Friday, September 28, 2007

"Clean" Killing

I suppose at first it was the sappers (combat engineers) who did tunneling during siege operations – and after them the artillerymen – back in the 14th century they were one and the same.

But perhaps not, for in the early days artillery was more like a direct fire weapon; one saw the blood and broken bodies after firing each round.

Until the 20th century, the “deciding” factor in land warfare remained close combat, sometimes even for the generals. Rifling gun bores extended effective ranges of small arms, but gains here were minor compared to the greater distances achieved by indirect fire weapons.

Still, until the development of airplanes, even navies had to see each other to engage in decisive combat.

By World War II, changes were already happening. Fleets of ships launched bombers that flew at high altitudes as they attacked the enemy’s cities with high explosives, incendiary devices, and finally, in Japan, with atomic bombs. Post-war intercontinental bombers (B-47 and B-52) and intercontinental missiles were built to deliver nuclear weapons, a contingency that, had it occurred, would have produced climate changes affecting pilots as well as those who survived the retaliation -- with everyone aware of the precipitating actions. But it wouldn’t be the same as old fashion blood and gore.

(And when the Pentagon did use these bombers for conventional war fighting, they carpet-bombed with conventional weapons, again flying at altitudes too high to see anything.)

“Precision weapons” platforms -- ships, planes, helicopters, tanks -- both manned and unmanned, with ever increasing stand-off distances, followed. And although ordinary soldiers are using a rifle designed 50 years ago, one special-duty category of soldier now operating in Iraq and Afghanistan has a long-range weapon that can destroy a materiel target (parked aircraft, light armored vehicle) out beyond 2,000 meters.
Now few people can see clearly out that far -- unless they have a sniper scope -- conveniently provides by the Army. With that, the sniper is able to see the results of his shot.

Interestingly, until a few weeks ago, the longest distance for a verified “kill” by a sniper came out of Vietnam -- 2,250 meters. The new published record just set by a member of a Canadian sniper team in Afghanistan is 2,430 meters -- a “chest” shot.

The U.S. army refuses to discuss publicly the range at which U.S. snipers have killed not a “materiel” target but a human being. The Pentagon is also tight-lipped about the use of “bait” to lure individuals to pick up “elements of weapons” (detonator cord or bullets), an action that is then used as “evidence” that the person is a terrorist or insurgent, making the unsuspecting person an enemy combatant, which frees the sniper to fire at and kill the “enemy” -- neatly collapsing the roles of accuser, investigator, prosecutor, judge, and executor into one soldier.

Of course, such a system of “justice” doesn’t need a jury, but it seems to have a Greek chorus at a trial in which members of a sniper team are cooperating with military prosecutors in the trial of other team members on charges of murder.

Ironically, the current trial involves not a long range sniper killing but shooting and killing an Iraqi with a pistol.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bush at the UN

It was a thoroughly unremarkable speech.

Not Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presentation but America’s President George Bush’s address to members of the UN General Assembly on September 25. In fact, what was most notable was what Bush didn’t say.

Only twice were the place names “Afghanistan,” “Lebanon,” and “Iraq” spoken, and they were paired both times within a four-sentence paragraph.

Similarly, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran earned but one mention, and again within a single sentence. Only Burma (4), Darfur (3), and Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Cuba (2 each) had had more than a single mention.

Moreover, Bush’s theme was most “un-Bush-like,” which was a welcome change. His theme was applying the principles of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights “to free people from tyranny and violence, hunger and disease, illiteracy and ignorance, and poverty and despair.” For each category he quoted the relevant article from the Universal Declaration:

Tyranny and violence – Article 1
Hunger and disease – Article 25
Illiteracy and ignorance – Article 26
Poverty and Despair -- Article 23

One constant was his love affair with “free” and freedom” – he used the words 17 times, more often than “rights” or “liberate.”

One wonders how much more “freedom” and rights and liberty the U.S. could help bring to the globe were we “free” from Iraq’s warfighting costs.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Missed yesterday due to computer malfunction.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew into New York City Saturday. He had come to the United States to speak before the UN General Assembly’s opening session this week. Under agreement with the UN, the United States as the host country for the UN headquarters cannot refuse to issue a visa to heads of state or other officials who come to the UN to speak. However, the State Department can and does impose a maximum travel radius on representatives of countries deemed unfriendly. Moreover, within the allowed radius, police departments may refuse requests, on the basis of security concerns, to go to specific destinations.

On Monday morning – September 24 – The New York Daily News front page was taken up with a picture of President Ahmadinejad and three words, all in capitol letters: EVIL HAS LANDED. The objection so voiced in print was part of the wide-spread protest against a speaking engagement at Columbia University by the Iranian president.

The invitation tendered by Columbia was freely extended and freely accepted, with no preconditions or restrictions. Despite some vociferous objections to allowing an individual who denies the Holocaust happened and has said that Israel should disappear from the map, the venue was most appropriate. To quote the great 19th century Roman Catholic prelate-scholar, John Henry Cardinal Newman, a university is a “School of Universal Learning… [implying] the assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot….Accordingly, in its simple and rudimental form, it is a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter…. [A] University seems to be in its essence, a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse, through a wide extent of country” (The Idea of a University).

Of course, if “communication and circulation of thought” justifies giving Ahmadinejad a forum, the question comes as to whether there is any limitations on free speech in a university setting. Constitutionally, the Supreme Court has carved out some limits on general First Amendment rights, but the Court, as far as I am aware, has not directed such limits to universities.

Nonetheless, I suggest that there is at least one limit: courtesy to a guest, especially when the guest has been invited, in part, because his views are known to be contrary to those of the institutions. It is this limit that Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, violated in his rather extended remarks delivered before President Ahmadinejad said a word.

Protesting that he was but a university professor who happened also to be a university president, Bollinger started by reminding the audience that to listen to someone in no way implies acceptance or an endorsement of what is said – which includes both Columbia’s guest and those demonstrating against his presence on the university campus. Bollinger also urged his listeners to never retreat when confronted with ideas that one detests but to take them on.

All that was fair game and needed to be said. Bollinger then presented a list of grievances and accusations against internal policies and practices of the Iranian state as well as the foreign policies of the Islamic Republic. This too, was within bounds, particularly since Bollinger started by reminding Ahmadinejad that his country had arrested, imprisoned, and only recently released some Iranian-American academics visiting Iran, including members of Columbia’s faculty. (At least one academic is still under house arrest in Iran.) But then President Bollinger veered into a personal attack, calling Ahmadinejad “a petty and cruel dictator.”

President Bollinger is perfectly free to hold that opinion and to express it – which he did directly to the Iranian president. Yet, the verbal assault on the visitor seemed extremely crude and, factually, arguably not true. Granted that all candidates for political office in Iran are subject to a vetting process, Iranians seem to feel that they have real choices when they participate in general elections for president, parliament, and “local” government.

Ahmadinejad’s reaction was to chide Bollinger for, in effect, being rude. Bollinger, in my view, accomplished nothing by delivering his verbal assault before Ahmadinejad spoke other than confirm for Iranians that, even in its universities, America is an intolerant society.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting Facts and Priorities Straight

When I heard the excerpt from the president’s press conference, I could only involuntarily cringe.

“Mandela is dead.”

That was news to me, to the reporters, to the world, and to Nelson Mandela.

I wonder if Mandela sent a duplicate of Mark Twain’s famous quip after a “scoop” that he had passed on: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

As it turned out, when the entire response is read, Bush was trying to make a point. Speaking to why there was not “instant democracy” in Iraq after Saddam, Bush said: I heard somebody say, ‘Where’s Mandela” Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.”

But that was not the main point of the press conference. That was the “State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) that will expire September 30 unless Congress renews it. The program is designed to assist poor families obtain basic health insurance for children. Bush and Congress both are in favor of the plan in general but disagree on the income level below which a family would be eligible to receive assistance. Bush proposed increasing the program by $1 billion per year for the next 5 years -- a “20% increase” over current spending. The legislation Congress is considering would, according to the president, increase spending between $35 and $50 billion by expanding eligibility to families earning $83,000.

Bush sees this as the first step toward a government-run health insurance and ealth-care system. Well, if the country doesn’t do something soon to reverse the continuing increase in the number of children without health insurance because the family income is higher than the current cut-off amount but too low to pay for health insurance, we will find that the costs of treating and caring for sick children will be much higher than the cost of basic preventive medicine and early treatment.

Yes the poor need help, but increasingly so do families that used to be described as lower middle class and even middle class.

It’s a matter of priorities. Ask the Iraqis; the Health ministry announced that Baghdad had its first chase of cholera -- apparently attributed to a lack of chlorinated water as chlorine can be usedn in car bombs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Living With Nucs in the 21st Century

One of the potential effects of congressional testimony by high-profile administration officials on a visceral issue like the war in Iraq is to move the controversy back into the general public arena.

Whether and to what degree this “potential” materializes is determined by the public press and its ability to get behind a story, a headline, the “spin” of one or more government bureaucracies or “interested” parties and provide readers/listeners factual analysis and informed opinion.

Unfortunately, the public’s attention span for “news” as opposed to sports, rumor, scandal, and gossip frequently is attenuated. Some issues such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are of sufficient consequence to the U.S. public that they can stand on their own. Other topics whose focus is narrower or whose direct effects, should legislation become law, appear to exclude significant portions of activist communities and voters, need to be linked to second-order topics: policies and programs that cannot be started or have to be foreshortened if not terminated.

One such topic is Iran, particularly its nuclear energy program. Mohamad ElBaradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog, has been working to “fill the gaps” in information that Teheran has provided on both its 18-year plutonium and its comparatively recent enriched uranium programs and facilities and what the IEAE suspects Tehran may still be hiding. ElBaradei reported this week that his inspectors have yet to uncover any trace or any evidence pointing to an attempt by Iran to produce the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon.

At the UN, the U.S. and some European countries are lobbying for a third, more severe set of sanctions to be imposed on Iran on the pretext that Tehran still conceals nuclear weapons programs and is therefore in breach of two UN Security Council resolutions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed this past Sunday that, while the United States wants a diplomatic solution, should the Iran-IAEA negotiations falter, the follow-on “diplomacy” will have “teeth.”

Even the French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister sounded hawkish toward Iran on the nuclear aspect. But both Rice and the French officials had their positions undercut when the recently retired Combatant Commander of USCENTCOM, General John Abizaid, said that the world could learn to live with an Iran with nuclear weapons.

And of course there are the rumors that the target of the September 6th Israeli “quick strike” in northern Syria was the site of the surreptitious start of a Syrian nuclear weapons program whose origin lies with North Korea. Both countries deny a nuclear relationship of any kind.

There is no denial from Washington or Amman that the U.S. will help Jordan develop a nuclear energy program. But then, Jordan is a “good” U.S. client.
It would be nice to see a mass media splash on these separate topics – something like “all things nuclear.”

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's Been Quite A Busy Week

We have just passed the mid-point of September and observed the sixth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. Your third quarter 2007 estimated income tax payment has to be postmarked (theoretically) by midnight tonight.

We have just read (September 2007) a new report by the Government Accountability Office on progress toward reaching the 18 “benchmarks” set out by President Bush last January.

The special congressionally authorized Commission to Assess Iraq Security Forces chaired by General James Jones, USMC (Ret.) submitted its report and briefed Congress on their unanimous conclusions.

The U.S. commander of coalition forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, together with U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, testified before four congressional committees on the current status of the Iraqi security services and the progress being made in meeting other goals. On their return trip to Iraq, they stopped in London to brief Members of Parliament.

President Bush addressed the nation, outlining (actually reiterating) the recommendations of Petraeus and Crocker to withdraw 5,700 soldiers and Marines by the end of 2007.

Since the morning of September 10, the first day that Crocker and Petraeus testified, 18 Americans have died in Iraq; through September 17, a total of 3,783 American military personnel have died in Iraq or from injuries and wounds suffered in Iraq.

Another estimated 1,001 U.S. nationals in Iraq as contractors also have died.

If the Iraqi Ministry of Interior doesn’t buckle under U.S. pressure and reverse its suspension of Blackwater Security, theoretically there will soon be fewer contractors in Iraq being paid by our tax dollars -- unless all their people in Iraq simply sign on with Blackwater’s competitors or Blackwater simply reorganizes under a new name.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Talking Our Way to More of the Same

Has it been only eight days?

The September 9 prelude – the network and cable Sunday talk shows – was dominated by Senators, although one program included retired Marine General James Jones, the chairman of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, who discussed his group’s report presented to Congress on September 6. (And the Jones Commission report itself followed one by the Government Accountability Office on benchmarka met or not met by the Iraqi government.)

The main event started Monday at 12:30 pm when the general and the ambassador testified before a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees

Tuesday, in back to back hearings of the Senate Armed Forces and Foreign Relations committees, the ambassador and the general covered much the same ground. The tone of the questions, however, seemed sharper.

Wednesday the general and, to a lesser extent, the ambassador spent a good part of the day giving interviews for television, radio, and print media.

Thursday afternoon President Bush met with leaders of Congress while the press received the usual administration background spin from unidentified “senior administration officials” – one of whom undoubtedly was National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.

Thursday night the president spoke directly to four audiences in a 17 minute 20 second address: to the American people, the Iraqi people, Iraq’s neighbors, and to the troops, diplomats, civilians, and others “on the front lines.”

Friday afternoon, the White House released its bi-monthly report to Congress on Iraqi progress in reaching the 18 benchmarks. The administration claimed progress in 9 of the 18 areas, but did concede that there was very movement politically and economically over the last two months. Also on Friday, the pundits emerged (those who had by-passed all the post-speech opportunities.

Sunday will see the “wrap” for this week, possibly dominated by House members as the previous Sunday’s was by senators.

But of course, Sunday will not be the last “rap” anymore than the appearances of Petraeus and Crocker this week were a “new” beginning, a new strategy, the “turning the corner, the “beginning of the end,” or the infamous phrase of Vietnam: “the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The president made it clear that at the end of his second term sixteen months from now, there would still be substantial numbers of U.S. forces in Iraq. That is obviously neither “return on success” since the president still has not defined by what standard he would declare “success,“ nor would it risk, in the words of General Petraeus, a “rush to failure.“

What it does guarantee is the continuing flow of White House bi-monthly fantasies about “winning” as well as a steady flow of coffins home to the United States and to Iraqi homes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Playing With History -- Again

On January 10, 2007, President Bush announced that there would be no “beginning of the end” of U.S. military involvement in Iraq’s multi-faceted violence. Rather than heeding the message – “end the war” – delivered by the voters a mere two months earlier, Bush chose to increase trop levels in a six-month “surge.” At the same time, General David Petraeus, armed with a known but untried (in this war) tactical approach, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the commander of all coalition forces in Iraq.

Both General Petraeus and the White House assured the Congress and the public that six months after the surge began they would be given a candid report of the political and military situations in Iraq. Within days, however, the Bush administration was making “adjustments” to what had been promised.

- The number of troops in the “surge,” announced as 21,000 by the president in his January 10 speech, actually would be almost 29,000;

- Although the announcement was made January 10, the first units would not be in-country until February, so the “six month” clock for the report to Congress would not be due until August.

- The surge itself was so extended that the build-up would not be completed until late June at the earliest. General Petraeus, the Pentagon, the administration, and Members of Congress who supported the president’s conduct of the war all pushed for a further delay in the report to give 60 days for the full weight of the additional forces to be brought into play. Thus the “Petraeus report,” as it became known, was slipped to September.

In pushing the “Petraeus report” into September, the White House succeeded in dampening its impact. Had it been delivered in July or even early August, it would have been a singular event. Pushing it into September rendered it as simply one among many reports – at best primus inter pares (first among many).

Congress passed legislation requiring the White House to provide an interim progress report on conditions in Iraq in July and again in

Congress created an independent commission, chaired by retired NATO supreme commander General James Jones and consisting of 20 retired military generals and admirals and retired senior police chiefs, to evaluate Iraqi security sector organization, professionalism, and effectiveness.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to provide their own assessment of the war in Iraq in early September to the Secretary of Defense and the White House.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was scheduled to report to Congress on the Iraqi government’s success in achieving the eighteen “benchmarks” that were “agreed” by Washington and Baghdad as indices of the ability of the Iraqi government to stand on its own.

After two long days of testimony September 10 an September 11, many in Congress remained unimpressed with what, by that time was “the Petraeus plan.”

Now it is the president’s turn; he will address the nation tomorrow n ight, September 13. He is expected to announce that, in keeping with the principle of “listening to the generals in the field and not the politicians in Washington,” he is ready to direct the start of a modest drawdown of forces. Watch for two things:

- a modification or “variation” of the course described by General Petraeus (e.g., timing, destination, or mission assigned to withdrawn troops) to avoid the impression that the “decider” is really a sham stance as the president has no different or better plan than the one described by the generals; or

- the announcement of a “new” parallel diplomatic or economic initiative so that, should another reversal happen on the warfighting front, the White House would be positioned to separate a “promising” presidential initiative from a faltering “Petraeus” plan.

Should the president announce September 13 that the troops will begin a withdrawal, the dynamic of U.S.-Iraq relations will be on a new footing. Washington has “leverage” in Iraq now because there are 160,000 U.S. troops in-country. But with each brigade combat team that leaves and is not replaced, that leverage will diminish, even if, as Pentagon spokespersons insist will be the case, the U.S. will have to help the Iraqi army for as long as a decade with logistics, training, air power, and command and control.

In informal remarks on September 12, former California congressman and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta noted that ultimately the U.S. cannot force the Iraqis to “buy-in” to a U.S. vision. At some point, Washington may well find that its “leverage” is not much more than suggesting goals and proposing paths to reach them – either or both of which Baghdad can accept or reject.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Others of the "Disappeared"

In their testimony today before Congress, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker highlighted the decrease in sectarian and ethnic based violence in and around Baghdad since the 30,000 additional U.S. troops “surged” into the capital and al-Anbar province.

Part of the reason for the drop in violence obviously is due to the increased number of troops on patrol and in neighborhood security centers manned by Iraqi army and police and U.S. soldiers. But three other “ground truths” contribute to this lowered strife.

First, in those neighborhoods that are controlled by one sectarian faction, especially the Sunni areas, the inhabitants have organized and armed themselves with the intent to do their own policing.

Second, a number of formerly mixed sectarian neighborhoods are now either entirely Shi’a or Sunni. With no “others” left to fight, of course the number of incidents will fall.

Third, in a number of neighborhoods, particularly in areas where large numbers of Iraqis would be expected to gather (mosques, markets, restaurants) at predictable times, anti-blast barriers have been used to channel foot traffic and to exclude automotive vehicles, thereby reducing the potential for spectacular incidents such as the recent bombing in northern Iraq that killed more than 400 people.

This last point put me in mind of the barrier wall or “fence” the Israelis are building to separate Palestinians from Israelis in the West Bank, just as they have already done with the Gaza Strip. The government of Morocco tried the same tactic against the Polisario by building a huge sand berm along most of the Algeria-Western Sahara border (Morocco had claimed the Western Sahara after the Spanish withdrew in 1976).

At the same time, we in the U.S. need to remember that this country, with all our putative freedoms, committed an equivalent crime -- equivalent in terms of the effect of the injustice done to innocent people -- during and after World War II.

Anyone familiar with the history of that war knows of the large-scale internment of Americans of Japanese ethnicity after Pearl Harbor simply and solely because authorities feared that Japanese legal residents and Japanese-Americans might harbor sympathy for the Japanese empire.

Less well known is that 15,000 Germans and German-Americans also were interned during the war, most of them in a camp some 120 miles south of San Antonio. And perhaps least known is that FBI agents went into Latin American countries and brought back -- reverse rendition, in a way -- and interned men, women, and children who authorities labeled “Japanese Latin Americans” or “German Latin Americans.”

Like their contemporaries rounded up in the U.S., these individuals’ “crime” was their heritage. Over the four years (1941 - 1945 of the program, FBI agents, with at least the tacit knowledge of the rulers of 13 Latin American countries, directly abducted or took custody of 2,264 ethnic Japanese and brought them to the internment camp in Texas. Many were leaders in their communities. In a number of cases, families were torn apart and all assets -- homes, businesses , money -- were seized either by the regime in power or by other minorities. Eighty percent of the abductees were taken from Peru, which had the second largest (30,000) ethnic Japanese community in South America (Only Brazil, with 190,000, exceeded Peru’s total).

Why were these individual’s “captured?” The U.S. government wanted to have a hostage swap with the Imperial Japanese government. One swap did take place in September 1943 using a Swedish ship to transport 1,340 Japanese Latin Americans and Japanese Americans to the Portuguese enclave of Goa where an equal number of U.S. citizens were exchanged. Other U.S.-held Japanese Latin Americans were sent directly back to Japan.

Still, when the war ended, some 350 “prisoners” remained. The regimes in Latin America didn’t want the abductees back, and without papers and passports, they were stateless people without money or anyplace to go.

Sound familiar -- including the refusal of countries to take back their citizens unfortunate enough to have fallen into the hands of the Pentagon or the CIA and be “disappeared” into Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, or the CIA’s black prison system?

Some restitution has been made to Japanese Latin American World War II victims -- $5,000 and an apology. (Japanese- Americans were compensated with $20,000 and an apology in the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, but the Japanese Latin Americans were not part of that settlement because they were considered “illegal aliens” -- even though they were in the U.S. against their will.) Bills have been introduced in both Houses of Congress that would potentially raise the compensation to $20,000 for all internees. The full Senate will take up its version of the legislation this week or next.

Congress ought to act quickly. Considering the consumer price index annual inflation rate (base year 2006), from 1945 to 2006, time already has eroded the value of that $20,000 to $1,780.

Friday, September 07, 2007

In the General's Words

Yesterday was retired generals and admirals day on Capitol Hill. The Jones Commission, named for its leader, General James Jones, USMC (Ret.) presented its findings to the Armed Services Committees of each House, and separately a Joint Hearing of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services took testimony from Major General John Batiste, USA (Ret.)

Most of the media attention fell on the Jones Commission simply because of its size an mandate to look at both the Iraqi army and Iraqi police. But General Batiste’s evaluation deserves to be scrutinized for what is said and not said. So, a few excerpts “in the General’s words”:

“A successful national strategy in Iraq is akin to a four legged stool with legs representing diplomacy, political reconciliation, economic recovery, and the military…. The only leg on the stool of any consequence today is the military….”

“Most Americans now appreciate that the military alone cannot solve the problems in Iraq. The administration failed to call the nation to action in the wake of 9-11, is now virtually dependent on the military leg of the stool to accomplish the mission, and has yet to frame the solutions in Iraq within the broader context of the region, to include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Syria, and Jordan. In this situation, the stool will surely collapse.”

“The perceived successes in Iraq today are taken out of context and overstated at best.”

“What American desperately needs now is a diplomatic framework defined by an ever expanding global alliance of equals--disciplined diplomacy based on a vision that is focused on long-term objectives.”

“We must come to grips with the notion that the coalition can not resolve sectarian differences by training and equipping combatant formations. Rather, it is time to announce a redeployment and reposition of forces and to place the onus on Iraqi’s to come up with Iraqi solutions.”

You might want to save this and compare these points with the next general’s report -- that of General David Petraeus on September 10.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"Indian Country"

Ralph Peters is one of many commentators on Iraq who has shared experiences of U.S. troops in the war zone. In a column for the New York Post dated August 26, Peters describes part of an operation by Marines in al Anbar province.

What struck me about this column -- not for the first time in this war -- is the inappropriate connections conjured by the language employed -- in this instance, in the title: “Indian Country.”

It might not seem of any consequence to most of us and be simply another case of “politically correct” phraseology, but consider what is implied. In the American West, Indian Country was beyond the pale, beyond civilization, even beyond redemption. Its use to describe the areas in Iraq not controlled by U.S., coalition, or Iraqi security forces links the war against today’s terrorists to the Native American’s struggle against the invading Europeans and later against the U.S. Army. That is, Native Americans were terrorists in their day.

This is not new, and Ralph Peters is not the only one who, consciously or unconsciously, takes what is a long, historical encounter and makes it act as metaphor. Given the conduct of the more powerful Europeans and later the American settlers, one would think that today’s Army (Peters is a retired lieutenant-colonel) would not want to conjure a past that is less than admirable.

Does it really make any difference? It may, for one refrain from the White House and some members of Congress is that al-Qaeda and other terrorists read and listen to what Americans say. And if this is a contest over control of the world’s future ruling ideals and ideas, to remind the world of how shamefully Native Americans and other minority populations have been treated by descendents of European settlers seems to be handing al-Qaeda a free propaganda coup.

Monday, September 03, 2007

August Statistics -- Briefly

U.S. fatalities: 81, up three from July. This brings total U.S. fatalities in Iraq through August 31 to 3,740. Fifty-five died from hostile fire.

On June 5, 2007, the Pentagon reported U.S. fatalities at 3,500. That number had jumped by 500 in just 5 months and one week (June 5). At the current pace -- the next 500 deaths will be recorded around the beginning of December, a full six months.

But conditions in Iraq make such a prediction risky, The British have just completed the turnover of Basra to the three Shi’a factions that have been battling for dominance for the last three years. All 5,500 UK troops are in the Basra airport catonment, but how long they will remain may well depend more on the Shi’as in Basra than on London or -- for that matter, on Washington.

And then there is Robert Papes exhaustive study of suicide bomb attacks world-wide over the past 25 years. Papes counts 870 completed attacks. Of these 824 -- 95% -- were mounted by groups fighting military occupation of their country. Morfeover, 85% of all attacks have been in response to U.S military combat operations.

Pape’s work is highly regarded by the Pentagon; they are paying him a consulting fee.

Yet the White House insists that the presence of U.S. forces has nothing to do with the level of violence in Iraq.