09 December 2007

Iran, Realism and the NIE

The NIE report indicates that to the best knowledge of all 16 of the intelligence agencies in the United States, Iran ceased work on a nuclear weapons program in 2003.

This story has been well covered in the news. Unfortunately I think that the most important aspect of it has been missed. Amid all the discussion of how much the President knew when in regards to his rhetoric against Iran there has been a lack of discussion about what we should actually do in our foreign policy.

As rarely as this happens I'm actually going to side slightly with the President on this one. Iran is still dangerous. They are developing nuclear technology. It is not hard to transfer civilian capabilities into military capabilities. They have also failed to reach any level of transparency in their development program. All of this leaves reasonable doubt that they Iranians are really being above board when they say they have no nuclear weapons program.

However the one thing that has not been talked about and is extremely reassuring is the fact that the entire affair proves that Iran is a state that does and will respond to realist policy tools. In 2003 they stopped development as a result of economic pressures applied to the country. It is also the year that we invaded Iraq, a fellow member of the "Axis of Evil". These are very rational reasons to change their course of action. It proves that the regime is not blindly perusing nuclear weapons as a result of ideology.

Now that we know that they will respond to economic pressures it is important to make sure that they understand this and use these economic pressures in a manner that allows us to develop the situation towards openness.

10 October 2007

Iraq and Private Security Firms

The Iraqi government's decision to consolidate control of private security contractors is enormous. Their success will make or break the government as the sovereign ruler of their country. The more the united States hinders the processes the longer America will be in Iraq.

Soverignty is most simply defined as the ability to monopolize violence within your territory. So far Iraq has not been able to do this. The American military has had control, at least nominal control, since the time of the invasion. It has parceled out pieces of control when appropriate but most violence has been outside of the control of the Iraqi government. Attempts to transfer control have had mixed results as a result of the varied abilities of the agencies that are enforcing the control.

Iraqi military units have been faced with a myriad of obstacles. Most of these are the result of lack of training and equipment. Also there are problems with factionalism and infiltration by insurgents. They cannot monopolize violence within Iraq on their own.

Primarily they rely on the American military to make up the difference. We too have had our shortcomings in Iraq. Simply stated there are not enough American's do the job and we are outside of our culture. Even combined with the Iraqi's we fall short of full control. (Despite amazing efforts by hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi soldiers.)

The difference between what the American and Iraqi forces can produce is made up by private security firms. Called mercineries in any other age. These men and women operate in the grey area of the war. They are employed by everyone from construction firms and oil companies to the State Department of the United States.

They operate to their own standards, under their own rules of engagement (ROE). The Iraqi government has set ROE for these firms but these standards have been put aside in the interest of keeping themselves and their clients alive. These firms lack two things that would allow them to operate under the same ROE as regular military forces in the country (these are very broad and intended to protect the soldier first and the civilian second). One is support. The second is supervision.

Security contractors operate without the support that regular military forces live by. They lack intelligence support, fire support, air support, and backup when they get in trouble (I'm sure but can't confirm if there are exceptions when transporting U.S. Government officials). For all intensive purposes these people are one their own when the stuff hits the fan. It is therefore easy to understand why they adopt shoot first ask questions second mentalities. This is reinforced by a lack of supervision.

Lack of supervision is the second largest thing that has created problems for the private security contractors in Iraq. As a result of U.S. Government rulings at the beginning of the occupation these companies have essentially operated above the law (could not be brought to trial by the Iraqi governement). I think most people can see how this leads quickly to a lack of restraint.

Now the Iraqi governement has chosen to change the tune and assert its supervision. It is a challenging fight to pick but now that they have started they must be successful. There are thre outcomes that I can see emerging from this confrontation.

The first is that the Iraqi government will assert control and the security contractors will face a reduced capacity because they cannot operate safely in Iraq under the restrictions placed on them. This would be a net minus at this point because these contractors do in fact fill a void. Regular military forces cannot at this point provide enough security to cover all of the diplomatic and reconstruction activity that is occurring. If these projects cease recovery may quite likely be further hindered.

The second outcome is that the Iraqi governement fails to assert its authority in a meaningful way. This would be catastrophic. They are making an assertion of their soverignty and a failure to follow through will make them a lame duck. After this violence will spiral as everyone else decides to take their piece of the pie by force (and their neighbors too if they can get away with it).

The last possible outcome would be Iraq successfully asserting their authority. This would be a very meaningful credibility gain.

There are several things that I think that the United States can do to assist in this process.

  1. Side with the Iraqi Government. If we are serious about them being effective they need to take control of the violence within their borders.
  2. Subsidize reparations to the families in the most recent incidents. This should be done in a manner that it doesn't look like the governement has paid out to anyone. There are caveats on this, it must be clear that there should not be an open season for demands of reparations for previous incidents. Also all contractors employed by the United States that this is the only get out of jail free card they are going to get.
  3. Make efforts to integrate the security forces into the larger security picture. This will help prevent later incidents.
In conclusion this fight is essential. The legitimacy of the Iraqi governement as a sovereign power is already shaky, loosing this fight will quicken a decline. It is in the best interests of the United States to assist the Iraqi governement in asserting itself. We must do this by helping to broker a settlement for the current incident, make it clear that from here on out Iraqi law on the subject is final and that we won't be bailing any one else out. The alternatives to failure here are more chaos from many directions.

08 October 2007


I've traveled to Washington D.C. for the 4 day Columbus Day holiday from BOLC II. I came to meet with my parents who are here to relax and look at schools with my sister.

Yesterday we went to Arlington National Cemetery. I haven't been there in years and it felt different to be there as a service member. Before it was always moving to see all of the headstones lined up perfectly. But this time I felt the weight of those lives upon my shoulders. We watched the changing of the guard and a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the sound of taps gave me goosebumps.

We also visited the Kennedy Family Grave. The following portion of President Kennedy's inaugural speech is enscribed in marble looking down on the Mall area of Washington:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.24
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.25
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.26
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
I remember reading that when I was still in Middle School or possibly younger. I remember it being on of the ideas that sparked me towards military service. Even today it still makes me proud of what I have chosen to be a part of.

26 September 2007

BOLC II - The lazyness wrap up.

So the pace of BOLC II accelerated quickly and my hopes and dreams of keeping an accurate record of what we did fell away as training time got longer and longer. I will try and recap now, after the fact, the key points of each week after I last posted.

Qualification week: This was one week that was new to almost no one and simply went slow. Be prepared to qualify with an IBA on. It adds heat and makes it much harder to get the weapon in the pocket of your shoulder. Other wise this shouldn't be to new to any one who as come out of ROTC or west point. The biggest difference was using the CCO. They are not hard but it takes a little bit of getting used to. I was having trouble but found that when I went back to basics and put my nose on the charging handle and closed one eye, my shot groups tightened right up and I zeroed quickly. Also night fire is cool. You get about 30 rounds to shoot so you can only really get used to the concept but it is fun to be able to just point and shoot fire from the hip.

MOUT, is a good a time as you make it. I enjoy it because it is a constant puzzle to determine the best way to move from room to room safely. It seems very easy when you have a square room with no windows, doors or closets. If you add anything more it starts getting more complicated. This is especially true when there is dead space in the room (think L shaped rooms). This was also the first time that our cadre (this was our platoon only) took us out to do a night mission. Platoon attack under night vision. Its harder then you would think, especially when you don't have radios. At the end of the week we got to go in to the shoot house with simunitions and actually fire at targets. I never did any force on force with the simunitions. There was a competition between platoons but that was only one fire team from each platoon.

Mounted Operations were pretty cool. I can say that it works for the most part like a movement to contact lane. Biggest thing you have to get used to is that mounted land navigation works a lot different then on foot. It is harder to figure out where you are when things are moving at 25 miles an hour. Best thing to be prepared for in advance would be to be familiar with IED/UXO reaction drills and reports.

Culmination week. This experience varied greatly from platoon to platoon and even more between companies. Some people like my platoon worked very hard. We would do a mission, including all of the prep, rehearsals and actions on. Get back and get a "follow on mission" where we would have about 30 minutes to prep.

Also included in this week was the 10 mile road march. My platoon did at 5 mile movement, an attack on an objective and a 5 mile movement back. We LDed out of the FOB at 2115 and I crawled into bed at 0530. It was long, hot and sweaty. My neck was the worst part of it. Between the pulling my shoulders down and my nods pulling my kevlar forward it was quite uncomfortable. Weight standard was 25 percent of your weight in a ruck. In most cases that was your IBA plus some water in a camel back.

We also got to play a little bit of OPFOR this week. Anyone who is inbound to this should make sure that you are comfortable with platoon attacks and ambushes, that is how most of your time gets spent. I really can't tell you how much your going to work because there is a huge difference depending on what platoon you are in. I worked hard, the 5th platoon people worked hard but no one else really seemed to.

Week 7 is out processing, and weapon cleaning. Quite and boring, a very nice change.

16 August 2007

BOLC II vs. LDAC: Part 2 -Leadership positions and cadre relationship.

The second edition of this series (I can call it that now there are two of them) will regard leadership positions and evaluations and the relationship to cadre.

Evaluations have a lot in common to evaluations in ROTC. The sheet is almost exactly like a blue card. In this case you don't write a yellow card, you just get counseled. There are two types of leadership evaluations. The first kind is a platoon leadership position. The second is by event.

Platoon leadership evaluations are a week in length and include the student first sergeant, platoon leader, platoon sergeant, and squad leaders. Unlike LDAC there is no student CO. The biggest difference between these positions and their counterparts at LDAC other than length is the fact that you can be fired. If you screw up you are removed from command and get an unsatisfactory rating. It has happened once in my platoon. One of the SLs reported that one of her squad members was not present at first formation. He was in fact on CQ duty (something she should have known). Apparently if this happens you will get additional chances to fix yourself later.

The second type of position is a by event position. For instance next week my platoon is the duty platoon for the qualification range. This means that we provide the OIC and a LT to fill the position of NCOIC. These people are responsible for planning the entire range.

I don't know how counciling works out. My first scheduled duty position at the moment is PSG in week 5. More later.

In regards to our relationship as students with the cadre. It is much less formal (at least in my platoon) then in LDAC. At LDAC the cadre are evaluators. They are there to teach but mostly to evaluate and this means that their relationship to you is fialry standoffish to ensure that there is no appearance of favoritism. Here the cadre are considered mentors, they want to get to know you and to help you become better officers. Ideally each platoon gets a CPT or MAJ who is the platoon mentor. Then you have an E7 who is essentially the PSG but is also there to teach and coach. Each platoon is also supposed to have 3 to 4 E6s who will mentor individual squads. My platoon only has one squad mentor, but it's cool because he kicks ass.

The atmosphere that this creates is really great. The NCOs treat you with all the respect due to your rank but it is explicitly clear that you are there to be trained by them. Any one who gets it in their head that they are in charge is quickly corrected. It hasn't happened hear but it was made quite clear not to even let the thought into your head.

That is all for now.

11 August 2007

Bad movies

For the record. Both "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Rush Hour 3" are terrible movies. I've seen two movies in two night on the big screen and been horribly disappointed by both. Neither movie had anything new to offer. The same jokes stunts and tricks.

Bourne is super human everything. Smarter, faster and tricker then everyone else. The technology tricks were unconvincing. Everyone knows that they can be tracked through their phones but leave them on all the time. The CIA knows everything about you but can't figure out the fact that Jason Bourne knows all of the ways that they will attempt to trick him. It was a saga of blunt instruments hitting blunt instruments. That is the one thing that Casino Royal did better in the Spy genera, Bond is a thinking man.

Additionally there is some pretty terrible character development, not helped by bad actors, among the CIA staff. Matt Damon has come a long way in talent since the first movie. But the actors with him couldn't carry their weight. (I think the one exception was Albert Finney who had a short yet terrific performance.)

The last straw and the thing that really killed it was the ending. I don't want to be a spoiler but they did a terrible job of not deciding if they were going to make a fourth movie. There were some pretty transparent and weak tie backs to the first movie that let it go either way. I just really bothered me. I would talk about it more but I really don't want to spoil the disappointment for anyone else.

Rush hour offers very tired cross racial jokes. The scene in the first 20 minutes of the movie where they use a nun as an interpreter was probably the best comedy in the whole movie. Otherwise the jokes were weak tea compared to the previous movies. They did a really bad bit with a French cab driver who wouldn't drive the American but then wants to be a real American because we have a good time was just tacky. Really I don't have much else to say about this one other than it just wasn't very good.

10 August 2007

More heat

This is a short post. The heat index for Ft. Benning GA is 120 today. Last night the AC went out in the building. So we got a sticky night of sleep.

Also UA this morning. Got to love someone watching you pee in a cup.

08 August 2007

Heat and CIF

We had our first serious heat injury of the cycle today. After our platoon run this morning one LT had a core temp of 107 degrees. For anyone who doesn't know that's fry your brains warm. They ice sheeted* him, put an IV in him and toted him off to the hospital for treatment. This was at 0650 this morning. I can't even think what it is going to feel like when we do real work out doors. He came back to us by the end of the day but it was pretty scary.

Lesson learned, drink water, the heat really will kill you.

I can't remember ever being this hot. It was 103 when we got in my car at 5 o'clock.

In other news we got our CIF issue today and they gave us complete cold weather gear including Gortex tops and bottoms, complete sleeps systems, mittens, over boots, polypro underwear, neck gators, the works. I never got that much cold gear when I lived in Rochester. The Army is a very silly place some times.

*Ice sheeting is a way of cooling a person down. You keep sheets (like for your bed) in an ice chest. Then when you need to bring someone's temp down you put one laid out below them, one in there crotch, one under each of their armpits and wrap one around their head. You then take the sheet below them and fold it over the top. It will cool you down in a hurry if your not to far gone.

06 August 2007

BOLC II vs. LDAC: Part 1 - Living conditions and time management

So for the benefit of anyone coming to BOLC II at Benning in the near future I'm going to try and set out some of the things that I see as significantly different between this course and last summer's LDAC (summer 06) experience. Tonight I'm going to focus on two subjects. First is housing. The second is time management.

Housing here is more comfortable. My platoon is mostly on the third floor with the exception of the females that are on the first. Each person gets a room with one room mate with the exception of a few people who have three rooms. Some people who are infantry have their own places off post but that is the exception not the rule. Each room has two wall lockers, beds, desks and desk lamps. Eye balling it the room is probably 12x18.

Generally it appears that no one cares what your room looks like. Keep it as clean as you like or be a pig, the option is up to you. You are issued linens. However you can user your own linens if you choose. I'm keeping my guitar under my bed. It really is quite spacious.

I think there are two bathrooms on the floor. I haven't walked all the way down to the other end of the hall to check. But I never see anyone from the other platoon in our bathroom. Showers are a step up from last year. The stalls actually have separators on them.

As for time management. It has been really laid back. All be it it was only the first day. But for the most part the philosophy of the cadre seems to be that once you know the hard time it is on you to get there. No babysitting here. All the movement is also up to you, so no piling on to cattle cars and school buses to get from place to place. No inane counts of people getting on and off the bus. Its good to be a lieutenant.

I think that free time is best summed up by the phrase the cadre OIC for the platoon used. "If you don't have anything to do, don't do it here." What this means is that when there is nothing to do you get time to yourself.

I like the cadre. They seem to have an interest in training smarter not harder so that we can all finish doing training and go drink beer. And that is an army you have to love.

The first week is mostly in briefs and processing. If something doesn't apply to you, you don't have to go. This means people who have been to LDAC or CTLT don't need to go to finance meetings etc.

Also of note my mailing address for anyone who wants it is:

2LT Andrew Nortrup
D/1/11 IN
BOLC II 6th Platoon
BLDG 2749
Fort Benning, GA 31905

05 August 2007

Travel and Benning

So it begins. I've made my journey to Ft. Benning for BOLC II (Basic Officer Leaders Course Phase 2), reported in, gotten my room and am ready to go.

The journey itself was long but enjoyable. My father traveled with me. We did two ten hour days traveling from Maine to Atlanta. Our first day got us 600 miles south and into Virginia. The second days drive brought us to Atlanta. This morning we parted ways, my father taking a plane home and I traveling south to my current location. Total distance was about 1300 miles.

With one exception the travel was uneventful (the best kind of travel if you ask me). The one exception concerns ants. Somehow, I collected an infestation of ants in my suitcase. We noticed them on the first day. From time to time we would find an ant wandering through the car. We promptly crushed all such creatures. Mostly we just thought they were stray ants that had been on the car when we started travel. So on the second day of travel we were pleased to find that fewer of them traveling around the car.

Then the big excitement came. Upon arrival at the hotel in Atlanta we opened the trunk of my car to find a swarming colony, complete with larva, of ants on top of one of my suitcases. Man were they pissed off. The luggage and was thrown to the ground and there was much stomping of ants. To their credit several of them managed to get bites off before they died. Eventually we shook out all of the clothes and got rid of most of the ants (I think). Ultimately the suitcase was sacrificed to the ants and deposited in the nearest garbage can. I'm pretty sure that the bell hops at the hotel think that we are crazy after watching the antics that this process produced.


Other than that life looks like it is going to be exciting. I have a complete calender of the major training events for the next 2 months. If you send me an email I will send you a copy of it. I won't post it here for operational security concerns. Some of it looks pretty bland and some of it looks like more fun.

I've been issued a very small quantity of my equipment, but it includes some older model interceptor body armor, complete with 2 ballistic plates, knee and elbow pads, and a molly vest.
On a side note, it is really, really, really, really, really (x10000) hot at Ft. Benning.

More to follow as I have it.

31 July 2007

Super Grub

Finally have my desktop system working again! GRUB was kicking my ass.

Every time that I booted I would get a Grub "Error 15". I could boot manually using a Grub Boot CD but that is slow tedious and annoying.

My problem was this: I have three drives. They are listed here in no particular order because no two pieces of software agree which one goes first

Drive 1: SATA
Set first in the boot order in BIOS.

This disk has 2 partitions. The first partition contains my home directories. The second is supposed to be the boot partition.

Detected as (hd0) by Grub Boot CD
Detected as /dev/sdc by Ubuntu
Detected as (hd2) when I run 'sudo grub' inside Ubuntu

Drive 2: SATA

Three partitions. Root, Swap, and an ext3 partition for backups of the home directory.

Detected as (hd1) by Grub Boot CD
Detected as /dev/sdb by Ubuntu
Detected as (hd1) when I run 'sudo grub' inside Ubuntu

Drive 3: IDE (Channel 0 Master)
Has a single NTFS partition for my Windows XP installation.

Detected as (hd2) by Grub Boot CD
Detected as /dev/sda by Ubuntu
Detected as (hd0) when I run 'sudo grub' inside Ubuntu

Using the Grub Live CD I can get the OS running with these Commands:
root (hd0,1)
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.20-16-generic root=/dev/sdb1
initrd /initrd.img-2.6.20-16-generic
My /boot/grub/devices.map file looks like this:
(hd0)   /dev/sdc
(hd1) /dev/sdb
(hd2) /dev/sda
And my /boot/grub/menu.lst file looks like this: (useless comments omitted)

## ## End Default Options ##
default 0
timeout 10

title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.20-16-generic
root (hd0,1)
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.20-16-generic root=UUID=ffa6418a-8fdc-4c0b-90db-e6bb33ba518e ro quiet splash
initrd /initrd.img-2.6.20-16-generic

title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.20-16-generic (recovery mode)
root (hd0,1)
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.20-16-generic root=UUID=ffa6418a-8fdc-4c0b-90db-e6bb33ba518e ro single
initrd /initrd.img-2.6.20-16-generic

title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.20-15-generic
root (hd0,1)
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.20-15-generic root=UUID=ffa6418a-8fdc-4c0b-90db-e6bb33ba518e ro quiet splash
initrd /initrd.img-2.6.20-15-generic

title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.20-15-generic (recovery mode)
root (hd2,1)
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.20-15-generic root=UUID=ffa6418a-8fdc-4c0b-90db-e6bb33ba518e ro single
initrd /initrd.img-2.6.20-15-generic

title Ubuntu, memtest86+
root (hd2,1)
kernel /memtest86+.bin


I posted this on the Ubuntu Forums and got a response that recommended using a piece of software called Supper Grub. With a name like that I was skeptical but man was it effective.

Turns out all I needed was to reinstall Grub on the MBR. I'm pretty sure that I made the mistake during the Ubuntu Install when it asked where I wanted to install the boot loader. Because Ubuntu labeled drives differently then they had been on my Gentoo installation I entered the wrong thing. (At least that is my best hunch).

It is worth noting that I'm pretty sure that Ubuntu still has the order of my drives mixed up. This, I'm sure will cause everything to get a little fouled up (2 minutes worth of annoying) next time a Kernel update is pushed. I need to investigate this more.

28 June 2007

Responsibility for delegated authority.*

I'm a big fan to the Constitution (right up there on my list of favorite documents ever). But despite all of the wisdom encased in that document it fails on one serious point. That is providing a clear job definition of the work that the vice president should do.

The original document stated that the vice president should be the person who came in second in the general election (which honestly makes impeaching the president so much more appealing). The 12th amendment changed the manner by which we elect vice presidents but the document as a whole leaves very little clarity on what the office is responsible for.

I don't have a problem with the fact that the President has delegated significant amounts of power to the VP. In his own way Cheney is a very capable administrator with a lifetime of Washington experience.

The problem is who do you assign blame to when he does something wrong. As obscene as it seems the office of the VP is not a normal cabinet office. He is an elected official and serves at the will of the people. Everyone else is nominated and approved by the Senate and serves at the pleasure of the President.

The motion to defend the office of the vice president as part of the executive branch is indeed theater and is in my opinion low theater. As a matter of tradition the VP is a member of the executive branch. If he is breaking the rules, congress shouldn't act like an unhappy parent and withhold his allowance. They should follow the steps that are granted them in the Constitution. That is impeach him.

The hard part is deciding who to impeach. Do you impeach the President for poor delegation or do you impeach the Vice President for breaking the laws that he was given to enforce.

I say impeach them both. The vice president has broken laws and ignored the constitution. He has abused the trust of the American people and it should not be permitted.

However, to return to my previous point, the job of VP is not defined beyond Senate tie breaker and presidential understudy. Therefore any additional power that he holds is delegated from the President. As we say in the military you can delegate authority but never responsibility. The president of the United States has granted incredible power to the VP. Failure to ensure that that power is used correctly leaves him just as guilty.

*This post was originally posted here as a comment.

26 June 2007

On "International Forces"

Last night we were watching the Colbert Report interview with Tom Hayden. During the interview Mr. Hayden said something that really annoys me. He commented that we needed to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and bring in an international peace keeping force to replace us.

We really need to stop giving people who use this buzz phrase the time of day. Any foreign government who is willing to contribute troops to the stabilization of Iraq has already contributed. I don't see the French, Germans, or Russians diving in when the most capable military in the world calls it quits. In most cases our current allies are maxed out on their military commitment. Most of the governments that are supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom are already hearing cries from their home governments to pull troops out of Iraq (just like the United States).

Even if there were governments who were willing to contribute if asked nicely. Not a one of them could hope to front the number of troops that it would take to get the job done. There are an estimated 135,000 American troops in Iraq. With additional coalition forces the total rises to 150,000 troops. Numbers like this are not possible without the United States.

So please, when someone tells you that we need to get out and bring in international troops. Tell them to please start thinking before they open their mouths.

16 May 2007

I haven't had time to watch the entire Republican Debate, but I've read several things about and watched the above video.

I haven't made up my mind on Ron Paul but I think he has the tip of a great observation. That is that American policy over the past 50 years has caused people to in the Middle East to hate us. I don't think he had time to fully articulate it in 60 seconds.

It is certainly true that the core of the Al Quiada operation hates us completely. It is very much an irrational hate, and something that no amount of policy changes will resolve. You can find philosophical underpinnings of this movement in Qutb's book Milestones. The people who subscribe to this point of view are the people willing to commit suicide in the hopes to do us harm. These are the people that we must hunt down and remove from circulation.

The most of the people in the Muslim world are most likely not willing to engage in actual conflict with the United States. However many Muslims do dislike us for a variety of reasons. If the United States made an honest effort to understand these reasons and apply them to our foreign policy the world would be a safer place. It is also easy for a real terrorist to hide among people who just dislike the United States. If the United States followed a foreign policy was realistic in addressing the dislikes of the worlds Muslim population, terrorists would loose supporters, recruits and a population to hide among. It is possible that if we had done this sooner 9/11 may not have occurred. Ultimately there is no way to tell. Hopefully we can try it now and see it help prevent the next attack.

25 April 2007

McCain, rebranding himself as the Obama of the right.

ABC News reports that McCain is attempting to relaunch himself and his campaign.

He did so by trying to cast himself as an independent conservative appealing to not just Republicans, but the nation.

"Ours are not red state or blue state problems," McCain said before a crowd of approximately 300 well-wishers underneath an overcast sky. "We can't muddle through the next four years, bickering among ourselves, and leave to others the work that is ours to do."

Honestly it sounds allot like he is trying to pick up Obama's with a Republican twist. "Ours are not red state or blue state problems..." sounds like it is lifted almost directly from Obama's speech at the Democratic convention.

To bad he surrendered credibility by pandering to social conservatives and overplaying the security situation in Iraq.

01 February 2007

Casey's Two Brigades

NPR reports that Gen. George Casey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he only asked the President for two Brigades to help secure Baghdad rather than the 5 the current surge strategy calls for.

I want to believe that this is what he called for, but it brings up several questions. One is that feasible, or does it indicate a lack of judgment? Two is this a political move to back the President. If it is there are two ways that the statement can play.

1. The president is sending more troops then were asked for. Sending more troops is a sign of commitment to create peace in Iraq. It also shows that he is a strong leader and shouldn't be criticized for not sending enough troops.

2. Holding to the logic of the first point the statement by Casey gives the president wiggle room. If the Generals say that 2 brigades can get the job done then the President can back down based on publicly announced expert advice.

I'm no general and I don't know how many brigades it will take to secure Baghdad and Anbar. However the president has always said that gives the Generals what they want. It strikes me as strange when the American people don't agree with the decision is when he has given more then they asked for.

31 January 2007

I find the most recent email from Sam Harris to Andrew Sullivan to be quite interesting because I think they are both advocating the same point. It is the height of fundamentalism to apply knowledge, religious or secular to the wrong sphere. Religion is the search for answers that cannot be known. Science is the search to understand all that is knowable about our world. The domains of these two types of knowledge have changed drastically in the past several centuries. Science has made great gains and the mystery of the physical world has been greatly reduced. Also we can see what things are within the bounds of science but we do not yet have the answers for. Responsible religion would recognize this and seed, happily, that these things are no longer within the domain of religion.

This however does not mean that the religious myths loose value. Myth is not about logical truth, it is about explaining the things we cannot know. To use creation myth as an example. The book of Genesis states that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Now modern science can tell us with some certainty how the universe was formed, how stars were born and how this very planet grew and developed. The presence of the logos based explanation does not remove the need for Genesis completely. It removes the need to use Genesis as an explanation of how, but not the why.

The religious fundamentalist will persist that Genesis is a complete explanation of how and why. The secular fundamentalist insists that because he can explain how there is no greater why. The rational person accepts the scientific how, and may choose to believe a religious explanation for why in order to enrich his feeling of identity.

Genesis is a simple case, because the origins of the planet can be scientifically determined. The life of Christ is more complex. We have no reference to his life outside to the Gospels, which makes determining truth, as Sam Harris uses the word, impossible. Furthermore all normal evidence shows that the virgin birth, resurrection, and assumption into heaven are untrue. To claim in the empirical sense that they are would be bad science. That does not prevent you from having a religious discourse about what those stories make you think about the world, and how what they make you think should effect how you act in the world.