Sunday, August 16, 2009

Political Digest August 16 2009

Parris Island
45 years ago today I reported to the Marine recruiters in Camden and started my journey to Parris Island, to earn the title US Marine. Best decision I ever made. I’ll blog more about my arrival there tomorrow, as I actually got to the island early on August 17.

Does it matter what the bill says?
We are involved in long arguments about what is in, or will be in, any health care “reform” bill passed by Congress. But does it matter?

The brilliant economist, Dr. Thomas Sowell writes in his books that opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, like Barry Goldwater, were concerned that it would require racial preferences and quotas in employment, school admissions and so on. Supporters scoffed, and pledged that it would not, writing prohibitions against quotas and preferences into the law. But the courts and bureaucrats ruled that the law required affirmative action to achieve its goals, that is preferences and quotas based on race. So the opponents were correct and the supporters lied—or were stupid.

They can write all the protections into the law they want, but the bureaucrats and courts and use seemingly innocuous phrases like, say, “reasonable access to quality health care,” to rule the law means what they want it to mean. I made that one up, but the bill is certain to contain dozens of such openings for the courts. Increasingly, the legislative branch is only the door opener for the real rulers—the courts and bureaucrats.

A Death in Afghanistan
Excerpt: Bill did not come from a family of military tradition. He was past the age when most young people enlist. He had a job and a career, and a woman he loved. But something else called him, and when the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, he felt that call even more urgently. He agonized for two years. Then he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and went off to boot camp. He was 34 years old. Marine Sgt. Bill Cahir was killed in action this week in southern Afghanistan. Back home, his wife, Rene Browne, is pregnant with twins. A graduate of Penn State, Bill served briefly as a Capitol Hill aide before becoming a reporter with small newspapers in his native Pennsylvania. In 1999, he joined the Washington bureau of Newhouse Newspapers, which is where I met him.

The Road to Serfdom
At the monthly lunch of the Chicago Mensa cell of the vast right-wing conspiracy, which meets for conversation “and secret planning,” a booklet called “The Road to Serfdom in Cartoons” was passed around. It’s on this website, and will take about three minutes to read.

There was a lively debate as to which page of the book the US is currently on, the consensus being page 8. The cartoon version was originally published in Look magazine. The irony was it was published by General Motors, now owned by the government and the union.

The original book was published in 1944. Here’s an article about it.

“Truther” denial
Excerpt: This means that, according to the Scripps poll, about half of Democrats, about a third of Independents and nearly a fifth of Republicans said it was "likely" that “federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them” in order to go to war. (And they call the “birthers” fanatics!)

The news isn’t all bad
Excerpt: A 72 year old, law-abiding business owner in the middle of Harlem, NY faces down four armed robbers who invade his business and begin assaulting his employees. Grabbing a pistol-gripped pump shotgun, he defends his employees by firing only three times, and scores hits on all four criminals (two of which are lethal) without inflicting any injuries to his staff or innocent bystanders! Although he performed at a level of courage, skill, and efficiency with his weapon, that had he been one of NYPD’s finest, would warrant a Medal of Valor, the “Hero of Harlem” is getting the usual New York Times negative spin on a citizen’s use of a firearm as they try to humanize the armed robbers instead of acknowledging the heroic actions of a 72 year old man.

A Laser Defense Hit
The Airborne Laser scores a hit, even as its budget is being cut.
Excerpt: Never has Ronald Reagan's dream of layered missile defenses—Star Wars, for short—been as politically out of favor as in the Age of Obama. Nor as close, at least technologically, to becoming realized. The latest encouraging news came Thursday courtesy of the Missile Defense Agency. The Airborne Laser prototype aircraft this week found, tracked, engaged and simulated an intercept with a missile seconds after liftoff. It was the first time the Agency used an "instrumented" missile to confirm the laser works as expected. Next up this fall will be the first live attempt to bring down a ballistic missile, but this test confirms how far along this innovative effort has come. Along with space-based weapons, the Airborne Laser is the next defense frontier. The modified Boeing 747 is supposed to send an intense beam of light over hundreds of miles to destroy missiles in the "boost phase," before they can release decoys and at a point in their trajectory when they would fall back down on enemy territory. It's a pioneering use of directed energy in defense. The laser complements the sea- and ground-based missile defenses that keep proving themselves in tests. Yet the Obama Administration isn't buying it. Funding for missile defense was cut in the 2010 budget by some 15%—$1.2 billion to $1.6 billion, depending on how you calculate it. The number of ground-based interceptors was reduced. The Missile Defense Agency's budget for the Airborne Laser is to be slashed in half, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pulled the plug on buying a second plane. The Pentagon says the program will have three tries to hit a live missile, or be killed altogether. (They fear it might work, masking America safer and giving credit to—gasp—a Republican.)

Hope and Change Cartoons
Funny blog. Check it out.

American Values
Good Video.

Call the UN! Hamas attacks Gaza mosque!
Excerpt: Israel hit a mosque in Gaza that was being used to store weapons, and the international condemnation was fierce. Somehow I doubt that those who were so angry about that attack on a mosque will be upset about this one at all. More on this story. "Mosque gun battle rages in Gaza," from the BBC, August 14

78% of Pakistanis favor killing apostates, 83% want adulterers stoned
Part of the “tiny minority” that gives Islam a bad name.

While Woodstock Rocked, GIs Died
With the 40th anniversary of the ‘60s cherished rock concert, the so-called “Sixties Generation” remembers fondly those four days in August 1969. Instead, VFW magazine commemorates the 109 Americans killed in Vietnam then.

Now They're Feeling Guilty
Excerpt: Those of us who did not go may have pretended that we held some moral superiority over those who did, but we must have known - even back then - that that was largely sham. A tiny, tiny minority served jail terms - the rest of us avoided the war through easier methods. The men who went to Vietnam were no more involved with the politics of the war than we were. They were different from us in only two important ways: They hadn't figured out a successful way to get out of going, and they had a certain courage that we lacked. Not "courage" as defined the way we liked to define it; not "courage" in the sense of opposing the government's policies in Vietnam. But courage in an awful, day-to-day sense; courage in being willing to be over there while most of their generation stayed home. When I meet men my age who are Vietnam veterans, I find myself reacting the same way that Chris Buckley indicates he does. I find myself automatically feeling a little lacking. "I have friends who served in Vietnam..." Buckley writes. "They all saw death up close every day, and many days dealt with it themselves." They're married, happy, secure, good at what they do; they don't have nightmares and they don't shoot up gas stations with M-16s. Each has a gentleness I find rare in most others, and beneath it a spiritual sinew that I ascribe to their experience in the war. I don't think I'll ever have what they have, the aura of I have been weighed on the scales and have not been found wanting, and my sense at this point is that I will always feel the lack of it..." "I will always feel the lack of it."

Rethinking America’s Budget Process

From an e-mail—I couldn’t trace the source:
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Buy 'Em!
Proving that the President "can buy me love," the blog of the Los Angeles Times has uncovered a web ad that shows how desperate the Left is for support. The Fund for the Public Interest is actually offering to pay "volunteers" to support the President's takeover. "Work to pass Obama's health care plan and get paid to do it! $10-15 hr!" The ad promises anywhere from $400-$600 a week to people who agree to rally on the administration's behalf, presumably at townhall meetings. Maybe the slogan should be "Work for change--and make some too!" Not everyone has pure motives, but it's somewhat ironic that the Left blames conservatives for "manufacturing" anger when their groups are hiring it! Of course, this strategy is bound to be more productive than the leadership's contribution, which has largely consisted of public name-calling. Just this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined the messaging train wreck and called angry voters "evil-mongers." Yesterday he thought better of the term, telling reporters sheepishly, "I maybe could have been less descriptive. I doubt you'll hear it from me again."

Tactics or Strategy?
By Bing West

I came back from my latest month in the field in Afghanistan disquieted about our basic military mission. Is the military mission to engage, push back and dismantle the Talbian networks, with population protection being a tactic to gain tips and local militia, or is the military mission to build a nation based on US soldiers protecting the widespread population, with engagements against the Taliban as a byproduct?

It appears our strategy is nation-building, with fighting and dismantling of the Taliban a secondary consideration. Thus, the number of enemy killed will not be counted, let alone used as a metric. This non-kinetic theory of counterinsurgency has persuaded the liberal community in America to support or at least not to vociferously oppose the war. As Carl Prine of the Pittsburgh Tribune has put it, we have to balance between messages that gain domestic support and messages that direct battlefield operations.

We must understand what our riflemen do in Afghanistan every day. The answer is they conduct combat patrols. That underlies all their other activities. They go out with rifles to engage and kill the enemy. That is how they protect the population. For our generals to stress that the war is 80% non-kinetic discounts the basic activity of our soldiers. Although crime isn’t eradicated by locking up criminals, we expect our police to make arrests to keep the streets safe. Similarly, our riflemen are trained to engage the enemy. That’s how they protect the population. If we’re not out in the countryside night and day – and we’re not – then the Taliban can move around as they please and intimidate or persuade the population.

I’m not arguing that we Americans can ever dominate the Taliban gangs. There’s a level of understanding and accommodation among Afghans in the countryside that culturally surpasses our understanding. During the May poppy harvest, the shooting stops on both sides and men from far and wide head to the fields to participate in the harvest. That’s an Afghan thing. Only the Afghans can figure out what sort of society and leaders they want.

That said, we should strive to do a better job of what we are doing for as long as we are there. Only doing defense doesn’t work mathematically. Unless and until the Taliban are crippled, the population is not protected; it is at best only sheltered. Unless we go after the Taliban, they retain the initiative to fight where and when they choose.

That isn’t a winning strategy.

I condensed several hours of firefights I filmed during various patrols into the 30-second clip below. Simply put, our ground forces are not inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. However, the annual bill for the US military in Afghanistan exceeds $70 billion, with another four to six billion for development. We’ve already spent $38 billion on Afghan reconstruction. Congress may eventually balk at spending such sums year after year. The problem is we’re liable to be gradually pulled out while the Taliban is intact. Nation-building alone is not sufficient; the Taliban must be disrupted.

Our soldiers only get a small number of chances to engage the enemy. Our battalions average one arrest every two months, and one platoon-sized patrol per day per company that infrequently makes solid contact. On average, a US rifleman will glimpse a Taliban once a month. The Taliban initiate the fights because they know they can escape. Our patrols have firepower but lack mobility. Our soldiers are carrying 70 pounds; a Taliban is carrying ten pounds. The Taliban have the distinct edge in mobility. Because the Taliban are well-concealed and scoot away, our superior firepower does not yield precision aim points to do severe damage.

More senior-level attention must be paid to inflicting severe enemy losses in firefights and to arresting the Taliban, so that their morale and networks are broken. A recent directive forbids applying indirect fires against compounds where civilians might be hiding. That directive upholds human decency and may reduce enemy propaganda. But indirect fires – helicopter gunships and jets – used to be called “precision fires” and gave the US its enormous advantage in combat. Now that such fires are restricted, what provides our advantage when the enemy sensibly fights from compounds? Don’t expect Afghan soldiers to do it for us. We have equipped and trained the Afghans in our image. They are as heavy and slow-moving on the ground as we are, and rely upon our advisors to call in the firepower.

This is my third war. It has the highest level of military scholars. Those scholars who emphasized the concepts of non-kinetic counterinsurgency need also to design concepts that bring more lethality to the ground battlefield. We’re pumping billions into UAVs. Surely we can find technologies and techniques for the grunt. The 30-second video below illustrates a major problem, not a tactical shortcoming.

Note: Bing West was a Marine officer in Vietnam, wrote the classic book about the CAP Program The Village. His son served as a Marine officer in Iraq, is also a writer.

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