Friday, September 28, 2007

One Bullet Away, The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick

A couple of reviews, many more available online elsewhere:

The difference between a Marine platoon sergeant and the platoon leader, or as he notes in another part, the difference between a platoon leader and a company commander (and so on).

I, despite all the training and the fact that I volunteered for all of this (Army, not Marines- I was too picky about jobs and dates- or too chicken) back in 1991, have never fancied myself a "warrior." I love my country and am willing to make some sacrifices for it, and if necessary, put my life on the line, but I did not push my way to the front of the line to get assigned infantry, and I don't volunteer for "extra" duties that put me in harm's way if they are not mission-essential. About the only thing I have in common with Nathaniel is Airborne training- and even then, I elected to NOT get the traditional "bloodwings". It seemed to me unnecessary pain.

Thankfully, there are guys like this- not bloodthirsty, but he appears about as noble and still dedicated to the fight as one can get in the circumstances of war. Many military autobiographies and narratives seem inflated and fail to acknowledge mistakes the person makes. I find his narrative wholly believable, and I admire him greatly. There was at least one case where I thought the good Lieutenant blamed himself (inwardly) for something that was really beyond his scope of control- it is a pleasure to see someone so willing to stand up and be accountable (even perhaps to a fault) like that.

Two questions that came to me as I was reading the book:

Why'd this guy quit? He answers that in the last chapter or so. If you're interested enough, you'll find the answer, too.

Why did he "throw the guy under the bus"? His company commander for his time in the current Iraq conflict (but now 4 years ago...) was frequently presented as a "how NOT to do it" model of leadership. He never named him in the text, but it would take very little investigative work to identify the individual. I'm not throwing stones at Fick on this at all- I gripe about leaders all the time- ok, not all the time, but too often. But his character and commitment in general seem to lead to the impression that he wouldn't do such a thing. The best explanation I can come up with is that so we can all learn from it. He addressed specific behaviors and comments, and how those came across to others, their impact on operations, morale, etc. As some critiques have stated, a stunning argument for the importance of competence.

Now the question is if I will ever finish Lawrence's Seven Pillars...

Favorite media of the day

I've been a bit grumpy lately, I blame it on my bad back and general unhappiness with some of the pointless exercises associated with being in the military.

But I found a piece that brightened my day, despite the seeming ambivalence of the two individuals being interviewed.

Rhino, tickbird stuck in dead-end symbiotic relationship

Story highlights:

  • Sub-Saharan partnership has become "predictable," couple complains
  • The animals met three years ago at local watering hole
  • Tickbird feels underappreciated; rhino feels picked on
  • Both sides envy symbiotic relationship of plover, crocodile

POLOKWANE, South Africa (The Onion) -- After three rainy seasons together, a black rhinoceros and a parasite-eating tickbird are beginning to suspect that their symbiotic relationship has fallen into a rut, the couple reported Sunday.

The rhino and tickbird pass another morning on the African savannah not saying one word to each other.

"We're really symbiotic -- almost too symbiotic," the rhino said. "It's just gotten so predictable lately that I'm starting to wonder, 'Is this all there is?'"

First meeting at a local watering hole in 2004, both creatures immediately saw themselves as natural for one other and, in the words of the rhino, felt something "new, gratifying, and mutually beneficial." Within hours, the tickbird had moved into the rhino's habitat and set up house on his thick hide.

But as time went on, it slowly dawned on the couple that their partnership was perhaps merely one of convenience.

"I admit, when we first got together, I was a total mess," the rhino said. "She really helped me clean up my act. But we've been together so long now that I always know exactly what she's going to do next."

Devouring horsefly larvae embedded in her 3,000-pound partner's back, the tickbird seemed to agree that there was little fire left in their symbiotic relationship. At worst, she said, it feels like she and the rhino have been trapped in the same dead-end symbiosis for "countless millions of years."

"We just go through the motions, and there's hardly any communication," the tickbird said. "And we do it the exact same way every time. I get on top and take the parasites off while he just lays there."

"Feed off the embedded ticks on his hide, chirp when the predators come. Feed off the embedded ticks on his hide, chirp when the predators come. Where's the passion, the heat?" the tickbird continued.

The tickbird also accused the rhino of trying to make her "feel small."

"He doesn't realize everything I do for him," the tickbird said. "If it wasn't for my 'incessant squawking,' as he calls it, he would be shot by poachers before he even saw them coming."

Both creatures separately expressed envy of their neighbors, a plover and crocodile, who "never seem to have the problems we do," the rhino said.

"That crocodile appreciates having his teeth cleaned, and he makes sure she knows," the tickbird said. "Look at that big grin."

The rhino said that he often feels like a victim of her nitpicking.
"I might look tough, but I have feelings," the rhino said. "I give her plenty to eat and a great place to perch, but it feels like she's constantly pecking an open wound. Ugh, why can't we just be friends with mutualistic benefits?"

The frustration has caused the pair to act out in passive-aggressive ways. The rhino will frequently charge without warning, jarring the tickbird from her perch. Meanwhile, the tickbird often deliberately embarrasses her partner by speculating aloud about a symbiotic relationship with a cape buffalo or zebra, often within earshot of those species.

According to a nearby elephant, this sense of stagnancy commonly occurs in symbiotic partnerships across sub-Saharan Africa.

"The rhino and tickbird may have evolved physiologically to meet each other's needs, but it's clear they haven't evolved emotionally," the elephant said. "They need to recognize that in order to go forward. The rhino's loud snorting is very alienating. And obviously the tickbird is projecting her own feelings of inadequacy when she criticizes the rhino for being a typical Diceros bicornis."

For all their friction, both creatures conceded that they weren't sure they could actually live without each other.

"I don't know why we stay together," the rhino said. "I guess we're just creatures of instinctual habit."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How to show you care and understand....

New York Times
September 27, 2007
Refugees? What Refugees?
By Roger Cohen

MALMO, Sweden

A 16-day overland odyssey has brought Mokaled Gamil, a former Iraqi Army officer, to this southern Swedish town, and what he fears now more than anything is resettlement north of the Arctic Circle in some snow-bound place that will ice over his Mesopotamian blood.

“Please, not far north,” he says in passable English, addressing Oskar Ekblad, an official from the Swedish Migration Board. “Too cold.”

Even by the fantastic standards of the Iraq war, the scene is bizarre: Gamil, a 45-year-old ex-colonel from an ex-army, stands outside a hostel full of stained mattresses and stunned Iraqis begging a decent Swede not to be dispatched to some remote reindeer-rich refuge.

“Iraqis are destined to begin their lives again at 45,” Gamil, a Sunni who has fled Baghdad’s Shiite militia, says with a gloomy matter-of-factness worthy of Strindberg.

Many are restarting in Sweden. Between January and August this year, Sweden took in 12,259 Iraqis fleeing their decomposing country. It expects 20,000 for all of 2007. By contrast, in the same January-August period, the United States admitted 685 refugees, according to State Department figures.

The numbers bear closer scrutiny. In January, Sweden admitted 1,500 Iraqis, compared to 15 that entered the United States. In April, the respective numbers were 1,421 and 1; in May, 1,367 and 1; and in August 1,469 and 529.

True, the Iraqis in Sweden are asylum-seekers, whereas those reaching these shores have refugee status conferred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. But the numbers — representing the bulk of the Iraqis getting into a country of nine million and another of 300 million — are no less of an indictment for that.

When Tobias Billstrom, the migration minister, says, “Yes, of course the United States should do more,” you can feel his indignation about to erupt like milk boiling over. He notes that given the huge population difference, Sweden’s intake of Iraqis “is the equivalent of the U.S. taking in about 500,000 refugees.”

Of all the Iraq war scandals, America’s failure to do more for refugees, including thousands who put their lives at risk for the U.S., stands out for its moral bankruptcy. Last time I checked, Sweden did not invade Iraq. Its generosity shames President Bush’s fear-infused nation.
I know, the U.S. is showering aid (more than $122 million in 2007) on Iraq’s neighbors to help more than two million fleeing Iraqis. It set up a refugee task force in February and, when that faltered, appointed two refugee czars this month.

“We want people engaged in this 24/7, breaking down barriers and expeditiously helping the refugees,” Paula Dobriansky, the under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, told me. “We have a moral obligation, and especially to those who have worked at our embassy.”
A commitment has been made to process 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Visas for 500 Iraqis a year who worked for the U.S. have been promised. But these are velleities. Concern has been unmatched by results. Bush has never addressed the issue, an example of his Green Zone politics: shut out ugly reality and with luck it will vanish.
An aggressive American intake of refugees would suggest that their quick return to Iraq is improbable: that smacks too much of failure for Bush. Moreover, you have to scrutinize refugees from countries “infiltrated by large numbers of terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff opined recently.

The result has been “major bottlenecks,” in the words of a leaked cable from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. Instead of the 7,000 Iraqi refugees supposed to get here this fiscal year, perhaps 1,600 will.

“The numbers are totally embarrassing,” says Kirk Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Iraq. “We can’t recognize a moral imperative any more.”

Imperative is right. People who risked their lives for America are dying or being terrorized because of craven U.S. lethargy. Others are in limbo. Bush now says “Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.” That’s too glib; one may be waiting to be saved.

The I-told-you-so phase of the Iraq invasion is thankfully ending. What is needed now is consensus on American responsibility. That starts with a more open door to Iraqis in flight. Mr. President, say something.

Gamil lost his job when the army was disbanded. He worked sporadically as a translator. But when threats came — as a Sunni ex-officer he was an obvious target to Shiite militias — “I had to save my life and my wife’s.”

Sweden will give him a lawyer to argue his asylum case. Ekblad says the “overwhelming majority” are approved. Refugees then get a permanent resident permit leading to possible citizenship in five years. “Our costs are huge, and we’d like to see more burden-sharing,” he says.

Burden sharing! How about guts? Swedes are polite to a fault.

You are invited to comment at my blog:

My thoughts? Where is the outrage on this one in congressional hearings? My impressions are that most of the noise is about "taking care of the troops" and it seems more and more like we as a nation (I'm not speaking about any one specific individual- of course YOU care) don't really care about the folks that we were "liberating." I'm guessing a large portion of "the troops" would feel like we were cared about if we saw that what we are working on is cared about. If our job (in part) is to help the people of Iraq, why can't we protect those who have essentially made "relocation into a witness protection program" a necessary consequence of their support for us? Why do we refuse to help them? And tell them to help themselves?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Book of the Day- David Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice

I won't summarize this because someone else has already done a nice job of it:

I enjoyed the read, fairly clear and direct discussion based on his studies and experiences. Having read a bit of Kilcullen's work, I guess I'll have to pull out the Petraeus-led U.S. doctrinal piece on counterinsurgency.
Yes, right now some might say I have too much time on my hands- our best laid training plans have been torn asunder by operational demands in Baghdad and elsewhere.
On the bright side, informal discussions with Iraqi friends here suggests that they do indeed perceive an improved security picture in Baghdad. They don't see much progress in politics, or basic infrastructure services such as water, electricity, fuel, sewer, but the weather is better, so the lack of air conditioning is not as unpleasant an experience. And I'm not doing too well with my Ramadan fast- but it has been 3 days since I ate any 'freedom fries', so I'm making progress, anyway.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fiasco- Thomas E. Ricks on the Iraq conflict

This books seems to me a fairly good complement to Sandra Mackey's The Reckoning- the U.S. side. The NY Times review linked above probably is more interesting than my own commentary. A couple of points that struck me were:

1) even in this text the U.S. doesn't seem to understand how fractured or sectarian things are here- it is not just Shia, Sunni, and Kurd, but multiple factions within each of these groups. And the difference between those factions and say multiple factions within the democratic or republican party, these are deadly differences, such as the Badr/Sadr shootout in Karbala this past month. A good deal of the violence can be attributed to Shia vs Shia, most especially here in the south.

2) the types of soldiers that are ideal for counterinsurgency, the Special Forces, are in short supply, and can't cover all of the terrain here, so we have a large force that in many cases (as Ricks notes) works against the efforts of the Special Forces contingent. He notes the laments of many Civil Affairs guys as they see their "bridge building" efforts torn apart. The larger force is getting SOME training in counterinsurgency, and some units do it better than others, but my suspicion is that we could all do it much better.

As for those who think this book is a left-wing rip of the military and its highest leaders, both civilian and military, I think he was entirely fair, and he was using plenty of documentation to support his assertions. It doesn't

Deep thoughts from Larry the Cable Guy

I wouldn't necessarily give him original credit for all of these, but they amused me anyway.

The Wisdom of Larry the Cable Guy

1. A day without sunshine is like ......... night.
2. On the other hand, you have different fingers.
3. 42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
4. 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.
5. Remember, half the people you know are below average.
6. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
7. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
8. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
9. Support bacteria. They're the only culture some people have.
10. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
11. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.
12. If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.
13. How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand.
14. OK, so what's the speed of dark?
15. When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.
16. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.
17. How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?
18. Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines
19. What happens if you get scared half to death, twice?
20. Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?
21. Inside every older person is a younger person wondering, "What the heck happened?"
22. Just remember -- if the world didn't suck, we would all fall off.
23. Light travels faster than sound. That's why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
24. Life isn't like a box of chocolates, it's more like a jar of jalapenos. What you do today, might burn you tomorrow.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Iraqi National Police winning the hearts and minds

An excerpt from a story about the National Police- we train the brigades- one level below the division headquarters referred to in this piece-

Iraqi Soldiers Arrest A Top Police Official

Los Angeles Times
September 21, 2007

The intelligence officer is accused of ordering the arrest and torture of Sunnis in Baghdad on behalf of Shiite militias.

By Sam Enriquez,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer,1,3193185.story?coll=la-headlines-world&track=crosspromo

BAGHDAD — -- Iraqi soldiers arrested a high-ranking federal police official Thursday on suspicion of targeting Sunni Arabs in the capital for arrest and torture on behalf of radical Shiite militias, as well as for ransom.

The arrest underscored the country's deep sectarian divisions and concerns over the degree to which extremist groups have infiltrated Iraqi institutions responsible for protecting the public.
Col. Thamir Mohammed Ismail Husseini, also known as Abu Turab, was the intelligence officer for the 2nd National Police Division Headquarters. He is accused of directing federal officers to detain Sunnis at checkpoints in west Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jihadists are looked upon favorably in Iraq

From the files of "we just don't understand":

Before I left the U.S., but after I had been notified of my pending deployment, I caught a radio show piece interviewing an Arabic/Islamist scholar, who pointed out how our lack of understanding Arabic and Islamic culture was sometimes manifest in our improper use of language. He further discussed how that improper use of the language compounds the many mistakes we continue to make in our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq.

Here's one example I discussed with our local interpreters- jihadists versus the mutaterrif.

The obligatory Wikipedia definition: Jihad (Arabic: جهاد IPA: [ ʤi'hæːd]), meaning "to strive" or "to struggle" in Arabic, is an Islamic term and a duty for Muslims. It is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, although it occupies no official status as such in Sunni Islam.[1] In Twelver Shi'a Islam, however, Jihad (Holy Struggle) is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion.

So our declaring war on jihadists really is not going to help win the hearts and minds of an Islamic population- we are attacking a concept that is primary to their faith, and in that sense, against all muslims. I discussed this a bit with some of BLP's interpreters here, and they suggested to me the term mutaterrif (that's my attempt to spell an Arabic word), or "extremist" as perhaps being more of what we have in mind. They feel we could much more easily get folks on board if we asked them to help us against the extremists rather than against their Islamic brothers and sisters united in their struggles and strivings.

I look through many of our presidential candidates' web sites, and many other of our U.S. media and documents- all focused on stopping the jihadists- we don't get it- we've been here about 4.5 years, and continue to work at counter purposes to our stated desires because we fail to understand the people we are purportedly trying to help, and their language is an important part of understanding them (for the psychologists among you, you may think about the strong and weak Whorfian hypotheses as tangentially related concepts).

It is almost as if we say we'd like to help them, but only in the ways we want and on our own terms- we'll use their language improperly, and expect them to make the adjustment to understand what we mean, not what we say. It is not that much unlike the stories I enjoy about folks who give people gifts that are only of interest or value to the gift giver, not the receiver.

A good website for english language links on all kinds of things Islam:

Safety is improving- just don't travel, and you'll be entirely safe- except for the mortars

U.S. limits diplomats' travel in Iraq

The embassy bars officials in Baghdad from traveling by land outside the Green Zone.

By Ned Parker,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 19, 2007,1,4060154.story?coll=la-headlines-frontpage

BYU MBA Rankings

We always heard a couple of seemingly contradictory messages when I was at BYU as an MBA student. One was that we had a special mission, different from other programs, and so we didn't compare ourselves to others. That being said, we also were quite diligent in reporting all the good news about when our rankings said something good about us.

Well, here's one of those times to celebrate the great rankings:


Monday, September 17, 2007

Back pain

I went for a walk yesterday. Not the usual morning walk in full combat load around the base, just a walk in t shirt and shorts with running shoes. And over the past day since then, I have been crippled by excruciating back pain- buckle the legs, can barely walk, back pain.

I'm only 37, and don't have any idea what happened, but I am laid up now. Sympathy for all back pain victims everywhere.

I feel a bit sheepish, frankly.

Some folks aren't as sold on our Iraq war leadership...

In Iraq, Nothing Succeeds Like Failure
Gen. Petraeus is a smart and capable leader. But he's not the savior Congress imagines him to be—and his strategy won’t work.

Web-exclusive commentary
By Rod Nordland
Updated: 5:10 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2007

I found this article curious in that the author at one point was quite sold on Petraeus, but he has clearly had a change of heart, most especially about his track record in Iraq.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Photo of the day

Spc. Adam Darrah holds his daughter Sep. 6, after returning to Darmstadt, Germany, from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. Spc. Darrah is assigned to the 596th Maintenance Company. (Photo by Martin Greeson)

Pulled off of the Army Knowledge Online Sign-in page 15 Sep 07

Just a great picture for Dads and their little ones.

Army Field Theory

'Back in the day', I studied Lewinian field theory, with one of the primary tenets being how behavior was a function of a person/environment interaction.

B = f (P, E)

Among my other things I do when I don't have to do anything (which is a relatively frequent occurrence right now with no National Police around to train), I create little models in my mind, and occasionally commit them to paper (or ether, as this case is).

HA = f(dF)

Happiness and Autonomy are interactive and both a function of increasing distance from the Flagpole (I wanted that to be d sub F, but can't figure out how to make a subscript in this editor). Also for the statisticians among you, you notice the oblique reference to degrees of freedom related to happiness and autonomy. This law applies to folks like me. I know there are others that would find my position unpleasant, so this law is not universal by any means, but it applies to our Army of two here at An Numaniyah.

An ordinary Iraqi life

Living in fear is still the norm for Iraqis

Sat, Sep. 15, 2007
McClatchy News Service

Before we (my so-called task force, a group of individual call-ups) came out here, we listened to some leaders talk about 'atmospherics', a seemingly nebulous collection of measures which included some assessments about how people out here 'feel.' I thought it was a good concept, breaking away from body counts, numbers of weapons caches captured, etc, which were great combat measures, but lousy measures for the results that a counterinsurgency would like. Atmospherics seemed like the right approach. I haven't seen or heard much about the atmospherics since I've been out here though. That may be because of my relatively isolated position and communications situation. So the atmospherics I gather are primarily through visits with the locals. Such as the ones that I work to get out of the country because they work for us and their buddy just got killed because he used to work for us. And this is in the peaceful south.

Friday, September 14, 2007

All quiet on the Numaniyah front

Still waiting for the next brigade to show up- apparently, while the security situation is much improved (see this week's Petraeus briefings), the last brigade to go through our training is not able to vacate its 'battle space' to come down here for training just yet. So we wait.

Which means I continue to read, exercise, sleep, eat, and have watched a few DVDs this week.

So I continue to think about the larger picture, which can often be quite exasperating. What we see and hear around us feeds into my perceptions. And then given my lack of access to military information, I also try to find out what is happening through the media- my favorite source right now is Al Jazeera (English edition)- what all seemed so outlandish from my American perspective before being out here makes perfect sense as I learn more about the cutlure and perceptions here.

So here's a bit of an essay on my thoughts, never official doctrine or military policy...


JCS and Centcom leaders have in the recent past made comments about our being overcommitted here in Iraq. We don't have any sizable reserve force to address potential threats anywhere else- we're so tapped out, we're even forced into a reduction in forces here (and some will trumpet it as a drawdown, I side with those who point out it is simply going back to the pre-surge levels, which at that time were unacceptable to the general public, but now, relative to the current 170k troops out here, relativity makes it seem more palatable).

I'm an armchair quarterback on this, and don't have the 'intel' or other perspectives of those working at a strategic level, but I don't understand why senior military leaders, and senior leaders in the legislative and executive branches appear to do nothing more than complain about this lack of flexibility caused by our commitment here.

From my line of reasoning, there are 2 ways to solve that problem, first is to bring troops home so they can refit and get back online for contingencies (the reserve, switched from 'strategic' to 'operational,' also needs to get things back together again). Our President has made it clear we're not taking this option. This option may be put back on the table as he finishes his term at the end of next year, so we're working into 2009 with essentially the status quo.

Well then, how do we prepare to meet the potential other threats? How do we create a capacity to respond to these potential problems in terms of manpower and equipment given our current shortfalls?

We can just not respond to threats and violence against our country or allies, I guess, but at some point, I think we'd like a plan which leaves us feeling like we can dictate terms a bit better than that.

To me it seems we need to build up our forces and equipment, and we need to do it quickly and with major national commitment, financially and otherwise. How is it that no one is calling for a MASSIVE increase in funding, manpower and equipment for the armed forces if things are as dire as folks make them out to be? Where is the leadership on this?

We had General Lute make some comments about bringing back the draft, but he got 'shouted down' on it, and some democrats have made similar comments, and everyone pushes it off as left-wing alarmist rhetoric.

If terrorism remains such a threat as we are told it is, how is the need for our engagement in something large scale somewhere else such an unrealistic scenario? If that need arises, what troops are available to respond?

Maybe I'm missing something in all of this, but it seems to me that the reason we're not going 'all in' with strengthening the military as we complain it is being weakened is that there is a failure on the part of leadership to make the very tough case to a war-weary public. True, Congress has authorized an increase in forces, but I would submit that it is not nearly enough given the current OPTEMPO and the OPTEMPO for the forseeable future. It will be tremendously expensive, and the U.S. public and leadership are not committed to it.

We want the capabilities, but we don't want to pay the price necessary. The public, the government, and the military. We don't want to pay the price.

That's one of my 'Go big or go home' rants.

The other is our approach in Iraq itself.

I'm not a COIN connaisseur, but I am learning, and also learning about general military doctrines for post-conflict occupation, and so forth. By almost all of these doctrines, even the surge numbers are not enough for what we are needing to do here. If someone is severely bleeding in ten places, and you given them some really cool bandages with the coagulant factors, but only give them 5, and sell how well those five places have started to be patched up, should anyone be impressed? We can't provide security everywhere given the numbers we have. We can deny safe haven to the enemy ..... in some places, but not others. Back to what the critics like to refer to as the 'whack-a-mole' strategy.

I am hopeful that things really are getting better here. I'm a bit dubious of the data discussions. What is happening around me locally is more troubling than reassuring, but that is a natural consequence of the pressure being applied up in Baghdad.

But I think our problems here in some ways boil down to the same issue I noted above about a need to build up forces and equipment to deal with other threats. We don't have the will to go 'all in' and mobilize all of our country's massive resources in terms of intellectual capital, industrial strength, financial treasure, and our greatest treasures, our sons and daughters' lives for this cause. And so we do something that is frankly an 'in-between' compromise solution.

I don't think war and nation-building are things that you can do halfway. But that is what we appear to continue to try to do. We've taken King Solomon's advice and cut the baby in half.

Can we thus maintain that we hold the moral high ground if we decide to stay the course? Is it right and does it do anyone any good if you do just enough to say you're doing something, but by your own doctrines, not enough to 'win'?

Just my opinion. Go big or go home.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Some thanks from one of our Australian team members

Here's some of the text from a note from "one of the boys." Notes like this feed the soul (and probably the ego, too..).


Thank you very much for your very gracious letter of recommendation. .... Your support to this Project and to the members is well known and I personally believe you have always acted with the utmost professionalism. I know behind the scenes you have arranged many of the AMR flights that our members have been fortunate to get on, many at short notice, and this fact is known by all. (I've worked on them some, and my NCO, MSG Tim-may has also done a good deal of work on this).

As a Senior Non Commissioned Officer in the Austrlian Army Reserve I would not have hesitated to have served under your command.

As for the future - I hope this places goes on in some form. Training is so important and I believe that the Iraqi security forces will only strengthen given quality training and commitment by the "Coalition".

You guys make such a big sacrifice leaving your families for long periods of time. Its a small fact that should never be overlooked.

Many thanks once again.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cultural observations from an American idiot

Another web-pilfered photo- preparation of Samoon bread- Umran's guys do great Samoon bread. Yummmmm!

I'm reading as much as I can. I talk with the local nationals as much as possible. And every once a while, I also observe behaviors. So I'm learning, from my military, psychologist, business consultant, Mormon Americentric viewpoint, about the local cultures.

One occurred earlier this week. Our subcontractor for food service, Umran, invited the leadership of the program here (the contractor's management and myself) to the back of the Academy grounds for a special Iraqi meal that he prepared. He doesn't have to feed us, there is another caterer (Uday, my favorite Indian), who takes care of the 'Western kitchen'. As I sat there enjoying the meal (between phone calls and other 'busy' work), I and the others thought to ourselves "what is the special occasion?"

My personal opinion? Here's what I think happened, as consistent with other things I've seen and heard as I try to understand those around me.

We have one cycle of training left to go, so the contractor's program manager is wanting to set the tone to avoid having any of his contractors or subcontractors start getting 'short-timer's disease' and have the quality of work decrease. He specifically called Umran in, because he had had a problem with him during the last cycle when Umran closed some dining facilities because he listened to the National Police rather than Uday, who represents BLP to him. This caused some logistics problems on a day when we were managing an exfil- the shurta were going out on their mid-course leave. So, back to the near present. Binks says "we'll have none of that monkey business out of you this last cycle, or......."

For such a small guy, Binks can sometimes intimidate people! I think it is the locking folding knife he likes to play with.

And then that same evening, we have a special dinner from Umran.

I could be wrong, but I read Umran's body language that evening, and it appeared to me he was trying to indicate in his way, "I'm sorry, it won't happen again, and you can count on me. I appreciate having this contract. No hard feelings?"

I told one of the guys it reminded me of a dog rolling over and showing his belly in a submissive posture, if you'll forgive my awful comparison to animals showing dominance and submission.

There is an indirectness sometimes in communications here which I find fascinating in some situations, and maddening in others. I have found myself working much more through intermediaries than talking with people directly when I have issues I'd like to address.

Just some thoughts, perhaps interesting to me only. Which is why I've never bothered to put a counter on this blog page. ;-)

Couple of op-ed pieces

As the time for the Petraeus report nears, a couple of op-ed pieces make pre-emptive strikes.

Time To Take A Stand(New York Times) Paul Krugman

The article's link on NY Times is subscription only, so I found the text in another blogger's page-

I've got no comments or endorsements of that blogger, just wanted to provide a link to the Krugman piece.

Another op-ed piece from yesterday:

The Partitioning of Iraq
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, September 7, 2007; Page A21

My only comment as I reacted to this one was that even this recognition is a bit short of what is going on- underneath the seemingly simple "3 partitions" that he sees, are large numbers of groups within each of those 3 partitions all vying for power in a winner takes all style- I've seen and heard of very few of the groups that are seeking to wield power in a power-sharing arrangement. Case in point- the Sadr vs Badr shootout in Karbala almost 2 weeks ago- Shia vs Shia.

Some positive feedback for the National Police

As expected, the Jones report I noted in the previous blog did hammer the National Police, recommending their disbanding.

And predictably, the U.S. military pushed back against that recommendation.

U.S. Military Rejects Call To Disband Iraqi Police
By Ann Scott Tyson and Glenn Kessler,
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 7, 2007; Page A15

But there was one golden ray of sunshine for me as I supervise the National Police Academy here at An Numaniyah- a positive statement (albeit from a U.S. general- but he wasn't "my" general, he was a "consumer" of our post-training product) about the change in the National Police after coming through the Academy:

Lynch and the other senior military officials said national police units vary greatly in their reliability and degree of sectarian infiltration. "Some police are good, and some are totally corrupt and are making sectarian decisions," Lynch said in a phone interview from Iraq.
Two brigades of Iraqi national police operate in Lynch's area. One of them recently completed a process known as "rebluing," in which they are retrained and often given new leadership. "They are great . . . doing what we need them to do," Lynch said. But he said "there are other national police in the area who are purely doing things for sectarian reasons, and the local citizens see them as the enemy."

Woo-hoo! Double woo-hoo! Someone other than ourselves telling us we are doing a good job!

Likewise, I corresponded earlier this week with the National Police Training Team chief from our very first Brigade that we trained (since my arrival), and LTC M. said that after a rough first week or so, his Brigade has performed admirably as well. I'm glad to hear that.

I'm actually working now with BLP, our contractor team here, to develop a more systematic evaluation tool, even though we are towards the end of the training contract. It was a deficit that I noted early in my arrival here (a monster multi-million dollar contract, with minimal metrics on training benefits? Go figure!), and I was "indirectly directed" during the last VIP visit to get it done. So a project to keep us busy and fill in some of the "down time" that I actually find an interesting task.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Credibility Gaps

As the Gen Jones report comes out tomorrow, it is going to hammer the National Police, recommending their disbanding. Glad we impressed the 3 members of his commission that came and visited our Academy a couple of months ago.

This is a bit disheartening given I've spent my past 4 months working in training the National Police. But not unexpected. The National Police have been notorious, not without reason, for sectarian and militia influences.

I had the privilege of receiving visitors to the Academy today, and the American general and the Iraqi general had a very frank discussion in front of everyone in the room, including CNN representatives that later did a fairly challenging interview citing Jones' report. The American general asked the Iraqi National Police General for ideas to address the perception and reputation problems that the National Police have- while they do have problems, there are also successes, and the people of Iraq don't seem to note the successes, only the problems.

But the National Police are not the only group struggling with credibility gaps.

Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq
Military Statistics Called Into Question
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007; Page A16

I think this is a Samuel Clemens quote: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

It appears to me the U.S. military could improve in its information operations- if folks don't buy your data, things are not going to go the way you'd like.

The complexities of the Iraqi experience are very hard to describe, and frankly, I still don't have any clear framework for "the best" way ahead. I do know, however, that most U.S. discussions in media, politics, and elsewhere both for and against various initiatives in Iraq seem to lack an appreciation of those complexities. And good numbers are very hard to come by.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A cross section of the media today

There are a number of articles out there selling the successes of the surge. There are also those who point out that there are thorns on the roses.

Ralph Peters of the New York Post writes stories that I find barely credible, seemingly everything here is wonderful.

Others write articles that seem to reflect more of what I see and hear from southern Iraq, which is more about the thorns than the roses.

Weighing the 'Surge'
The U.S. War in Iraq Hinges on the Counterinsurgency Strategy Of Gen. Petraeus. The Results Have Been Tenuous.
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; Page A01

That one fits some of what I see and hear. The one word about the market count that I would use is frankly, "spin." And this is a showcase market. What should one assume about markets that aren't "showcase ready"?

Another one that fits with what I see and hear:

Troop buildup fails to reconcile Iraq: Baghdad's neighborhoods continue to split along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and infighting stalls political progress.
By Tina Susman,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 4, 2007,0,2280359,full.story?coll=la-home-center

I feel like we'll be holding the various factions at arms length indefinitely.

Many Trainees Are Complicit With 'Enemy Targets'
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; A10

This one covers a topic I was not willing to go into depth with in an interview with Matt LaPlante of the Salt Lake Tribune. I know a bit more than I'll go into on this topic here, and the report is not at all inaccurate about some of the problems of militia influence or even political subterfuge working against U.S. troops. Matt asked me about my feelings of training police knowing that there was a good probability that some of them would turn their guns on my brothers in arms working with them, the National Police Training Teams (this article addresses the military equivalent training teams- they essentially work alongside these units). The catch-22 is if you don't train them, they'll never be ready to stand on their own, and they'll never provide any support to you during operations. Either way there is a risk. Given that our assigned job is to train them, we accept the risk, and do our best to protect ourselves at the same time.

And lastly, taking care of the troops- nothing but the best equipment will do for us. Eventually. I do have a very nice M4, with an Aimpoint close combat optic and a Surefire light attached to it, anyway. Which was nice when I convoyed down here in our contractor's Riva.

Pentagon balked at pleas from officers in field for safer vehicles
Iraqi troops got MRAPs; Americans waited
By Peter Eisler, Blake Morrison and Tom Vanden Brook

Despite the frustrations, I still find myself enjoying the varied experiences I'm having here. I get to do things I never would have done (without the call-up), get to know and work with people I never would have worked with (again because of the deployment), and have been pretty safe for the most part (location, location, location, and a contracting group that does a number of force protection measures very well). Can't complain, given that I know many here are suffering substantially more than I am- really the only hard part for me is being away from family.

Gift exchanges

What's inside? Is it ticking? (double entendre with black humor)

During our last cycle, a U.S. Army captain observed to me how poorly we understand the cultures of the people we are working with. To illustrate the point, he discussed how we don’t understand the process of gift giving and exchanging. The Iraqis we work with have found ample opportunities to offer us gifts. Frequently, at the end of each cycle, the brigade we have trained will offer us gifts as tokens of gratitude and friendship. I’ve received battalion and brigade banners (small size), small boxed sets with pens or watches, and once was even offered a saber. Now granted, by the standards of gifts, these things are fairly simple and inexpensive (poor MSG Merrell was even given a watch with a broken face!). I think only about half of the watches I’ve received even work. And that really doesn't bother me. These folks are dealing with a world far more challenging than mine, and even a non-functioning watch requires resources from folks that aren't typically rolling in cash. But I’ve given next to nothing in return. I did get one of the brigade commanders a letter of commendation from our commanding general, but that is not exactly a personal gift.

The contractor I work with, BLP, gets this. They have special dinners for the officers one or two times during a cycle, and even a special celebration dinner for the whole brigade towards the end of a cycle. They even provide gifts to the brigade that the brigade leadership then gives out to exceptional performers in the brigade during the end of cycle graduation. They do a pretty good job with this.

So I’m working on my cultural competencies so I can offer the next group’s leadership something more than the remains of the last few care packages I’ve received. Let me know if you have any good ideas of things I can share with them- little pieces of Americana that lets them know, “I’m thinking of you!”


This is my incredibly hard working and dedicated NCO (MSG Timmy) working on his dreams. Hands down the best NCO I've ever had assigned to me while I've been on active duty.

I’ve never really studied much about dreams, leaving it to certain flavors of psychoanalytically inclined types to interpret their meanings, but I’ve noticed since I’ve been here that I have a certain set of recurring work related dreams. This is a bit disappointing to me, however, as I prefer to not “take my work home with me”. Alas, not much is to be done when I live in my work environment. My room is upstairs from my office, and my entire world for the past five months has been within walking distance. Dreams were my only way to “get away.” So now I have “military” dreams. I did have one last week that woke me up, however. I dreamed that one of the reasons I rarely have a sense of what is going on with my higher headquarters up in Baghdad was because of an incredible desire to keep a piece of information TOP SECRET. The TOP SECRET was that everyone was in earnest planning for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in November. I was headed home in a couple of months.

It was just a dream, though. I woke up.

The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein

(softcover, apologies to Amazon for stealing their picture)

Finished reading a book earlier today that of the few books that I’ve read on Iraq has been the most informative and most in line with the experience I have had here. Sandra Mackey’s book was written before the 2003 invasion, but highlights what she anticipated would be the problems anyone removing Saddam Hussein would face in the aftermath. Prescient is the one word I would use to describe her book which is primarily a historical look, but uses that history to point us towards the future that we are now living. It wasn’t necessarily easy reading, but to date the most worthwhile read I’ve had since engaging in topical reading on Iraq and our involvement here.

A couple of quotes from the book:

First (p. 135-136):

“In Iraq, there are ideas and aspirations that are totally antagonistic. There are innovating youngsters, including government officials; the zealots; the Sunna; the Shia; the Kurds; the non-Muslim minorities; the bribes; the shaykhs, [and] the vast ignorant majority ready to adopt any harmful notion… Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni tribes who only want to shake off every form of [central] government. There is still—and I say this with a heart full of sorrow—no Iraqi people, but an unimaginable mass of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever. Out of these masses we want to fashion a people which we would train, educate, and refine… The circumstances being what they are, the immenseness of the efforts needed for this [cannot be imagined].”

OK. Quiz time! Who said this and when?

King Faisal, the British-assigned monarch who took the reign when the country was created by negotiations involving some European nations and the U.S. This was in a confidential memo early in his reign of the country around 1930, quoted from Amatzia Baram, Culture, History and Ideology in the Formation of Ba’thist Iraq 1968-1989 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), p. 129. Here we are 80 or so years later….

Another quote, this time a foreign intelligence report (p.151):

“There are few countries which at the best of times present more security problems than Iraq. It has tribal and minority problems. The maintenance of security with so many political causes would tax the ingenuity of a sophisticated country, how much more so of Iraq.”

Quiz question 2! What country’s intelligence report and when?

British report in 1945, quoted from Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? (Boulder, Colo.:Westview Press, 1999), p. 122.

The question the book poses, but that I doubt any decision-makers read, as the decisions had been made before she published it, is essentially, “do you know what you’re getting into?” I don’t think we did. But here we are.

(hardcover, again from's webpages)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lowe's Car! Lowe's Car! Lowe's Car!

An incredibly important phase of a race-

the pit stop-

a chance to gain or lose places because someone drops a lug nut.

Last year I spent three months on an internship working at the corporate headquarters for Lowe's Companies, Inc., the home improvement retailer. Wanting to fit in with the water cooler talk, I decided I'd learn as much as I could about NASCAR, and the Lowe's Car and driver, #48, Jimmie Johnson. Went to a couple of races. Loud cars going in circles, really fast. And I enjoyed learning about it- neat things like scuffing tires and bump drafting.

And I enjoyed watching J.J. have a great year, eventually winning the year's championship. And my kids got into it a bit, too. We visited the Hendricks Motorsports site, which houses JJ and the rest of the HMS team including Jeff Gordon. I got all the kids little HotWheels replicas of the #48 car, and they started also enjoying watching some of the racing.

JJ on a Sunday drive with his good friend Jeff.

One of the heartwarming moments (or disturbing, depending on your point of view) was my then 3 year old boy cheering as we watched a race: "Lowe's Car! Lowe's Car! Lowe's Car!" He seemed to be having so much fun as we watched the race and he played with his toy car.

And even though I haven't watched any American sports for quite a while (I see lots of rugby and soccer here with the Australians), I do check out the sports online, and today, lo and behold, Jimmie won his 5th race of the season (tops, even though he's sixth in the total points standing), setting himself up nicely for the Nextel Cup championship races at the end of the season.

Apparently he's much better in the stock car than he is on a golf cart. In the cart, on top of the cart- details, details... there's just NO way alcohol was involved with that one!

Go Jimmie! Woo-hoo!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Newsflash- Sunnis are to blame for Shiites shooting at each other

Boston Globe
September 1, 2007

Iraqi Leader Says Sunni Clerics Fomented Latest Violence

By Robert H. Reid, Associated Press

BAGHDAD - Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister said yesterday that hard-line Sunni clerics outside Iraq share the blame for this week's bloodshed at a Shi'ite religious festival in Karbala because they issued religious decrees terming Shi'ites heretics.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not spell out how comments by Sunni clerics - presumed to be mostly from Saudi Arabia - could have provoked fierce battles Tuesday among rival Shi'ite militias, which claimed up to 51 lives.

Iraq's majority Shi'ites widely believe that Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia have stoked sectarian tensions by preaching against Shi'ites.

But his remarks appeared to suggest that security guards around the city's Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas mosques may have overreacted, fearing an all-out attack on the shrines by Sunni extremists mingled into a crowd of pilgrims who approached chanting antigovernment slogans.

Maliki's attempt to cast blame on foreign Sunni preachers also appeared aimed at deflecting criticism away from the armed Shi'ite militias that security officials said were responsible for the bloodshed in Karbala, one of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam.

The prime minister was asked by reporters to elaborate on his allegation that "foreign elements" played a role in the Karbala violence.

"We don't need any proof or evidence because these establishments . . . issued fatwas [religious edicts] calling for the destruction of the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas," Maliki said.

When challenged on his twisted logic, Maliki, in a flash of wit and brilliant oratory, sagely decided to stick out his tongue and then stated "I know you are, but what am I?", stunning the reporters into silence.

OK, I made that last part up.