Sunday, March 31, 2013

Google: Easter Is Trivial, and the Arrogance of Information Control (Update: Chavez Opposed Illegal Immigration)

What is that you say?  Today is Easter, the most sacred of Christian holidays?  Well, one might expect that people would take note of that event, even if it has been in steadily decreasing numbers due to the political cleansing of topics such as this in the public marketplace.

Take Google for example.  They have been criticized for their tone-deaf attitude about the daily-changing art work on the web page of their search engine, their 'doodle', and how they seek to avoid commemorating dates that are important to the conservative population.  In 2007, they received criticism for skipping such holidays as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, though they had previously commemorated Bastille Day.  As a sop, they provided an appropriate piece for Memorial Day, but followed it within a week by showcasing June 6 – D-Day – as the anniversary of the first drive-in theatre.  Subtle?

So how do they portray today and its primary event?

That's right.  The Christian observance of Christ rising from the dead, the most important holiday of the Christian calendar, has to take a back seat to the birthday of Cesar Chavez.

Google is an almost persistently militant example of the Commentariat and the shaping of American opinion, too big to bother with criticism.  It insists that it is 'net neutral' yet has a CEO in the form of Eric Schmidt who approaches the industry with an appreciation of the social phenomenon of the internet, seeking out who you are, who your friends are, what you are doing, how to spend your time and where do you spend your attention, so that Google can provide a "more targeted search for you". 

If Google can manipulate your search to meet what they consider to be your needs, they can manipulate it to meet their needs as well.  After all, Schmidt went on to say in another interview with the Wall Street Journal that "I actually think that most people don't want Google to answer their questions.  They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

Why is it that whenever I research a topic that has anything to do with politics (and that's a lot), I consistently receive rankings that front load the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, NPR and the like, with the occasional Fox News (now too big to ignore) thrown in?  Google says that it is their algorithm, based on popularity, but with the American populace consistently right of center, that is becoming increasingly difficult to believe.

Maybe Bing, their principal competitor, should be the one to turn too.  They at least provided a mosaic of Easter Eggs.

Update: The word speads, but notice the line-up (as of the moment of this writing) of the articles on the subject between Google and Bing.

Update: Chris Salcedo at PJ Media provides information about Chavez, and reminds us that he was far from being the Hispanic leader as he is usually portrayed.  He was Hispanic, but his leadership was focused exclusively on being a union leader.  When it interfered with his union organizing, and reaping of union dues, then illegal immigrants be damned.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Esquire's "Shooter" Did Not Kill Bin Laden

The story just didn't smell right.

Phil Bronstein wrote last month in Esquire of how the man who shot Osama bin Laden (whom he calls the Shooter as a cover name) was being "screwed" – his word – by the military after he resigned from the service.

                                                                                              (Zero Dark Thirty)

The story gained immediate attention not so much for the most compelling reason – inside information about the notable case of taking down the world's most notorious terrorist – but for the purportedly shoddy way that the military treats its veterans.  Not just any veteran, mind you, but the important ones.
But the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:
Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.
Bronstein's lengthy article is long on insider information about the raid itself, but exists primarily as an exposition of what he bewails as a man practically betrayed by his country.

But there are small items that beckon to my hackles.  Bronstein and his Shooter continually speak of SEAL Team 6 ("ST6"), the original name of the unit, but members of the community have referred to it as DEVGRU for many years (short for Naval Special Warfare Development Group).  Use of ST6 is like referring to the CIA as the Company, branding the user as someone whose closest connection is through spy thrillers or, appropriately, journalists who claim to have the inside scoop.  Likewise, he refers to the SEALs as being Special Forces, another grating slip: Special Forces within the US military is a specific term for the Army Green Berets; the SEALs and associated units within the Navy are called Special Warfare, and the overall term for the military as a whole is Special Operations.  Individuals within this community who take the fight directly to the enemy are called operators.  In an interview with Matt Lauer, Bronstein mispronounces the name of the dog brought on the operation.  (Other sources – yes, more than one – pronounce it another way, with a story attached as to why, which at least begs the question.)

There are other niggling items, but what hits me first is Bronstein's claim of how he came to the story.  First is his reflective, back-handed claim about his bona fides.
This was my first face-to-face meeting with the Shooter, following several phone conversations and much checking into my journalism background, especially in war zones.  [Translation: these professionals accepted me as someone of note.]
At other times he refers to himself as a war correspondent.  The best that I and some others can come up with is that he reported from "conflict areas around the world as a foreign correspondent for eight years, such as Peru, the Middle East, El Salvador and the Philippines."  According to his bio as the Chairman at the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, that would be between 1980 and 1988.  He spent time in El Salvador during the war against the Farabundo Martí insurgents but he couldn’t have spent much time in the field.  Likewise, he spent time in the Middle East during the Kuwait War – in Israel.  He covered the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 to some acclaim.  The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists were active in Peru during that time but there is no evidence of field experience there either.  Interviewing participants in a conflict does not yield a comparison to Ernie Pyle.  All in all, rather thin gruel for someone who styles himself as a war correspondent.

This adds to a wink-wink, nudge-nudge image as one who is in on the secrets, and falls into what I call the Bob Woodward approach – a well-accomplished journalist who nevertheless falls to the temptation of citing important revelations from a source who is either highly classified or dead, therefore unverifiable.  Then there is the Dexter Filkins (author of The Forever War) method: unidentified or obscure indigenous sources, who he accepts at face value in their claims of veracity, whose views somehow translate into the widespread attitude for the entire community or region.  They also immediately yield up deep and highly opinionated views about the Americans they have worked with for months to this reporter whom they have just met, for no other reason than his personal aura of being a journalist.  (And is anyone vexed that he gets away with statements that he was walking around Ground Zero the day of the attack, talking on a cell phone?  Is there anyone on the scene that day who finds that . . . odd?)

Bronstein's work at the CIR has already been focused on compensation issues for the military.  It's no wonder that he would latch onto this angle for the public, but the story of the Shooter's shoddy treatment more than strains the credulity of the active duty and veteran audience.

Any private, seaman recruit, and airman basic knows that he has to serve for at least twenty years to receive a pension, and a military pension is one of the few remaining really good benefits available.  While on active duty his take-home pay (considering that for this job he has to be at least a Chief (or E-7 in pay rate), and adding in his time in service, dependents status, extra incentive pay such as dive pay, jump pay, hazardous duty pay, and others) would certainly be north of $6000 per month.  If he were to retire at twenty years as an E-7, he would receive at least $2100 per month, not counting disability pay for the ailments he listed.  Still in his early- to mid-40s, he is highly employable, and the military retirement pay, while it can't buy you an island in the Bahamas, is nevertheless a generous extra stipend to his follow-on salary, and certainly belies Bronstein's quote of a fellow team member:
But if I come back alive and retire, I won't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out for the rest of my life.  Sad to say, it's better if I get killed.
Not true, on several levels.

There are transition assistance classes to aid servicemembers in their move to civilian life, far more organized and informative than in my day, but even in that shadow of a program available to me, someone had to sign off on my paperwork that I had taken the class.  The Shooter couldn't just blow it off.   The classes would tell him, for example, of the five years of free health care available to him as a combat veteran since the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007.

The Shooter tells of the strain on his family, a true enough fall-out of life in the Spec Ops community, but now he and his wife are fearful that the family will be targeted because of the part he played in the operation.  What better reason to keep his mouth shut?  News of the forthcoming publication of No Easy Day by 'Mark Owens', a nom de plume but a fellow DEVGRU participant in the raid, was enough for the press to crack through the veneer of the pseudonym to discover the author's real name, Matt Bissonnette, in about a day.  Real professionals take operational security very seriously, to protect themselves and others.

The Navy response to the accusations in Bronstein's article was swift and to the point.  No less than Rear Admiral Sean Pybus, Commander Naval Special Warfare Command, released a statement that included:
This former SEAL made a deliberate and informed decision to leave the Navy several years short of retirement status.  Months ahead of his separation, he was counseled on status and benefits, and provided with options to continue his career until retirement eligible.  Claims to the contrary in these matters are false.
[Pybus is] very disappointed with the few people who use their SEAL cachet for self-serving purposes, particularly through falsehoods and certainly when the safety and security of themselves and their active-duty teammates and families are put to risk.
RADM Pybus went on to say that the command would still help the Shooter "address health or transition issues, as we would for other former members. . . . Naval Special Warfare has bright and motivated people engaged in difficult, but satisfying work.  They are very familiar with their compensation and options."

The answer as to why the Shooter placed himself in this position is buried in the article:
Back in April, he and some of his SEAL Team 6 colleagues had formed the skeleton of a company to help them transition out of the service.
It didn't work out.  His teammates moved on to other endeavors.  He is left to suffer the consequences of the risk that he took, which is not at all uncommon.  I myself had a couple of great opportunities evaporate in like fashion, but you move on.  Yet he feels that he is owed something for the role that he took in his claim that he was the one who killed bin Laden.

First of all, he was not the designated shooter for the mission.  Practically any of the 23 operators could have found themselves in the position of taking out Geronimo, and based on how they stacked up and spread out as they secured the various rooms en route to the third floor, the Shooter was the one who ended up confronting the target, in his words.

Second, as much as I respect the members of the Spec Ops community, we all have to remember that combat is a shared burden with the conventional forces as well.  The straight-leg infantry at COP Keating, to give just one example, performed gallantly under over-whelming conditions and received recognition for their valor up to and including the Medal of Honor.  Declaring that the Shooter, no matter what his skills and qualifications, is somehow eligible for special compensation to remedy a decision that he himself made hardly seems equitable.

The outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in answering a press question about the Esquire article, drew the same distinction: "Acts of that kind of bravery and courage go on often every day in a war zone."  He rhetorically questioned whether everyone who performs courageously in such dangerous circumstances should have a "separate fund to try to assist them", and added that "the reality is, men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to sacrifice for this country."

But the story ravels still further.  Brandon Webb of the web log, and a respected former SEAL in his own right, tracked down the background of the story and reports that the Shooter was not, in fact, the one who took the kill shot.  He was in on the op certainly, and was one of the few involved in the take-down on the third floor, but his claim beyond that doesn't add up.
The actual shooter at Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSW DEVGRU or SEAL TEAM 6) has continued to maintain his professional integrity and has not come forward with the story, and likely never will.  Looks like Esquire and Bronstein are the ones who are really screwed, not their interviewee; our sources say he's off cashing large checks from unsuspecting donors who bought the Esquire pity piece.
Webb goes on to add:
  • The 'Shooter' was removed from his DEVGRU Squadron for talking about the operation openly after being warned to 'can it'
  • He was encouraged by leadership to remain in the SEAL community to finish out his career and gain his full retirement benefits. 
  • Apparently against his concerns about personal security he has been very active on the public speaking circuit.
Webb obtains further information from another SEAL, such as the agreement among the operators to try to avoid a head shot, so as to help in identifying the body.  He also questions the Shooter's claim that only two of them, the point man and himself, stepped up to the third story to engage bin Laden and what turned out to be several wives.  There was no need to hurry (well, people in those situations are very well aware that the clock is ticking) and whoever was up there would have had more time to prepare a defense.  The shooter says that the point man, after firing a couple of rounds at bin Laden's partial target, then swept two of the wives in the hallway away from the door, but the source states unequivocally that "there were ZERO women in the hallway" (they were in the bedroom) and the point man would not drop his muzzle unless he were certain that his target was down.  He also uses the later witnessed blood spatter to show that the point man, much shorter than the Shooter and bin Laden, was the actual executioner.

Esquire, predictably, puts out the tired drivel that it stands by its story (though without explaining how).  Between Bronstein and the SEALs, you should know where to put the smart money.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Attempt to Extort Military Tuition Assistance Fails

Obama's approach to the Sequester fits perfectly with Thomas Sowell's portrayal of just one of the standard ploys of the Left (who Sowell castigates as "the Anointed"): define whatever problem that Obama wants to address, in this case the Left's manipulation of the economy to forward his end of "fundamentally transforming America", as a "crisis", though it is a crisis of his making.  Solutions must be proffered and acted upon immediately.  ("Sign the bill now!  Read it later, if at all.")  Their solution is the only way.  (If you are opposed to Obamacare, then you want to destroy the entire health care structure of America; never mind that there are answers other than the Democrat plan.)  When their plan fails, then the response is to bewail how much worse it would have been if the other side had prevailed.  (Y2K leaps immediately to mind, among others.)  Define every political distinction in this way.  ("Never let a serious crisis go to waste.")

The Democrats' budget approach is to spend as if there is no tomorrow – literally.  The Senate Democrats were so busy spending that they couldn't bother to propose a budget for more than four years, and the one on the table now is a joke.  The only responses they have is to insist that taxes be raised on the "wealthy", dividing the people into classes and penalizing success, while repeatedly declaring that taxes on the rest of us "won't go up one dime".  (Has that been your experience or forecast, dear reader?)  The only spending cuts that they will talk about is to the Defense budget, despite the fact that the Sequester is to take half of its cuts from that department, but the other half from domestic spending in the bloated area of entitlements has been ignored.  Consider also that Defense constitutes only some 18% of the budget, whereas Medicare takes 30% and Social Security 25%, in this heavily skewed formula.

Now add to this the time-honored tradition of the Washington Monument Ploy, wherein the entrenched bureaucrats hold hostage the commonweal through shutting down the most necessary and visible functions of government in order to extort the response that they want – more money, leaving their pet projects intact without explanation, all while shamelessly insisting that the fault lies with the opposition.

Clinton was able to pull this off with the able assistance of the press in the government shutdown in 1995, blaming the Republicans in Congress.  But the Obama White House has been far less successful so far in this iteration, being called at every turn.  Their cynical release of thousands of illegal aliens has been a festering problem which gets worse each time they try to explain it away.  Their pettiness shows through with antics such as closing down the White House to tours for schoolchildren or cancelling the Easter egg roll.  It all looks so much worse compared to business-as-usual hemorrhaging of money such as Joe Biden's recent trip to London and Paris, with accommodations for his entourage costing north of $1.1 million for two nights (not including the travel and security expense).

Another attempt, this a two-fer, involves shutting down  the Tuition Assistance Programs within the Army, Air Force, and Marines, while the Navy was seriously considering doing the same.  This shows a careless disregard and contemptible attitude to those who have borne the brunt of our fight against the Islamic Supremacists these past twelve years, but also a blatant disregard to our own capabilities.  The quality of our fighting forces is far more attuned to advanced capabilities and technology that ever before, and their requirements are equally high.  The TAP is not primarily for servicemembers who depart the military – that would be the GI Bill, either the Montgomery or the Post 9/11 version.  Instead, the TAP keeps members current on any variety of skills while they are on active duty, and helps to sharpen the point of the spear of our war fighters.

This need for current and continuing education was critical to me back in the seemingly ancient days when I served, but this is brought home to me practically every day through two of my sons, one who is in the Army Ordnance Corps in the technical side of vehicles and their impact on logistics (he always has something surprising and elucidating in this field in which I have so little experience), and the other is a Special Operations Combat Medic (I confess wondrous ignorance here as well), trained to operate independently, well beyond the impressive battlefield medical system.  Both jobs and a myriad of others demand a sharp skill set, kept keen through a supportive education system.

Cutting back in this area is profoundly insensible.  Our greatest weapon and thus our greatest protection is through the quality of those who serve.  Restricting educational opportunities hurts us where it counts the most.  Not only would our quality degrade, but we would lose those who we need the most, the ones who see their duty clear and actually strive in the arena, as Theodore Roosevelt would say, not the presumptuous Best and Brightest of the chattering class who cannot deign to dirty their hands.  It makes about as much sense as saying that we will effect cost savings by stopping the production of ammunition, except that in this case it seriously affects the lives of our servicemembers for whom the Defense Department is ethically responsible.

"And yet, there they were."  Perhaps Gary Trudeau's greatest Doonesbury strip, in a rare moment of lucidity, as the dust was settling in the Kuwait War of 1991 (click to enlarge)

Yet now we know that this attempt as well has come under the derision of the public, and Congress has seen fit to re-instate the TAP.  The Defense Department has been told to keep the program intact and to seek savings elsewhere.  The Washington Times sums it up in its conclusion of its article:
It also represents a priority that the services should place on educating its personnel.  In an era of congressional stalemate, the latest move to include the program in the continuing resolution shows bipartisan agreement that active duty personnel are worth the investment.
(Thanks to Weapons Man for the Biden boondoggle information.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Light Bulbs: Federal Bureaucracy Bombs Again

Erika Johnson of Hot Air writes to give us another example of how Big Brother invariably gets it wrong when telling the American public what is good for them, and uses lighting technology, specifically the light bulb, to explain why.

We were first mandated to do away with incandescent lights in favor of the government 'experts' demand that we buy compact fluorescent bulbs, the ones that give off that cold, eerie, uncomfortable light and, as she explains it, "are impractical, more expensive, and it turns out they might actually be a cancer risk, no big deal or anything."  Not to mention the damage to the environment caused by the same vaporized mercury that is a key part of the bulb.  Then there is that annoying wait time for the bulb to warm up to become bright enough for human eyes – I have had to install one outdoors, and my routine in the evening is to turn it on, then attend to another chore to give it enough time to be sufficiently bright to take out the trash.

And the government's response to inquiries about these health and environmental concerns; the plan for properly disposing of them?  Well, nothing really – it didn't occur to them that there was such a problem when the CFLs were mandated in order to help save the planet.  By law, you practically have to file an environmental impact statement in order to get rid of them.

So what is our alternative? 

Why, that would be the LED lights that do so well in flashlights, smart phone camera flashes, and indicator lights on electronics.  There are light bulbs as well now. Consumers have been deterred by their high cost, but it is almost a law of economics that the cost of electronics and technology decreases over time, and that applies here as well.  She cites the New York Times: 
. . . LED bulbs are a gigantic improvement over incandescent bulbs and even the compact fluorescents or CFLs, that the world spent several years telling us to buy. 
Funny way to put it, isn't it: the "world"?  What the 'newspaper of record' means to say is that it was the federal government through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandated that we do as we are told by buying the CFLs.  As usual, the market does a far better job than a centrally controlled economy by appealing, as Adam Smith put it so well many years ago, to the people's rational self-interest. 
LEDs last about 25 times as long as incandescents and three times as long as CFLs; we're talking maybe 25,000 hours of light.  Install one today, and you may not own your house, or even live, long enough to see it burn out. … 
You know how hot incandescent bulbs become.  That's because they convert only 5 to 10 percent of your electricity into light; they waste the rest as heat.  LED bulbs are far more efficient.  They convert 60 percent of their electricity into light, so they consume far less electricity. … 
The one Home Depot nearby (the local apparatchiki at the city and county level are loathe to allow other 'box stores' as competition because they're, you know, exploitative) lists 40-watt LED bulbs at $9.97, and 60-watt versions at $12.97.

The great Walter Russell Mead picks up the story too. 
LED bulbs turn on to full brightness instantly.  They're dimmable.  The light color is wonderful; you can choose whiter or warmer bulbs.  They're rugged too.  It's hard to break an LED bulb, but if the worst should come to pass, a special coating prevents flying shards. 
He concludes, as does any person of common sense, that "we don't need the Commissar of Home Lighting that foisted mercury-laden CFLs on us to now promote LEDs."  The market is doing that on its own.

Now if only we could get rid of the Al Gore toilets.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Obama in Palestine: a Symbolic Contrast (Update)

Daniel Halper of the Weekly Standard calls Obama and his handlers to task – and rightly so – for the photo op they allowed when Obama appeared with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah yesterday.  Above the standard navy blue backdrop, there was a large portrait of Yasser Arafat, the "father of modern terrorism".

This was not an address to a small, select audience; it was a press conference with a large attendance of reporters, who were unlikely to have missed the huge likeness of Arafat gazing down on Obama.  And they didn't, as attested by this White House pool reporter:
Hope everyone saw the presser.  If not there, it was notable that Obama and Abbas spoke from under a banner bearing pictures of Arafat and Abbas.  Also another big banner was hanging on wall nearby with Abbas kind of superimposed on Arafat.
 Halper goes on to explain, for those who are apparently victims of public education (and I had a conversation teaching moment with college students from the nearby university on the exact topic of Arafat within the last two weeks):
CAMERA [Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America] notes, "In fact, groups under Arafat's direct or indirect command – including Fatah, Black September, Tanzim, and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – were responsible for hundreds of bombings, hijackings, assassinations and other attacks, including the 1972 murder of 11 of Israel's Olympic athletes in Munich, the 1973 murder of the American ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel, and the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruiseship (resulting in the murder of wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer)."
 It is interesting that they remind us of another American ambassador dead at the hands of terrorists.  But then, again, what difference does it make? 

But as for the visual effect of the conference – the 'optics' which are always such a concern to the administration – contrast it with this item of less than a year ago, when the White House demanded that Georgetown University, a Catholic institution, cover up Christian religious symbols for a speech that Obama was to give there in Gaston Hall, and the university complied.  They even went the extra mile to cover up the pediment above the backdrop, on which was inscribed a cross and the letters IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator, or 'Jesus, Savior of Mankind'), a standard Catholic reference to Christ.

Gaston Hall pediment, before and after

It's good to know where the Obama White House puts its priorities.

Update: Nile Gardiner of Britain's Daily Telegraph has picked up on the same theme, from the same Halper piece, about how "[i]t is simply astonishing that the leader of the free world would agree to speak against a backdrop of a murderous terrorist with American and Israeli blood on his hands."  He concludes his piece with: 
President Obama's first term was littered with embarrassing gaffes abroad, and it looks like his second term will be more of the same.  This is in many respects an amateurish presidency, headed by a president who is frequently out of his depth on the world stage, and all too willing to appease America's adversaries.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Invading Iraq Was a Good Decision, and Thoughts on the Iraqi WMD

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by coalition forces consisting of American (primarily), British, Australian, and Polish forces.  Very little has been published in the press to mark the occasion, with the MSM content to let lie the oft- and diligently-repeated claim that the war was unjustified because there were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.  This claim is consistently laid at the exclusive doorstep of George W Bush, and it is not unusual to hear the assertion that Bush lied or was deceptive in order to perpetuate an unjust war.

 A US Marine symbolizes the downfall of Saddam Hussein, prior to the statue being toppled ("... gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair")

The Left defines itself through a variety of shibboleths, and this is one of the major ones, perpetuated by the resolute repetition of the assertion (becoming declaration, then doctrine), such as the fading craze of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming or the discredited yet wildly successful financial expenditures to avoid the ephemeral Y2K 'crisis'.  (I revisited Spain recently and was struck at the continuation of the unwritten law that requires that any article published in a magazine or book on practically any subject must contain in the first paragraph some form of condemnation of Franco.)  So it is that the invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein is labelled the "bad war", "thrust" upon the world and the Iraqi people.

I disagree.  Left out of these claims are a variety of other good reasons, and General Tommy Franks, commander of the Coalition Forces, listed the sum total of the objectives of the invasion as (1) end the Saddam Hussein regime, (2) identify, isolate, and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, (3) search for, capture, and drive out terrorists from Iraq, (4) collect intelligence for further action against terrorists networks, (5) collect intelligence on the illicit network of international cooperation in the area of weapons of mass destruction, (6) provide and support the recovery of the needy Iraqi people after years of sanctions and the abuse of the Hussein regime, (7) secure the Iraqi oil fields and resources for the sake of the Iraqi people, and (8) create conditions for a transition to a representative self-government.

The removal of Hussein was paramount.  He was ensconced in power officially since 1979 but had been the de facto ruler since 1968, and ruthlessly eliminated anyone who was not only a rival but who could be a potential rival for power.  This was a complicating factor in our decision that he must be removed: he was so consolidated and surrounded by only those of his own choosing, down through several levels of his regime, that simply removing Hussein himself would likely result in someone equally brutal and repressive in his place, particularly his pathological sons. 

He had started a war with Iran after its radical Islamist theocracy under the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, fearing – accurately – that it would try to influence the large Shia population in southern Iraq.  During its eight-year duration (1980-1988), the war resulted in the deaths of over 1.5 million people on both sides.  The Left will claim that the US was in favor of Iraq and provided important aid, correct to some degree, but will ignore the larger implications of the conflict which had the West in general fearful of the excesses of the Iranians, and the Americans, as were many countries, were content to have both sides tied down in a conflict with each other, a sentiment best exemplified by Henry Kissinger: "It's too bad that they both can't lose."

Saddam penuried Iraq as a result of the war and sought to help his situation by restating a claim that Kuwait was historically a part of Iraq and should be again, through the expedient of attacking and incorporating the kingdom as Iraq's "nineteenth province", while at the same time eliminating a major creditor that underwrote his war with Iran.  He was aided in his delusion by the incompetent April Glaspie, our ambassador at the time, who gave him the impression that the US government took no real position on the question.  He convinced himself that there would be no viable Western reaction to his invasion of Kuwait, expecting that it would be a repeat of his war with Iran for which we would have no stomach.  This was proved painfully wrong by George H W Bush and his masterful world coalition, in the Kuwait War of 1991 (in which I took a very personal interest) which drove him from Kuwait and effectively destroyed his army in a matter of days.

Despite his disastrous loss, Saddam then became the master of manipulating world politics and (further) corrupting the United Nations and its pathetic efforts to hold him accountable, by way of a series of UN resolutions that he flagrantly violated.  The remaining coalition forces (the US and UK) instituted no-fly zones in the north and south sections of Iraq, but Saddam violated the declarations almost daily, firing at our aircraft.

He was a major factor, if not the major factor, in supporting movements that targeted the interests and security of the West, whether that be the West in general (tempered by the fact that Europe was particularly reliant on Iraqi oil) or the United States and Israel in particular.  He was a constant threat to seriously de-stabilize the region and create havoc on the world oil markets – again. 

As for a humanitarian reason, he was one of History's most brutal dictators.  The press ponies up with comparisons to Hitler, always considered the most evil of right-wing despots (despite the socialist Nazi party), but Saddam was actually quite the expert on Stalin, with a huge library on the subject and his frequent reference to the Soviet dictator in meetings with his closest cabinet members.  He was paranoid about instability within his country and its large Shia and Kurd populations, and brutally repressed them, using mass murder (estimates range in the hundreds of thousands), rape, and excruciating torture (my men and I found one such torture chamber upon entering Kuwait City with Operation Desert Storm).

He starved his own people and withheld vital medical aid when Iraq was under sanctions.  Humanitarian supplies were readily available through the UN "Oil for Food" program, but with the help of corrupt UN officials he diverted money to his own use.  The press reported that these privations, including a spike in infant mortality, were the result of the sanctions themselves (reported almost gleefully by Bill Moyers of PBS), but ignored the fact that the northern zone of Iraq, with a self-governing Kurdish regime under the protection of the remaining Coalition, was practically thriving under those same sanctions.  It was later admitted by CNN (while indicting other news services as well) that it doctored news stories in favor of Saddam in order to retain its access in Baghdad.

The Left and the press (but I repeat myself) also insisted that Saddam maintained no ties with terrorist personalities or organizations, despite close ties and protection of Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi; a tie-in to the al Qaeda bombing of our African embassies in 1998; funneling money and support to al Qaeda, the Algerian GIA (now AQIM), and the anti-Kurdish group Ansar al Islam; an account published in an Iraqi official newspaper detailing links with Osama bin Laden; contacts with Muhammed Atta of the 9/11 hijackers (which critics doubt but which the Czech intelligence service, one of the best Warsaw Pact services of the Cold War, insisted had happened, agreeing with our CIA); and many more examples.

The Left often speaks of our "wars for oil" (which of course explains the low price of gas at the pumps today), but ignores the example of Kuwait, which we promptly left after its liberation, and even Iraq itself.  In both cases, the French were the ones who garnered the oil contracts with the respective governments.

Hundreds of trucks departing Iraqi ammo dump, early 2003

The most often-used accusation about the war was that it was fought over the claim that Iraq had WMDs, but afterward there were none to be found.  Like the Spanish example at the beginning, practically every MSM article or retrospective about our experience in Iraq has to include the assertive claim that there were no Iraqi WMDs.  This is absurd.  It first violates the principle that the (purported) absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  It flies in the face of the fact that we knew that Saddam had WMDs, insisted upon by the CIA and DIA as well as the pronouncements of the German BND and French DGSE, as well as Russian intelligence sources.  We knew he had them because he used them, particularly chemical agents.  He used them in a wholesale fashion, both blister and nerve agents, against the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War.  He even used them against his own people, with the city of Halabja being the best known, but used time and time again in destroying towns and villages in Kurdish Iraq.  In 1996, the Iraq government itself admitted to producing at least 3.9 tons of VX.  Nerve agents were used in IEDs targeting US troops in 2004.  In 2006, some 500 munitions filled with blister (mustard) or nerve agents (Sarin) had been discovered.  Tons of precursor chemicals (from France, Germany, and Singapore, among others) still remain unaccounted for.  Testimony from former Iraqi officials, as well as testimony from our own intelligence and operational assets, attest to the fact that a vast amount of Iraqi chemical weapons were trucked into Syria just prior to the Coalition attack into Iraq.  One such source was no less than Marine Lieutenant General Mike DeLong, Deputy CENTCOM Commander under General Franks, who based on his explanation was likely viewing the convoy of trucks in real time using "technical means".  John Shaw, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security, has said that the Iraqis received substantial direct support from the Russians to help them move the WMD materials into Syria and possibly elsewhere.  Syria is a superb place for shipment of the Iraqi stores, as it maintains an enormous chemical weapons stockpile (a "poor man's" WMD counterweight to the Israeli nuclear stockpile), and integrating the Iraqi chemical munitions would be a factor of hiding them in plain sight.  A later attempt by Zarqawi to use chemical weapons in an attack against Amman was broken up by Jordanian intelligence, with the claim that the source of his chemicals (which could result in up to 80,000 casualties) was the stockpile in Syria.

As for a nuclear capability, remember that a conspiratorial network of nuclear weapons technology under the auspices of A Q Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapon, and assisted by scientists from the then-defunct Soviet nuclear program, was coordinating weapons programs in other countries, and is the initial source for the programs in North Korea and Iran.  There is strong evidence that the network extended still further.  What we see of continued cooperation between North Korea and Iran means that the same can exist with other countries as well.  Saddam had exported chemical weapons production to Sudan, for example (and Libya too, I would contend), thus he could have exported a nuclear program too.  He still maintained some 7500 nuclear technicians in the late 1990s and maintained a structure that could easily have been started back up in earnest once the sanctions were lifted, or more likely collapsed, considering the situation up to the 2003 invasion, with wholesale violations of the weapons sanctions by countries anxious to do business with Saddam.  Iraq was caught trying to smuggle precise nuclear triggering devices (or calipers) through London, and was known to be keeping materials in Algeria.  Production of enriched nuclear material was accelerated at the Osiraq reactor until it was destroyed in an allied air strike in the lead-up to the Kuwait War, and the Iraqis sought to exploit highly radioactive sources from technical devices (for example, four devices for irradiating food were found and removed from the Tuwaitha nuclear complex).  The 'yellow cake' uranium that British intelligence maintained Iraq sought from Niger, to supplement some 550 tons already on hand, led indirectly to the ridiculous Valerie Plame affair but demonstrated how shrill the press can be in attempting to forge a story.  Left ignored by the press is the fact that since Iraq already had an ample supply of the yellow cake, the Niger connection was immaterial to the decision to invade.

You may also remember that Muammar Qaddafi of Libya had a nuclear weapons program, which he promptly announced and surrendered to the US upon the collapse of the Saddam regime in 2003.  All things considered, Libya seemed an unlikely prospect – on its own – to create an effective nuclear weapon.  I contend that this was in actuality a joint venture with Iraq (like the North Korean and Iranian cooperative program), and Qaddafi wanted to quickly divest himself of the suddenly paralyzed program, particularly after he saw the effect on Saddam.

As for our current relations with Iraq, an example presented to show the futility of its liberation, with al Qaeda resurgent and the government looking the other way when Iran funnels as much support as it can to Syria by way of Iraqi airspace (or more than likely just cooperating)?  Was all the sacrifice for nought, considering how it is turning out?  We have here another case of our military handing our government a victory in the field that it was sent to accomplish (just like in Viet Nam), and we did it twice: the first at the end of conventional hostilities in November 2003 (we had destroyed the Iraqi military as a fighting force; we were no longer engaging Iraqi tank brigades on line), but followed by a second phase of the war with the insurgency involving disaffected Baathists, disenfranchised Sunnis (seeing now the dreaded rise of the Shias, ending the Sunni holiday), waves of foreign jihadis flocking to the cause under al Qaeda and other affiliated groups, criminal enterprises – and yes, we anticipated some form of insurgent counterattack, but not to that degree, and we bungled even our original plans, mistakenly treating Iraq according to the post-war plan for Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.  When all was declared lost by the "experts", literally so in the case of Harry Reid, George W Bush stood firm and ordered the surge, with the result that this second phase of the war was won as well by the summer of 2008. 

But Obama could not resist the petty political opportunity to denigrate our military and our nation, representative of the ideals that the Right holds dear, by turning his back on the process.  Our attempt to forge a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq collapsed, with the mission for that handed to Joe Biden, failing totally as he does too often.  The administration simply cannot bring itself to recognize an accomplishment of an opponent, refusing to acknowledge anything other than to "end the war".  The result was that our last elements in Iraq (3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division), deceiving the Iraqis, packed up and departed in the middle of the night, making a dash for the border of Kuwait under cover of darkness, an ignominious end that was ignored in our press but was widely understood throughout the Middle East. 

A final question to the critics of the war must be, what could have been done otherwise?  The sanctions had failed.  By 2003, brutal sanctions had been in place for twelve years.  The humanitarian exceptions were cruelly manipulated by Saddam, just as he cynically manipulated the Western powers who were anxious, as Stalin would put it, to sell him the rope by which he could hang them.  The inspectors who were to have verified the destruction of the Iraqi WMD program were flagrantly threatened and made a laughingstock by the obvious and contemptible manner by which the evidence was hidden or spirited away in full view of reporters and camera teams.  Saddam was waiting us out, and the West was giving every indication that it would be just a matter of time before we threw in the towel. 

Saddam's WMD program, said now to be a figment of the either stupid or malignant imagination (or somehow both) of George Bush and Dick Cheney, could come back on line to the extent that it needed to, above what already existed.  Because it did exist in the eyes of the intelligence services of every country sophisticated to have one, from ours (with Clinton's George Tenet, Director of the CIA, pounding the table and declaring a "slam dunk"), to the British, the Germans, the French, certainly the Israelis, and others (many countries should have surely known, for they sold Saddam the goods).  Democrats in Congress insisted that a goal of the US was to remove Saddam from power, forcefully if it came to that, and codified it in a resolution in 1998.

So the critics are saying that it would have been better to leave Saddam in power?  Can they imagine a Middle East with a Saddam unrestricted?  How many more hundreds of thousands of his people would be tortured and murdered?  How many other countries would he threaten, now with a viable means to do so?  A murderous Iraq with a bomb, facing an insane Iran with a bomb, both of them declaring that Israel should be eliminated.  The West worries about the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan, but the critics were willing to accept this? 

No other options remained before we launched the attack into Iraq, and I submit that the situation of today, however abandoned by the current administration, is far preferable to that which existed before in all its terrifying potential.  As to the families whose members have sacrificed, and to the wounded veterans of that conflict, they can only come up with their own answer about whether it was worth it.  I can only say that I have yet to meet a veteran of our Global War on Terror (and I include two of my sons) who isn't proud to have served.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Significance of Pope Francis

An understandably popular story careening about the media deals with the retirement of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (a rare creature but something slowly gaining sway: something new in the Roman Catholic Church) and the subsequent conclave of those eligible within the College of Cardinals (another not-quite-so-new requirement: cardinals must be no older than 79 to cast a vote, instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1970) and election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires to the position of Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ, the only titles which really count.  The term "Pope", used specifically to refer to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, didn't come into widespread usage until the 6th century.

                         Pope Francis (just Francis...)             (Guardian)

I have an abiding interest in the history of Christianity, and those who have taken the time to read my brief biography know that I have taught the subject on occasion.  (For the sake of clarity, I am not a Roman Catholic.)  For it is by tradition as well as scripture that we discern the teachings and directions of God, with both scripture and tradition being given different weight within the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant theologies (not to mention the other Christian theologies such as the Syriacs, Copts, Nestorians, and so on).

Based on the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, this is important because the Pope has his authority passed down to him from a direct succession from the first Bishop of Rome, St Peter, to whom Christ passed the authority to build his church (again, according to RC interpretation) in Matthew 16:18.  (Protestants argue that it was not Peter himself, previously named Simon but re-named as the "rock" – Petra – of the church, but rather his profession of faith as its foundation.  The same authority was granted by Christ to all the Apostles within two chapters – Matthew 18:18.)

But now a note to newscasters: please contact someone – anyone – who speaks Spanish for the correct pronunciation, or more importantly Italian, since the new Pope's father was an Italian immigrant.  It is "behr-go'-lyo", with the Italian gl pronounced like the Spanish ll, or like the ll in the English word million.  There is a large and significant population in Argentina that is of Italian descent (some estimates put it at 20%), and note that the new Pontiff was born in 1936 – I have already heard queries that the father may have been among the Italian Fascist (and German Nazi) refugees that fled to South America after World War II ended in 1945.  Not so.

(Before moving on, there is still the news item that Benedict XVI is the first to retire in 600 years.  To add some more context, the circumstances back then were entirely different.  The preeminent French in the late 14th century had moved the papacy to Avignon, which soon resulted in two popes vying for authenticity, the other of course from Rome.  Succeeding popes continued the dispute, dubbed the Western or Papal Schism (sometimes misnamed the Great Schism, confused with the final split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in 1054), and a serious attempt to resolve the issue occurred with a church council in 1409.  As usual with religious disputes, the attempt to merge two factions into one only resulted in splitting them into three.  Another attempt eventually succeeded after the Council of Constance in 1414, which secured the resignations of Gregory XII of Rome and John XXIII (no, not that one, this one) of Pisa in 1415 and excommunicated the Spanish Benedict XIII of Avignon.  Benedict refused to acknowledge the decision and hung on with some Spanish and Scottish support (he is oddly responsible for the creation of St Andrews University), and he was in turn succeeded, in almost comic fashion, by two successive "hidden popes" both named Benedict XIV (you cannot make this stuff up) and the opposing Clement VIII who finally threw in the towel in 1429, recognizing Martin V as the one true pope.  Today's church acknowledges only the Roman popes as legitimate, with the others being labelled as antipopes.)

There are a number of 'firsts' associated with his elevation, and all are indications of the direction he will take.

He is the first non-European pope since Gregory III (d 741), who was born in Syria, and who in his disputes with the Emperor in Constantinople helped set the stage for the later watershed event of the crowning of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, as the Holy Roman Emperor in 800.  This connection to Gregory III has no real impact, but much is made of the fact that he is from outside of Europe.  Commentators in this regard fail to note the armed conquest of Asia Minor and North Africa by the Arab Umayyad Muslims, nor the fact that the concept of Europe was not a distinct concept in contemporary minds, recognizing at the time only different sections of the steadily deteriorating Roman Empire.  There is more to this than meets the eye though: Benedict XVI tended to reverse the trend begun by his predecessor John Paul II to internationalize the College of Cardinals, with Benedict appointing a larger proportion of cardinals from Europe and particularly Italy.  Due to the history of how the College has been structured and how cardinals were developed, Italy has always held an enormous amount of power within the Church (some 25% of the cardinals, electors and otherwise, are Italian), and there were rumblings that a return to a 'traditional' Italian pope was in order (the Polish John Paul II broke that 455-year trend).  With Francis, this could partially be a compromise on that score – a first-generation Argentine from an Italian family.

The Pontifex Maximus has taken the name Francis, after the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is not Pope Francis I, just Pope Francis.  The title of Francis I will not be used until such time as there is a Pope Francis II, just as there is no need to assign numbers to many previous popes such as Vitalian, Fabian, Formosus, Constantine or Lando, or for that matter Peter (perhaps comparing one to Saint Peter would be a bit too presumptuous). 

Much is made of the original Francis' dedication to a sense of living in poverty but the emphasis is on a dedication to the poor, the area of 'social justice'.  It is expected by the media punditry that this will mean a focus on the issue as they define it, concomitant (of course) with the Progressive/Obama move of 'soaking the rich'.  I believe that Francis, though, has a different take on the subject – that we should all undertake a life of simplicity, austerity and humility, as opposed to the Commentariat of the Left who preach the topic as a political means for "fundamental transformation" to their benefit while still holding the reins, trappings, and benefits of political control.  The Left should be careful of what they wish for.  Facts about the original Francis that should be kept in mind is that not only was he the founder of the Franciscans, but he also returned from his journies to lead a very thorough reformation of the order.  St Francis is also known as one who took a very personal interest in confronting the Muslims of his time, leading a two-man delegation to parley with the Sultan of Egypt for several days, in order to lift the Saracen seige of Damietta.

Francis is also the first Jesuit pope, from the Society of Jesus founded by St Ignatius Loyola, with its history of being rigorous "warrior scholars", dedicated to restoring and solidifying the Church teachings and doctrine of the last two thousand years against the pop sociology of the last four decades.  He has already staked his claim in a very open way with the Kirchner dynasty in Argentina (Nestor and wife Cristina [Fernández de] Kirchner have alternated the presidency of Argentina since 2003) over the issues of gay marriage and political revenge of the lingering 'Dirty War' of los desaparecidos between the military junta and the Marxist guerilla movement in Argentina between 1976 and 1983.  As the first Jesuit pope, we should already know that the Left will not find him a political vacillator, bending to the what they decide is the popular desire of the moment.

One further note that has been passed over in the reportage is Francis' reference of the papal title of "Servant of the Servants", which entered the list of titles by way of Pope Gregory I, or St Gregory the Great.  This Gregory was a major reformer of the church of his time (590-604) who truly earned his honorific title.

So, with both direct and subtle references to St Francis, St Ignatius Loyola, and St Gregory the Great, I fully expect that we will be in for a time of some no-nonsense reformation.