Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush's Address to the Nation

In an Oval Office address tonight, President Bush repeated once again his strategy to win in Iraq.

In response, there were comments like this one:

While I appreciate the president's increased candor, too much of the substance remains the same and the American people have still not heard what benchmarks we must meet along the way to know that progress is being made." — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

This statement echos the oft-repeated criticism that "Bush doesn't have a plan", which is usually supplemented by polls of the American people that do nothing but show the average American's ignorance. At least half of Americans are totally ignorant of politics. I'd bet half couldn't even name the current Secretary of State. So throwing out a poll saying that 60% of Americans don't think that President Bush has a "clear" plan to win in Iraq doesn't really mean much.

This would be comical if it weren't. Senator Reid knows full well that the President has had a plan from the beginning. The plan has always been:

* Overthrow Sadaam
* Provide security with our Military
* Push forward the political process
* Train Iraqis to take over security
* Push forward with reconstruction
* Draw down our forces as the Iraqis are able to handle it themselves

What is not clear about that plan? You can criticize the plan, or criticize how effectively the plan has been carried out, but stop this utter nonsense about there not being a plan.

Obviously, the plan has not been executed smoothly. Wars never go smoothly. The enemy adapts, we adjust, the enemy adapts, we adjust again. It's the natural flow of any competition.

The overthrow of Saddam was the one piece where we mostly knew what to expect. We made quick work of that. Then there was relative peace for a few months before a combination of Baathists (Sunni's from Saddam's regime) and Al-Qaeda terrorists started reeking havoc. It is defintely fair criticism that the U.S. underestimated the intensity that this "insurgency" would have.

Reconstruction went slower than expected as well, for two reasaons: 1) We didn't know how bad the infrastructure for water and electricity was until we started trying to fix it, and 2) Insurgents constantly attacked reconstruction projects and workers.

It was impossible for the reconstruction to happen without security. But without the reconstruction, the economy was held back, and there was a lot of discontent and unemployment, fueling the insurgency. It was a vicious cycle that could only be broken out of with enough increase in security to stop the attacks on the reconstruction. That is now finally the case in many parts of the country.

Politically, the Iraqis have advanced quite well. They have a Constitution and a newly elected government in less than 3 years.

Overall, progress has been slower than we would have liked, but progress is definitely being made, and retreat before a stable handover of security to the Iraqis is made would be disastrous.

Patience is called for.

Finally, this whole idea of "benchmarks" is absurd. It's not like we can say that since 200,000 Iraqi's are trained, we can just replace our troops with Iraqi's man-for-man. First off, the Iraqi military basically has no Navy or Air Force, and little in the way of Armored vehicles or logistical support. So some of our troops will be needed for years to come as these gaps are slowly filled. Secondly, the focus right now is on training as many infantry battalions as possible, so we will be in a position to draw down a significant number of U.S. troops sooner rather than later. But most of the Iraqi troops so far are being used to secure territory that our troops have cleared of insurgents. More are needed to actually replace our troops. Third, the Iraqi army needs time to develop cohesiveness and officer leadership.

There will not be a specific point where we can declare victory and remove all our troops. The handover will be a gradual one taking several years, and based on conditions on the ground.

This is the reason setting any benchmarks would be a guess at best. Setting benchmarks would do nothing but give political opponents something to criticize as soon as one wasn't met (hmm, perhaps that's why political opponents are calling for benchmarks?). And the whole idea of benchmarks is to end up with a timetable by which our commitment is finished. This is dangerous for several reasons.

For one, the terrorists in Iraq would have a date to lock in on to give them hope. If they can just hold on until that date, maybe America will pull out and they will prevail. Second, it gives the American public a date at which their support can end. Even if conditions don't warrant it, Americans will want to pull out. Third, it puts the focus on pulling out, not on achieving victory (defined as a stable handover of a functioning democracy) in Iraq.

If we botch Iraq, if we leave before we finish the job, and most importantly, if we show the world that we don't have the will or stomach to keep our word and do what we said we would do, our foreign policy will be permanently damaged until we display that we again have the will. Of course displaying that will again will mean going through another Iraq or worse. And much of the gain from Iraq, and the 2000+ lives that were sacrificed there, will be completely lost.

(Already, a Japanese official has been quoted that if China wanted to take back Taiwan, America couldn't stop it. If we tried we would run away as soon as 2000 lives were lost)

If we finish the job, if we show we are willing to pay the price, if we hold our ground and help establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, one that will be an ally in the war on terror, and if we convey that we are willing to do so again if needed, then our diplomacy and leverage will be strengthened, and we will have a better chance of avoiding having to do it again. This is the Reagan model of Peace Through Strength.

Like the war or not, the quickest way to get our troops back home after a victory is to throw support behind it 100%. Can you imagine how disheartening it would be if you were a terrorist in Iraq, and all you heard was how the U.S. was united against you, and you never heard all this talk from U.S. politicians of how soon the U.S. troops were going to pull out. (We already know how during Vietnam, the North Vietnamese gained great hope and kept on fighting because of the anti-war movement in the U.S.)

Think about it a bit, and you will realize that ultimately you are either for victory or defeat.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Terrorists' Bill of Rights

You've got to scratch you're head and wonder what John McCain and a bunch of GOP Senators are thinking when in the middle of the War on Terror, they want to dilute our intelligence gathering capabilities by assuring terrorists that if we catch them, we won't do anything "cruel, inhuman, or degrading to them" (what exactly does that mean, anyway -- that's a pretty broad statement).

The media constantly refers to this debate over when or not to use "torture". For instance, the Washington Post headline "President Relents, Backs Torture Ban".

Torture was never the issue in question! The US official policy is that we NEVER engage in torture. We don't hang people by their toes, scrape their fingernails off, electrocute their genitals, or anything of the sort.

Further, we do not use any rough tactics on normal prisoners, just for the heck of it. In fact, we give prisoners at Guantanamo Bay a Muslim diet, calls to prayer, and copies of the Koran (why we're not putting them all through an extensive program designed to calm down their extreme fundamentalism, instead of fueling it, is beyond me).

The issue in question is how far to go in interrogating high value terrorist detainees. For example, we captured Al-Qaeda's number 3 man and principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in 2003. We knew that he had knowledge of future planned attacks, so we interrogated him. Rumor is that he wouldn't talk for a while, but when we used waterboarding (a technique where the interrogatee is plunged under water and given the feeling of drowning), he started talking pretty quick, and we received valuable intelligence about, and were able to disrupt, several planned attacks.

So, again, you have to scratch your head when John McCain and a majority of Senators want to ban all "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" techniques. They say they want to "clarify" our policy so both our interrogators have a clear definition of what they are allowed to do, and so that our "image" in the World might be repaired after the Abu Ghraib scandal (even though the world, especially the Muslim world, will continue to think what it wants since it is already so far detached from reality -- e.g., Holocaust didn't happen, the U.S. staged 9/11 so it would have justification to come take Arab oil).

I say anything that makes it harder for our intelligence service to obtain valuable information that saves American lives is foolish, and the President ought to veto it.

Further, "cruel" and "degrading" could be defined to mean about anything. A true clarification would be to define on a technique by technique basis what is ok for normal treatment of prisoners, what is OK for interrogating someone we think might have information, and what is OK for interrogating someone we know has valuable information. Plus, for effective interrogation, don't we want terrorists to think the worst might happen to them?

We are in the middle of a war. War is ugly. In WWII, enemy combatants without uniforms were never detained, but were shot on sight. There was a general consensus that those who fought in a war and did not follow the rules of war were not allowed the protections of the Geneva Convention. I bring this up just to highlight the differences between then and now.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Environmental Killers

This column jogged my memory about some research I did for a paper back in college.

This issue is perhaps the prime example of the irresponsibility of the so-called environmental movement. To clarify, I say "so-called" because I am not referring to the majority of people who want to do their part to clean up after themselves, breath clean air, swim in clean rivers, and the like. Instead I am referring to the idiots that simultaneously oppose the use of oil (pollution), coal (pollution), nuclear (dangerous), hydro (fish can't easily get past the dams), and even wind energy (birds get chopped up by the windmills), and then have the nerve to complain about gas or home heating prices.

In reality, if they truly got what they wanted, energy prices would shoot up so high and become such an economic drag on the economy that we would quickly lose our status as the world's largest economy (if you don't think so, consider a hurricane-caused momentary disruption in gasoline and natural gas supplies in the Gulf Coast region, which supplies 25% of those two products, and change momentary to permanent and 25% to 100%).

But I'm getting away from the original story.

The column referred to in the first paragraph of this post was about a life-saving chemical known as DDT. In the early 20th century, malaria took millions of human lives every year. DDT arose as the perfect solution for getting rid of the mosquitoes that carried malaria. Heavy DDT use around the world soon cut down the deaths from malaria each year from the millions to the thousands.

Then the so-called environmentalists showed up. A lady named Rachel Carson wrote a book called "Silent Spring" in 1962 that drummed up fear about the possible effects of DDT. The evidence? Bird eggs near rivers with nearby heavy DDT use were found to have thinner shells, which was having a detrimental effect on the bird population.

Now, a reasonable person would say, "OK, lets see if we can use less DDT so as to have less or no effect on the birds." But environmentalism never does anything half-way.

Soon a Congressional investigation was underway. Despite overwhelming evidence that DDT has absolutely no detrimental effect to humans, Congress banned the production and use of DDT. Some other countries did the same. Soon the poorer countries that needed DDT the most did not have the capabilities to kill the mosquitoes, and malaria deaths skyrocketed again.

Perhaps the most disturbing was some environmentalists, who also feared a population explosion (predictions were made that the world population would max out somewhere like 4 billion because food production would not be able to keep up with population growth), knew the DDT ban was killing millions in third-world countries and yet justified it as de-facto population control.

Since the banning of DDT, over 50 million people world-wide have died of malaria. With effective DDT use, there is no reason that number should be greater than 1 million.

Today, 2-3 million die of malaria each year. USAID (the US Agency for International Development) spend millions each year on mosquito netting and medical care to fight malaria, but will not spend a penny on DDT.

How long will Americans stay either ignorant or unmoved by this unnecessary massacre?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

More Than A Carpenter

Man I love Josh McDowell. Or maybe I should say I love his writings -- I've never met him in person. Needless to say though, I'm a fan.

Dusted off my copy of More Than A Carpenter today and ready about the first half. Powerful stuff. I would recommend this book to EVERYONE. If you've never read it, put it on your calendar, book list, etc.

It's a quick read, basically just a summary of a lot of points he goes into in WAY more detail in his Evidence That Demands a Verdict books. But man it is good.

Let me summarize the main points so far:

Chapter 1: What Makes Jesus So Different?

Jesus claimed He was God!
For Christians, this seems like a no-brainer, but think about it. Other religious figures have claimed to be a messenger from God, but none other have claimed to be God (let alone predicted their own death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven). Jesus clearly throughout the gospels declares that He and God the Father are One.

Chapter 2: Lord, Liar, or Lunatic

Jesus claimed He was God. From a logical standpoint, that claim can be either true (He is Lord) or false. If false, there are two sub-options. Either He knew He was not God (Liar) or He sincerely thought He was God but wasn't (Lunatic). Thus the trilemma -- Lord, Liar, or Lunatic.

Think about this in today's terms. What if a plumber from Newport showed up and started claiming he was God. What would you think?

What if Jesus was a Liar? Jesus not only claimed He was God, but He instructed others to sacrifice their lives to Him for their eternal destiny. If He knew this was not true, this would make Him a very hypocritical and evil man, and a fool for getting Himself crucified. This goes against everything we know about Him.

What if Jesus sincerely thought He was God, but wasn't. This would make him a Lunatic of the highest order. Yet nothing we know about Him shows the abnormalities of a madman. Instead He was a great teacher with an even temperment.

Most everyone agrees Jesus was not a Liar or a Lunatic. This only leaves one option. Jesus is Lord, exactly who he said he was (with supernatural abilities like rising from the dead, walking on water, controlling the weather, healing the sick, changing water to wine, and predicting the future, among others).

This chapter really shoots down the idea that Jesus was just a great moral teacher. He was a man on a mission, displaying supernatural powers, claiming He was God, and that He was THE ONLY WAY to eternal life. This was the primary focus of His teaching. If it was not true, he would not be a great moral teacher. Most of what He taught would have been false.

Chapter 3: What about science?

"You can't prove it scientifically, so I can't believe in it," is what many people today say. But this is based on a seriously flawed standard. By this standard, you can't "prove" you ate breakfast this morning.

The realm of science only includes what can be repeated in a controlled environment where observations can be made, data drawn, and hypotheses empirically verified.

For example, I can prove that gravity works. I can repeat experiments and measure gravity's force. I can come up with formulas that predict its behavior. Indeed, others have done so to the point that the one-time theory of gravity has become the universally excepted Law of Gravity.

But I can't prove I ate breakfast this morning. Science has nothing to say about history. I can't go back and repeat this morning and scientifically prove anything about this morning.

What I can do is what McDowell calls a legal-historical proof. I can bear witness to the fact myself, call forward other witnesses who saw me eat breakfast, present evidence (less eggs in the fridge, a dirty plate). I would probably have plenty of evidence/testimony to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I ate breakfast.

The question of whether Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be is outside the realm of science. It is instead in the realm of legal/historical proof, where we must rely on the best evidence/testimony we have.

The next few chapters deal with what we know about Christ's life and his impact in History. I haven't read them yet (this time through), but may summarize them in another post when I do.