Sunday, January 28, 2007

The parallel between Katrina and Iraq

"It's been almost 17 months since Hurricane Katrina pounded coastal Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana, and about a year since Congress authorized the bulk of its rebuilding aid for the region... But review of the devastated region shows that rebuilding is in a deep stall."

- The Wall Street Journal

When I read the above quote in Saturday's WSJ I was immediately reminded of news media coverage of the rebuilding of Iraq and how Haliburton was screwing everything up. Here we have major problems in spending money to rebuild a devastated area in the United States. Imagine the difficulties in spending the same money under Congressional rules, oversight and "gotcha" media coverage in the middle of a combat zone.

In my civilian job I work for the Florida State Emergency Response Team, the best state team in the nation (we're not smarter than everyone else, we just have had more practice). The Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Craig Fugate, has said on many occasions that emergency responses can be performed cheaply, efficiently or quickly. You must pick one of these three choices to perform your response. In Florida we respond quickly, because that is what our citizens want. This type of response is neither cheap nor efficient.

In Iraq in 2003 we were also looking for a quick response to the problems we were encountering. We felt that people were dying because we weren't spending money fast enough but the federal bean counters showed up to slow us down and protect the taxpayers dollar. I remember, at the time (November 2003), asking myself: How in the hell are these Iraqi contractors going to figure out the U.S. federal bidding system? I mean, they were requesting bids like they wanted these contractors to build a Post Office in Tallahassee, Florida. It was insane.

I was ready to accept inefficiency in the allocation of contracts in order to gain speed. What I wasn't ready to accept, and what shocked me when I found out, is that some of my coworkers (some even Army officers) were stealing for their personal gain. Inefficiency - yes, stealing - no.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The new Iraq strategy

"[S]ome people, I just think have been partisan about this - and that, to me, is the worst reason of all."

- Senator Joe Lieberman, in the Wall Street Journal, when asked why some Senators are now prepared to vote against the President's Iraq policy

After almost four years of televised bombast, blood, and bombs from the Iraqi theater of operations the American people are understandably displeased with the progress of the war. The elections in November sent a clear signal to the Bush administration that a new Iraq strategy was needed. Since the election the President has responded with significant changes in policy and personnel.

His first act was the welcome, if belated, replacement of the Secretary of Defense. In my judgment, much of the blame for the existing situation in Iraq lies with the decisions of Secretary Rumsfeld and the President must bear responsibility for not removing him earlier.

Additional significant personnel changes include a new commander at Central Command, replacing General Abizaid, and the imminent departure of General Casey as commander of the forces in Iraq. To what extent that the military strategy for the last three years was imposed on them by Secretary Rumsfeld is unclear to me.

In any event this strategy, the beginnings of which were being implemented when I left Iraq in early 2004, has not been successful. This overall strategy was for the U.S. to pull back and allow the Iraqis to take charge of their own security and most importantly, force them to achieve the level of political unity required to defeat the insurgency. For a variety of reasons, this strategy didn't work.

In January 2004 I returned to Iraq from home leave and flew into Baghdad from Kuwait. At that time the Palace in the Green Zone had established transient billets in an elaborately decorated room next to the main dining room. By chance I ran into the CPA Governate Coordinator from Babil province, a female State Department employee with whom I worked in Hilla. She was also returning from leave. We spent the night in the Palace and attended a senior leadership meeting there in the Green Zone the next day.

In attendance was Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, as well as Jeremy Greenstock, his British Deputy, and the Governate Coordinators for all the eighteen provinces in Iraq. Also in attendance was General Sanchez, the Commander of all the MultiNational forces in Iraq, and his Division Commanders. Bremer and Sanchez had begun these monthly meetings in November 2003 in an effort to improve the coordination between the military and CPA.

Major General Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, and Major General Petraeus, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, were at the meeting. Both men, now Lieutenant Generals, will take over military command in Iraq, with Odierno serving as Petraeus' Deputy.

Ambassador Bremer has been roundly criticized for a number of his decisions in Iraq but this was my first opportunity to see him in action and he was very impressive. Sanchez attended the meeting but spoke very little since the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss political and not military strategy. I was a fly on the wall and listened, fascinated, as the room full of people used this opportunity to address their problems and concerns to Bremer.

Bremer listened to their comments and discussion for a hour and then, in a few short minutes, responded to each question and concern with clear, unequivocal guidance. I was amazed at how he was able to succinctly summarize the issues of the previous hour and spit back bullet point responses. A big point that was frequently brought up by the military commanders was the need to improve the economy so that the pool of young men could be occupied with employment and not be candidates for the insurgency. Bremer responded that economic development could not proceed until a secure environment had been created, and that creation of a secure environment was a military responsibility.

The change in strategy that the President announced last week was one from waiting on the Iraqis to one of creating a secure environment in Baghdad. This is a significant change in military strategy, the details of which are not relevant to my current argument. The President's political opposition has given the President little credit for his new strategy. For some of these individuals who are speaking out against the President, I agree with Sen. Lieberman's comment about their motivation.

The President does not believe that the American people voted for an immediate, or even rapid, withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. There are some who disagree with that statement. Fortunately, the President is in charge and not Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. Fortunately, I have decided not to spend the next two years furious at Nancy and Harry, but it will be difficult.

The "New Yorker", my favorite liberal magazine, responded to the President's speech in typical New Yorker fashion this week with an article by Steve Coll that led off with the following sentence: "Watching George Bush's televised speech last week, when he revealed what he called 'the main elements' of his plan to rescue Iraq, was like watching a slightly nervous lieutenant colonel read PowerPoint slides." These gratuitous slights of the President, a running theme in the New Yorker since Bush began to run for office, imply that anyone who looks and sounds this goofy can't be saying anything serious.

Neither Nancy, nor Harry, nor the New Yorker are offering any solutions to the former or revised strategy in Iraq. All they are offering are vitriol, and malice and spite. Some people in this country are allowing their hatred of George Bush to interfere with the national security interests of this country. I will leave you to determine who these people might be.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Book TV bus

BookTV, a television program featured on CSPAN2 has been traveling around the country in a school bus converted into a rolling video studio decorated with the usual featured program advertisements. They have been in Florida for over a month and stopped by Tallahassee yesterday. They met up with the Tallahassee Writer's Association, of which I am a member.

We all got a tour of the bus and I go to do a short TV interview that may, or may not, be fetured on BookTV sometime in April. They were looking for authors of nonfiction books on topics of national interest, and after showing them my book, "Messages from Babylon", they wired me for sound and turned on the cameras. Whether my clip ever airs on CSPAN2 or not, it was a priviledge to get interviewed.