Thursday, November 30, 2006

Information Operations, Anyone?

Like many in the blogosphere, I've been following the latest examples of false news stories from Iraq. As you've probably heard, it turns out that Iraqi Police Captain Jamil Hussein, the favored source for many AP reports from Baghdad, isn't a member of the police force at all. Or the Interior Ministry. Or the Iraqi government's public affairs operation.

As always, the indefatigable Michelle Malkin has a comprehensive summary of this developing scandal. Meanwhile, the Associated Press continues to claim that Captain Hussein is an employee of the Iraqi government, despite proof to the contrary. Why, the AP says that their reporters have met with him at an Iraqi police station for more than two years! Of course, the AP won't say where the mysterious Captain Hussein works, or why the wire service uses him as a source so frequently. By Glenn Beck's tally, Hussein has been a primary source for as many as 15 major AP stories so far this year, most of them gruesome accounts of escalating violence in Iraq. I sent the AP an e-mail, asking if Captain Hussein has a co-worker named Lucy Ramirez, but I haven't received a response.

Kudos to the various bloggers who've exposed yet another Iraqi myth. But there's another issue at work here, one that cuts to the very heart of our media problems in Iraq. Why does it fall on the blogosphere to highlight these journalistic frauds, and the false stories they often generate? Curt over at Flopping Aces was among the first to question the authenticity of Captain Hussein and his claims. After that, coalition public affairs officers came forward and confirmed that Hussein is not a member of the Iraqi police force.

And, just last week, Patterico discovered a little problem with a Los Angeles Times' account of an airstrike in Ramidi that reportedly killed 39 civilians. Trouble was, it never happened.
When queried by Patterico, CENTCOM public affairs confirmed that there had been no coalition airstrikes in Ramidi on the day in question.

See a pattern here? In both cases, the PR flacks (U.S. and Iraqi) were forced to play catch-up, and responded only when bloggers pointed out obvious problems with media reports and/or their sourcing. Unfortunately, by the time the public relations machine lurched into gear, the damage had already been done. Ask someone who's even mildly interested in Iraq about the six mosques that were recently torched and those worshippers supposedly dragged into the streets and set afire. Or that airstrike that killed those innocent civilians. Most Americans who claim some knowledge of those events will tell you they actually happened--and sadly, most have not heard the damning evidence that disproves MSM accounts. In other words, the damage has already been done, despite yeoman work by bloggers and (belatedly) our PR folks in Iraq.

Coalition forces have long had a Strategic Effects Division in Iraq. One of its missions is to "get out" the story of what's going on in that country. The organization holds daily press briefings in Baghdad, maintains an informative web site, and conducts other functions associated with a public affairs operation. The division's director, Army Major General William Caldwell, is one of the most recognizable military officers in Iraq; he leads the daily press briefings and his comments are often included in press reports from the region.

Personally, I think General Caldwell has the toughest job in Iraq. Trying to get the message out--through a hostile press corps--is a near-impossible task. And, I believe the public affairs officers, NCOs and other staffers who serve under General Caldwell also work very hard, under conditions that are demanding by any measure.

But sometimes hard work isn't enough. It doesn't take a PR genius to see that our information strategy in Iraq has essentially failed. False claims and downright lies often circulate unchallenged, creating an exaggerated image of conditions in Iraq. It's a deliberate, effective strategy by the terrorists, aided and abetted by Iraqi stringers, who feed their information to MSM journalists "reporting" from their hotel or the Green Zone. Osama bin Laden has said that the war with the infidels will be won, in large part, through our own media, and that technique is on display every day in Iraq.

So what's the answer--fire General Caldwell? At this point, I don't think that would solve anything. A better answer, I believe, is developing a more aggressive information strategy (and you'll notice, I didn't use the word "media). As we've noted before, allowing misleading or false stories to go unchallenged in the media age is simply unacceptable. It is simply unfathomable that the mysterious Captain Hussein was allowed to peddle his stories for more than a year, with nary a peep from our own media "experts" in the military. More incredible is the fact that his lies were exposed by bloggers, far removed from the battlefield.

In fact, our media operation in Iraq could take a page from the Clinton playbook, and establish its own version of the "War Room," which could quickly respond to any dubious media report or claim. Those efforts should also be linked to our over-arching "information operations strategy," aimed at combating the enemy across the entire media spectrum, including cyberspace. Additionally, the folks in the effects division need to build stronger ties to their friends in the new media, including the blogosphere and embeds. Unfortunately, much of our current information operation smacks of Saigon, circa 1969, where the "message" revolves around press relases and the daily media briefing. It's a reactive approach, glacial in its pace, and totally unsuited for the age of the internet.

And We're Supposed to Negotiate With These People?

ABC News is reporting that the U.S. has "smoking gun evidence" that Iran is supplying and training terrorists in Iraq. Duh.

In other news, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) has finished drawing up recommendations for our "new course" in Iraq. Along with a gradual pull-back of up to 15 combat brigades, the group is also recommending more aggressive diplomacy, including direct engagement with Syria and Iran.

Everyone proceed to the embassy rooftop in Baghdad. The evacuation helicopters ought to be arriving any moment now.

A Broken Promise Worth Keeping

It has become a mantra for the Democratic Party, long accused of being "weak" on national defense and intelligence issues. Put us back in power, the Democrats pledged, and we'll fully implement the recommendations of the 9-11 commission, to prevent similar intelligence failures in the future.

Not so fast. The Washington Post is reporting that the Democrats have apparently decided to take a pass one of the committee's most important recommendations--the need to strengthen Congressional oversight. In 2004, the committee urged that the powers of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees be expanded, to include budgetary oversight and policy issues. But expanding the authority of the intel committees would come at the expense of other panels, notably the armed services committees and appropriations committees. Faced with a potential loss of power, influential Congressmen and Senators on those committees have long balked at the reform proposal. Republicans have stone-walled the idea for the past two years, and Democrats will apparently do the same when they take power in January.

As the Post notes, the expected lack of action will certainly anger 9-11 commission members, and families of those who died in the 2001 terror attacks. Former Congressman Tim Roemer, an Indiana Democrat who served on the commission, said that his party "pledged to implement all of the remaining 9/11 reforms, not just some of them." The daughter of a World Trade Center victim told the Post "that it wasn't a Chinese take-out menu, the 41 recommendations. You have to do them all."

And therein lies one of the great fallacies of the 9-11 Commission Report. Thanks largely to the MSM, Congressional Democrats--and members of the panel--the "recommendations" of the 9-11 commission have become the Holy Grail of intelligence reform, measures that must be implemented lock, stock and barrel. Fact is, the recommendations were just that--suggestions for change and reform. That's the beauty of presidential panels and "blue ribbon" commissions. Not only do they provide gainful employment for elder statesmen, there's no requirement that the President (or Congress) actually follow their advice.

While there is a certain, delicious irony that the Democrats who demanded blanked adoption of the panel's recommendations are now balking at some of those reforms, there are also sound reasons for ignoring some of that "advice." In an exercise of pure, inside-the-beltway
bureaucratic logic, the commission equates budgetary oversight with control. If Congress can get a firm grip on the intel community's fiscal reins (the reasonng goes), then control of intelligence programs and activities will certainly improve.

But there are a couple of problems with that approach. Despite John McCain's concern that Congress only spends "about 10 minutes a year" on the intelligence budget, there is the very real question of how many hearings and debates should be devoted to our most secretive operations. The 9-11 commission believes that this process would curb intel excesses, but it could also undermine sensitive programs that don't deserve excessive scrutiny. Under this approach, the NSA terrorist surveillance program might have been blown long before the infamous account in The New York Times, when some Congressman or staffer noticed an increase in funding and personnel for the intel agency and the FISA court. Do we really need more transparency when (seemingly) every sensitive intel program eventually winds up on the front page of the Times or the Post?

Additionally, there's the very real issue of how much insight Congress might actually gain with greater budgetary and policy authority. The spook world has long been a leader in "creative" financing, using cutouts, front companies and dummy operations to provide cover for on-going operations. Some of these activities fall under "black world" programs, which Congress has traditionally approved with a nod and a wink. Following the recommendations of the 9-11 panel, Congress would almost certainly have to provide more oversight in that realm of intelligence funding, with the same potential risks to on-going programs and national security. We've long argued that a democracy must protect certain secrets, and that includes the funding mechanisms for selected intelligence programs.

A quick case in point. One of my former neighbors (in an Air Force base housing complex) was an accounting and finance officer. In the early 1980s, he was deployed to a European-controlled island in the Mediterranean. Khadaffi was acting up, and the U.S. needed to keep an eye on Libya, necessitating the basing of American surveillance aircraft on that island. The presence of those aircraft was extremely sensitive; precautions were taken to minimize the deployment and keep the host nation happy.

One day, my neighbor was working at his desk when he opened an envelope from a U.S. government agency, not affiliated with the DoD. Inside, there was a lengthy letter from the agency's assistant director, addressed to the island's governor-general. The letter explained that the enclosed check (for a seven-figure amount) was for a "joint effort" to eradicate a certain type of plant-eating insect on the island. My neighbor had been a biology major in college; he knew enough entomology to understand that the insect was no threat to local agriculture; if anything, it was closer to extinction than posing an actual threat.

Believing there was some sort of mistake, my neighbor took the letter and check to his detachment commander. The Colonel read the letter, then offered simple and brief instructions to his accounting and finance officer: "Deliver it, today lieutenant, and don't ask questions."

That's when his clue light finally switched on. The check, of course, was payment for the host nation's cooperation against Libya, not some insect eradication program. The payment was routed through a "civilian" agency to provide cover for both the U.S. and the host nation. A little bit of creative financing that was necessary to protect an important intelligence operation.

Would increased Congressional oversight blow every black and "gray" program in the intel community? Hardly. But members of Congress (along with their staffers) have an uneven history of keeping secrets, and grandstanding on issues they champion or oppose. Greater Congressional authority over the intel budget would almost certainly lead to more leaks, more posturing, and the inevitable loss of programs, sources and information. That's sufficient reason--and, more importantly, the right reason--to ignore that recommendation from The 9-11 Commission.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Victory for the Misinformed Fools

We'll probably never know the backroom deals and political machinations that derailed Alcee Hastings' bid to become Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that Hastings, the panel's number two Democrat, would not be elevated to the chairman's post, when her party assumes control of the House in January. Ms. Pelosi also confirmed that (as expected) the committee's ranking Democrat, California Represenative Jane Harman, would be denied the Chairman's job.

It was no surprise that Harman didn't get the post, given her strained ties with Ms. Pelosi, and her support for Bush Administration intelligence efforts in the War on Terror. But the rejection of Hastings is a much more byzantine affair. The Florida Congressman (and impeached, former federal judge) was Pelosi's early pick for the critical intel job, when it became apparent that Harman would be passed over. Until yesterday, Ms. Pelosi appeared to be sticking with her choice, despite serious ethical concerns about Hastings's conduct. More on Mr. Hasting's checkered past (and present) can be found here.

Making matters tougher for Pelosi, Mr. Hastings badly wanted the intel chairmanship, and lobbied actively for the job. Hastings' bid was strongly supported by his colleagues in the Black Congressional Caucus, and a rejection of him would be viewed as a slap at one of Ms. Pelosi's most powerful constituencies. In fact, some members of the caucus still hold a grudge against Pelosi over a past pick for the intelligence panel. Six years ago, Ms. Pelosi actually maneuvered a member of caucus (Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop) off the committee, making room for Ms. Harman, who returned to the House after an unsuccessful run for the California governorship.

Now, it looks like Bishop may rejoin the committee as its new chair. His name is one of three "compromise" candidates being floated by the Democratic leadership; the others are Washington Representative Norman Dicks and Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes. I haven't dealt personally with these gentlemen, but any would be an improvement over Alcee Hastings.

Simply stated, a man of Hasting's questionable ethics and conduct should not be entrusted with the nation's most closely guarded intelligence secrets. The chairman of the intel committee typically has access to the "crown jewels" of our intelligence agencies; not just TS/SCI-level satellite and SIGINT information, but sub-compartmented, special access programs known only to a handful of intelligence, defense and political leaders. It's worth remembering that Jane Harman was one of the few members of Congress briefed on the NSA terrorist surveillance program before that effort was exposed by The New York Times. Ms. Harman wisely kept her mouth shut, and paid a price for her diligence by being rejected for the chairmanship. Thankfully, we'll never have to find out if Alcee Hastings was made of the same stuff.

With Mr. Hastings (thankfully) out of the picture, it will be interesting to see how Pelosi fills the chairman's position, and keeps the Black Caucus happy at the same time. That's why the early betting favors Mr. Bishop. By rejecting Hastings, Ms. Pelosi has avoided a major political minefield; the question is: will she walk into another one with her "next" choice to lead the intel committee?


One final thought: the rejection of Hastings demonstrates that conservative bloggers and talk show hosts still have influence in D.C., even if the Republicans are out-of-power. Opposition to Hastings for the intel post crystallized in talk radio and the blogosphere, prompting the Congressman to complain last week that "a decision against him would be a victory for Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Barone, Drudge, anonymous bloggers, and other assorted misinformed fools."

Score one for us.

One Term Jim Strikes Again

Washington is abuzz over the purported "smackdown" between incoming freshman Senator James Webb of Virginia and President Bush. At a White House reception last week, Mr. Bush asked how Webb's son, a Marine Lance Corporal serving in Iraq, is doing.

Mr. Webb, whom we've taken to calling One Term Jim, apparently couldn't resist the opportunity to transform a casual inquiry into a political statement. Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home. "I didn't ask you that, I asked how he's doing," the President retorted.

Webb later "confessed" that he was so angered by the President's response, he wanted to slug Mr. Bush (but of course, he didn't). While the White House has refused comment on the reported exchange, readers will note that The Hill (which published this account of the incident) got its information from a source who heard it directly from Webb. Apparently, the senator-elect has no problem with airing private conversations, particularly if they enhance his "fighting" image.

Personally, I think Mr. Bush got it right. His inquiry was for the welfare of Webb's son, not a discourse on what the Senator-elect thinks of the war. Mr. Webb has made his opposition to the Iraq War abundantly clear, and his comments at the reception were nothing more than cheap political theater. We know it's hard, but save it for the Senate floor, Jim. You'll get even more exposure you so obviously crave, once the oath of office is administered.

As others have noted, voters in the Old Dominion may be somewhat shocked by the senator-elect, once he actually begins casting votes in Washington. In recent weeks, he has aligned himself with the Kennedy/Pelosi/Rangel wing of the Democratic Party, promising to vigorously support an increase in the minimum wage. Wonder what small business owners in Virginia will think about that. In fact, Mr. Webb says that "restoring economic fairness" is one of his top issues as a freshman senator. That sounds like another name for income redistribution, and it ought to play well among the entreprenuers of Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Richmond area.

But beyond his new-found liberal politics, there's another aspect of Jim Webb that many should find distasteful. Exactly what kind of father repeatedly uses his son as a political prop? On the hustings this fall, Mr. Webb wore an old pair of his son's combat boots, a supposed show of solidarity with the troops and a reminder of his own, gallant service in Vietnam. Now, with his little speech at the White House reception, it appears that Lance Corporal Webb has become his father's favored tool, employed at the appropriate time, for maximum political effect.

I have no doubt that Mr. Webb wants his son home from Iraq, safely and as soon as possible. His feelings are no different than those of any other parent whose child is serving in a combat zone. Most of those mothers and fathers also understand that their sons and daughters volunteered for military service, along with the hazards and sacrifice associated with that occupation. And thankfully, most of them don't engage in petty, partisan stunts like the senator-elect.

Good luck and best wishes to Lance Corporal Webb. I pray for his safe and speedy return from Iraq. I also hope that Corporal Webb can perform his duties outside the political spotlight. When he signed on for a tour in the Marine Corps, I doubt that the younger Webb imagined himself becoming a political device for an opportunistic father. Serving in combat is tough enough, without your father, "The Senator," using the rotation to score political points.

Even before he takes the oath of office, One Term Jim is proving himself unworthy to serve in the U.S. Senate. We can only hope that he lives up to his nickname.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Enemy of Good Enough?

In analyzing various weapons programs, we've occasionally invoked the maxim of the late Russian Admiral Sergey Gorshkov, who famously observed that "better is the enemy of good enough." I don't know what Gorshkov would think about the Air Force's proposed next-generation airlifter, but he might ask an obvious question: why is the service ready to retire its C-130 fleet, which has been meeting tactical airlift needs for more than 50 years? Modified and continuously updated over its long service life, the "Herk" remains the preeminent tactical airlifter for the world's air forces, and will remain in service for decades to come.

But the Air Force is facing a couple of challenges that will (apparently) make it difficult to sustain the C-130 program. First of all, the Army and Marine Corps are developing their next generation of combat vehicles, which will enter service in the coming years. These vehicles, designated the Future Combat System (for the U.S. Army), and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (built for the Marine Corps) weigh in at close to 26 tons apiece, making them a little too heavy for the Hercules. Both the Army and Marine Corps actively support an Air Force capability to transport these vehicles close to the battlefield, operating from short or unimproved landing surfaces when necessary.

Meeting that goal is a major goal of the Air Force's Advanced Joint Air Combat System, the renamed program that was once known as AMC-X. "AMC" stands for Air Mobility Command, the Air Force organization in charge of the service's airlift and air refueling platforms; "X" is a common designator for experimental or developmental aircraft. Whatever it's called, the program hopes to deliver a new tactical airlifter, for use by Air Force, Army and Marine customers, sometime during the next decade.

To satisfy that requirement, the USAF is considering a variety of proposals, ranging from a modified C-17 Globemaster III (which is already in service), to more exotic designs, including low-observable, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and even tilt-rotor models. Needless to say, aircraft with those capabilities will be very expensive; a single C-17, fresh off the Boeing assembly line, runs about $200 million a copy. A VTOL or tilt-rotor transport, capable of carrying an FCS or EFV, would be even more expensive.

And that brings us back to Admiral Gorshkov's observation about "better" and "good enough." About the time the new transport starts coming on line, the service will also be fielding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and paying for the development of a new bomber, among other projects. Factor in ever-increasing personnel costs, retiree benefits, and (quite likely) continuing obligations for the War on Terror, and you've got a program that could become a budget-breaker.

Do we really need a new airlifter? The answer is probably yes. By the middle of the next decade, the bulk of the Air Force's C-130 fleet will be getting long in the tooth, and planned acquisitions of the new J model won't compensate for airframes facing retirement. Additionally, the fielding of those new combat vehicles will create a size problem for the tactical airlift community. Developing a means to haul those vehicles--without over-taxing C-17 and C-5 strategic lifters--probably dictates a new aircraft for tactical airlift.

But building some exotic VSTOL or tilt-rotor platform would be wasteful and excessive. In reality, the requirement for close-in delivery of ground combat vehicles has existed for decades, but it's never been fulfilled, for a couple of reasons. First, the Air Force doesn't like the idea of putting expensive airlifters on the edge of the battlefield, and ground forces still flow through airfields (or other logistical hubs) en-route to the battlefield. Against a modern air defense arrays, it's hard to imagine an advanced tactical airlifter delivering FCS or EFV into even a moderate-threat environment.

Consequently, the best answer for the tactical airlift problem is probably a modified C-17, or a super-sized version of the C-130. But there's another factor at work that may derail these "good enough" solutions. Airbus is currently developing a new, turboprop transport (the A400M), that offers improved performance over the C-130. With 195 orders already on hand, there's concern that the Airbus product may eventually dominate the tactical airlift market that Lockheed (and the C-130) have owned for decades. Facing increased competition, there's a belief in the USAF--and among defense contractors--that the U.S. should offer something better. It's no coincidence that the AMC-X will be offered to foreign customers now operating the C-130. Those sales would help drive down unit production costs--and increase the number of airframes that the Air Force could eventually buy. For the moment, the Air Force seems to be leaning toward a practical response to the airlifter requirement, but competition and potential export sales may eventually drive the program toward something more exotic--and expensive.

End of the Pave Hawk Era

As the hunt continues for that missing F-16 pilot in Iraq, the Air Force has made a decision that will have a major impact on future search-and-rescue (SAR) missions. Earlier this month, the service announced that it will begin replacing its inventory of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters in 2009 with a new variant of the venerable HH-47 Chinook. The Pave Hawk has been the Air Force's primary SAR helicopter since the late 1980s. Current plans call for the service to buy 140 HH-47s over the next 12 years, as the HH-60s are phased out.

Ironically, Boeing (which builds the HH-47) was a late entrant in the competition to build the next-generation CSAR helicopter, also referred to as the CSAR-X program. Prior to Boeing's entry, the Air Force was considering the US101 helicopter (built by Lockheed-Martin/August-Westland), and the Sikorsky-designed HH-92. At the time of Boeing's submission, a spokeman told Jane's Defence Weekly that the company decided to enter the competition because the Air Force had lowered certain performance standards (including aircraft speed) to make the HH-47 eligible.

In the end, the Chinook's large internal cabin, superior lift capability and ready availability gave it the edge over competitors. The CSAR-X chopper will be similar in performance to special operations Chinooks already in service (MH-47Es), allowing the Air Force to leverage existing production facilities and U.S. Army parts inventories. According to Jane's, the Army has also expressed interest in incorporating more advanced technology that will be integrated into upgraded variants of the CSAR-X. The Air Force hopes to buy at least 36 of the advanced models (Block 10 aircraft), after purchasing 105 HH-47s in the baseline (Block 0) design. The HH-47s will be built at the same Boeing factory that now produces special ops variants of the Chinook.

With the ability to carry up to 44 troops (or, for CSAR missions, a combination of pararescuemen, combat controllers, medical teams and equipment), the HH-47 offers a greatly improved transport capability over the Pave Hawk. The Air Force's selection of the hassive Chinook reflects the service's long-standing frustration with the Pave Hawk, which has state-of-the art avionics and self-defense systems, but only a modest lift capability. In addition to its normal CSAR crew of five (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and two pararescuemen), the HH-60 can only carry a handful of additional personnel, meaning that you may need more choppers to execute the mission. The Pave Hawk airframes are also approaching the end of their service life, another factor that prompted the search for a new CSAR platform.

The decision to retire the Pave Hawks may be a case of the service addressing concerns from its search-and-rescue professionals. When the Air Force decided to acquire the HH-60 more than two decades ago, more than a few rescue pilots, flight engineers and PJs pointed out that the new aircraft lacked the range and lift capability of other helicopters, notably the HH-53 and the CH-47. But, with the UH-60 Blackhawk entering wide service with the U.S. Army, the Air Force elected to buy the Pave Hawk, a decision that's been regretted (among some CSAR crews) ever since. It wouldn't be fair to call the Pave Hawk a mistake; the aircraft and its crews have performed superbly over the past 20 years, often under the most demanding conditions. But, by replacing the HH-60 with the HH-47, the Air Force seems to be acknowledging that it could have made a better choice for the CSAR mission years ago.

Viper Down

The Air Force and CENTCOM have begun their investigation into yesterday's crash of an F-16CG in western Iraq. According to a CENTCOM press release, the single-seat fighter was in support of coalition ground forces when it went down about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad. The status of the pilot remains unknown; coalition fighter and UAV assets were overhead when the F-16 went down and reported that insurgents were in the area immediately after the crash.
Allied forces later secured the crash site, after combat operations in the area ceased.

Obviously, you don't need to be a search-and-rescue (SAR) expert to understand that the situation looks grim for the downed pilot. While all military aircrews are trained in combat survival, evasion and resistance techniques, you need a little head start on the ground to put your plan into effect. If the terrorists arrived on the scene quickly, the pilot's chances of making an escape (and implementing an evasion plan) were greatly reduced.

Making matters worse, the terrian in the area appears to be open, flat desert, offering few opportunities for concealment. Areas with some degree of vegatation--including farms--are usually populated, increased chances for detection. Factor in a local populace that is hostile to all outsiders (particularly) Americans, and you've got some idea of the escape and evasion (E&E) environment facing that F-16 pilot.

That is not to say the pilot is already in enemy hands. Scott O'Grady barely escaped Bosnia Serb troops when he was shot down over the Balkans, and played a cat-and-mouse game with his foes for almost a week before being rescued. Obviously, Capt O'Grady was in an environment that was much more conducive to concealment and evasion. But other warfighters have managed to successfully evade in a desert environment, including two members of an SAS team that made it to Syria, after being detected/compromised by Iraqi forces during the first Gulf War. Their legendary trek covered more than 100 miles, under brutal, winter conditions and near-constant pursuit by Iraqi soldiers.

Along with his training, the downed pilot has a few other factors working in his favor. When he bailed out of the F-16, he was wearing a survival vest that contained (among other things), a survival radio, additional signaling devices, a small supply of water, and a loaded 9mm pistol. Other survival gear was stored in a pack attached to his ejection seat; if he was able to recover that pouch, he has more equipment to support evasion and survival in the desert.

And, coalition forces will have some idea of where to look for the pilot. Before flying his mission, the F-16 driver filed an "Evasion Plan of Action" (EPA) with his unit intelligence staff. A copy of that plan was immediately forwarded to theater rescue forces when the F-16 was reported down. The EPA outlines the pilot's plan for evading at various points along the route of flight. Search and rescue assets, along with electronic support measures (ESM) aircraft, can focus their search in those areas, and ground forces will begin scouring those regions as well.

On the "down" side, the pilot's ability to evade could be impaired by any injuries he suffered in the ejection process. In the Vietnam era, it wasn't unusual for a pilot to receive back, arm or leg injuries when bailing out of narrow cockpits with the old Martin-Baker ejection seat. Today, with the much improved Aces II system, such injuries are rare, and there's a pretty good chance that the pilot hit the ground in good physical condition.

As for what brought down the F-16, no one is saying. However, there were no initial reports of ground fire in the area, or any tell-tale smoke plumes from a shoulder-fired SAM. If I had to guess--and it's strictly conjecture at this point--I'd say there was some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure on the jet. The F-16 has a long history of losing engines, and in a single-engine fighter, you don't fly very far when the Pratt & Whitney or GE powerplant conks out. Some of the "erratic" maneuvers described by witnesses may have been an attempt to gain altitude before ejection, and allow the pilot to point his crippled jet toward U.S. forces. The "nose dive" probably came after the pilot ejected, and the auxiliary power unit (APU) stopped providing limited power to the aircraft.

Wrecking of the jet (shown on various media outlets) revealed a "CC" tailsign and the letters "524 FS." That indicates that the jet is normally assigned to the 524th Fighter Squadron, based at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. At the time of the mishap, the F-16CG was operating from an expeditionary fighter squadron at Balad AB near Baghdad. Those units are often comprised of aircraft and pilots from several squadrons, and may be a mix of active duty, ANG and AF reserve personnel. While the aircraft was definitely a Cannon jet, there is no guarantee that a pilot from the 524th was actually at the controls when it went down. The squnadron operates Block 40 F-16s, equipped with LANTIRN pods for precision targeting.

Keep that brave Viper pilot in your thoughts and prayers, and pray for a speedy and safe return.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Lenin Approach

In his smack-down of Senator Chuck Hagel's idiotic op-ed on Iraq, Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse cites a history lesson that I'd forgotten--but one that perfectly illustrates the problems with any "cut and run" strategy in wartime. Call it the "Lenin Approach:"

Hagel’s myopia matches that of the new Soviet government in 1917 who were negotiating with the Germans an end to Russian involvement in World War I. The Germans were being extraordinarily harsh in their terms and the new Soviet government was balking.

Finally, the government hit upon a brilliant idea. Why not simply declare that the war was over and the Germans had won? Enormously satisfied with their own cleverness, Russian troops began to abandon their positions and start the long trek home.

The Germans didn’t quite know what to make of this. They were amazed. They decided to take the most direct approach possible and launched a massive attack against the retreating Russians. Only after slaughtering tens of thousands of more soldiers and gaining a hundred miles of territory did the Soviet government wake up and go back to the bargaining table where the Germans became, if anything, more demanding.

Hagel’s thinking may not be quite as muddled as Lenin’s. But it certainly reveals a man either lying to himself or so overcome with his own cleverness that it has blinded him to the simple realities of what is going to happen when we leave Iraq. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, let’s just consider him self-deluded.

After all, he’s running for President…

I'll take Rick's analysis a step further, and offer another indictment of Hagel's thinking. Despite his years in the Senate (and aspirations to be Commander-in-Chief), Senator Hagel's military perspective is still that of a infantry squad leader in Vietnam, where he served honorably. Hagel has been long convinced that Iraq is another quagmire, a military problem that can be remedied only through a unilateral U.S. withdrawal. Afterall, it worked in Vietnam. Those feared "dominoes" never tumbled, even if the communist victory (and subsequent bloodbath) consumed millions of lives in Cambodia and South Vietnam.

As Rick points out, Senator Hagel's "peace with honor" strategy may produce some political breathing room, but it will contribute nothing towards long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, or hear at home. Inviting Iran and Syria to help chart the region's future course--while executing a swift retreat from Iraq--is nothing more than an open invitation to the jihadis. The Hagel solution will only result in a partitioned Iraq, the eventual capitulation of the gulf states, and a regionally-dominant, nuclear-armed Iran. And, if that's not enough, imagine Iran's terrorist proxies in full charge of Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, and bin Laden's resurgent minions, free to resume their war against our homeland.

Such would be the legacy of Hagel's "solution." Personally, I don't think the Senator has much of a chance at winning the GOP nomination in 2008. But there is the frightening possibility that "President" John McCain might name his good friend as Secretary of Defense. Or Secretary of State.

Does the Military Need More Ivy?

Congressman Charley Rangel was at it again over the weekend, insisting that today's military is populated largely by those who "lack other options." Never mind that Mr. Rangel's thesis has been stunningly refuted by various studies, including a detailed Heritage Foundation analysis that we've cited on several occasions.

But Mr. Rangel's continuing rant highlights another, related debate on military service that surfaces from time-to-time. If serving in the armed forces is to be a "shared burden" (as the Congressman contends), then shouldn't we strive for greater representation from all sectors of society, including the Ivy League schools?

It's an argument that cuts both ways. Congressman Rangel believes that if the sons and daughters of the nation's elites were subject to conscription--and duty in Iraq--we would be far less anxious to put our troops in harm's way. On the other hand, supporters of the all-volunteer military believe that greater representation from the nation's premier schools would enhance the armed forces, integrating perspectives and experiences that are sometimes lacking among those who wear the uniform.

But does the military really need an infusion from the Ivy League? Critics note that many of these elite schools have long expressed open disdain for the military, ostensibly for its refusal to allow gays to serve openly in the ranks. Only one Ivy League school--Cornell--has a Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) on campus; the rest evicted their ROTC programs during the Vietnam War. Of course, these are the same institutions that gladly accept DoD research dollars and federal student aid money, while treating military recruiters as personna non grata. And they see nothing inconsistent, contradictory or hypocritical in that policy.

Faced with such a hostile atmosphere, it's little wonder that the military (and the schools) have opted for "work around" agreements that allow some degree of accomodation--and compliance with federal law--without creating a campus uprising. Under those arrangements, Ivy League students participate in ROTC at other schools in their area, though it often means a lengthy commute to the "cross-town" program. Military recruiters are officially "tolerated" on campus, although faculty members and students sometimes protest their presence. Despite these obstacles, the Pentagon believes the effort is worth it; there are usually a handful of cadets on ROTC scholarships at Yale, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and elsewhere--at a cost of more than $50,000 a year per student.

But do the Ivy Leaguers really bring something extra to the table, in terms of education, life experiences and leadership potential? Based on annecdotal evidence, I'd say the answer is yes and no. I've read of Harvard grads who joined the Army after 9-11 and served with distinction as platoon and company commanders in Iraq. I know another Harvard graduate who now commands a wing in the U.S. Air Force and is highly regarded by both peers and superiors. And, it should be noted that a number of senior officers have been through graduate and seminar programs hosted by various Ivy League schools. The most successful U.S. ground commander in Iraq--Lt Gen David Petraeus--earned his PhD at Princeton.

Unfortunately, I've also seen the downside of the Ivy League experience. During my days as an ROTC instructor, I was tapped to serve as Commandant of Cadets at a large summer encampment--the ROTC equivalent of basic training. After a few days, it became apparent that our worst cadet--by far--was a young man from Yale, who attended ROTC classes at the University of Connecticut. The cadet in question was marginally fit, had absolutely no military bearing, and his conduct suggested potential moral and ethical problems. Talking with the cadet, it became evident that ROTC was nothing more than a means for funding an expensive education; his interest in military service was middling at best, and he had no desire to make the Air Force a career--an idea we heartily endorsed.

Given his apparent incompatability for military service, we submitted a package suggesting that the young man be sent home immediately and forfeit his ROTC scholarship. Our request was quickly denied, in part because of the "considerable investment" the Air Force had already made in his education, and a desire to increase Ivy League representation within the service. As I recall, the Yalie finished dead last in the camp rankings; the scary thought is that he might have actually finished the program, received his commission and is now serving as an Air Force officer.

Obviously, it's unfair to lump all Ivy League officers in the same boat with that dirtbag from Yale. But, given the continued hostility of elite schools to ROTC (or any other, on-campus, military presence), I've got to wonder if the end result is worth the investment. For every crackerjack wing commander with a Harvard degree, we get a few rejects like our friend from Yale, prospective military officers who deserve neither the title nor the authority. Besides, for every scholarship awarded to a cadet at Harvard, Columbia, Penn or Cornell, we could fund 5 or 6 students at schools like Southwest Texas State, Clemson, or the University of North Dakota. True, a degree from those schools doesn't carry the cachet of Princeton or Yale, but then again, an Ivy League diploma doesn't confer military leadership skills, either.

Today's Reading Assignment

From A.J. Strata, on the seamy side of the Litvinenko file--the stuff you won't find in the MSM. Thanks to A.J.'s digging, we know that Mr. Litvinenko, the ex-KGB officer who was assassinated in London last week, had extensive ties to Chechen terrorists and a corrupt Russian oligarch with his own Chechen connection. In Vladimir Putin's world view, that was apparently sufficient reason to kill Litvinenko, with a lethal dose of polonium-210. Readers will note that the latest MSNBC article notes the presence of the oligarch and Chechen leaders in Britain (as reason for "strained relations between London and Moscow). But the MSNBC account fails to connect them to Mr. Litvinenko, who (in death) is becoming the poster boy for human rights and individual liberties.

Litvinenko's death is another reminder that things are rarely black-and-white in the spook world. Getting chummy with a corrupt oligarch and his Chechen friends made Litvinenko a threat to the Russians, his former KGB colleagues (now running the show in Moscow) certainly know how to deal with that sort of problem. Looks like the boys from Active Means Branch (Department T of the KGB's old First Chief Directorate) are still in business.

What's Missing From This Article?

From today's Memphis Commercial Appeal, an "investigation" by Scripps-Howard news service reporter Thomas Hargrove into the nation's ability to detect--and respond--to a bioterrorist attack.

Over the course of his article, Mr. Hargrove lists a number of recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses across the U.S. But only one of these incidents could be truly classified as a terrorist-style attack, a 1984 effort by members of an Oregon cult to sicken local residents who might have voted against their cause. Cult members used salmonella cultures--purchased legally from a medical supply company--to make a potentially deadly "salsa" that was sprayed on restaurant salad bars and vegetables in a local supermarket. A total of 751 people became ill and almost 50 were hospitalized, but (fortunately) no one died. It remains the first--and largest--germ warfare attack in U.S. history. Other outbreaks listed in the article were traced to "non-hostile" causes, including inadvertent contamination of food.

Is Mr. Hargrove guilty of hyping the threat? I don't think so. Bioterrorism remains a serious threat, and he raises valid concerns about the ability of local and state-level labs to detect outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. But his article ignores the group that is perhaps most interested in launching a biological attack against us--Al Qaida. The terrorist organization's interest in biological weapons is long-standing and well-documented. This 2003 article from USA Today highlights Al Qaida's efforts to obtain various chemical and biological agents, including the toxin ricin, which can be introduced through food supplies.

A 2004 CIA report, cited by the Terrorism Research Center, affirmed Al Qaida's pursuit of WMD, suggesting that future attacks might be smaller-scale affairs (in comparison to 9-11), using chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological weapons. A more comprehensive listing of Al Qaida's various biowarfare efforts can be found at The Center for Nonproliferation Studies website. Obviously, many of the plans and plots described at that site never came to fruition, but the long list confirms Al-Qaida's long-standing interest in developing--and using--biological weapons.

The real question is why Mr. Hargrove fails to link the terror group's interest to potential attacks against the U.S., using biological weapons. Planning and executing a biological attack is, admittedly, a difficult proposition. Slight variations in temperature or even rudimentary precautions (such as careful washing of fresh produce) can sometimes foil an attack. But despite these obstacles, Osama bin Laden and his minions remain undeterred. Given the opportunity, Al Qaida would certainly launch a biological strike against the U.S., an attack that, under the right circumstances, might inflict catastrophic casualties (and strategic paralysis) within our government. Three years before 9-11, three USAF officers outlined the potentially devastating consequences of a combined biological and cyber attack against the United States. While their scenario is a bit dated in some respects, their warnings about our vulnerability to a biowarfare remain valid.

But that danger seems oblivious to Mr. Hargrove, who appears lost in a sea of statistics on food-borne illness outbreaks that (apparently) were not the work of terrorists. Is this simply a case of sloppy reporting, or is Hargrove simply following the post-9-11 rules of American journalism, where legitimate threats are often downplayed--even minimized--to avoid the appearance of "toeing" the administration line, or openly supporting the War on Terror.

You be the judge.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Questionable Delivery

Perhaps we should have added a question mark to yesterday's post about the purported arrival of the SA-15 SAM system in Iran. Since those reports began making the rounds, at least two Russian spokesmen have denied that the first SA-15 fire units have been delivered to the Iranians. However, a Defense Ministry source in Moscow told the AP that deliveries are underway, and that may be our most word on the subject--at least, until SA-15 launchers are detected on satellite imagery in Iran, or we detect emissions from the SCRUM HALF (the missile's associated radar), via electronic intelligence (ELINT).

While Iran will definitely get the SA-15 (at some point), there are reasons the first deliveries might be yet delayed. Egypt signed a deal for the system before Iran, and various Russian sources have indicated that those deliveries would be completed before the first fire units are transferred to Tehran. Additionally, the SA-15 is a complex system, and Russia's production capability is limited. Unless production is ramped up--and apparently, that hasn't happened--Iran will have to wait its turn. If Tehran is now taking delivery of the system, it would indicate that Egypt has received its complement of SA-15s. Incidentally, reliable reporting suggests that both Iran and Egypt will receive "new" equipment, and not hardware originally built for the Russian military. In today's global arms market, most customers don't want hand-me-downs, so the launchers and missiles heading to the Middle East are fresh off the assembly line.

While Iran has been touting its military "advances" as of late, it has not commented on the reported SA-15 delivery. Tehran would prefer to keep the transfer low-key, hoping to begin field deployments before they are detected by western intelligence agencies. The SA-15 is a highly mobile system, effective as an "ambush" weapon along ingress routes for attack aircraft, special operations platforms and attack helicopters. Masking the whereabouts of SA-15 fire units would make them even more effective, although Iran can only hide their location for so long. Not long after arrival, the Iranian SA-15s will require radar calibration (probably at an electronics depot), providing an initial indication of where the system will undergo periodic maintenance.

After that, it's a question of whether Tehran will employ the SA-15 from fixed sites, or use it in a more mobile role. From static locations--such as existing I-HAWK sites--it will be relatively easy to track them. Shifting between field sites (and supplemented by effective camouflage, concealment and deception measures), the SA-15 would be more difficult to detect. Iranian crews that were trained by the Russians were almost certainly trained in field operations; the question is whether Tehran will follow that doctrine, or resort to their favored method of employing SAMs, from well-known, static locations. Iran would probably disperse its SAM assets under combat conditions, but such skills are rarely practiced by Tehran's air defense crews, and the lack of training could prove deadly in wartime.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The SA-15 Arrives in Iran

As expected, Russia has begun deliveries of the TOR-M1 air defense system to Iran. Tehran and Moscow signed a deal for the TOR-M1 (NATO codename: SA-15) more than a year ago, and many analysts (including your humble correspondent) predicted that the air defense system would begin arriving in Iran in late 2006 or early 2007--if it arrived at all. As we noted last year, Iran had a long history of initiating arms deals, only to back out at the last moment. The SA-15 sale went through for a variety of reasons, including the continued deterioration of Iran's air defense system.

Putting in bluntly, Iran's air defense network is overdue for a new, medium-range missile system. Despite a long-standing arms embargo, Tehran still relies on the U.S.-built I-HAWK as its primary surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. While the I-HAWK was highly effective in the war with Iraq, the Iranian SAM batteries are now hampered by aging equipment, limited spare parts, poor maintenance, and ineffective training. As the number of available missiles, launchers, radars and support hardware continues to dwindle, Tehran was forced to look for new systems to provide SAM defenses.

However, the number of SA-15s is not equal to the I-HAWK inventory that will eventually be phased out. As a result, Iran's medium-range SAM arsenal will be a mixed bag of I-HAWKs, SA-15s and SA-6s, which are also being acquired from Russia. While collectively, these systems can provide protection of key targets, gaps in overall coverage will remain, and can be exploited by potential adversaries, including Israel. Beyond that, Iran's primary foes already have a detailed understanding of the SA-15, and comprehensive knowledge of both the I-HAWK and the SA-6. That technical expertise translates into effective counter-measures, including jamming programs for fighter aircraft that might be used to strike targets in Iran.

Tehran's air defense upgrade is also hampered by other factors, including gaps in early warning radar coverage, lack of an automated, nationwide command-and-control system, and the traditional rivalry between the "regular" Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Most of Iran's recent military upgrades have gone to the IRGC (including the SA-6), and the SA-15 is likely to wind up in that arsenal as well. But IRGC air defense units still rely heavily on the regular military (specifically, the Iranian Air Force) for early warning radar coverage and an air defense picture, used to assess possible threats, and (if required) assign targets to specific SAM batteries, fighter units, or AAA sites.

Despite recent upgrades--including the SA-15--Iran's air defense network is still beset by confusion on a daily basis. Significant gaps in radar coverage, limited automation, and a lack of cooperation between the regular military and the IRGC have resulted in missed assignments and near-fratricide on numerous occasions. Comparing Iran's air defense system to a Chinese fire drill isn't an exaggeration. Faced with a massive, U.S.-led attack, the Iranian C2 network would quickly crumble, leaving air defense units largely on their own.

While the SA-15 is more than capable of autonomous operations, it works better as part of a fully-functioning air defense system, relying on external sensors for target detection and cueing. Left on their own, the effectiveness of an SA-15 battery would depend largely on the skill of the operators, and (unfortunately for the Iranians), their crews are still inexperienced. More realistic training would remedy that problem--to some degree--but Tehran has always been cautious in that arena, limiting life-fire exercises and other drills that require the expenditure of ordnance.

As we noted last year, the SA-15 is a major upgrade for Iran's air defense system. But, on its own, the system is not a world-beater, and would not provide sufficient deterrence to prevent a U.S. or Israeli attack. If Tehran is genuinely serious about bringing its air defense network into the 21st century, we would see deals for additional SAM systems (like the long-range, lethal SA-20), significant upgrades in early warning radars (with emphasis on equipment with capabilities against LO/VLO targets) and full integration of a nationwide, automated command-and-control system.

A few days before the SA-15 delivery was announced, Iran's president announced that "Israel was unable to attack his country." If he was basing that assessment on the availability of the new SAM system, it was a gross miscalculation. U.S. and Israeli air planners have a healthy respect for the SA-15, but it is not a show-stopper, particularly if Iran operates the system from fixed sites (like the I-HAWK), making it easier to track key components--and target them.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Somewhere, Dean Wormer is Smiling

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is imposing its version of "double-secret" probation, agreeing to suspend funding for Iran's heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak. That facility, scheduled to begin operations in 2009, could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Under a deal reached by the IAEA's board of governors, the agency will suspend funding for the Arak facility, while continuing support for other, "peaceful" projects. According to the Los Angeles Times, IAEA technical assistance to Iran totals less than $1 million a year, so elimination of funding for the Arak project will not delay its completion or operation.

The decision to end financial assistance for the Arak facility was handed "discreetly," without a formal vote. Apparently, IAEA members feared that the Iran decision would set a precedent, and (potentially) prevent funding for their own projects in the future. The Times reports that the agency currently funds more than 800 projects around the world, at an annual cost of $70 million. That may not sound like much, but it certainly raises questions about other, dual-use projects that receive money from the IAEA, which (of course) receives much of its support from the American taxpayer.

Obviously, the real issue is why the IAEA provided any funding to Iran, given the suspicions long associated with its nuclear program. Tehran's efforts to build nuclear weapons began two decades ago; the Arak facility has been the object of serious concern for almost ten years, but the IAEA kept providing assistance, ignoring the obvious warning signs.

Suspending assistance for the Arak complex (at this point) is the equivalent of Dean Wormer's imposing "double secret probation" on the Deltas in Animal House. A 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor is far beyond anything Iran needs for peaceful purposes, including the production of radioactive isotopes for medical research. Yet, the IAEA continued to provide token funding until it became publicly--and politically--unpalatable. Clearly, the elimination of a sliver of funding for the reactor--now in the final stages of construction--will have about the same impact as the penalty handed down in the film.

As I recall, the double secret probation line was a big laugh-getter in Animal House. In the case of the IAEA "sanction," the only laughter we'll hear will be coming from Iran, secure in the knowledge that the international community has no desire--or plans--to deter its nuclear ambitions.

Today's Reading Assignment

Something to go with your Thanksgiving turkey, courtesy of Victor Mallet at the Financial Times.

Support for Mr. Mallet's argument can be found here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Assad Runs Amok

If you want proof that Syrian dictator Bashir Assad is feeling his oats, look no further than yesterday's assassination of Lebanese Cabinet member Pierre Gemayel. Mr. Gemayel, a cabinet minister and member of Lebanon's most prominent Christian political family, was gunned down yesterday by assassins--an event that was almost certainly the work of Syrian intelligence agents. Gemayel is the sixth anti-Syrian politician murdered in Lebanon over the past two years; operatives working for Damascus are believed responsible for most, if not all, of those killings.

The event that apparently prompted Gemayel's assassination was a recent Lebanese cabinet vote, approving a proposed U.N. tribunal into the assassination of another anti-Syria politician, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The 2005 murder of Hariri--which triggered Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution"--has been linked to Syrian officials as well, although Damascus (predictably) denies any involvement. Before the cabinet vote, six Hizballah ministers submitted their resignation, in a move that was at least coordinated (if not orchestrated) by the Assad government.

Tuesday's brazen assassination of Pierre Gemayel illustrates that Damascus is again calling the shots in Lebanon, and remains determined to crush that country's fledgling democracy. With its on-going support for Hizballah (and the terrorist group's victory over Israel last summer), Syria has helped create a "government within a government," that controls key areas of Lebanon, and has an ever-expanding role in the political process. Damascus clearly hopes to restore its full dominance of Lebanese affairs, rebuilding the government around Hizballah and stooge politicians, like the current President, Emile Lahoud. Those who oppose the Syrians--namely, Lebanon's large Christian minority--will be forced into submission, through violence, intimidation and bribery.

Sadly, those tactics will probably prove successful, since pro-western elements in Lebanon have few options for countering the influence of Syria and Hizballah. The U.S. and France expressed outrage at the Gemayel assassination, but there is no suggestion that we'll do anything about it, other than register a sharp protest with Syrian officials. Israel, still stinging from last summer's war with Hizballah, has no desire to go back into Lebanon unless it is provoked by the terrorists. And even a "successful" Israeli operation in the south would provide little relief from Syrian influence in Beirut. Ending Syria's presence in Lebanon would require nothing less than regime change in Damascus, and there is no indication that Israel is prepared to take such a radical step.

Indeed, Syria apparently believes it has little to fear from its adversaries in Tel Aviv and Washington. Earlier this week, Damascus announced it would restore diplomatic relations with neighboring Iraq, a move that some in the United States have actually welcomed. Never mind that Assad's government does not have Iraq's best interests at heart--and that the diplomatic overture provides an opening for even more meddling. For implementation of a "redeployment" strategy in Iraq, getting the Syrians engaged is part of a desired "diplomatic solution" that actually strengthens one of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the Middle East. Damascus views the apparent shift in U.S. policies for what it is--an emerging power vaccum, one that Syria is eager to exploit. Plans for Gemayel's assassination were probably hatched long ago, but the results of our recent election did nothing to dissuade Damascus, and may have accelerated the plot's timetable.

Whatever he is, Bashir Assad is no fool. Recognizing an opening when he sees one, Mr. Assad is aggressively pursuing his policies in Iraq and Lebanon, at the expense of Israel and the west. For a regime that was seemingly on the ropes after the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, Assad's Baathist government has made a rather remarkable--and brutal comeback--using terrorism and murder to further its aims within its sphere on influence. The apparent inability of the United States to respond is one of the great failures of President Bush and his national security team.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ike Skelton Knows Better (Or, At Least He Should)

In recent years, Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri has been something of a rarity in his party--a voice of moderation and sanity on defense issues. Over the course of a 30-year career in the House, Mr. Skelton has been a consistent champion of the armed services (and those who serve) supporting the weapons modernization programs, along with pay and benefit increases for those who wear the uniform.

But, apparently, even Congressman Skelton knows when to toe the party line. Appearing on Lou Dobbs' CNN program last night, Skelton paid deference to the incoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (Charlie Rangel of New York), and his warped ideas about those who serve in the U.S. military and make the sacrifices that come with service. While acknowledging that the all-volunteer military has been a tremendous success, Skelton quickly echoed Rangel's talking points about who serves--and who may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice:

"The downside, of course, is -- and I recently ran the statistics -- the downside on this, as most of the deaths that have occurred in Iraq are young people that come from small-town America or from the inner city. Charlie Rangel should be credited with pointing out the fact that people in the military do not represent a broad spectrum of America."

What rubbish. First of all, Congressmen Skelton didn't offer any of the "numbers" he recently ran, so the validity of his casualty analysis is suspect, at best. Moreover, his assertion that the military does not represent a broad spectrum of America is a downright lie, as evidenced by the often-cited, 2005 study by the Heritage Foundation. Studying demographic data of U.S. military recruits over a three-year period (2003-2005), Dr. Tim Kane found that today's enlistees are a reflection of society at large. Among the key findings from his study:

In summary, the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) sup­port the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distri­bution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.

Demographic evidence discredits the argument that a draft is necessary to enforce representation from racial and socioeconomic groups. Addition­ally, three of the four branches of the armed forces met their recruiting goals in fiscal year 2005, and Army reenlistments are the highest in the past five years. A draft is not necessary to increase the size of the active-duty forces. Our analysis using Pentagon data on wartime volunteers effectively shatters the case for reinstating the draft.

In fact, Kane's analysis found that poor neighborhoods are underrepresented in today's military, negating Skelton's claims that the sons and daughters of the needy are dying in disproportionatee numbers in Iraq. Indeed, the only group that seems to bear a greater burden (in terms of military service) are southerners, and in particular, those from rural areas below the Mason-Dixon line. However, southerners have long answered the call of the armed services (for a variety of reasons) including the fact that a military career has long been viewed as a honorable calling in that region. In other words, many recruits from the south sign up because they choose to, not because they have to.

Congressman Skelton ought to know better--and probably does--but there is clearly a limit on how far he'll go in bucking Charley Rangel. As the Ways and Means chairman, Mr. Rangel will exert considerable power, influencing issues that affect Mr. Skelton's rural district. Calling Rangel an idiot on national TV would be poor form (if not accurate), and have a decidedly negative impact on programs that would benefit Skelton's Missouri constituents. So, we can only hope that Skelton's ill-advised comments were nothing more than a sop to his fellow Democrat, and not a reflection of his own views on the military. If a genuine Democratic "defense expert" believes blatant lies about those who serve and bear the brunt of combat casualties, then our Congress--and the military--are in real trouble come January.

If you'd like to let Mr. Skelton know how wrong he is on these issues, here is contact information for his office in D.C., and his district office in Missouri.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Big Battle Near Bagdad?

I'm getting word of a big battle last week between terrorists and elements of the 82nd Airborne, east of Baghdad, near the Iranian border. According to one U.S. officer, the fighting "was intense," and the battle was one of the "five biggest" between our troops and insurgents in recent years. As many as one hundred terrorists were killed in the battle; American losses were described as light, although one member of the 82nd said at least three U.S. officers died in the fighting, including a company commander.

Late last week, Bill Roggio had an excellent round-up of recent clashes between the terrorists and U.S. forces, although most of his report focused on activity near Kirkuk, Baquba, and Ramadi. The battle described to me was about 100 miles east of Baghdad, where elements of the 82nd discovered (and attacked) a terrorist training center. The division has been focusing a lot of activity in that area as of late, trying to reduce the flow of fighters and material support from Iran.

In his report, Mr. Roggio also has a timely link to Michael Fumento's recent dispatch from Ramadi, where U.S. snipers have exacted a devastating toll on the enemy. A sniper team from the 1/506th reportedly accounted for 120 enemy kills during a recent deployment in the Ramadi area. Naturally, you won't see any video from our snipers on CNN, but there's a larger point that's missing as well: as Bill Roggio notes, virtually all of this coalition activity flew "under the radar scope" of the MSM, which focused (instead) on the daily ration of car bombings and killings in Baghdad.

The only troubling aspect of the battle I was told about? According to one 82nd officer, Iraqi security forces "watched" our troops as they carried out the tough fight near the border. That's not a statement that builds confidence in the Iraqis' ability to eventually do the job on their own.

Want Reform? Eliminate the Security Clearance "Double Standard"

Following the recent electoral debacle, I've heard a few Republicans talk about the need to reposition themselves as the "party of reform." Not a bad idea, since the exploits of Bob Ney, Randy Cunningham and Jack Abramoff didn't go over very well with the electorate. Of course, Democratic claims about the "culture of corruption" ring pretty hollow, given the on-going investigations of Congressman William "Cold Cash" Jefferson of Louisiana, and West Virginia Representative Alan Mollohan. Given the gravity of their alleged wrong-doing, I'm guessing that Abramoff, Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney may have some company at Club Fed very, very soon.

But if the GOP is truly interested in reform, there are some small--but needed--steps they can push for right now, beyond the obvious need to clean up relationships between Congressmen and lobbyists. At the top of the list of "other" ethical reforms, I'd suggest ending the double standard on security clearances. As it stands, members of Congress are not subject to the same, rigorous background checks given to members of their staff, intelligence professionals and members of the military that also hold security clearances.

San Diego attorney Alan Edmunds, whose practice includes security clearance cases, notes that Congressmen and Senators are merely asked "not to divulge" the nation's secrets, in exchange for access to classified information. And, more amazingly, our elected leaders retain that access, even when they're under investigation for suspected crimes. According to Edmunds, Duke Cunningham retained his clearance right up until the time he resigned from the House, under an ethical cloud. I'm guessing that Mollohan and Jefferson still have their security clearances. If they were Congressional staffers--or worked for DoD or the intel community--their access to classified information would have been suspended months ago, pending outcome of on-going investigations.

Regrettably, efforts to reform Congressional security clearances probably won't go very far. If Congressmen and Senators were subjected to the same requirements, we might find more than a few would find their clearance requests denied. At the top of that "rejected" list we might find the prospective chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings. We've written at length on Hasting's various ethical problems, including his conviction (and impeachment) on bribery charges as a federal judge. For lesser mortals, a bribery conviction is sufficient grounds to deny a security clearance. For a member of the new Congressional majority--and likely committee chair--a felony conviction (later vacated on a technicality) is a mere inconvenience, and no impediment in accessing our most sensitive information.

Oak Leaf at Polipundit has been following the Hastings case, and has great round-ups here and here. As he notes, the real scandal is that Hastings has any access to classified information. He also notes that the Congressional Black Caucus has lined up in support of Hastings, putting Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi in a bind. She owes the Black Caucus a favor, and she can't risk being at odds with such a powerful constituency. That means that Hastings gets the chairmanship, and the GOP gets a casebook example of the need for serious reform--if they choose to use it.

Cover Story

Iran has announced plans to activate its heavy-water nuclear research complex at Arak in 2009, and phase out a similar, smaller facility in Tehran. According to the Tehran Times, the 40-megawatt Arak complex (also known as Khondab) will be used to "produce isotopes for medical, industrial and other peaceful purposes." The director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization told the paper that the Tehran reactor will be "turned off" by the time the Arak facility becomes operational, suggesting a rapid start-up for the new heavy water plant.

And for good reason. A heavy water facility, like the one at Arak, can be used to convert uranium into weapons-grade plutonium. Activation of the Arak complex will give Iran another path for producing atomic weapons, and lessening reliance on uranium enrichment facilities. The Arak facility may not be fully operational until 2014, although that timetable may need revision, in view of Iran's plans to shut down the Tehran reactor and press ahead at the new complex.

As for those 'isotopes," Iran will probably engage in low-level production efforts at Arak, providing a convenient cover story for the facility and its operations. In reality, most of the isotopes that will be produced at Arak are readily available on the commercial market, so technically, there's no need to build a 40-megawatt reactor for that stated purpose.

Disinformation has long been a key element of Iran's nuclear programs, with Tehran offering a variety of cover stories, distortions and downright lies, all in an effort to mask its activities. A few months ago, IAEA inspectors discovered a huge tunnel at Esfahan, near a key Iranian enrichment facility. Without batting an eye, Iranian officials said the tunnel was nothing more than a storage facility, although its size and configuration suggested that it could be used for other purposes, including weapons assembly. Before that, a suspect facility in Tehran masqueraded as a "watch factory." That story didn't hold because there really isn't a watch industry per se in Iran, and "products" from that factory were never available in Iran--or anywhere else.


On a related note, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards claims his country can attack enemies at distances of up to 2,000 km (1,243 NM). Major General Yahya Safavi vowed that, if Iran is attacked, it will "respond beyond our borders, and will attack the military facilities of our enemy." Safavi made the comments during a visit to an Iranian missile unit near Esfahan, stating that "Iran can handle any attack."

The range cited by General Safavi is an obvious reference to Iran's medium and intermediate range missiles, the Shahab-3 and BM-25. But there are a couple of problems with his claims. First of all, the Shahab-3 (the Iranian version of a North Korean No Dong) is reliable to a range of 650-840 NM (1000-1300 km); Tehran has apparently tested extended range (ER) versions of the missile, but none of those tests have been completely successful. Iran certainly has the ability to launch a Shahab-3 ER, but there's some doubt as to whether the missile can reach a target 2000 km away, and strike it with any degree of reliability.

Regarding the BM-25, Iran reportedly acquired that missile from North Korea earlier this year. The BM-25, based on the Russian SS-N-6 SLBM system, has sufficient range and accuracy to hit Israel and even portions of southeastern Europe. However, there is no indication that the DPRK (nor Iran) have actually launched one of these missiles, suggesting that technical, maintenance or operational issues have prevented the start of flight-testing. If that assessment is accurate, then it may be several years before the BM-25 enters operational service with Iran, and actually poses a threat to distant targets.

It's worth noting that Pyongyang had an opportunity to launch a BM-25 (which they refer to as the "Musudan") during the mass missile launch on 4 July. But the DPRK took a pass, choosing instead to fire a salvo of shorter-range SCUDs and the long-range TD-2, which failed less than 45 seconds into its flight. Pyongyang's failure to include the Musudan in that firepower demonstration suggests that it, too, is having some difficulty with the system, and that the missile has not reached full operational status. Iran is believed to have helped finance the BM-25/Musudan program, which probably explains why Tehran took delivery of the system before it became fully operational.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at Work

It's time to kill the Defense Travel Service, once and for all. We've written about the DTS mess in the past, and despite the investment of almost $500 million, the system shows no sign of improvement. The fact that it's barely used by Pentagon staffers speaks volumes about its inefficiency. Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has been waging a vigorous fight to get rid of the system, an effort which deserves bipartisan support.

Hat tip: Chief Buddy.

Strip-Mining the Wasteland

Almost 50 years ago, then-FCC Commissioner Newton Minow warned, famously, that television was becoming a "vast wasteland." Cynics would argue that television programming since that time has largely fulfilled Minow's prophecy. Even in a 500-channel cable or satellite universe, I've heard more than a few viewers complain that "there's nothing worth watching on TV."

I won't go that far. Finding something worthwhile on TV is (obviously) a product of your own tastes and an ability to separate those nuggets from everything else on the tube. And, I would never presume to tell you what to watch. If you prefer Dukes of Hazzard re-runs or American Idol over Lost, go for it. But be warned: persistent exposure to TV schlock doesn't exactly enhance higher brain functions or make you a more productive member of society. Paraphrasing Mencken: [TV programmers] will never go broke under-estimating the taste of the American people.

The latest proof of that axiom will air later this month, when the Fox Broadcast Network presents its "exclusive" interview with O.J. Simpson, outlining "how" he might have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman. The interview is being conducted by publisher Judith Regan, who (coincidentally) is releasing a book by Simpson on the same subject.

There's a running joke among broadcasters that if a human execution is ever televised, it will air on the Fox Broadcast Network. Given that network's reputation (various installments of When Animals Attack come to mind), the notion of Fox airing such a morbid and tasteless event may not be far-fetched. And, if the ratings were high enough, ABC, NBC, CBS and the CW would have their own, competing execution shows in a matter of weeks.

But I digress. Sadly, with the Simpson "special," Fox has somehow exceeded that penultimate benchmark of tackiness and bad taste. Why is it necessary to give Mr. Simpson two hours of broadcast time (and a book contract) to speculate about the Brown-Goldman murders? With the exception of 12 brain-dead people in Los Angeles, Americans agree that Orenthal James Simpson brutally murdered two innocent people in the summer of 1994. He managed to beat the rap two years later by hiring a legal shark who played the race card to the hilt, badgered an over-matched judge, and engaged in some highly effective courtroom theatrics (remember the "glove" demonstration?)

Trying to justify a rehash of those events has already produced some strange gyrations of speech and logic. Sean Hannity--who ought to know better--tried to give the publisher a pass on his show yesterday, saying that Ms. Regan believes that "all voices should be heard." What a crock. Forget about Simpson for a moment; clearly, there are some voices that don't deserve a public hearing. If she truly believes that "all voices should be heard," is Ms. Regan prepared to publish the collected wisdom of, say, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, or the musings of Iran's nut-ball president? And, we can only wonder if she would have snapped up the rights to Mein Kampf in the early 1920s.

Equally weird is Ms. Regan's insistence that "I did not pay O.J." Phul-eeze. If there's one thing we've learned about Mr. Simpson in the post-acquittal era, it's that he won't show up for anything unless a payday is involved. Claims that the money went to Simpson's children (through a third party) may be accurate, but it's nothing more than a legal maneuver to prevent the Brown and Goldman families from collecting any money. You may recall that Mr. Simpson owes the victims' families somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million, the result of a verdict in a civil trial almost ten years ago. To date, O.J. hasn't paid them a penny.

But the strangest explanation for the "event" can be found in Ms. Regan's long, rambling, and slightly incoherent statement, published by Matt Drudge. If I'm reading it correctly, the logic behind Simpson's book (and TV special) can be found in her own, failed marriage. She was physically abused and abandoned by her physician husband, and left alone to raise two young children. Based on those own experiences, Ms. Regan says she wanted to show her children that "there are consequences to grievous acts."

Like a book and a prime time TV interview? Walking around as a free man for the past decade, living off a $250,000 yearly pension, playing golf every day? Grievous consequences, indeed. Regan says she took on the Simpson project with the "belief that O.J.'s life must be a constant torture, a kind of hell." Well, it must be a fairly benign, even comfortable hell, judging from the lifestyle that Simpson now enjoys in Florida. A few tears on camera during a made-for-TV event doesn't equal contrition, let alone a confession.

Sorry, but claims that a book deal and TV special will somehow give the nation (and Ms. Regan) some sense of closure just don't wash. It's actually a bit sad that someone of her stature would be involved in such a sleazy endeavor. At one time, Judith Regan was a gutsy, even courageous publisher, willing to print books by conservative authors that no one else would touch. But with fame and wealth she apparently became another publishing hack, eager for another multi-media deal that will add a few more zeros to her bank account. By publishing the Simpson book and interviewing him on TV, Judith Regan is doing nothing more than strip-mining the cultural wasteland, providing a public forum--and a big-bucks payday--for a man who deserves neither.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Today's Reading Assignments

Solid advice on what we should be doing in Iraq--and what we've learned so far--courtesy of Eric Egland, Fred Kagan, and Josh Manchester, all published at the Daily Standard.

It would be nice if the Baker Commission sought input from each of these gentlemen before making its final recommendations.

A Great Man has Passed

Milton Friedman, RIP. The free market has lost one of its greatest champions. He won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976. Odds of a free market economist winning the same award today? Exactly zero.

Labouchere of Arabia

Fascinating read at, which profiles a British commander who has implemented some innovative--and perhaps historical--tactics for controlling a sector of southern Iraq, along the Iranian border. When Lieutenant Colonel David Labouchere found his base a magnet for enemy rocket and small arms fire, he took a page out of the T.E. Lawrence playbook, going light (and mobile).

"Like Lawrence, Labouchere relies on speed and agility. He travels light in just a dozen vehicles per squadron, mostly trucks and speedy Land Rovers but including a handful of Scimitar light tanks armed with 30-millimeter cannons. At night he bivouacs in depressions or nestled between hills to shield him from prying eyes. By day he sorties to patrol the border, show the flag in remote towns and hold court with Iraqi cops, local army troops and the tribal leaders who are his eyes and ears and his allies in the fight against smugglers and foreign fighters. He and his troops shit in ditches, shave with bottled water and eat foil-packed rations. They sleep under the stars on collapsing cots. They live simply and waste little, all in an effort to stay light and to ween themselves from slow, vulnerable ground convoys."

The mission of Labouchere's 500-man Queen's Hussars battle group is to prevent the infiltration of foreign fighters and supplies across the border. The Defensetech writer doesn't provide specifics on how successful Lt Col Labouchere's approach has been, but the Brits obviously cover a lot of ground, and interacting with the locals can go way toward building cooperation and keeping the bad guys out.

It is worth noting that Labouchere's area of operations--Maysan Province--is almost entirely Shiite and hostile to outsiders, so there's no real insurgency to deal with. But violence among Shia sects is a problem, and interestingly enough, Lt Col Labouchere tolerates a certain level of conflict--as long as its in line with traditional methods of conflict resolution.

Traveling light carrys obvious risks; the British squadrons rely heavily on American airpower to bail them out of tough situations, since the heaviest weapon they carry is a 30mm cannon, mounted on two light tanks. Labouchere believes that his methods might work in other areas of Iraq, including the Sunni triangle, but most American commanders sharply disagree. Labouchere offers the example of Northern Ireland (where the presence of British heavy vehicles triggered a proportional response by the IRA), but I believe it's an invalid comparison. The level of violence in Northern Ireland never approached what we've seen in the Sunni triangle. Lt Col Labouchere's light forces are ideally suited for a relatively quiet sector of southern Iraq, but I don't think they have the firepower or support infrastructure to survive on the streets of Baghdad. A well-placed IED ambush, using daisy-chained artillery rounds, could easily wipe out such a light force.

A better question might be: why haven't NATO forces in southern Afghanistan adopted this model against a resurgent Taliban? Recent reports suggest that NATO units in that region are adopting a "garrison strategy," partially ceding the countryside (and the local population) to the enemy. Michael Yon and other informed observers believe this is an invitation to disaster, and some have predicted that a NATO base in the south might be overrun this spring, if local commanders don't get more aggressive. Admittedly, travel in Afghanistan is difficult, but Labouchere's strategy of getting out of garrison and building relationships with the locals makes sense in areas where the threat is less pressing.

Wanted: War Correspondents

As the debate over Iraq enters a critical phase, I'm struck by how little information we receive from that country, other than a litany of the day's car bombings, kidnappings and killings. We know that much of this information is provided by Iraqi stringers--some of whom have ties to the terrorists. At the same time, the number of embedded reporters, attached to U.S. units on the ground, is at or near an all-time low.

To provide a wider perspective on Iraq, I'd like to enlist the help of those currently serving there (military and civilian), as well as those who have recently returned. Send your observations to, and we'll publish them in future editions of the blog. Your confidentiality is, of course, guaranteed. To help identify your geographic region and particular area(s) of expertise, please provide the following information:

--Grade or Rank (Optional)
--Geographic region in which you currently served (or served, if you've rotated back to the States)
--Brief description of your duties in Iraq
--Your thoughts on the current situation in that country, namely (a) how close is Iraq to sliding into a civil war; (b) the current security situation in your sector; (c) how the security situation has changed during your current tour; (d) how the situation has changed, compared to your previous tours in Iraq
--Your impression of the capabilities of Iraqi military units and police
--What impact--if any--would the deployment of 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad have on the security situation?
--What impact would a short-term U.S. withdrawal have on the security situation?

One final request: if you send the information by a private e-mail account, please include your deployed, military e-mail address as well. After we receive your e-mail, you'll get a benign reply in your military e-mail address. This helps us weed out the phonies and imposters.

Also, if you're a blogger and your thoughts are already on-line, just provide a link.

Thanks in advance, and stay safe. We'll limit our initial effort to Iraq, and provide a similar forum for those serving in Afghanistan in the near future.

Too Little, Too Late?

The U.K. Guardian is out with details on a "last, big push by U.S. military forces in Iraq," aimed at curbing sectarian violence, restoring some degree of stability in Baghdad and allowing the redeployment of some forces to other areas. The plan--which will apparently be reflected in recommendations from James Baker's Iraq Study Group (ISG), calls for the deployment of up to 20,000 additional troops to that country early next year, as part of a "four point" victory strategy. Among the plan's elements:

--Putting more troops on the ground, at least temporarily. Sources told the Guardian that the number of additional troops could be as high as 20,000, or roughly the equivalent of a heavy division. Sending in more troops--and possibly extending tours for those already in Iraq--would give the U.S. more forces to secure Baghdad and reduce sectarian violence, for at least a few months.

--Urging more regional cooperation on Iraq, possibly by convening a conference including such countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf States. The meeting would be used to solicit ideas on Iraq, and press for more aid/support for the struggling Iraqi regime. Participation by Syria and Iran in this process has not been confirmed, but U.S. officials have indicated their willingness to meet with representatives of both countries.

--Revive the national reconciliation process between Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and other factions, in an effort to create a viable political structure--one that is recognized and supported by other countries in the region.

--Increased resources to (a) fund increased U.S. troop deployments, and (b) more training for Iraqi military and security forces. This final part of the plan also calls for greater efforts to root out corruption within the Iraqi government.

After outlining the plan, the Guardian drifts off into Bob Woodward land, describing President Bush as being in a "state of denial" over Iraq. But their reporting on the proposed plan appears to be accurate, so that raises the more important question: will it work?

Reaction in the blogosphere seems underwhelming. Rick Moran at RightWing Nuthouse gives Mr. Bush credit for undercutting the ISG, and forcing them to offer a victory option, rather than the "cut-and-run" approach they seemed to favor only a month ago. But Rick, Ed Morrissey, Allah and others see the proposed deployment as a case of too little, too late. And, given the steady diet of bad news from Iraq, it's easy to consign the plan to the ash heap of failure, even before its implemented.

Bush critics will view this strategy as another example of his stubborness and inflexibility on Iraq, but I believe the President has little choice. Having staked his administration, his Middle East policy and indeed, his political legacy, to Iraq, Mr. Bush probably feels compelled to give the military option one last shot. If it somehow works, fine. The Iraqis can continue their wobbly march toward stability and democracy. If we fail, then start the pull-out in time for the '08 elections, and worry about the consequences later. The realpolitik reasoning goes something like this: put more troops into Baghdad, drive down the number of daily attacks, then use that as a "benchmark" of progress and a rationale for starting the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Declare victory in the fall of '07, and get most of the troops out before voters go to the polls again.

It's a hell of a gamble, and quite frankly, the future of Iraq should not come down to one last roll of the dice. But in post-election America, all bets are off and as we noted yesterday, political expediency now trumps military reality. Earlier this week, former Senator George McGovern recently met with a group of Congressional Democrats and outlined a strategy for getting out of Iraq by June, 2007. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is already pushing for a cutoff in funding for Iraq. Kucinich is a charter member of the Democratic kook fringe, and he won't get his wish--at least right now. But with his party officially committed to a withdrawal from Iraq, there is genuine concern as to how long the Democrats will keep writing checks to sustain the effort, even if the money is intended for Iraqi police and security forces.

But if Iraq goes down the tubes, you can't pin all the blame on Democrats. Fact is, we occupied a hostile country with ground forces that had been cut (and cut again) after the Cold War. Former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was applauded for noting that we would need 350,000 troops to pacify Iraq--as proof that the "Rumsfeld" strategy was fatally flawed. But no one bothered to point out that the Army and Marine Corps couldn't sustain that sort of deployment indefinitely, because we cut the equivalent of seven ground-force divisions under Bush '41 and Clinton. As we've noted before, military options are always constrained by force structure, and decisions made more than a decade ago have a direct bearing on today's battlefield. That doesn't get Don Rumsfeld completely off the hook, but it does place his decision-making in a slightly different context.

Put another way, the proposed increase in troop strength is about what we can afford, at least politically. And sadly, that deployment won't be enough to put on lid on the violence in Iraq and put that nation squarely on the road to peace and democracy. At best, the deployment of 20,000 additional troops will reduce the number of daily bombings and limit the actions of the death squads, at least for a while. That, in turn, will buy a little time for politicians of both parties, who can point to a "successful" exit strategy for Iraq, just in time for the 2008 presidential campaign. That may be a winning political hand, but it is absolutely horrible foreign policy. Looks like Osama bin Laden was right afterall: Americans (at least those in Washington) apparently don't have stomach for a long fight. If the proposed "victory strategy" flops (and I am hardly optimistic), we will haunted by its failure long after the last soldier leaves Iraq.