Well I have to say that, personally, 2006 was a damn good year after several tough ones... it went by in a blur too! I went to Mexico (awesome), Scotland (beautiful), Chicago (always fun), Key West (always hot), Disney (twice, freezing both times) and even took a VIP NASA tour at the Cape, saw the shuttle Discovery on the launch pad and met a real astronaut(!). I went snorkeling in Yucatan cenotes. I shouted "Freedom" at the William Wallace memorial and discovered Bute, Scotland. I met a T-Rex named Sue. I sang drinking songs at Irish Kevin's. I witnessed my beloved Gators win at the Outback bowl; then then won a national championship in basketball (something I never, ever, ever thought I'd see) and I get to watch them compete shortly for one in football. I saw a Bucs game for the first time in years. I gained (yet) another niece. And I was promoted twice, and even though I was expecting a third I guess it could have been far worse and am thankful for the fortunes God has granted me. I have hope again.
What's this? Optimism from Greg? Who'd a thunk it? I have my darling Sherri to thank for that.
Now I'm on my way to Jax to celebrate the New Year with friends.
I hope it was a good year for you too, and I hope that 2007 goes even better for all of us.
[Newsweek] Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and - mother of all surprises - it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.
... Consider some less formal indicators. Perhaps the most pervasive is the horrendous Iraqi traffic jams. Roadside bombs account for fewer backups than the sheer number of secondhand cars that have crowded onto the nation's roads - five times as many in Baghdad as before the war. Cheap Chinese goods overflow from shop shelves, and store owners report quick turnover. Real-estate prices have risen several hundred percent, suggesting that Iraqis are more optimistic about the future than most Americans are.
... A government often accused of being no government at all has somehow managed to take its first steps to liberalize the highly centralized economy of the Saddam era.
Curious, eh? There are a few observations one can make from this.
First being this didn't just happen overnight, and Newsweek and the mainstream media didn't just discover it! Had Republicans kept control of Congress one could bet dollars to burkas that this story would never have seen the light of day. This is, in my opinion from observing the media through six years of post-9-11 conflict, their way of hedging their bets. If the allied forces in Iraq can begin to turn the bloody stalemate into steady progress while at the same time Democrats, say, capture the White House, then shortly after that you can bet you'll read more and more of these positive reports about Iraq. You can call me partisanly cynical, but that's how these cats operate.
Second, it's par for the course that the more left leaning think tanks, such as the mainstream media, often confuse cause with symptoms. For years they have revised history to reminisce how Iraq used to be so "stable" - as though stability and not liberty were what our nation was founded upon - and we Americans just screwed that up. Akin to "Mousalini made the trains run on time," opponents of the war effort are often heard uttering "Well sure Saddam is bad but [insert caveat here]." It was of course as silly in the 1930s as today - centralized dictatorships are not efficient or stable presicely because they limit liberty and economic freedom. Thus, it's only natural - and not the "mother of all surprises" quoted above - that an economy would blossom in conjunction with a government more liberal than Saddam.
Third, letting up on my "Jane you ignorant slut" bashing of the Newsweek authors, to their credit they acknowledge the obvious: indeed, Iraqis are more optimistic about their future than most Americans. But then again, that's only because Newsweek et. al. spent four years on a jihad of Iraqi pessimism.
I call on you not to hate because hate does not leave space for a person to be fair and it makes you blind and closes all doors of thinking," said the letter published on the Web site of Saddam's former Baath Party. "I also call on you not to hate the people of the other countries that attacked us," it said of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In Amman, Jordan, one of Saddam's lawyers, Issam Ghazzawi, told The Associated Press the letter was authentic and was written by Saddam on Nov. 5 - the day he was condemned to death for ordering the killing of 148 people in the northern town of Dujail in 1982.
And this after years of vilifying the court that tried him and prodding on his insurgent followers? Well, take a little bit of satisfaction in knowing that even Saddam sees the writing on the wall, knows he's going to die, and is making a last-grasp pathetic effort at hoping American power intervenes or delays his execution by writing a make-nice letter. The thing is, if immediately after his capture Saddam had played ball, had called on his Sunni followers to suspend attacks, tried to calm the situation a little, I'd bet the US would have been willing to pursuade Iraq on a life imprisonment. Enjoy your rope, Saddam. It's a nicer way to die than those who he and his sons killed.
This is a great letter to the WSJ editor from Junkscience.com editor Stephen Milloy and underscores how unvalidated popular opinion can become so powerful it actually ends up keeping world populations more poor and malnourished (see: Warming, Global). DDT was in the 1970s what proposed carbon taxing or "organic foods" are today (any wonder why so many Ecoli outbreaks are occurring when a small but vocal majority bullies everyone to fertilize with manure instead of the demonized chemicals that made our world better?)
Your Dec. 26 editorial "The Eagle Is Landing" unfortunately perpetuates a major myth about the insecticide DDT -- that the 1972 ban of DDT saved the eagle from extinction.
As early as 1921, the journal Ecology reported that bald eagles were threatened with extinction -- 22 years before DDT production even began. According to a report in the National Museum Bulletin, the bald eagle reportedly had vanished from New England by 1937 -- 10 years before widespread use of the pesticide.
But by 1960, 20 years after the Bald Eagle Protection Act and at the peak of DDT use, the Audubon Society reported counting 25% more eagles than in its pre-1941 census. U.S. Forest Service studies reported an increase in nesting bald eagle productivity from 51 in 1964 to 107 in 1970, according to the 1970 Annual Report on Bald Eagle Status.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attributed bald eagle population reductions to a "widespread loss of suitable habitat," but noted that "illegal shooting continues to be the leading cause of direct mortality in both adult and immature bald eagles," according to a 1978 report in the Endangered Species Tech Bulletin.
A 1984 National Wildlife Federation publication listed hunting, power line electrocution, collisions in flight and poisoning from eating ducks containing lead shot as the leading causes of eagle deaths.
In addition to these reports, numerous scientific studies and experiments vindicate DDT.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists fed large doses of DDT to captive bald eagles for 112 days and concluded that "DDT residues encountered by eagles in the environment would not adversely affect eagles or their eggs," according to a 1966 report published in the "Transcripts of 31st North America Wildlife Conference."
The Fish and Wildlife Service examined every bald eagle found dead in the U.S. between 1961-1977 (266 birds) and reported no adverse effects caused by DDT or its residues.
One of the most notorious DDT "factoids" is that it thinned bird egg shells. But a 1970 study published in Pesticides Monitoring Journal reported that DDT residues in bird egg shells were not correlated with thinning. Numerous other feeding studies on caged birds indicate that DDT isn't associated with egg shell thinning.
In the few studies claiming to implicate DDT as the cause of thinning, the birds were fed diets that were either low in calcium, included other known egg shell-thinning substances, or that contained levels of DDT far in excess of levels that would be found in the environment -- and even then, the massive doses produced much less thinning than what had been found in egg shells in the wild.
So what causes thin bird egg shells? The potential culprits are many. Some that have been reported in the scientific literature include: oil, lead, mercury, stress from noise, fear, excitement or disease, age, bird size (larger birds produce thicker shells), dehydration, temperature, decreased light, human and predator intrusion, restraint and nutrient deficiencies.
Most of this evidence was available to the Environmental Protection Agency administrative judge who presided over the 1971-1972 hearings about whether DDT should be banned. No doubt it's why he ruled that, "The use of DDT under the regulations involved here does not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife."
Yet it's the myths, not the facts, that endure. Why? The answer is endless repetition. If we want, as you have editorialized in the past, for the malarial regions nations to embrace DDT use, the repetition of this myth must end.
This commentary on Iraq by Eliot Cohen is hands down the best I've read in a very long time, and I read a lot of these.
No Way to Win a War
Iraq Study Group: A fatuous process yielded fatuous results.
BY ELIOT A. COHEN
Sunday, December 10, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
The theory of the thing is very peculiar indeed. You are in the middle of a war--a hard war, a war that is going badly. If the government has bogged down, if the people inside have gone stale, you would say that the sound thing, the Churchillian or Lincolnian or Rooseveltian thing, would be, first, to fire a bunch of officials (generals as well as top civilians), promote or bring in fresh talent, and put together a small group of people to take a new and unillusioned look. Those people would report back in secrecy to the president and his most senior advisers and aides.
They would consist of experienced soldiers and civilians in whom the president (who, after all, has to make the strategic decisions, and is the accountable executive) has trust. There would not be many of them, a half dozen or so, and they would have to be hardy enough to visit the war zone for several weeks, talking not just to politicians and generals but to captains and sergeants. They would go see things for themselves. They would visit a forward operating base near Tikrit; they would spend some time with Iraqi soldiers in Taji; they would take their chances in a convoy to al Asad, or even a patrol in Tal Afar.
They--not their staff of a few soldiers and secretaries--would do the probing, digging, thinking, discussing and, above all, the writing. The chairman of the group would insist that they air their disagreements candidly and thoroughly in front of the president, engaging in a debate that might last a day, perhaps longer. The rest of us would not find out about the panel until months, or even years, after it reported back; maybe not until the war was over.
The administration's congressional critics (including those of its own party) came up with a different solution: the Iraq Study Group (ISG), which has now produced a document that consists of 50 pages of recommendations, preceded by a 40-page thumbnail sketch of the current situation in Iraq and 50 pages of maps, lists of people, and full-length biographies of the commissioners. This is a group composed, for the most part, of retired eminent public officials, most with limited or no expertise in the waging or study of war. It consists of individuals carefully selected with an eye to diverse partisan and other irrelevant personal characteristics. These worthies, with not one chairman but two (for balance, of course), turned to several score experts known to disagree vehemently with one another about the best course of action to be pursued in Iraq.
Some of the commission members and their advisers cordially detest the president and his administration and opposed him and his war from the outset; others were equally passionate in their defense of both the man and the conflict. And yet this diverse group had an overwhelming mandate, from the beginning, to produce a consensus document. The commission members spent four days in Iraq, and with the exception of a one-day foray by former Marine Chuck Robb, they stayed in the Green Zone, that bubble of palaces and residences that has little to do with the real Iraq of Basra, Kirkuk, Ramadi, Baquba and Mosul. At the end, they had breakfast with the president and a few hours later posted their conclusions on the Internet for all the world to ponder. There is something of farce in all this, an invocation of wisdom from a cohesive Washington elite that does not exist, a desperate wish to believe in the gravitas and the statecraft of grave men (and women) who can sort out the mess in which the country finds itself.
A fatuous process yields, necessarily, fatuous results. "Iraq's neighbors are not doing enough to help Iraq achieve stability"--a statement only somewhat ameliorated by the admission that some are even "undercutting stability," which sounds as though Syria and Iran were being downright rude, rather than providing indispensable assistance to those who have filled the burn wards of Walter Reed, the morgue in Baghdad, and the cemetery at Arlington. The selected remedy is, first and foremost, rather like the ISG's credo for its own functioning, consensus. "The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region," as if our chief failure with Bashar Assad or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lies with the hitherto unnoticed laziness or rhetorical ineptitude of our diplomats, or as though Europe, Saudi Arabia and Israel have not yet figured out that stability in Iraq is a good thing. "Syria should control its border" and "Iran should respect Iraq's sovereignty."
No kidding--but who is going to make them? That perennial solution, "resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict," makes its appearance, including direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, but only with "those who accept Israel's right to exist." The report conveniently forgets that the elected leaders of Palestine do not, in fact, accept Israel's right to exist. And it also neglects the grim reality that one of the most terrible things about Gaza, and possibly the West Bank as well, is that no one, not even Hamas, is really in charge.
Part of Iran's price for easing up on us in Iraq is pretty clearly taking the heat off its nuclear program; the ISG recommends that that issue "should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany." Well, what deal should the U.S. be willing to cut on Iranian nuclear weapons? Do we think the Iranians would deliver? And what are the long-term consequences?
War, and warlike statecraft, is a hard business, and though this is supposed to be a report dominated by "realists," there is nothing realistic in failing to spell out the bloody deeds, grim probabilities and dismal consequences associated with even the best course of action. Indeed, some parts of the report read as sheer fantasy--Recommendation 15, for example, which provides that part of the American deal with Syria should include the latter's full cooperation in investigating the Hariri assassination, verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah, and its support for persuading Hamas to recognize Israel.
The prescriptions for internal processes in Iraq are only somewhat better. The ISG argues that American forces should shift to developing Iraqi security forces and backing them up, which is more or less the course we are on now. It talks of milestones for Iraqi performance, as if Iraqi benchmarking were more a problem than Iraqi will, and Iraqi will more the problem than Iraqi capability. It suggests announcing our own planned redeployments without considering the most obvious consequence, which is that Iraqis of many political hues will decide that the Americans are leaving, and the time has come to cut deals with Jaish al Mahdi, or the Badr organization, or al Qaeda in Iraq, or any of the other cutthroat outfits infesting that bleeding country.
Quite apart from the psychological impact of our actions, there is the sober fact that the Iraqi army is small, 138,000-strong (and that number probably overstated), and that building effective security forces takes time. The 188,000-man police forces are corrupt, riddled with militia influence, and in need of a thorough overhaul. We cannot build the Iraqi security forces without a substantial combat presence. Nor is the problem merely one of training, as Iraqi corporals driving around in pickup trucks without functional radios might have sourly pointed out, had they had the chance to talk to a Study Group member.
At least the ISG has given considerable thought to preparing us for future conflict. Consider Recommendations 47 and 48. Congress, they declare, should allocate money to repair the clapped-out equipment the Army and Marines will bring back from Iraq. This is no doubt better than, say, heaving Bradley infantry fighting vehicles overboard on the way back to American ports in order to provide a home for new coral reefs. "As [American] redeployment proceeds, military leaders should emphasize training and education of forces that have returned to the United States in order to restore the force to full combat capability." Pentagon planners would do well to pursue this plan rather than give the troops six months of leave and then having them paint the sorely neglected rocks outside the sergeant major's office.
The great war leaders, in their private deliberations, shied away from vagueness. Haziness about ends and means, about what to do and how to do it, is a mark of strategic ineptitude; in war it gets people killed. But a Churchill could only call the flattening of German cities "terror bombing" in private.
Thus, unsurprisingly, in a public document of this kind, euphemism and imprecision abound. The U.S. needs to give "disincentives" to Syria and Iran: But the real question has always been whether we are willing to use a variety of overt and covert means--from bombing insurgent safe houses to sabotaging refineries, from mining harbors to supporting their own insurgents--to do so. And, in fact, the report mentions no means for squeezing either country.
True, as James Baker irritably noted at the press conference releasing the report, the U.S. talked to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But as the U.S. did so it also bankrupted the U.S.S.R. in an arms race, undermined its client governments in Eastern Europe by supporting Polish labor unions, and killed its soldiers by providing surface-to-air missiles to Afghan guerrillas. Real pain, and not merely tough talk sweetened by a bucket of goodies, paves the way for successful negotiations with brutal opponents.
What we need in Iraq is not a New Diplomatic Offensive (capitals in the original) so much as energy and competence in fighting the fight. From the outset of the Iraq war much of our difficulty has stemmed not so much from failures to find the right strategy, as from an astounding and depressing inability to implement the strategic and operational choices we have nominally made.
This inability has come from things as personal as picking the wrong people for key positions, in the apparent belief that generals are interchangeable cogs in a counterinsurgency machine. It has come from an unwillingness or inability to grab the bureaucracy by the throat and make it act--which is why, three years after the insurgency began, we still send soldiers out to risk roadside bomb attacks in overweight Humvees when there are half a dozen commercially available armored vehicles designed to minimize the effects of such blasts. It is why--although the government has declared long before the ISG issued its report that training the Iraqis is Job One--we still embed fewer than a dozen American advisers in an Iraqi battalion when the right number is three to five times that many.
We have not come up to the brink of failure because we did not know how important it is to employ young Iraqi men or to keep detained insurgents out of circulation or to prevent militia penetration of the security forces by vetting the commanders of those forces. We have known these things--but we have not done these things.
The creation of the Iraq Study Group reflects the vain hope that well-meaning, senior, former public officials can find ideas that have not already occurred to people inside government; that those new ideas can redeem incompetent execution and insufficient resources; that salvation can come from a Washington establishment whose wisdom was exaggerated in its heyday, and which has in any event succumbed to a kind of political-intellectual entropy since the 1960s; that a public commission can do the work of oversight that Congress has shirked for five years in the misguided belief that it would thus support an administration struggling to do its best in a difficult situation. This is no way to run a war, and most definitely, no way to win it.
Mr. Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Is al Qaeda a Sunni organization, or Shi'ite?
The question proved nettlesome for Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, incoming Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Predominantly -- probably Shi'ite," he said in a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, a periodical that covers political and legislative issues in Congress.
Unfortunately for Reyes, the al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden is comprehensively Sunni and subscribes to a form of Sunni Islam known for not tolerating theological deviation.
In fact, U.S. officials blame al Qaeda's former leader in Iraq, the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for the surge in sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
But Reyes' problems in the interview didn't end with al Qaeda.
Asked to describe the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Congressional Quarterly said Reyes responded: "Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah," and then said, "Why do you ask me these questions at five o'clock?"
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave the job to Reyes for one reason and one reason only -- unlike Rep. Jane Harman (D, CA), the former chair, Reyes voted against the war in Iraq. Doesn't give one much confidence that the Democrats are up to protecting the country when even someone just barely up on current events would know who Hezbollah is.
I think Borat would know more answers to basic "know your enemy" questions than your average Democrat... Very nice! Just a few days ago even the morally equivalent terror apologists of the NY Times fessed up and reported that Hezbollah is training militia and terrorists in Iraq - which of course means that Iran and Syria, which fully finance and supply Hezbollah, are committed to destabilizing the democratic processes in the country as well as killing American servicemen. So it would behoove all of us if Mr. Reyes perhaps opened up a freakin book, turned on a TV, or received terrorism tutor for in-house training and learned just what Hezbollah is.
Here's some excerpts from an excellent column by Ralph Peter's on the folly of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group's conclusions:
[James] Baker is the dean emeritus of a reactionary school of diplomats--inaccurately labeled "realists"--whose support of the shah of Iran, the Saudi royal family, Anwar Sadat, then Hosni Mubarak, and, not least, Saddam Hussein delivered short-term stability that proved illusory in the long run. It was the "realist" elevation of stability above all other strategic factors--echoing Prince Metternich--that gave us not only the radical regime in Iran, but, ultimately, al Qaeda and 9/11.
... For his part, Baker argued--wrongly--that Saddam Hussein should be spared in the wake of Desert Storm; tried to persuade the Soviet Union to remain whole after its comprehensive collapse; and pretended against the increasingly gory evidence that Yugoslavia could be preserved as a unified state. He tolerated Saddam's savage suppression of a Shia revolt we incited, and only grudgingly--and belatedly--acquiesced in our protection of Kurdish refugees.
One of the many tragedies of our experience in Iraq is that the incompetence of the Bush administration's occupation policy has obscured the necessity of igniting change in the Middle East. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was both an intelligent act and a moral one. But the aftermath was so badly botched that many in Washington now long--as did those powdered cynics in Vienna--for the status quo antebellum. They would renew our commitment to Saudi Arabia and other autocracies, while quietly selling out the Lebanese, the Kurds, and the region's moderates in order to get us out of Iraq. We would return to a version of the old order and might gain a brief respite from our troubles in the region. But the greater effects of a renewed stability-über-alles doctrine would play into the recruitment schemes of the most radical Islamist elements in the region, while instigating human rights violations on a breathtaking scale. We would throw away any hope of a better future for a brief timeout today.
Stability at any price isn't the answer. Stability imposed from above empowered Khomeini and bin Laden as surely as it did the 19th century revolutionaries and nihilists who became the 20th century's nationalists, demagogues, and mass murderers. Terror is an inevitable by-product of all grand clampdowns.
The statesmen of the Congress of Vienna sought to turn back history's tide, and their philosophical heirs on the Baker panel are trying to do the same. Democrat or Republican, superficially liberal or conservative, the Iraq Study Group is deeply reactionary. Its recommendations, which will be couched in terms of "sensible" Realpolitik, envision an impossible restoration of a peaceful Middle East that never existed. No matter the politically correct language in which it may be couched, the group's fundamental recommendation will be to return to a foreign policy in which the quest for stability trumps freedom, ignores human rights, frustrates the will of ordinary people, and violates elementary decency. By resisting change, the study group will only make the changes that do come to the Middle East even more explosive and anti-American.
The Middle East problem was difficult enough when the Bush administration stood for a benevolent revolution in possibilities against a range of reactionary enemies, from al Qaeda and Shia militias to various Baathist regimes and the apocalyptic nihilists ruling Iran. For all of the administration's practical ineptitude, its recognition that the Middle East could not continue in its current state was correct. Now we verge on a new clash of civilizations that will oppose our reactionaries to their reactionaries. It is a formula not for stability and peace, but for brutal conflict and spectacular terrorism.
The 19th century was far bloodier within Europe than historical glosses pretend, yet the political order the Congress of Vienna sought to preserve in amber did last, more or less, until 1914, when the inevitable explosion came on a massive scale. But history marches double time today, and any attempt to effect a restoration of rigid, top-down order in the Middle East will fail far more rapidly than did the Concert of Europe. Yesterday's solutions--Jim Baker's solutions--didn't work yesterday. They certainly won't work today.
Since the end of the Cold War, every one of our military engagements has come in response to failing states and flawed borders: Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq . . . we send our men and women in uniform to defend a world designed in Berlin and Versailles according to the macabre political philosophy of Metternich. The greatest democracy in history has been conned by its own political elite into fighting for the carto graphic legacy of dead czars, kings, kaisers, and emperors.
The Iraq Study Group's members will assure each other of their conscientiousness, while carefully guarding their legacies for future biographers and historians. And the group's recommendations will suggest, in one form or another, a return to the ancien régime.
Of course, the salient difference between the Congress of Vienna and the Iraq Study Group is obvious: The diplomats of the former had just achieved a military victory, while the members of the latter seek to avert a strategic defeat. The freedom of action that the Baker commission might imagine for itself is illusory.
There are no good solutions to Iraq, but some "solutions" are markedly worse than others. Any formula that attempts to extend the lives of dictatorships and oligarchies at the expense of already restive populations will end in disaster--even should it promise us the illusion of a "decent interval."
Ralph Peters is a retired military officer, columnist, and the author of 21 books, including the recent Never Quit the Fight.
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