Some great stuff on Youtube

Following an article on one of the blogs I read, I can across some absolutely hillarious posts on YouTube. On one level they are somewhat concerning in terms of the subject matter, but the semantic gymnastics are absolutely funny. They relate to US congressional hearings over the use of torture and the star actors are David Addingtion and John Yoo. I think my favourites are:

Lest We Forget

Today is the most important day in the year for me. It is the focal point for remembering those who have served and died for Australia. And of course, from the words of Laurence Binyon,

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condem.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Marginalising Sadr

The name Sadr is not just the name of a rebellious ‘upstart’, nor should it be construed as such; it is in fact a highly regarded name within Iraq’s Shia community. With a lineage dating back to the daughter of the final Prophet of Islam, the Sadr name has been intimately linked with some of the key leaders within the Shia community. In more recent times, the last Grand Ayatollah Sadr and two of his sons were assassinated by friends of Saddam Hussein in 1999. From a western perspective, this would almost equate to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope being assassinated.

From this august family comes Muqtada al-Sadr, the chief protagonist in leading Shia violence in Iraq. Leaning upon his family’s name, rather than intellectual or moral (or religious) authority, it was not surprising that he received significant followings within his community. And throughout his supporters was a significant core of violent criminal gangs, although it would be incorrect to assume that he fully controlled them.

Dealing with Sadr has been a difficult task for the Coalition (I particularly recall this from my time there in 2004) and sadly many people have died as a result of his destabilising activities. The challenge since late 2003 has been the issue of negating or marginalising his influence and power base without making him a significant rallying call for Iraq’s Shia populace. On one level it is a shame that the Coalition failed to achieve this; however in the context of Iraq’s political landscape, that is a good thing.

The best solution for dealing with Muqtada was always going to be an Iraqi-led solution. It has taken a few years for the opportunity to properly arise for this to occur and it is fantastic to see Nouri al Maliki step up to the challenge along with Iraq’s security forces. While not an overnight process, Sadr is becoming marginalised within Iraq without becoming a martyr. The writing is on the wall for him – it is becoming clearer that he no longer has the power that people felt, and in a place where power is everything, his prestige and ability to influence will wain.

It has been quite remarkable to see some of the recent MSM (mainstream media) reports suggesting that Maliki’s actions are a failure. That is quite a ridiculous assertion. Iraq’s public institutions are not perfect, nor are the branches of government. But here we see a new democratically elected legislature (that is majority Shia) dictating a decision to the executive (military and police) which is being enacted; sure, it isn’t perfect, but then it is pretty good for a government that has been around for barely a few years. The recent operation had a number of tactical failures (as do many military operations), but strategically it was a great success.

Getting rid of Sadr is not going to happen overnight, but slowly and in a very Iraq way, it will happen. 

Some great stuff from Blackfive

Via Blackfive, I read a remarkable article called AntiWar wounds written by the wife of a US National Guard soldier serving in Afghanistan. And in a recent post, I found out about a great USMC video called America’s Marines. It includes some great drill from the USMC Silent Drill Platoon – very impressive stuff.

Al-Qaida’s Fading Victory: The Madrid Precedent

I think I might give up using Microsoft Vista for a while and revert back to my old computer with XP on it – so much more reliable! Anyway, I thought I would post another great article from my friend, Austin Bay’s blog

Strategy Page
March 12, 2008
Al-Qaida’s terror attacks on March 11, 2004 (just prior to Spain’s national elections), sought to establish the “Madrid Precedent,” a strategic extension of what al-Qaida’s planners in their “Letters to the Africa Corps” had called the examples of Mogadishu, Somalia, and Beirut, Lebanon. Stated crudely, Beirut (U.S. Marine barracks, 1983) and Mogadishu (“Blackhawk Down,” 1993) told al-Qaida that if “we kill enough, they will withdraw.”

Islamists murdered 191 Spaniards and wounded 1,800 on 3-11. Unlike Beirut, the “Madrid Precedent” targeted civilians in Spanish territory — but on al-Qaida’s map of the global caliphate, Spain is “al Andalus,” a Muslim domain stolen by the Reconquista.

In the post-attack wave of hysteria, “Socialist peace candidate” Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected Spain’s prime minister. He immediately withdrew Spanish troops serving in Iraq.

Hence the “Madrid Precedent” — attack a democracy just before an election with the aim of electing a “peace candidate” who thinks al-Qaida’s killers can be appeased.

Al-Qaida needed a Madrid Precedent. The “9-11 Precedent” hadn’t worked as planned. Rather than perishing like a fire-struck Sodom or becoming “quagmired” in Afghanistan like the lurching Soviet military, the United States responded aggressively and creatively, and with an unexpected agility.

Moreover, America had chosen not merely to topple al-Qaida’s Taliban allies, but had made the bold decision to go to “the heart of the matter” and wage a war for the terms of modernity in the center of the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East.

Don’t think that al-Qaida’s leaders didn’t know that stroke — establishing a democracy in Iraq — represented a fatal threat to the terrorist organization.

Al-Qaida’s dark genius had been to connect the Muslim world’s angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian fantasy sought to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline. The rage energizing al-Qaida’s ideological cadres certainly predated the post-Desert Storm presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia.

In February 2004, al-Qaida’s “emir in Iraq,” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bluntly noted he faced defeat. Islamist radicals were “failing to enlist support” and had “been unable to scare the Americans into leaving.” Once the Iraqis established their own democracy, Zarqawi opined, al-Qaida was lost. Moreover, a predominantly Arab Muslim democracy offered the Muslim world an alternative to al-Qaida’s liturgy of embedded grievance. Zarqawi’s solution to looming failure was to murder Iraqi Shias and ignite a “sectarian war.”

Politically inducing the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq was another route to thwarting Iraqi democracy.

Zapatero, a man steeped in the European left’s liturgical anti-Americanism, came through for the bin Ladenites.

But it didn’t work. Oh, Spanish troops left. Ironically, I arrived in Iraq for military duty as the Spaniards were departing. An operations sergeants told me the Spanish soldiers were crack professionals who had a high opinion of themselves — a cocky esprit. “What about their opinion of Zapatero?” I asked. The sergeant scowled. Well, I thought, what kind of soldier likes it when his own politicians deal him a defeat?

In spring 2008, the “Iraq Precedent” — forged by the Iraqi people with American help — looks increasingly persuasive. Will the Iraq Precedent sway the Muslim world’s disenchanted? It has had some success, and al-Qaida knows this: An increasing number of Muslims consider al-Qaida to be a criminal gang. However, cultural and political change is slow. We will have a better idea in a couple of decades.

Meanwhile, back in the United States: Democratic candidate Barack Obama promises a rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. I can’t call his plan the Obama Precedent because Hillary Clinton has toyed with the idea — of course, she toys with many ideas, depending on the crowd.

But, golly gee, Obama may be spinning us — you know, old-time campaign talk from the man promising change? Yes, his key foreign policy adviser Samantha Power has resigned (she called Hillary “a monster”), but before Power quit she suggested to the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on March 6 that Obama’s retreat pledge was iffy. “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009,” Power said. “He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. senator.”

It appears Obama is pandering to left-wing voters steeped in defeatism, and if elected president, come January 2009, he may suddenly discover the Iraq Precedent is a damn sight better than any other option.

The Great Intelligence Scapegoat

I spent a number of years in military and defence intelligence working on issues related to the great array of operations that occur around the world with Iraq being the most notable one. Jokes aside about military intelligence, it was always fascinating to see “intelligence” used as an almost default answer when tough questions came up, often cited side by side with “national security” and “that’s classified”. While at some later point I may write an article about the somewhat inprecise nature of intelligence collection and analysis, I thought I may write about the misunderstood and misrepresented nature of the role of intelligence in decision making (particularly at the political/ strategic level). It was tough learning this lesson as intelligence professionals would perhaps prefer that their imput becomes the key factor in decision making but that is wrong.

Fundamentally, intelligence is only one of a range of factors that goes into decision making and nothing more. Political and policy factors are just as important, and possibly carry more weight. While decision makers should weigh up all the factors, some of the non-intelligence factors can take prominence AND can be hidden by using “intelligence” as a very useful and convenient scapegoat. The case for invading Iraq is a case in point. There was desire for regime change however the political reality dictated that an alternate justification be given, hence the WMD issue. While circumstantial evidence existed to suggest the existence of WMD, WMD concerns were elevated and assessments not based on fact or evidence were then used to justify the 2003 war (the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda was far more spurious).  Intelligence assessments would also have pointed to the importance of not winding down operations in Afghanistan in 2002, but again the political and policy considerations of the then up-coming invasion of Iraq took precedence.

Some get offended by saying that they are misled by their governments but this is perhaps a nieve view. Politics and deception are interwoven to quite a degree. Governments and opposition parties use and misuse information they have at hand to enhance their own position (and neither side is blameless). Intelligence is a great target for misuse as national security considerations will often prevent real information or assessment from being brought into public view – and therefore scrutiny is absent.

Recent Iraq Discussions

Recently there was a round table discussion with Dr David Kilcullen, the Chief Counter-Insurgency Advisor to General David Petraeus. A number of blogs that I subscribe to described this discussion including Austin Bay’s blog and Black Five. In many respects, there was nothing particularly new about what he said – many military professionals who have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan know that many of his comments are similar to those that have been echoed by military people for the last few years and largely ignored. There was a substantial body of history to draw on – the US Small Wars manual, the lessons from Vietnam, the Malayan Emergency, Ireland and so on.

It is refreshing though to see that at the highest strategic level of the military effort in Iraq there is this appreciation of the situation in Iraq, and a recognition that war is more multi-dimensional than a simplistic use of ‘kinetic’ force aimed at finding a target and destroying it. While I would fear that it is perhaps too late to fully make good the situation in Iraq, I expect that this change of focus will ensure that the situation is less grim than it would otherwise have been.

Almost two weeks ago, a former Colonel in the Australian Army, Mike Kelly, retired from Defence and decided to stand for parliament in the upcoming elections. He was interviewed for the ABC’s 7.30 report and gave a very interesting insight into events in Iraq. I had had the opportunity of meeting Colonel Kelly a number of times in Baghdad and so it held a great degree of personal interest for me. He again alludes to the lack of following the advice of military planners and particularly points to the de-Ba’athification policies as a key failure in the Iraq war.

Iraq Memoirs

When I served in Iraq back in 2004, I wrote a number of group emails that I sent to my friends and family. After returning to Australia, a few people suggested that I consolidate them and consider publishing them (not that they are necessarily any good). Anyway, I have posted them on my blog, so if you are interested, go to Dispatches from the Front. There is a table of contents there as well.

US military blogging ban

Today’s news services have again covered the decision by the US military to ban its soldiers from using social media (blogs, Myspace etc). Austin Bay’s blog alerted me to this a couple of weeks ago. He also pointed to a very comprehensive article by Wired from the start of May that is worth reading. The two main reasons given are firstly bandwidth usage and secondly OPSEC (or operational security, the protection of sensitive information associated with operations).

While appreciating both of these concerns, this is truly an ignorant decision by people who do not appreciate the importance that deployed soldiers place on being able to communicate with loved ones and the potential wider positive influence that can be used through social media. It is also a bit patronising to entrust soldiers with prosecuting the war at the tactical level, but not consider them sufficiently mature to consider OPSEC.

A large number of US personnel are spending close to one year in two, or six months each year, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Despite the Iraq war having only started four years ago, many of my friends have now spent two years of their life there. For those of us who have been to war, we understand the real importance of being able to communicate with family and friends. The pressures on soldiers are high enough without taking away their ability to communicate. While the cost of larger bandwidth use may be higher due to the use of myspace etc, surely it does not compare to welfare and morale of deployed forces, and the potential for increased retention problems.

One of the major failures of this war has been the appalling lack of trying to win the information war, at home and in the operational environment. Since the fall of Baghdad, the political-strategic direction of the war has been an almost complete failure. Even some of the great reconstruction work that has gone on has been overshadowed by the complete inability of the US administration to deliver positive messages about this – and into this void, Al Qaeda and other terrorist/ anti-Iraqi forces have been able to bombard people with negativity about what is happening in Iraq. Even in the West, press coverage of the war has been overwhelmingly negative. In some ways, I would equate this decision with some of the decisions in World War One that led to the slaughter of Ypres and the Somme. Back then, senior leaders refused to acknowledge that technology had changed the face of war forever with the advent of the machine gun and other weapons of war; now, senior leaders refuse to acknowledge that technology has again changed the face of war, this time due to the internet.