Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, Ya'll

It's been one hell of a year, and it doesn't look like the pace is going to slow down any time soon.

I believe in New Years resolutions. Last year's went okay. But, a goal is not a goal unless you declare it, right?

So here's what's on tap for 2006:

  1. Be an excellent dad and husband.
  2. Publish another magazine or newspaper article.
  3. Score a 290 or above on the Army Physical Fitness Test. I worked on getting in better shape in 2005. I'm down to the same pants size and weight that I was when I graduated from college ten years ago. Now, I need to smoke some 2LT ass. (2LT B this means you, smart ass!)
  4. Get promoted to Major and deserve it. (I'll think I'll save the field grade lobotomy for 2007.)
  5. Work on my fiction writing. For those of you who didn't know, I'm an aspiring novelist. I've written the best novel you've never read. Actually, it needs a lot of work. This year, I get it done.
  6. Cut back on the Diet Coke. Anyone who knows me knows what I'm talking about.
  7. Start graduate school. Texas State University has a campus in Round Rock TX where they offer a degree in Public Administration with an International Relations focus. I figure I'll just blog my dissertation. That will work right?
  8. Learn something that is new and unnecessary.

Sounds like an OER support form. Any of my reader(s) want to share their resolutions for 2006? And if any of you out there are literary agents, feel free to email me.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Dude, You're So Grounded...

I wrote for my high school newspaper too, but I was never this idealistic crazy:
A 16-year-old from Florida who traveled to Iraq on his own without telling his parents has left the country and is on his way home, the U.S. Embassy’s consul general said Friday.
Using money his parents had given him, he bought a $900 plane ticket and took off from school a week before Christmas vacation started, skipping classes and leaving the country on Dec. 11.

His goal: Baghdad. Those privy to his plans: two high school buddies.

And he actually ended up in Baghdad. Nuts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Houston's Katrina Crimewave

According to the Houston Chronicle Mayor Bill White is seeking funds from FEMA to pay police overtime after a spike in crime attributed, in part, to Kartina evacuees.

From the Chronicle:
Concerned by a spike in homicides and other violent crime in certain neighborhoods, Houston Mayor Bill White Monday called on FEMA to fund a $6.5 million task force to focus on "hot spots" for crime.
While White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt emphasized that the uptick in crime is not solely attributable to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, White said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should pay the bill because of the strain the 100,000 to 150,000 new residents have put on the Houston Police Department.

Houston Police Department has created Neighborhood Enforcement Team Task Force to help curb the crime. Houston has asked FEMA to pay for the program. (You can read more about the Task Force here.)
The task force is the second program to increase police presence that the city has unveiled in recent weeks, amid concerns about manpower and a swelling homicide rate — up nearly 25 percent over last year and 70 percent this month.
Many of the problem areas fall in southwest Houston, particularly in apartment complexes housing numerous Katrina evacuees, White and Hurtt said.

"Crime is unacceptable, especially the murder rate, in some of these hot spots," White said. "We had criminals here before the evacuation and we had some more criminals here after the evacuation."

The task force will be staffed by officers working overtime between Jan. 1 and July. Their work load will be equivalent to adding 150 officers to the force, Hurtt said.
Katrina evacuees have been linked to at least eight of the 121 homicides in the city since they began arriving in September, Hurtt said.
Analysis: This makes sense. When I did some googling on this issue, I found some fairly repugnant postings attributing the race of the evacuees to the crime spike. Race doesn't have anything to do with it. You add over a 100,000 people to a city, and you are going to have a corresponding increase in crime. The problem isn't race. It's that the federal government is breaking new ground with this issue.

FEMA's funding mechanism is designed for disaster response, not instituting community policing programs. However, Houston's program directly stems from the disaster, and the federal government is asking a city to do something that it has never really done before: take responsibility for the long-term care of people who are not citizens of the City or State where they were evacuated to. The evacuees aren't leaving any time soon, if ever. Houston is stuck with providing care and services for the duration.

I wonder what other upsurge in costs Houston is experiencing. Judging from the evacuees poverty level, I'm guessing that there has also been an upsurge in unpaid medical costs. Are they going to ask FEMA to pay for this to?

Mayor White said if the Feds don't come through then he is seeking recourse from the State of Texas which probably doesn't have the funds either. Maybe he should send Governor Blanco the bill.

Related: Slate has a good article on the recovery effort in NOLA.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

DHS's Ugly Birth

Homeland Security Watch has an excellent post on the birth of the Department of Homeland Security.

I think we're still feeling the affects of the flaws that were built into DHS's inception. Basically, its become the giant check-book in the sky instead of a dynamic organization that actually helps me do my job. I'll take the money, but that's about all I get in added value. It also added a cute layer of extra bureaucracy that came to fruition during the Katrina response.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Measuring the Consequences of Failure in Iraq (Updatedx2)

The issue of whether or not we can win in Iraq is being hotly debated in this country. Rep. John Murtha’s demand for withdrawal and the subsequent period of news cycle domination lead to heated discussion in the MSM and blogosphere. This seems to have sparked a candor offensive from the administration where the crux of the president’s argument is that regardless of how we got into Iraq “failure is not an option”.

The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq states:

  • Failure is Not an Option.
  • Iraq would become a safe haven from which terrorists could plan attacks against America, American interests abroad, and our allies.
  • Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and human rights in the region -- a historic opportunity lost.
  • The resultant tribal and sectarian chaos would have major consequences for American security and interests in the region.
  • And it’s not just the administration saying it. In a recent editorial, Henry Kissinger said, “if, when we go, we leave nothing behind but a failed state and chaos, the consequences will be disastrous for the region and for America's position in the world.”

    In a November press release, Sen. John McCain stated: “We must get Iraq right because America’s stake in that conflict is enormous. All Americans, whether or not they supported American action to topple Saddam Hussein, must understand the profound implications of our presence there. Success or failure in Iraq is the transcendent issue for our foreign policy and our national security, for now and years to come. I would submit that the stakes are higher than in the Vietnam War.”

    And in November upon return from a trip to Iraq, Sen. Joseph Liberman said, “the cost of successfully completing our mission here will be large in terms of American lives lost and money spent, but the cost of failure here would be catastrophic for us in the U.S. and for the Iraqis, of course -- and I believe for the entire Middle East.”

    Of course, there is dissent, and the immediate withdrawal argument still has political traction. In New York, Jonathan Tasini is running against Hillary Clinton. He argues that they reasons against pulling out are myths and states that “the troops must be brought home now.”

    The media, both new and old, is filled with endless gas-baggery about what got us into Iraq in the first place. Of course, this debate is important to a robust and vibrant democracy, but it doesn’t solve our problems in Iraq. This month’s elections seem to indicate progress. The initial results seem to favor Shia dominance, but there still remains the possibility of a political compromise.

    Whether or not we ultimately achieve our goals as outlined in the president’s strategy remains to be seen, but it is clear that none of these goals will be achieved if we pull out now. So what are the second and third iteration effects of failure? What makes defeat “catastrophic for us in the U.S. and for the Iraqis, of course -- and I believe for the entire Middle East”?

    There are two possibilities for failure in Iraq: catastrophic and creeping failure.

    Catastrophic failure is the worst case scenario made most possible by a mishandled withdrawal from Iraq. The result is a full-scale sectarian civil war which sucks in the rest of the region. Many argue that the civil war has already started, but it is contained to a simmering conflict—car bombs and assassinations. Catastrophic failure looks like Afghanistan after the Soviet pull out in which, by design or circumstance, the rest of the region becomes players.

    Iran has an interest in what happens both because of the religious connection the Iraqi Shias and the overall desire for a stable neighbor. Iran’s desire to insure a favorable outcome could resemble Pakistan’s desire for a stable Afghanistan. The end result? In Afghanistan it was the Taliban. In Iraq the result might be a government that resembles the increasingly radical, nuclear ambitious, Iranian theocracy.

    And the other nations in the region, or non-state actors within them, won’t stand by while this happens. Radical Sunnis will probably provide support to the Sunni minority in its fight against the Shias. Sunni governments would abhor the idea of Shia dominance and would seek to thwart Iran’s ambitions. Chaos and instability is the result.

    Iraq has already become a terrorist breeding ground, and the violence has spread to Jordan. In catastrophic failure, where does it spread next? Saudi Arabia is a logical next step, and the hardest wildfire to put out once it starts.

    Will Saudi’s security forces, sitting on 25% of the world’s oil reserves, be able to handle battle-hardened terrorists fresh of the Iraqi battlefield? There is also an oppressed Shia minority in Saudi. Do they get sucked into the conflict? Then there is the other oppressed group in Saudi: foreign workers. There are several million in Saudi, and after years of abuse, how easily could they be radicalized? (The movie Syriana has a great subplot illustrating just how this could happen.)

    And don’t expect the West to rush to stabilize Saudi Arabia. The Europeans will probably lack the political will to act, and a US intervention would just invite more hostility. US forces have completely withdrawn from Saudi, and their return would be an AQ recruiting boon. We could effectively end up trading one unpopular occupation for another but this time with Mecca and Medina thrown into the equation. But, something would have to be done or the results for the global economy would be disastrous.

    A destabilized Saudi Arabia would spell trouble for its neighbors. How long before the chaos spread to tiny Qatar who possesses the world’s third largest natural gas reserves? Or Kuwait? Or Yemen which has already had problems with extremism?

    And don’t forget the Kurdish wildcard in the Iraqi civil war. The Kurds have long desired a country of their own. Currently, they are marketing themselves as “the other Iraq”. A civil war would give them the chance to succeed from Iraq and establish Kurdistan. This would embolden the already repressed Turkish Kurd minority.

    Historically, Turkey has responded harshly to Kurdish ambitions. A similar response to a renewed drive for a greater Kurdistan might jeopardize Turkish membership in the European Union. European rejection of Turkey would further isolate the Muslim world from the West and may spur further unrest in Europe’s Islamic minorities. Iran also has a large Kurdish minority, and Iranian suppression of the Kurds may also further distance Iran from the West.

    This encroaching chaos would undermine U.S. credibility and influence throughout the South Asia and the greater Middle East. Democratic reform, economic development, and women’s rights would all take a back seat to “stability”. And how will the 600 pound, nuclear armed gorilla—Israel—react to all this?

    In order to avert this chaos from spreading, taking hold, and disrupting the world’s economy the US military would be forced to remain in the region in large numbers. Leaving Iraq would not mean leaving the Middle East.

    The second, more probable but less dramatic, possibility is creeping failure. In this scenario, the US leaves too soon before the Iraqi government and military are truly viable entities. Iraq sputters along for a few years with an ambient level of sectarian and ethnic violence. Eventually, democracy is traded in for the “stability” of a renewed dictatorship.

    This dictatorship could be a return to Sunni dominance or, more likely, an Iranian backed Shia state where the roles of oppressed and oppressor are reversed. The Kurds will again retreat into Kurdistan. The rest of the region will react accordingly, and the US will most likely be forced to retain a large military presence in the region to keep the peace. Countless lives and billions of dollars will be spend will no progress to show for it—strategic failure.

    There have been arguments that the U.S. survived the strategic failure of Vietnam, but that comparison is imperfect. Vietnam was never the centerpiece of the Cold War. The defense of Western Europe was. Right or wrong, the Bush administration has made Iraq the centerpiece in the global war on terror, and pinned success in that struggle to success in Iraq.

    At whatever point we declare “Victory in Iraq” and leave, there is no assurance that all or some of these negative possibilities won’t come to fruition. The U.S. has unleashed something in which it cannot be sure of the final results. However, there has been a great deal of intellectual immaturity and insensitivity in the debate about Iraq.

    Many who do not support the administration and its policies have not yet come to grips with the consequences of failure. Loosing Iraq might discredit the Bush legacy and be a serious reversal for the conservative movement in this county. The reward may be electoral victories, but the consequences for this country would still be grave. Whoever replaces the conservatives in power would inherit a discredited American foreign policy and a destabilized Middle East. It will take decades to make it right.

    It is possible to politically distance yourself from the president and his policies while still striving for a favorable outcome in Iraq. The intellectual valid outcome for any debate about Iraq should be an improved policy which sets the stage for a successful exit, not a haphazard withdrawal. The mature voices on the left side of aisle understand this, but the galling idea of trading tactical political victory for strategic defeat still has traction. The nearly casual approach with which this strategic defeat is relished in some circles is maddening.

    We have sacrificed over 2,000 American servicemen and untold numbers of Iraqis in this endeavor. While we can disagree with what got us into Iraq, their blood is the currency on which we trade our political barbs. A robust debate on what got us into Iraq is necessary as a check and balance for future military interventions, but the cynical certainty with which some dismiss this sacrifice bodes ill for our country and for the world. Are we that willing to condemn millions in the Middle East to chaos and barbarism? Do 2,000 lives mean nothing?

    The administration has been criticized for painting too rosy a picture about the probable outcome of the Iraqi invasion and has made grave mistakes in the occupation. They did not understand the consequences of their actions. Yet, the administration’s critics are guilty of the same intellectual falsity in their lack of a sober assessment of the consequences of failure. There is a difference between accepting a risk and gambling. Staying in Iraq means accepting the risk that things may end up turning out badly no matter how hard we try. A botched withdrawal means rolling dice with the strategic future of this country—an unacceptable gamble for future generations.

    Update: Bobby has a great post on Iraq over at his blog. Worth reading.

    Second Update: John over at Democracy Arsenal has a good post that asks the question: Is Iraq simply immersed in the darkness before a painful dawn, or have things really slid off the rails in such a profound way that it makes sense for the United States to begin a careful withdrawal?

    Note: I have cross-posted this piece on Intel Dump, the much more popular blog to which I am a contributor. I expect that there will be a lively debate in comments section, and my reader(s) are invited to the fray.

    Monday, December 19, 2005

    Transforming at Glacial Speed

    According to the CS Monitor, "U.S. doctrine moves away from solely emphasizing the waging and winning of wars". Here.

    Key details:

    With little fanfare during the past few weeks, the Pentagon has rolled outone of the most significant changes to military doctrine since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    The policy directive recently signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares that the job of planning and training to win the peace after a war is now virtually as important to the military as the conflict itself.

    The document marks a sea change from the ideals of the past, when the military was loath to take on any responsibility beyond waging and winning wars. Indeed, it suggests that the Pentagon increasingly sees Iraq and Afghanistan as templates for wars of the future, with success hinging not only on military superiority, but also on the ability to reconstruct failed states.
    "The [Pentagon] directive will help ensure that the Department of Defense develops the capabilities required to meet future stability operations challenges as part of an integrated US government effort," says Jeffrey Nadaner, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations, by e-mail.
    The Pentagon has so far rejected the idea of special stability-operation units in favor of plans for a more general indoctrination of all troops. And that should not interfere with the military's dominance on the battlefield, writes Mr. Nadaner: "The effort to improve the balance between stability and combat operations should not undermine the warrior ethos, which is the foundation of armed forces."

    But there are some doubts:

    But especially at a time when the Army is accepting more recruits who make substandard scores on aptitude tests, some analysts wonder whether the new approach asks too much. "There is a point beyond which it isn't practical to expect so many different things from the same group of people," says Loren Thompson, a defense expert at the Lexington Institute in Arlington.

    Already, the Army has been asked to become more flexible, more agile, and more intelligent to make up for the decreased size of the force since the end of the cold war. The new directive could call on it to fundamentally change its culture and training: Each new hour of stability-operations training could mean an hour of combat training lost. No longer are they simply machines of war, grinding toward some military objective. Now, they are to be intermittent instruments of peace, as well.

    The problem, suggests Dr. Thompson, is that "people who are good
    killers tend not to be good mediators."

    Remember kids we don't "do" nation building except when we "do" nation building. It's good that DOD is acknowledging the need for this change. How it reflects in how units are structured, trained, and equipped remains to be seen. The quote that "people who are good killers tend not to be good mediators" probably has some validity. One of the key points that has come out of some of the Katrina after action reviews that I have heard is that the "tactical" types were not always a good fit for operations in the disaster zone. Jailers tended to work better because they had more experience dealing with people and their myriad problems. So do paratroopers make good peace keepers? Maybe not.

    I think the military ought to invest more in creating units that are capable of operating in the "three block fight" environments. We somehow have to bridge the gap between the Special Forces teams that are built for this fight, but are too few to handle a large chunk of territory like Iraq, and the larger civil affairs units which are mostly concentrated in the Reserves and not build for combat. The Provincial Reconstruction Team concept may be a good start. The military ought to begin to formalize these topics in its training. I've graduated from a ton of Army schools, and not one of them had a formal civil military operations component.

    I also think the federal government beyond DOD has a role to play in this. Our government has no "expeditionary" component beyond its military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. However, there is certain expertise that does not reside in any of the entities. USAID does some heroic things, but does not particularly function well in non-permissive environments. Perhaps we need to start looking at military units that have a mix of federal civilians on them.

    Change is coming, but we'll have to see how fast.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Historic Day

    Graphic from MSNBC

    The Iraqis have started voting in their election. There have been reports of sporatic violence, but Sunni turn out appears to be high. From MSNBC:

    Already, there were indications of a large turnout in the country's more than 33,000 polling stations, especially among Sunni Arab voters who boycotted the last election on Jan. 30.


    Sunnis appeared to be turning out in large numbers even in insurgent bastions such as Ramadi and Haqlaniyah in an effort to curb the power of Shiite clerical parties who now control the government. Major insurgent groups had promised not to attack polling stations, and some polling centers in Ramadi were guarded by masked gunmen.

    I came here and voted in order to prove that Sunnis are not a minority in this country, said lawyer Yahya Abdul-Jalil in Ramadi. We lost a lot during the last elections, but this time we will take our normal and key role in leading this country.

    Teacher Khalid Fawaz in Fallujah said he also participated so that the Sunnis are no marginalizednalized.


    This is the day to get our revenge from Saddam, said Kurdish voter Chiman Saleh, a Kirkuk housewife who said two of her brothers were killed by the ousted regime.

    This is a key day for sucess in Iraq. If a viable, equitable government emerges from these elections, then we're just a little closer to sucess. If the Sunnis are given an equal chance, and feel that they have not been stripped of their power and their say, then this might reduce some of the insurgency. It worked for Sadr, and his Mahdi Army. It might also drain some of the support for the Zarqawi-types who are really just interested in destruction and not building Iraq.

    My optimism is very guarded, but I'm hopeful for the Iraqi people.