbers of people who are refugees from wars in which the U.S. was or is a participant. When Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and in the immediate aftermath of that event in 1975, approximately 125,000 South Vietnamese escaped and were resettled eventually in the U.S. Subsequent escapees, mainly in the late 1970s, added another 530,000 who settled in the U.S. All told, an estimated two million South Vietnamese became refugees, some for years.

A recent UN report characterizes the exodus of people from Iraq and Afghanistan as a “hemorrhaging.” Iraq is said to have lost more than 10 percent of its pre-2003 invasion population of 26 million and a much higher percentage of its educated professional class. An estimated 1.5 million have fled to neighboring countries, with nearly half – 700,000 – settling in Jordan, a country of just 4 million, half of whom are Palestinians. Another1.5 million Iraqis are refugees in their own country, that is, internally displaced persons (IDPs). The UN report also calculates that 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqis try to flee across international borders every day, but many of Iraq’s neighbors are turning back the more indigent who seek asylum.

While the Iraqi diaspora now rivals the estimated three million Palestinian refugees, it is Afghanistan that has generated the largest number of new refugees on an annual basis in recent years.

Armed conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Lebanon, Sudan, Chechnya, and other areas prone to violence continue to produce their own refugee and IDP victims. In 2005 alone, 3 million people were displaced.

It is a dismal commentary on the state of the world to learn that current estimates place the number of refugees and asylum seekers around the globe at 12 million and IDPs at another 21 million. And were that not bad enough, consider this: worldwide, at least 6.2 million – more than half – of the 12 million refugees have been living in camps for more than five years – and have little or no chance of getting out.

Friday, December 01, 2006


If you don’t ferret out the short clips on the wire services (Reuters, Associated Press), your local newspaper doesn’t run items from the wire services, you didn’t get a copy of the November 30 Raleigh (NC) News and Observer, you didn’t get to page B5 of the News and Observer, or you were not at Camp LeJeune November 29, you probably didn’t see the account of a visit to the base by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway.

Conway, according to the newspaper, drew a clear distinction between “political policy” and “supporting the troops” who are tasked with carrying out the policy.

Conway, who assumed his position just last month, was at LeJeune speaking to 2,000 Marines. Most had been to Iraq, and many are to go there in 2007. Much of Conway’s speech was therefore directed at topics having to do with training, equipment, rotation policy, and casualties.

What caught my eye in the paper, though, was the observation that during the Vietnam War the U.S. public could not separate opposition to war policy and programs from disdain for soldiers, sailors, Marines, air force and coast guard personnel. But, he assured his listeners, for the most part, today's citizens don't mix disapproval of the Iraq War with disapproval of those serving.

Conway opined that today's civilians who make up the electorate are more mature. I would attribute the difference to a more cynical electorate that feels the administration lied about Iraq and is lying on other issues tied to war, terror, and abridgement of civil liberties.

That’s the policy side of the issue. The people side comes down to the premise that everyone, regardless of profession, is due respect from and should be respectful of every other individual. Maybe that translates into maturity.