Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Airborne Ranger...Democrat?

Today, I’m doing something a little different and committing a random act of journalism.

David T. Harris in an Iraq veteran running for the congress in Texas. Part of the “Fighting Democrat” movement, Harris’ candidacy represents a break from what you would normally expect from someone wearing a Ranger tab on his left shoulder. I contacted Harris, and he agreed to an interview that focused mainly on defense and homeland security issues.

Tell me a little about yourself. How did an Airborne Ranger end up running as a Democrat in a predominantly “Red” area of Texas?

I have a very persuasive wife. LOL. Actually, I have always been involved in one way or another in politics. We settled in Texas after getting off of Active Duty in September 2002. I was mobilized in January 2003 with my Reserve unit for the war in Iraq. After returning from Iraq in March, 2004, I really immersed myself in local politics and worked on several campaigns to highlight my experiences of the war and to tell people I was I have a Democratic voting record in 3 states and in 2004, my wife and I were both County, State, and National Delegates for Texas.

Tell me a little bit about your war experience. What did you do? How do you think the reserves and guard are being treated?

I was a Logistics Officer for a Military Police Battalion. Our main missions were area security and convoy security over a 500-mile area of responsibility from the border of Kuwait to Ad Diwaniyah. I can tell you from personal experience that Reserves and National Guard were treated like second class citizens at the mobilization stations and over in theater. We had to fight for everything – from basic necessities like water and clothing to repair parts. It was sickening to see our soldiers doing the same missions as Active Duty soldiers but with equipment that was twelve years older and a lack of resources. I can go on for days about how we were treated but I will spare you for now.

How do you think things are going in Iraq? Did you agree with Rep. Murtha’s call for a quick withdrawal?

We have a very long way to go before we can even think about declaring Iraq a success story. My initial thoughts are things have gotten worse, not better. I am sure there is progress being made in some areas of the country but what else is there for us to do? We have found no weapons of mass destruction, we captured Saddam Hussein, the new Iraqi Constitution has been written, and we have seen the voting on it. What else is there for us to do? I don’t agree with Rep. Murtha totally, but I do think we need to set a timetable for withdraw. What people don’t understand is the insurgency is there because we are there, not the other way around. The longer we stay, the more it will grow because every sympathetic, wanna-be terrorist that wants to take a shot at an American knows he can go to Iraq to do it. We need to give the Iraqi’s a date and tell them that we will not be there forever and that it is time for them to take control over their future, until we do that there is no will on their part to fight.

Can you elaborate a little more on the idea of a withdrawal timeline?

My point about the timetable was that we have set a timetable for everything else that we have engaged in Iraq: Invasion, establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the hand-over of power from the CPA to the newly formed provisional Iraqi government, the Iraqi elections, the establishment of the Iraqi Constitution, and the voting on the Constitution. We need to put a mark on the wall to tell the Iraqi populace that we are not going to be in their country forever, because until we do, the Iraqi government will not be truly legitimized in their minds. We need to look at force structures and base our timetable on a combination of time, security, and political stability. The focus should be on time because the other two will not be achieved for years to come, if ever. Whether six months, a year, or five years - we MUST set a deadline for withdraw from Iraq. We can still base a large contingent in Kuwait or surrounding countries and with the Army's effort to create more rapidly deployable Units of Action (UA). This can be a validation of that concept. As a military officer I have always been taught that for every operation or mission there must be a task, purpose, and end state in order to have a reasonable expectation for success. The end state has not been articulated in Iraq and until it is, we can never truly achieve success or claim victory. The one underlying assumption of President Bush's plan for victory in Iraq is the Iraqi security forces to be robust enough to defeat the insurgency and secure their country. I don't see that ever happening - we are the most powerful military on the planet and we have the most professionally trained soldiers, airman, sailors and marines, yet we still cannot defeat the insurgency. So how is it that we can expect the newly formed Iraqi Army to do this when our Army that has been around for over 230 years cannot?

What do you think the geo-political implications are for our involvement in Iraq? What are the long-term implications of success…or failure?

I think we have completely damaged our geo-political reputation around the world. We are no longer seen as the beacon of hope that countries used to look up to us for. Given the current state of affairs in Iraq and our reputation for torturing we cannot lecture on the world stage with any sort of credibility for a long time to come. We lied about intelligence, we lied about intent, we have tortured, and we have spied on our own people. How do we convince anyone to follow us in the future? We have already failed in Iraq – there I said it. We had a small window of opportunity to make a difference and we squandered it. We are occupiers, even if we continue to tell the world we are not. We have not lived up to our pre-war promises and now the longer we stay; the more the Iraqi populace will want us gone. They want their country back and we need to honor that – we can no longer be the keepers of their destiny.

As a legislator, how do you think you can influence how the GWOT is conducted? How would you have voted in the run-up to the Invasion of Iraq?

I know I could ask the hard questions of the administration as it related to funding, equipment, intelligence, planning, and the long-term goals on the ground. I would hope to produce legislation that properly equips and supports our military members and their families BEFORE we commit to a conflict. I would also push for cooperation with our allies in times of peace, not just in times of crisis. I can’t say for sure how I would have voted at the time. Knowing what I know now, there is no way you can convince me this war was justified. I would have had some hard questions about Afghanistan and its completion before giving the President the authority to wage war on Iraq.

How do you feel about the US treatment of prisoners in the GWOT? What are you feelings on torture? Would you vote for the McCain amendment?

It’s criminal, that’s the bottom line. We get outraged as a Nation when we have people captured and we expect the enemy to treat them humanely, but what do we show the world – torture and degrading treatment of enemy prisoners. It is total hypocrisy. That is why we have the Geneva Conventions – the protectors of humanity while engaged in combat with another Nation. It is the only hope that soldiers have if captured; the hope that the enemy will abide by the articles of the Geneva Conventions. By torturing those from other nations, it sends a clear message that the protections under the Geneva Conventions don’t matte.

How do you think we’re doing in Afghanistan? Is it truly the “forgotten war” or are we on the right track?

I think we are doing considerably better in Afghanistan than Iraq today. With that being said, I think we missed the opportunity for success to capture Osama Bin Laden long ago in the hills of Tora Bora. We took our eye off the ball in order to go into Iraq. Just imagine what 150,000 plus troops on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan could do to really catch the guy responsible for the 9-11 attacks. I think we either need to commit to the effort there 100% or get out. We cannot continue this long, protracted war on two fronts indefinitely. If we really wanted to catch Osama Bin Laden, I think it would have happened long ago. My conspiracy side says this is just another way to keep Americans scared and believing in the GWOT; the fact that OBL is still out there – planning, waiting to hit us again. One thing for sure, the defense contractors are loving G.W. for this.

Four years after 9-11, many Democrats believe that we are not as safe at home as we should be. Do you think this country is on the right track regarding Homeland Security? As a legislator, what would you do?

Anyone that believes we are safer at home because we are fighting two wars on the other side of the world needs to get a good dose of reality. Hurricane Katrina exposed the Federal government and showed the American people they have been lied to for the last four years. If anything, Homeland Security has taken a turn for the worse because we taking funding away from the departments that need money here at home to fund the never-ending war in Iraq. As a legislator I would make sure that when money is budgeted for programs, it stays with that program and does not get sucked up by some discretionary clause tucked away in the funding bill.

In congress, you will control the purse strings of the military. Do you think military spending is on track? There have been lots of arguments that our military spending for future programs does not reflect reality in the world. What do you think?

I think the military can do a better job with spending. I have witnessed gross mismanagement of money and budgets throughout my career and especially in Iraq. I think we really need to do a worldwide threat assessment and target our spending to mitigate emerging threats that will affect us over the next 10-15 years. I think we really need to look at our contracts we have on the table for future weapon systems and make some common sense decisions on feasibility. We have the most powerful military in the world, yet on 9-11 nineteen men with box cutters brought this Nation to a stand still. In Iraq, we can’t defeat the growing insurgency even with all of our smart weapons, intelligence, and the best soldiers in the world - that should tell you something. Bottom line, we are missing the mark.

If you could give our readers a list of five books that should be on their required reading list what would be on it?

Bill Clinton’s “
Between Hope and History
Richard Haass’ “
Harry G. Summer, Jr.’s “
On Strategy: A critical Analysis of the Vietnam War
Kenneth N. Waltz’s “
Man, The State, and War
Calvin L. Christman’s “
America at War

Note: Blogging normally lends itself to a high degree of partisanship which I try to avoid. This interview or related blog linkage does not imply any endorsement, agreement, or campaign collaboration on my part. I thought it was an interesting thing to do so I did it. Welcome to the new journalism.

Cross-posted on Intel Dump.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Afghanistan Highlights for 2005

Reuters has an excellent summary of what happened in Afghanistan in 2005.

Here's what happened on my birthday:

7 July - The Afghan government and the United Nations celebrated the end of the disarmament and demobilisation phase of the UN-backed Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) as the last ex-militia member was disarmed at a ceremony in the capital, Kabul, on Thursday. "I am proud to have surrendered my arm to the president of my country, I hope I will now join the reconstruction Jihad [holy war]," said Jalalludin, a former officer of the 717 Kabul brigade and the last Afghan ex-combatant in DDR. He was speaking immediately after surrendering his AK 47 to president Hamid Karzai as a symbolic move to mark the formal end of disarmament.

On that day, my head was surrendering more hair in the my loosing Jihad against my encroaching middle age.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An Army of One...IQ Point?

Fred Kaplan has an interesting piece in Slate:

Three months ago, I wrote that the war in Iraq was wrecking the U.S. Army, and since then the evidence has only mounted, steeply. Faced with repeated failures to meet its recruitment targets, the Army has had to lower its standards dramatically. First it relaxed restrictions against high-school drop-outs. Then it started letting in more applicants who score in the lowest third on the armed forces aptitude test—a group, known as Category IV recruits, who have been kept to exceedingly small numbers, as a matter of firm policy, for the past 20 years. (There is also a Category V—those who score in the lowest 10th percentile. They have always been ineligible for service in the armed forces and, presumably, always will be.)
The evidence is overwhelming. Take tank gunners. You wouldn't think intelligence would have much effect on the ability to shoot straight, but apparently it does. Replacing a gunner who'd scored Category IV on the aptitude test (ranking in the 10-30 percentile) with one who'd scored Category IIIA (50-64 percentile) improved the chances of hitting targets by 34 percent. (For more on the meaning of the test scores, click here.)
Smarter also turns out to be cheaper. One study examined how many Patriot missiles various Army air-defense units had to fire in order to destroy 10 targets. Units with Category I personnel had to fire 20 missiles. Those with Category II had to fire 21 missiles. Category IIIA: 22. Category IIIB: 23. Category IV: 24 missiles. In other words, to perform the same task, Category IV units chewed up 20 percent more hardware than Category I units. For this particular task, since each Patriot missile costs about $2 million, they also chewed up $8 million more of the Army's procurement budget.

Well, duh.

Right after graduation from college my first military assignment was as a recruiter for the Army ROTC Battalion at Texas Tech. Basically, I was in a holding pattern until I shipped to infantry school and being a "Gold Bar Recruiter" was a way to keep me off the streets and out of trouble.

Part of my job was visiting high schools and talking to guidance counselors and teachers about ROTC and seeing if they had any students who might be interested. I was always amazed at the dregs of the student body that I would end up talking to. There seemed to be this belief that the Army was only a fit for dummies, losers who couldn't hack it in the real world. Never mind that I was recruiting for college ROTC which required some degree of intellect. (Insert Texas Tech joke here.) It took a lot of effort to explain that the Army wasn't a good fit for people who could barely read or didn't have the wherewithal to graduate from high school. And now look where we're at.

This policy will bear fruit for decades to come. Dumb fruit. If anything we need to be recruiting in the opposite direction. You're not good enough, cool enough, or smart enough for my Army. That approach has worked with my own company. I'm very selective as to who I will take as transfers into my unit, and I let the recruiters know not to put any dummies in my company. This has had ripple effects. People want to join our unit because they know we won't take just any one. The soldiers feel good to be part of an organization with standards.

What really scares me is that we might be recruiting more Lyndie Englands.

Monday, January 09, 2006

LT Smash on the Attack

I don't always agree with all his politics, but I really admire the way LT Smash boldly stands up for what he believes in. He is one of the few guys out there who will actually engage the opposition in a battle of wits...and comes out on top.

His latest post is where he engages Congressman Bob Filner in a town hall meeting is classic:

SMASH: Sir, I've been there --

FILNER: And you know, your brothers and sisters killed, something is wrong. ...And, you know, if we shouldn't have been in there to begin with, then it should not be incumbent on me to try to define getting out.

But I would say, that an international police force, which could keep the peace, it would -- that if we should put that in place at least --

SMASH: Led by whom, sir?

FILNER: The United Nations.

SMASH: But, who provides the troops, sir? ...Every international peace force that's ever been of any substantial size, has been led by the United States. There is no other --

FILNER: Well, you know, it doesn't have to be, because it was in the past. But, the British have shown that they want to put troops in, we've got all kinds of --

SMASH: They're already there, sir

Read the whole post. It nicely sums up what I feel is wrong with my end of the political spectrum. The congressman sounds like an earnest guy who is just flat doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground Iraq. If democrats/liberals/progressives (whatever we're calling ourselves this week) are serious about being in power, then they've got to get serious about the issues of the day. The Cindy Sheehan camp has to quit driving the train. If (we) they don't like how the administration is doing things, come up with something better. There is no workable liberal foreign policy solution to our problems. Wishing that the UN would come in an make it all better just won't work.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hook 'Em Horns!

I'm a Texas Tech** grad, but you've got to give the Horns props. Some days its just plain good to be a Texan.

Now, I'm waiting for the riots to begin here in Austin...

**Note: Alabama? We couldn't beat Alabama?

Is Texas Burning?

There is a saying here in the Lone Star State: "If you don't like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes."

It seems like five minutes ago we were fighting Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Hurricane season is over, but mother nature is still in the fight. Drought and weather have given us a one-two punch of perfect conditions for fires. Last week the small city of Cross Plains burned. And there have been multiple fires throughout the State.

From the latest Texas Division of Emergency Management Situation Report:

The State of Texas in the last 24-hour period responded to 20 fires statewide. 26 homes were lost and 8 homes were saved. Texas aircraft flew 659 missions dropping in excess of 806,780 gallons of fire retardant. Since December 26th, there have been 159 fires burning approximately 254,555 acres. For the same period, there have been 238 homes lost (reduced from 278 previously reported due to more detailed investigation of damaged areas) and 250 homes saved.

Texas is currently mounting a massive response
with Local, State, and Federal Resources.

Local governments are also in action declaring disasters,
burn bans, and banning New Years fireworks.

Coordinating this massive effort is the best little agency you never heard of, The Texas Forest Service. The service only has about 350 employees but is a massive force multiplier in any emergency response. Click around their website and you'll be impressed.

Oh and by the way, if you're a smoker who feels compelled to throw your cigarette butts out the car window, you're the dumbest kind of dumb ass. You start fires and put lots of people at risk. One county in Texas had a volunteer firefighter severely burned putting out one of these fires. He's spending the New Year in the burn unit at Brooks Army Medical Center.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New China Blogger

Last summer, I introduced you to Tanya, a college student majoring in Asian Studies at Swarthmore. She will be spending the spring studying in China. Tanya always has some interesting things to say, and she's started her own blog.

Her latest post is interesting:
Democracy may be coming to China, but if it does, there is little indication that it will come for the reasons that the West expects or that it will take the shape that the West demands. If democracy comes to China, it is unlikely that it will come as a result of a rising tide of Western-style human rights awareness.
I don't know jack about China so I'm looking forward to seeing more from the latest addition to the blogosphere.