Sunday, October 07, 2007

I've Moved!

I have a new blog, American Power!

It was time to retire the sturdy Burkean Reflections blogging project. What happened? Get the full story from my new blog's initial post, " Welcome to American Power."

Thanks to all those who've visited and commented at this site over this last 18 months.

Don't forget to update your blog links, bookmarks, and subscription feeds! Get moving with American Power!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bush Stays Tough on Terror Interrogation Methods

The New York Times has the story on President's Bush defense of the administration's interrogation tactics I(via Memeorandum):

President Bush, reacting to a Congressional uproar over the disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions permitting the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects, defended the methods on Friday, declaring, “This government does not torture people.”

The remarks, Mr. Bush’s first public comments on the memorandums, came at a hastily arranged Oval Office appearance before reporters. It was billed as a talk on the economy, but after heralding new job statistics, Mr. Bush shifted course to a subject he does not often publicly discuss: a once-secret Central Intelligence Agency program to detain and interrogate high-profile terror suspects.
Bush's reponse to critics was the lead story at today's Los Angeles Times as well:

The president's comments came amid disclosures this week of classified opinions issued by the Justice Department in 2005 that endorsed the legality of an array of interrogation tactics, ranging from sleep deprivation to simulated drowning.

Bush's decision to comment again on what once was among the most highly classified U.S. intelligence programs underscores the political peril surrounding the issue for the White House, which has had to retreat from earlier, aggressive assertions of executive power.

It also reflects the extent to which the debate over tactics in the war on terrorism remains unresolved, six years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The limits on CIA interrogators have been particularly fluid, shifting repeatedly under a succession of legal opinions, court rulings and executive orders.

In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush stressed the legality of the CIA program -- even while making the case for continued use of coercive methods.

"We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations," Bush said. But when the United States locates a terrorism suspect, he added: "You bet we're going to detain them, and you bet we're going to question them -- because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That's our job."
Both articles discuss Democratic Party outrage over not only the hint of coercive techniques, but the idea as well that the administation has an executive interest in keeping internal dicussions on interrogation methods out of the public realm.

The outcry over torture - which is common all over the left wing of the political spectrum - represents a knee-jerk reaction to the issue. The United States needs more firmness in its approach to interrogations and the judicial treatment of terror suspects. This is a nation at war, and a tougher approach - either based on a forward-oriented morality or plain realpolitik - is warranted, and should be generating bipartisan support.

I wrote earlier on the justification of torture,
citing Jerome Slater's Political Science Quarterly article, where he carefully examines the pros and cons of the practice, and comes down advocating aggressive interrrogations. Slater says torture's sometimes necessary:

Put differently, so long as the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks against innocents is taken seriously, as it must be, it is neither practicable nor morally persuasive to absolutely prohibit the physical coercion or even outright torture of captured terrorist plotters—undoubtedly evils, but lesser evils than preventable mass murder. In any case, although the torture issue is still debatable today, assuredly the next major attack on the United States—or perhaps Europe—will make it moot. At that point, the only room for practical choice will be between controlled and uncontrolled torture—if we are lucky. Far better, then, to avoid easy rhetoric and think through the issue while we still have the luxury of doing so.
Read the Slater piece in full to get the full context of the argument. It's a tough call, but circumstances warrant the legality of coercive methods, including torture.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fighting Roadside Bombs: Part IV

This post concludes my coverage of Rick Atkinson's Washington Post series on the IED threat to international security. Atkinson's fourth article in the series continues his discussion of the Pentagon's dramatic policy efforts to adapt to improvised bombs. Frankly, much of the article repeats the main points raised by Atkinson previously. I did like this concluding passage, however:

At 9:30 p.m. on Monday, May 7, a convoy of four uparmored Humvees rolled through the heavily fortified gate at Camp Falcon in southern Baghdad before turning north onto Route Jackson at 35 mph. Each Humvee carried a jammer against radio-controlled bombs, either a Duke or an SSVJ. Each had been outfitted with Frag Kit 5, and a Rhino II protruded from each front bumper as protection against EFPs detonated by passive infrared triggers. As recommended, the drivers kept a 40-meter separation from one another.

The senior officer in the third Humvee, Lt. Col. Gregory D. Gadson, 41, had driven to Falcon to attend a memorial service for two soldiers killed by an IED. Now he was returning to his own command post near Baghdad International Airport. As commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 32nd Field Artillery, a unit in the 1st Infantry Division, Gadson was a gunner by training. But as part of the troop "surge" that President Bush announced in January, the battalion had taken up unfamiliar duties as light infantrymen in Baghdad.

After 18 years in the Army, including tours of duty in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and in Afghanistan, Gadson was hardly shocked by the change of mission. He knew that, proverbially, no plan survived contact with the enemy. Raised in Chesapeake, Va., he had been a football star in high school and an outside linebacker at West Point before graduating in 1989. The nomadic Army life suited him and his wife, Kim, who had been a classmate at the academy before resigning her commission to raise their two children.

In the darkness on Route Jackson, no one noticed the dimple in the roadbed, where insurgents had loosened the asphalt with burning tires and buried three 130mm artillery shells before repairing the hole. No one saw the command wire snaking to the east through a hole in a chain-link fence and into a building. No one saw the triggerman.

They all heard the blast. "The boom is what I think about every day," Gadson would say three months later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A great flash exploded beneath the right front fender. Gadson felt himself tumbling across the ground, and he knew instantly that an IED had struck the Humvee. "I don't have my rifle," he told himself, and then the world went black.

When he regained consciousness, he saw the looming face of 1st Sgt. Frederick L. Johnson, who had been in the trail vehicle and had brought his commander back from the dead with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Lying on the road shoulder 50 meters from his shattered Humvee, Gadson was the only man seriously wounded in the attack, but those wounds were grievous. Another soldier, Pfc. Eric C. Brown, managed to knot tourniquets across his upper thighs. Johnson hoisted Gadson, who weighed 210 pounds, into another Humvee, an ordeal that was "extremely complicated due to the extensive injuries Lt. Col. Gadson sustained to his lower extremities," an incident report later noted.

Thirty minutes after the blast, Gadson was flown from Camp Falcon to the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad's Green Zone. For hours he hovered near death, saved by 70 units of transfused blood. "Tell Kim I love her," he told another officer.

Two days later, he was stable enough to fly to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany; two days after that, he reached Walter Reed, where Kim was waiting for him. On May 18, a major artery in his left leg ruptured; to save his life, surgeons amputated several inches above the knee. The next day, the right leg blew, and it, too, was taken off at the thigh.

Gadson would be but one of 22,000 American casualties from IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that isolated incident along Route Jackson on May 7 was emblematic of the nation's long struggle against roadside bombs.

He had been wounded despite the best equipment his country could give him and despite the best countermeasures American science could contrive. His life had been saved by the armored door that shielded his head and torso, and by the superior training of his soldiers, the heroic efforts of military medicine and his own formidable grit. He had lost his lower limbs despite flawlessly following standard operating procedure. He faced months, and years, of surgery, rehabilitation and learning to live a life without legs.

Gadson's war was over, but for his comrades and for the country it goes on. An additional $4.5 billion has been budgeted for the counter-IED fight in the fiscal year that began this week. JIEDDO [the Joint IED Defeat Organization], which started four years ago this month in the Pentagon basement as an Army task force with a dozen soldiers, now fills two floors of an office building in Crystal City and employs almost 500 people, including contractors.

The House Armed Services Committee concluded in May that the organization "has demonstrated marginal success in achieving its stated mission to eliminate the IED as a weapon of strategic influence." Others disagree, including England. "Monty Meigs was the best thing that ever happened to us," he said, "and to the [Pentagon], and to the guys in the field."

Whether because of the surge, or despite it, total IED attacks in Iraq declined from 3,200 in March to 2,700 in July, an 8 percent drop. IED-related deaths also declined over the summer, sharply, from 88 in May to 27 in September.

If heartened by the recent trend, Meigs [Retired Gen. Montgomery C., head of the Pentagon's counter-IED effort] is cautious. He notes that sniping, another asymmetrical tactic, tormented soldiers in the Civil War. "Snipers are still around, and they're darned effective," he said. "Artillery has also been around a long time. There are some tactical problems that are very hard to solve. There are no silver bullets, no panaceas."

Virtually everyone agrees that regardless of how the American expeditions in Iraq and Afghanistan play out, the roadside bomb has become a fixture on 21st-century battlegrounds.

I mentioned earlier how the IED threat demonstrates "the sheer horror of war." Lt. Col. Gadson's experience powerfully illustrates the point, but it also brings home the tremendous importance of defeating the IED scourge.

Overall, while the Akinson series is informative, the reporting focused too much on the bureaucratic impediments in combatting the roadside bombs. In Atkinson's conclusion above he notes that "total IED attacks in Iraq declined from 3,200 in March to 2,700 in July, an 8 percent drop" and "IED-related deaths also declined over the summer, sharply, from 88 in May to 27 in September." There's more to these numbers, especially the more-than 50 percent drop in fatalities indicated for last summer. Atkinson's analysis might have focused more on what ground-level adaptions U.S. forces were making, rather than the almost exclusive attention to the top-down developments coming out of Washington.

Perhaps Atkinson's goal was to contribute to the defeatist grip that's got a hold on much of the Democratic establishment. Stanley Kurtz, at the National Review last week, was critical of the Post's left-wing slant to its coverage of the war:

Today, on the front page of The Washington Post, we see the third in a three-part series on roadside bombs in Iraq. The stories in this series have been centered on the top half of the page and highlighted in red (a device I don’t recall seeing before). Next to that is a huge headline about allegations of killings In Iraq by Blackwater. Below that is a headline that reads "Most in Poll Want War Funding Cut." Meanwhile deep inside the paper, on page A14, we find the following article: "U.S. and Civilian Deaths Decrease Sharply in Iraq: American Military Credits Troop Influx." True, nestled between the other screaming headlines on page one, there is a brief minuscule teaser for this far more positive story about Iraq. Yet the bias here is clear.

If the top story is Iraq, then I don’t see how you can put those three stories on the front page, while burying the other one on page 14. Arguably, an actual report of substantial positive progress in Iraq is more important, and more dramatic, than any of those other stories...

Kurtz has a good point. Yet, I'm reminded of my analysis from the first entry in this series, where I suggested that the IED threat represents a first-order challenge to American military preponderance, in that it works to weaken U.S. military effectiveness in the weakest link of the overall chain of U.S. strategy: the contested zones. This Weekly Standard report from 2005 on the Pentagon's bureaucractic approach to the IED threat captures the priority of taming this threat:

THE IED IS ONLY A TACTICAL WEAPON, but it is also the only weapon that produces significant U.S. casualties. And because these casualties are the primary factor in eroding American public support for Operation Iraqi Freedom, this tactical weapon is capable of having a major strategic impact. The IED is capable of defeating the U.S. mission in Iraq if not checked by an effective tactical response.

The Weekly Standard piece suggests that U.S. policy should cultivate more bottom-up efforts in adapting to IEDs (for an example of such initiatives, this report from Michael Yon). To its credit, the U.S. Army shows evidence of more attention to ground-level solutions to issues of asymmetrical warfare.

See my earlier entries in the "Fighting Roadside Bombs" series, here, here, and here.

No Humor in Welfare State Dependency

Paul Krugman's morning column ridicules Republicans for "laughing at the problems of the poor," saying the tendency to make fun of the disadvantaged is a basic character trait of conservatives (via Memeorandum):

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, who had been shocked by the hunger he saw in West Virginia, made the fight against hunger a theme of his presidential campaign. After his election he created the modern food stamp program, which today helps millions of Americans get enough to eat.

But Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Today’s leading conservatives are Reagan’s heirs. If you’re poor, if you don’t have health insurance, if you’re sick — well, they don’t think it’s a serious issue. In fact, they think it’s funny.

On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.

In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: “First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the president’s willing to do something bad for the kids.” Heh-heh-heh.

Most conservatives are more careful than Mr. Kristol. They try to preserve the appearance that they really do care about those less fortunate than themselves. But the truth is that they aren’t bothered by the fact that almost nine million children in America lack health insurance. They don’t think it’s a problem...

Read the whole thing.

If you believe Krugman, conservatives are evil because they don't think a public health insurance program for the poor should be expanded to include families earning three times the poverty level (at just over $60,000 a year). Perhaps we should agree with Krugman, that Conservatives are evil because they demand a little honesty from politics, for example insisting from the Democratic congressional majority that they announce the expansion of SCHIPs for what it is - and a push for a socialized health care entitlement. Or perhaps people should agree with Krugman that conservatives are evil because they can see ahead to the collapse of widespread access to the world's finest healthcare amid health rationing and endless waits to see a physician, which is likely if the expansion of SCHIPs crowds out private insurers, ultimately driving up premiums to the point of breaking the market-driven health delivery system.

Or, conservatives might be right to back Bush: It wouldn't be funny to pile even more hardships upon those who desperately need the help. Certainly there are better ways to expand access to health coverage than destroying a system working well for the majority of Americans.

The last laugh will be on liberals when the price tag comes due and everyone's stranded in the waiting line to reform our disastrously socialized health care system.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Our Soldiers: Modern American Heroes

Observe the comments to my post yesterday, "Soldiers Die For Us: A Tribute to the Fallen":

Soldiers die for a lot of reasons. They die to protect their buddies. They die to expand the empire. They die to protect corporate profits. They die. But they do not die for us. They are not fighting for us. And nothing they are doing in Iraq is helping this country one bit. Their deaths are for nothing. They are not heroes. They are cowardly conquerors...
This kind of troop-bashing sentiment is common among the International ANSWER types. Yet, as Robert Kaplan notes in today's Wall Street Journal, denigration of the military is increasingly common among the transnational elite in America's top insitutions, especially the mass media:

I'm weary of seeing news stories about wounded soldiers and assertions of "support" for the troops mixed with suggestions of the futility of our military efforts in Iraq. Why aren't there more accounts of what the troops actually do? How about narrations of individual battles and skirmishes, of their ever-evolving interactions with Iraqi troops and locals in Baghdad and Anbar province, and of increasingly resourceful "patterning" of terrorist networks that goes on daily in tactical operations centers?

The sad and often unspoken truth of the matter is this: Americans have been conditioned less to understand Iraq's complex military reality than to feel sorry for those who are part of it.

Kaplan reports from the field that U.S. soldiers are looking for respect, not pity: "We are not victims," one battalion commander asserted. "We are privileged." Thus Kaplan continues:

The cult of victimhood in American history first flourished in the aftermath of the 1960s youth rebellion, in which, as University of Chicago Prof. Peter Novick writes, women, blacks, Jews, Native Americans and others fortified their identities with public references to past oppressions. The process was tied to Vietnam, a war in which the photographs of civilian victims "displaced traditional images of heroism." It appears that our troops have been made into the latest victims.

Heroes, according to the ancients, are those who do great deeds that have a lasting claim to our respect. To suffer is not necessarily to be heroic. Obviously, we have such heroes, who are too often ignored. Witness the low-key coverage accorded to winners of the Medal of Honor and of lesser decorations.

The first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror was awarded posthumously to Army Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith of Tampa, Fla., who was killed under withering gunfire protecting his wounded comrades outside Baghdad airport in April 2003.

According to LexisNexis, by June 2005, two months after his posthumous award, his stirring story had drawn only 90 media mentions, compared with 4,677 for the supposed Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and 5,159 for the court-martialed Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England. While the exposure of wrongdoing by American troops is of the highest importance, it can become a tyranny of its own when taken to an extreme.

Media frenzies are ignited when American troops are either the perpetrators of acts resulting in victimhood, or are victims themselves. Meanwhile, individual soldiers daily performing complicated and heroic deeds barely fit within the strictures of news stories as they are presently defined. This is why the sporadic network and cable news features on heroic soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan comes across as so hokey. After all, the last time such reports were considered "news" was during World War II and the Korean War.

In particular, there is Fox News's occasional series on war heroes, whose apparent strangeness is a manifestation of the distance the media has traveled away from the nation-state in the intervening decades. Fox's war coverage is less right-wing than it is simply old-fashioned, antediluvian almost. Fox's commercial success may be less a factor of its ideological base than of something more primal: a yearning among a large segment of the public for a real national media once again--as opposed to an international one. Nationalism means patriotism, and patriotism requires heroes, not victims.

Kaplan's piece is worth reading in whole, but the conclusion is particularly good:

The media is but one example of the slow crumbling of the nation-state at the upper layers of the social crust - a process that because it is so gradual, is also deniable by those in the midst of it. It will take another event on the order of 9/11 or greater to change the direction we are headed. Contrary to popular belief, the events of 9/11--which are perceived as an isolated incident--did not fundamentally change our nation. They merely interrupted an ongoing trend toward the decay of nationalism and the devaluation of heroism.

As Kaplan points out, the notion that there's been a "decay of nationalism" is contested. Yet on the question of the deligimization of state-based heroism, Kaplan's commentary here makes a compelling case to the contrary.

Republican Voters Shifting to Protectionism

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Republican voters growing increasingly skeptical of free trade policies:

By a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe free trade is bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democratic views and suggests trade deals could face high hurdles under a new president....

Six in 10 Republicans in the poll agreed with a statement that free trade has been bad for the U.S. and said they would agree with a Republican candidate who favored tougher regulations to limit foreign imports. That represents a challenge for Republican candidates who generally echo Mr. Bush's calls for continued trade expansion, and reflects a substantial shift in sentiment from eight years ago.
Take a look at the article. In my view, the findings of GOP unease with free trade reflect a broader unhappiness with the greater forces of globalization, and especially GOP concerns surrounding illegal immigration and border security (48 percent of Republicans oppose the administration's proposal for a guest worker program). The survey indicates a breakdown of the conservative concensus on economic and regulatory policies. For example, the survey finds a plurality of Republicans supporting tax increases to fund health care and other items:

In part, the concern about trade reflected in the survey reflects the changing composition of the Republican electorate as social conservatives have grown in influence. In questions about a series of candidate stances, the only one drawing strong agreement from a majority of Republicans was opposition to abortion rights.

Post-9/11 security concerns have also displaced some of the traditional economic concerns of the Republican Party that Ronald Reagan reshaped a generation ago. Asked which issues will be most important in determining their vote, a 32% plurality cited national defense, while 25% cited domestic issues such as education and health care, and 23% cited moral issues. Ranking last, identified by just 17%, were economic issues such as taxes and trade.

The WSJ poll appears to buttress some of the findings from the Washington Post's recent survey, which found increasing numbers of business professionals shifting to the Democratic Party.

The Republican shift on trade policy is a toubling development for American international economic policy. A shift toward protectionism - perhaps under a new Democratic administration in 2009 - is the last thing the U.S. needs. Since World War II, the U.S.-led liberal international trade and monetary regimes have provided the economic foundations for world growth and prosperity. Both developed and less-developed nations thrive on open markets and access to the diversity of the world goods and human resources. Rising protectionism threatens these achievements.

In a 2005 Foreign Affairs article, Carla A. Hills, who was U.S. Trade Representative during the G.H.W. Bush administration, reviewed the stakes involved in the continued push for trade expansion:

The U.S. experience since World War II proves that increased economic interdependence boosts economic growth and encourages political stability. For more than 50 years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the United States has led the world in opening markets. To that end, the United States worked to establish a series of international organizations, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO)....

The results to date have been spectacular. World trade has exploded and standards of living have soared at home and abroad. Economist Gary Hufbauer, in a comprehensive study published this year by the Institute of International Economics, calculates that 50 years of globalization has made the United States richer by $1 trillion per year (measured in 2003 dollars), or about $9,000 added wealth per year for the average U.S. household. Developing countries have also gained from globalization. On average, poor countries that have opened their markets to trade and investment have grown five times faster than those that kept their markets closed. Studies conducted by World Bank economist David Dollar show that globalization has raised 375 million people out of extreme poverty over the past 20 years.

And the benefits have not been only economic. As governments liberalize their trade regimes, they often liberalize their political regimes. Adherence to a set of trade rules encourages transparency, the rule of law, and a respect for property that contribute to increased stability. Without U.S. leadership...the world would look very different today.

The United States has an interest in continuing this progress. Republican voters worried about the effects of trade on their economic well-being have legitimate fears, although ultimately the gains from trade will exceed the pain incurred by trade-induced economic dislocation. Candidates in the GOP presidential field need to provide public leadership on this issue, rousing the party's base to a greater understanding of the benefits of international trade openness. Recent Democratic Party statements in favor of trade policy protectionism present a much more damaging alternative to the American economy in the long run.

Extinguishing the Fire of Radical Islam

Check out the following letter to the editor, from John L. Sorg, of McCordeville, Indiana, in response to last Friday's Frederick Kagan commentary in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Kagan's message that security for the Iraqi people is a prerequisite for defeating al Qaeda is correct. It's also necessary for defeating the Sadrists, other "extremists/terrorists" and laying the foundation for political compromise on key issues like oil-revenue sharing at the federal level. The idea that politics will lead to defeating terrorists without security coming first has it exactly backward.

Despite the mantra of the left that Iraq is a failure and is separate and apart from the war on radical Islam, success in Iraq is essential to turning the tide against the radical, worldwide jihadist movement, which seeks to force its will on the rest of Islam and, ultimately, the rest of the world. The fact that most of the Democratic Party cannot acknowledge this disqualifies those Democrats running for president from effectively operating as commander in chief. In World War II there was a national consensus regarding the need to defeat the evil of Nazism. Many Democrats have not recognized the need to defeat the similar evil of a radical Islam that will stop at nothing to impose its will on the world.

We must stay in Iraq for as long as it takes with the forces necessary to achieve victory. Instead, let's talk about "strategic redeployment" of our troops out of Europe and Asia if it means we can solidify our presence in the Middle East and put out the fire of radical Islam. No one wants to "occupy" the Middle East indefinitely, but occupy we must until the jihadists understand that we will not allow defeat. Only then will they give up. The antiwar leftists have served only to prolong the war by giving the evil ones hope that they can outlast us. I believe that if the Democrats win the presidency, hope will be renewed for the terrorists.
See also yesterday's Bartle Bull commentary in WSJ, which argues that we have indeed turned the tide in Iraq, with military victories forcing the realignment of Iraq's sectarian parties, which has in turn consolidated the current Shiite political order.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Runaway Train? Hillary Boosts Lead in Polls, Money

Hillary Clinton's nomination as 2008's Democratic standardbearer is looking more and more inevitable, according to new poll findings from the Washington Post:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has consolidated her place as the front-runner in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, outpacing her main rivals in fundraising in the most recent quarter and widening her lead in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

For the first time, Clinton (N.Y.) is drawing support from a majority of Democrats -- and has opened up a lead of 33 percentage points over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Her popularity, the poll suggests, is being driven by her strength on key issues and a growing perception among voters that she would best represent change.

The new numbers come on the heels of an aggressive push by Clinton to dominate the political landscape. She unveiled her health-care proposal and then appeared on all five Sunday news shows on the same day -- all while her husband, former president Bill Clinton, went on tour to promote a new book. Within the past month, at least one Clinton has appeared on television virtually every day, increasing the campaign's exposure among millions of Americans.

Yesterday, her campaign announced that it had topped Obama for the first time in a fundraising period, taking in $22 million in the past three months in funds that can be used for the primary campaign, to Obama's $19 million.

When all funds raised in the period were included, Clinton raised a total of $27 million in the quarter and Obama took in $20 million. While Obama topped her performance in the first two fundraising periods this year, the two are virtually even in the amount they have raised for the primaries, with Obama bringing in about $75 million for the nominating contests and Clinton about $72.5 million.

Even with the avalanche of publicity the Clintons have received, the Post-ABC News poll suggests that there is more than name recognition at work.

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 53 percent support Clinton, compared with 20 percent for Obama and 13 percent for former senator John Edwards (N.C.).

Despite rivals' efforts to portray her as too polarizing to win the general election, a clear majority of those surveyed, 57 percent, said Clinton is the Democratic candidate with the best chance on Nov. 4, 2008. The percentage saying Clinton has the best shot at winning is up 14 points since June. By contrast, 20 percent think Edwards is most electable and 16 percent think Obama is, numbers that represent a huge blow to the "electability" argument rivals have sought to use against her.

One of the central claims of Obama's campaign is that he is best suited to lower partisan tensions in Washington. But, in this poll, more see Clinton as best able to reduce partisanship.

Here's something that made me think: The article noted a major publicity blitz by both Hillary and Bill Clinton last week (Hillary appeared on all the Sunday talk shows and Bill made the rounds promoting a new book). This in turn reminded me of the discussion early this year of Hillary's ramrod-like presidential campaign machine, composed of fierce loyalists with much more discipline than that found among the top aides in the Bill Clinton White House:

Bill Clinton ran a loose and leaky ship during his two White House terms, and many in his old brain trust who are expected to return to the fold for a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign now have careers to tend and outside interests to promote.

By contrast, "Hillaryland" is a disciplined structure of her own design, a tight-knit realm populated by discreet, fiercely devoted aides who have been with the former first lady since her East Wing days, along with newer additions who serve on her Senate staff. Some wonder if her circle is too buffered.

Buffered or not, Hillary Clinton's emergence as the odds-on nominee poses tremendous electoral challenges to the Republicans, who look to be facing a less decisive nomination process, and thus a delayed party rally behind the eventual general election candidate.

It's also worth thinking about the prospects of Hillary as president. Some in the GOP have essentially conceded 2008 to the Democrats, and if Hillary retains her momentum through November 2008, she'll bring a degree of experience to the top rungs of power rarely seen in the history of the presidency.

Soldiers Die for Us: A Tribute to the Fallen

Check out this YouTube, a tribute to the fallen:

Hat tip: Forward Deployed.

Also check out
Chicago Ray's Wednesday Hero.

Fighting Roadside Bombs: Part III

Rick Atkinson's third installment of his Washington Post IED series takes a further look at the agonizing effort by U.S. officials to develop effective countermeasures to the threat of roadside bombs. Here's the introduction:

On Aug. 3, 2005, the deadliest roadside bomb ever encountered by U.S. troops in Iraq detonated beneath a 26-ton armored personnel carrier, killing 14 Marines and revealing yet another American vulnerability in the struggle against improvised explosive devices.

"Huge fire and dust rose from the place of the explosion," an Iraqi witness reported from the blast site in Haditha, in Anbar province. In Baghdad and in Washington, the bleak recognition that a new species of bomb -- the underbelly, or "deep buried," IED -- could demolish any combat vehicle in the U.S. arsenal "was a light-bulb moment for sure," as a Pentagon analyst later put it.

Of the 81,000 IED attacks in Iraq over the past 4 1/2 years, few proved more devastating to morale than that "huge fire" in Haditha. At a time when coalition casualties per IED steadily declined, even as the number of bombs steadily increased, the abrupt obliteration of an entire squad -- made up mostly of reservists from Ohio -- revealed that the billions of dollars being spent on heavier armor and other "defeat the device" initiatives had clear limits.

Haditha provided a light-bulb moment for insurgents as well. During the next year, underbelly attacks just in the Marine sector of western Iraq would increase from a few each month to an average of four per day. By early summer of this year, the underbelly IED -- considered a specialty of Sunni bombers -- was killing more American troops in Iraq than all other variants of roadside bombs combined.

A bomb with 100 pounds of explosives detonating beneath an armored vehicle was equivalent to a direct hit from a six-gun artillery battery, but with an accuracy no gunner could hope to achieve. A single 155mm artillery round, which by itself can destroy a tank, typically contained 18 pounds of explosives. "That's just a damned difficult thing to defeat," said Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the current chief of staff for the Multinational Corps in Baghdad.

Two weeks after the Haditha killings, Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, who headed the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, lamented the failure of American science to vanquish the roadside bomb. "If we could prematurely detonate IEDs, we will change the whole face of the war," he said. For "a country that can put a man on the moon in 10 years, or build a nuke in 2 1/2 years of wartime effort, I don't think we're getting what we need from technology on that point."

This installment of the series - with its detailed explication of the astonishingly raw firepower of the latest roadside explosives - really brings home the utter brutality of the IED threat to U.S. forces. To put it bluntly, this piece really captures the sheer horror of the war.

Also check this next quote on "explosively formed penetrators" (IFPs), the IED projectiles supplied to the Iraqi terrorists by Iran:

By late summer 2005, the explosively formed penetrator, like the underbelly IED, had become an appallingly lethal weapon for which there was no obvious countermeasure.

Although still a small fraction of all roadside bombings, EFP attacks since spring had increased from about one per week to roughly one every other day. When fired, the semi-molten copper disks struck with such violence that casualties tended to be higher and more gruesome than in other IED attacks. "This was beyond the capability of anything in our arsenal," an Army brigadier general said. "And, by the way, you can't armor your way out of this problem."

Read the whole thing.

For my earlier entries in this series, click here and here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I Thought I Was Tough on Glenn Greenwald!

This entry is a follow-up to my Blog Watch post on Glenn Greenwald. That one was one of my better posts in the series, but for comparison, check out this exchange flying across the blogosphere today between Greenwald and his enemies:

It starts with Greenwald's post up today
attacking conservative foreign policy hawks as anti-Islamist bigots. He mounts some special animosity for Protein Wisdom, which called him a (stupid) faggot:

On Protein Wisdom - the right-wing blog of Pajamas Media's Jeff Goldstein - there is a "response" to a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago concerning the exaggerations of the Muslim threat from Marty Peretz's assistant, Jamie Kirchick of The New Republic and Commentary. The Protein Wisdom response to my post is entitled "Hey (Faggot) Stupid."
I don't advocate calling ideological opponents rank ad hominems, although I can see why conservatives really hate Glenn Greenwald. Still, Greenwald gets some nasty hate mail, such as this:

Glenn -- just read your post about how we're all over-reacting to Islamic fundamentalism. How refreshing! I had no idea that our fears were so ill-founded. There I was, all set to actually believe the rhetoric of Al Qaeda and Iran and the countless video tapes of suicide bombers, not to mention the actual language of the Quran. In fact, I'd even begun to believe this poll, which says that quite a few American Muslims think that there is justification for strapping a bomb to yourself and walking into a mall [GG: I wrote about that poll here and here]. But who needs polls when I have Glenn Greenwald! Thank heavens we have you to balance all this with an argument that can basically be summed up as, "well none of these people who mocked Islam have been killed, so you all need to relax, OK?"

I picture this moment, Glenn, and it brings me a little chuckle. It's you, begging some terrorist for your life, pointing out all the wonderful things you wrote that undermined America's resolve to fight against Islamic terrorism. "Look," you say, pulling articles out of your pockets with shaking hands, "I have served you! Clearly this means that I deserve to be spared!"
I won't tell you how it ends, Glenn.
The e-mail's from RH Potfry at The Nose on Your Face. Now, while I really dislike Greenwald, I'm just not willing to get this down and dirty in attacking him (so consider this as the rejection of conservative ad hominem smears some of my lefty readers keep demanding).

But back to the issues in play: Check out Greenwald's response, which dismisses any possible inkling of an Islamist threat to American national security:

One can only marvel at how developed and richly detailed is the fantasy that he has created and carries around with him -- being on one's knees before a Muslim terrorist, begging and pleading and shaking, dialogue about "having served you." It is really right out of some cheap, trite sadomasochistic pornography script, and yet these fears and truly creepy fantasies are the foundation for their political beliefs, driving most of our political discourse and policy.

And this bile that spewed forth really illustrates so much about why we continue to fight one of history's most absurd wars ever, whereby we occupy Iraq indefinitely even though the original justifications for invading have long ago vanished and even those who want to stay have no idea what we are trying to accomplish. It is the same dynamic that fueled so much of the intense and obsessive hatred for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and which drives the insatiable quest for new Enemies to attack, including what looks increasingly like the new War with Iran.

Bombing and killing Muslims is the only path for avoiding the humiliating scenarios which our nation's war cheerleaders carry around obsessively in their heads, and which are currently filling my inbox. They're not going to be the ones on their knees, begging. They're not going to be the "faggots." Instead, they are going to send others off to fight and bomb and occupy and kill and thereby show who is strong and tough and feel protected.
Greenwald's really stuck on his "wimp factor" theories, which are of the garden variety "chicken hawk" kind, but read the whole post for more. For now, though, note how the debate continues back over at Protein Wisdom. Especially this section, with updates:

UPDATE: Gleen begins an update to a post with the formula, “I honestly just read . . . .” No, really. Were fatwas issued against them? No, but good old religieuse Gleen is deeply concerned about the blasphemy and wound to the sensibilities of Allahpundit’s handle. O tempora, o mores!

UPDATE2: More fun spun off from Gleen’s fantastical inferences regarding our fantasy lives: They are terrified but they can’t look away. “Tormented, they invent their own counter-fantasies where they are the ones holding the long, hard, dark penis and telling the source of their agony, ‘Suck. On. This.’” Because the only explanation for why one might differ from their point of view has to do with psychosexual deficiency. That’s the Progg Fantasy in a nutshell.

UPDATE3: Another numbskull weighs in:

None of this should surprise anyone. America is filled with people like Dan Collins, some of whom may be in your own families. I recall a relative of mine arguing in favor of extensive war in the Middle East, saying that if we didn’t bomb the Arabs into submission, they would come over here and “fuck us in the ass.” That’s a direct quote, by the way. I remember that line well because I had no real come back to it. I mean, what do you say to that: “To the contrary, they won’t fuck us in the ass”? Not exactly Oxford debate material. Still, the rightwing fascination with homosexual rape and queer-tinged scenarios in general says more about their confused psyches than the actual politics of the real world. I’ve run into this time and time again. Hell, twenty years ago I heard similar violent and gay-oriented rhetoric from the ex-Dartmouth Review editors and writers I had gotten to know. Back then, it was the Sandinistas who wanted to fuck us in the ass. You’d think that the U.S. has the most tantalizing rear the planet has ever seen, given how many countries desire cramming their dark, uncircumcised pricks deep inside our cheeks. This is why we must kill them before they drop their pants and pull out the bad news. Call it the Tucker Carlson school of international diplomacy.

I’m not worried about getting rammed up the ass by a Muslim, you jackass. I’m flummoxed by Gleen’s running interference for homosexual-murdering regimes and then turning around and lecturing us on our insensitivity to a particular brand of cultural difference that seems to inculcate that practice.

Of course, none of this should surprise anyone, because whatever that cultural difference may consist in, it cannot possibly be as dangerous as Neo-cons.

In fact, Gleen pretty much embodies Lacanian disembodiment:

Because of this lack of signifieds, Lacan says, the chain of signifiers–x=y=z=b=q=0=%==s (etc.)–is constantly sliding and shifting and circulating. There is no anchor, nothing that ultimately gives meaning or stability to the whole system. The chain of signifiers is constantly in play (in Derrida’s sense); there’s no way to stop sliding down the chain–no way to say “oh, x means this,” and have it be definitive. Rather, one signifier only leads to another signifier, and never to a signified. It’s kind of like a dictionary–one word only leads you to more words, but never to the things the words supposedly represent.

But people being stoned to death because of their sexuality by a regime that represents no threat to anybody, that’s rather real, I would imagine, in the moment the rock breaks the skull. On the other other other hand, you have one sockpuppet that refers to another sockpuppet that refers to another sockpuppet, ad infinitum.

And to think: I thought I was getting pretty tough on Gleen Greenwald!

Republicans Losing Grip on Business Vote

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that the GOP is losing support among business groups, a trend that could prove to be one of the most important developments in partisan identification in generations:

The Republican Party, known since the late 19th century as the party of business, is losing its lock on that title.

New evidence suggests a potentially historic shift in the Republican Party's identity -- what strategists call its "brand." The votes of many disgruntled fiscal conservatives and other lapsed Republicans are now up for grabs, which could alter U.S. politics in the 2008 elections and beyond.

Some business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don't share. In manufacturing sectors such as the auto industry, some Republicans want direct government help with soaring health-care costs, which Republicans in Washington have been reluctant to provide. And some business people want more government action on global warming, arguing that a bolder plan is not only inevitable, but could spur new industries.

Already, economic conservatives who favor balanced federal budgets have become a much smaller part of the party's base. That's partly because other groups, especially social conservatives, have grown more dominant. But it's also the result of defections by other fiscal conservatives angered by the growth of government spending during the six years that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.

The article cites polling data indicating a decline in business professionals identifying as Republican (down about 7 points since 2004). But business interests aren't the only groups defecting from the Republican fold. The GOP is facing major divides across various voter constituencies, not just on Iraq and fiscal policy, but also on immigration and social issues such as abortion and gay rights.

Also key is the appearance of Republican incompetence - for many partisans the GOP can't seem to get things right, like on the Justice Department's firing of U.S. attorneys under Alberto Gonzales, or on veteran's medical care and the Walter Reed disaster (see also Time's cover story from May, How The Right Went Wrong, which argues that conservatives have achieved much of their Reagan-era agenda, and may need a time out of power for recuperation).

Some of the criticisms are unfounded, for example, on fiscal policy, where the Bush tax cuts have resulted in increased federal tax receipts since 2005, and have contributed to the post-9/11 economic expansion.

But I do think overall that the GOP will be spending some time in the political wilderness. The Journal story concludes with some references to Pew Research Center polling data on public support for traditional values. According to Pew, Americans are less attached to "old-fashioned values about family and marriage" and the public's backing for international policies of "peace through strength" have declined as well.

In my view I see the changing partisan tides as reflecting not so much deep cultural or ideological shifts in the American electorate, but rather a yearning for something new, a willingness to give the other side a shot, for example, by electing a Democrat to the White House. In other words, we're simply seeing a natural swing of the political pendulum away from the dominant mode of politics represented by the party in power this last few years.

Recent polling data confirms the point, with Gallup finding last week that Americans are looking for some decisive policy leadership, governmental competence, integrity, and performance, and less partisan animosity. It's still some time until November 2008, and I wouldn't write off the GOP altogether, but the current period augurs better for the Democratic Party than in any time in the last few decades.

Fighting Roadside Bombs: Part II

This post continues my coverage of Rick Atkinson's series on the IED challenge and the U.S. military. In his second article Atkinson elaborates in some detail Defense Department efforts to counter the increasingly deadly effects of the IED threat to U.S. forces in Iraq.

Eliminating the IED problem was given top priority, although Atkinson argues that most of the various programs to combat the scourge were mostly ad hoc and unsuccessful. Atkinson also notes a particularly troubling development in the last couple of years involving newer explosive devices supplied to insurgents through the Iranian arms pipeline:

More than 250 American soldiers would be killed by another type of IED that was spreading across the battlefield and against which even the best jammers proved useless.

The first confirmed EFP -- explosively formed penetrator -- had appeared in Basra on May 15, 2004, and [Pentagon IED Task Force director Joseph] Votel had briefed Vice President Cheney in late June on the phenomenon, using a model to demonstrate how it worked. The weapon, which fired a heavy copper disc with devastating impact, typically used a passive infrared trigger that detonated the bomb when a sensor detected radiation from a warm passing object, such as a Humvee. Because no radio waves were involved, jammers had no effect.

A Defense Intelligence Agency weapons team had noted in the late 1990s that EFPs with infrared triggers were used by Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces against the Israelis in southern Lebanon at least as early as 1997. The few EFPs that were in Iraq during the early summer of 2004 invariably appeared in Shiite-controlled areas near the Iranian border, such as Basra and southeast Baghdad. That suggested "international linkages" to Iran, Votel told Cheney.

A colonel at the Israeli Embassy had repeatedly warned the task force about infrared-triggered EFPs. "He and other Israelis were pounding on the desk, saying, 'Listen, we've already been through this historically. This is what's going to happen next,' " a task force officer later recalled....

By early 2005, what one officer had described as "an ominous thing on the horizon" was moving to the foreground in Iraq. Most EFPs were built with several pounds of pure copper, either milled or punched with a 20-ton hydraulic press into a concave disc with a 140-degree angle, two to 11 inches in diameter. Triggered by the infrared sensor, a blasting cap in turn set off explosives packed behind the copper disc -- known as a liner -- inside a steel or plastic pipe. The detonation wave, moving at 8,000 meters per second, struck the liner, which inverted into a tadpole-shaped slug.

An EFP eight inches in diameter threw a seven-pound copper slug at Mach 6, or 2,000 meters per second. (A .50-caliber bullet, among the most devastating projectiles on the battlefield, weighs less than two ounces and has a muzzle velocity of 900 meters per second.) Unlike an armor-killing shaped charge, the EFP warhead did not turn into a plasma jet, but remained semi-molten. Copper was preferred because it is ductile and malleable, and does not shatter like steel. Typically fired at ranges from five to 10 meters, the slug could punch through several inches of armor, spraying metal shards across the crew compartment....

Debate intensified within the U.S. government over Iran's role in distributing EFPs. [General John] Abizaid was skeptical until British troops reportedly captured a cache of copper discs along Iraq's southeastern border. Other evidence accumulated. For example, according to a former DIA analyst, the C-4 plastic explosive found in some EFPs chemically matched that sold by Tehran's Defense Industries Organization and identified by specific lot numbers. Intelligence also indicated the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was training and giving explosives to certain Iraqi Shiite groups, a senior DOD official said.

Read the whole thing. Abizaid counseled against military action to stop Iranian arms shipments to Iraq, arguing that "You know they're doing it, but you don't know that you want to go to war over it."

There's been some suggestion that Iranian-supplied munitions account for 70 percent of current U.S. casualties in Iraq. It seems to me, contrary to Abizaid, that this is something we'd want to go to war over.

For the previous post from this series, click here.

Hope in the Mideast?

Mortimer Zuckerman's new commentary at U.S. News suggests the possibility of a diplomatic breakthough on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. His defense of Israel in the opening segment is a nice primer on the Jewish state's moral legitimacy, a point that bears reiteration following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York and the ongoing Palestinian campaign to undermine Israel's right to exist:

This campaign of repudiation cuts deeply into the Israeli psyche. The Israelis know that the Jews have lived in the land of Israel without interruption for nearly 4,000 years. They know that, except for a short Crusader kingdom, they are the only people who have had independent sovereignty on this land. And they are the only people for whom Jerusalem has been their capital.

They are not a foreign occupier because the State of Israel is the child not of European colonialism but rather of Ottoman decolonialization. It was that Jewish historical bond that led the League of Nations 85 years ago to establish the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute a Jewish homeland on all the territories west of the Jordan River, all the way to the Mediterranean. That same right to a national home was sanctioned again 59 years ago by the new United Nations. After an Arab invasion 40 years ago, the U.N. passed a resolution affirming Israel's right to "secure and recognized boundaries." As Winston Churchill noted in 1922, "The Jews are in Palestine by right, not sufferance." The refusal of the Palestinians and of Ahmadinejad to recognize this has, for decades, undercut Israeli confidence in their true motives.
Read the whole thing. Zuckerman suggests that November's proposed summit between Israelis and Palestinians - to be held under the good offices of the United States - might bear fruit should moderates forces, such as new Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, succeed in shifting the Palestinians away for their perpetual strategy of victimhood to one of honesty, pragmatism, strength, and institutional performance.

Zuckerman's a realist, though, and he's careful to point out the wisdom of keeping expectations reasonable (especially with reference to Mahmound Abbas).

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fighting Roadside Bombs

Rick Atkinson at the Washington Post has a series up this week on how the U.S. military is meeting the challenge of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the current generation of warfare.

The first installment ran Sunday under the title, "
The IED problem is getting out of control. We've got to stop the bleeding." Here's an excerpt with some background to the issue, which picks up after Atkinson's discussion of Iraq's unsecured ammunition depots, the basic supply source for the insurgency's bombing campaign:

In the summer of 2003, pilfered explosives appeared in growing numbers of IEDs. Main Supply Route Tampa, the main road for military convoys driving between Baghdad and Kuwait, became a common target. Three artillery shells wired to a timer west of Taji, discovered on July 29, reportedly made up the first confirmed delay bomb. Others were soon found using egg timers or Chinese washing-machine timers.

Radio-controlled triggers tended to be simple and low-power, using car key fobs or wireless doorbell buzzers -- Qusun was the most common brand -- with a range of 200 meters or less. Radio controls from toy cars beamed signals to a small electrical motor attached to a bomb detonator; turning the toy's front wheels completed the circuit and triggered the explosion.

U.S. troops dubbed the crude devices "bang-bang" because spurious signals could cause premature detonations, sometimes killing the emplacer. Bombers soon learned to install safety switches in the contraptions, and to use better radio links.

Camouflage remained simple, with bombs tucked in roadkill or behind highway guardrails. (Soldiers soon ripped out hundreds of miles of guardrail.) Emplacers often used the same "blow hole" repeatedly, returning to familiar roadside "hot spots" again and again. But early in the insurgency, before U.S. troops were better trained, only about one bomb in 10 was found and neutralized, according to an Army colonel.

Coalition forces tended to concentrate at large FOBs -- forward operating bases -- with few entry roads. "Insurgents seized the initiative on these common routes," according to a 2007 account of the counter-IED effort by Col. William G. Adamson. "The vast majority of IED attacks occurred within a short distance of the FOBs."

Each week, the cat-and-mouse game expanded. When coalition convoys routinely began stopping 300 yards from a suspected IED, insurgents planted easily spotted hoax bombs to halt traffic, then detonated explosives that had been hidden where a convoy would most likely pull over.

By the early fall of 2003, IED attacks had reached 100 a month, according to a House Armed Services Committee document. Most were a nuisance; some proved stunning and murderous. A large explosion along a roadbed near Balad in October of that year flung a 70-ton M1A2 Abrams tank down an embankment, shearing off the turret and killing two crewmen. Even more horrifying was a truck bomb at 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 19 that demolished the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing the U.N. special representative and 22 others.

Day by day, as Adamson would write, "the concept of a front, or line of battle, vanished" in Iraq, giving way to "360-degree warfare."

The article is worth reading in its entirety.

One of the most important conclusions to be drawn here is how gravely serious a threat the IED crisis poses for U.S. forces and overall military priorities. There's a massive amount of unsecured ordnance in Iraq, and roadside bombs have become far and away the most significant source of American casualties. High-level Defense Department strategic planning to fight the IED scourge is discussed in terms of scale relative to the Manhattan Project. Indeed, elimination of the IED threat is now top national security policy, and par with the extermination of Osama bin Laden.

I have a couple of quick thoughts about the piece. My first consideration is how the IED crisis affects U.S. planning on Iranian counterproliferation. The article notes, for example, that perhaps as much as 1 million tons of explosives in Iraq were thought to be unsecured in 2003, a situation arising out of the U.S. military's constraints in providing comprehensive post-conflict stablity in Iraq after initial combat.

As grave a potential situation as those numbers reveal, the issue of unsecured munitions should not be construed as precluding any Iranian complicity in the number and serverity of recent IED attack on American forces. Unfortunately,
at least one hard-left blog has cited Atkinson's piece as evidence that the administration is trumping up evidence against Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq - the purpose of such assertions being to delegitimize a U.S. military response to Iran's campaign of killing U.S. forces in Iraq. Yet, as I noted yesterday, the U.S. military has been gathering increasing evidence of an Iranian arms pipeline to Iraq, and American forces have begun to step up countermobilization activities along the Iraq-Iran border.

A second aspect to the roadside bomb threat relates to the broader international theory of America's global military preponderance. The U.S. currently enjoy strategic unipolarity in the international realm. The implication of this, as Barry Posen pointed out in in his 2003 article, "
Command of the Commons," is that in the air, land, and sea, the U.S. currently faces no immediate challenges to its national security from any potential great power adversary in world politics.

Posen's research shows, however, that U.S. primacy is substantially compromised by peripheral adversaries who wage wars against the U.S. in the "contested zones":

The closer U.S. military forces get to enemy-held territory, the more competitive the enemy will be. This arises from a combination of political, physical, and technological facts. These facts combine to create a contested zone—arenas of conventional combat where weak adversaries have a good chance of doing real damage to U.S. forces. The Iranians, the Serbs, the Somalis, and the still unidentified hard cases encountered in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan have demonstrated that it is possible to fight the U.S. military. Only the Somalis can claim anything like a victory, but the others have imposed costs, preserved at least some of their forces, and often lived to tell the tale—to one another. These countries or entities have been small, resource poor, and often militarily “backward.” They offer cautionary tales. The success of the 2003 U.S. campaign against the Ba’athist regime in Iraq should not blind observers to the inherent difficulty of fighting in contested zones.
Posen's piece appeared four years ago, at the time of the earliest stage of Iraq's insurgency. Yet as we now know, the Iraq war clearly constitutes a "hard case" of successful asymmetrical warfare, waged by an impacable array of terrorist forces - backed by both state and non-state actors - determined to fight a ruthless campaign of intimidation, insecurity, and murder, the ultimate object of which is undermine support for the Iraqi government, and bring about a civil war victory of nihilist darkness.

The stakes in fighting the threat of roadside bombs are great, not just for Iraq, but for the future of American military leadership and global order.

Stayed tuned for forthcoming posts on Atkinson's series on the IED challenge.