Monday, September 17, 2007


I don't know where I read this but my Mom's idea of scandalous is right on. The rich are the ones who run the country. Our president's assets are estimated between, 8-20 million. Virtually all of Congress fit in the millionaire several times over category. They leave office and are paid these outrageous fees for making speeches. And, nobody seems to mind, like they need the money. Saint Ronald Reagan got 2 million from the Japanese for two speeches, the senior Bush followed him and became an icon in Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 9-11 for his money making prowess; and the "Bill" man is reported to get $350,000 a speech. Can you believe it? Who in the world has anything worth saying worth a half mil. Give me a break. To give him his due, I have heard that Bill donates his speech money to his foundation which buys medicines for developing countries, especially AIDS drugs.

We live in a celebrity worshipping culture and so why not those like the Bushes and Clintons. Well, there really is no reason and yet, I'm with Mom, scandalous. When they depart the scene, it isn't like they are homeless. Us taxpayers give them big pensions close to $200,000, all sort of other stuff, not to mention Secret Service protection, and rent money for an office. Gee whiz. People are willing to pay, at least organizations. I'm not a member of any of them or I would be raising hell. Nixon even got 2.3 mil for his memoirs, which others will get as much or more. What is there left to say from these guys.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Thank you Jesus is a good term used by evangelicals and right wing Christians often. It is like saying, way to go, God bless America, Praise the Lord, Power in the Blood. Need I go on? This is how the arrival of the good General Petraeus in Washington was herald. For any thinking military type, this is fairly painful to see one of their own put in such a spot. Jim Lehrer on PBS's, The Newshour has asked the question several times with a bit of sarcasm in his voice, how has it come to this--one American general seemingly so portrayed as the Savior of American policy in Iraq.

Well, I have my thoughts, it is the "nature of the beast" in our media driven world. Simply, General Petraeus is a four star general and his commander is the President. The Commander has screwed up in Iraq and the top general is like a fist full of "what ifs" to the rescue. And, in Washington and media style, the General and Ambassador are providing great political theater.


Anybody who has seen the HBO program, Entourage, will understand exactly what I mean. On the show, a celebrity is followed around by a couple or three of his buddies. He trusts them. They do his bidding. General Petraeus has his entourage. He is a celebrity, not unlike the character on Entourage. In our celebrity worshiping culture, this makes perfect sense. General Petraeus's entourage consists of three colonels, all Iraq vets with Ph.D.s, along with a Rhodes Scholar wearing captain's rank. (I would have been more impressed if his entourage had a few Sergeants and Privates). The good General himself has a PhD from Princeton. Keep in mind that all of this fine education for the General and his entourage was paid for by you and me, the American taxpayer.

In a sense, the President is using General Petraeus and that is flat out wrong. Historially, it has probably happened more than we'd like to admit but it is still wrong. Amazing how history repeats, the NY Times had this amazing picture of General Westmoreland briefing Congress in 1967 on what Wesmoreland described as gains in Vietnam. General Westmoreland is saluting. (SEE PICTURE INSERT)It is an impressive sight and we know what happened to Westmoreland and the war. Let's face it: to our present leadership, Vietnam never existed.

I don't know General Petraeus but have heard good things about him but this will forever taint him. It's not his fault. Maybe it's OK with him. The President is the commander, and he really can do anything he wants. I'm not sure about the protocol of it but think in a strict sense, the President is violating the chain of command. He should be talking to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who should be getting his information from Petraeus--surely not portraying Petraeus as the savior for Iraq. But, that is a minor point, I surely haven't heard the chain of command issue raised by anyone and why would they? Most of the Congress would not know the meaning of the military chain of command or the concept of it if it ran over them.

Anybody with any smarts can tell you that whatever Petraeus says will be taken by the President or his rivals/detractors/the media to mean whatever they want it to mean. Spin will be the order of the day and that is unrelated to truth.


No one can doubt that Petraeus believes what he believes. He's a soldier and soldiers in general have to believe in what they are risking their lives for. And, surely we applaud the sacrifice of the General. He's been in Iraq more or less for five years. He has a son who is in Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) and has just finished airborne training. The son will be in the danger zone for going to Iraq if we are there as long as I think we'll be. General Petraeus definitely has "skin" in the game. The flip side of the coin is that the General has all the benefits that his rank affords: great house at Fort Myers, good pay and benefits, and an entire bevy of servants (entourage) to look after and hang on every single word. And, in a sense, tell him, as he is going to tell the president, exactly what he wants to hear.

Here is pretty much what he has said which was predictable: the surge has worked but Iraqi politics is not where it should be. He talks about the success in Anbar province. What he won't say is that the Shieks wanted their former power back and were willing to throw in with the Americans even though they delighted in killing them previously. He also won't say that in order for us to replicate the Anbar Province scene, we would have to be in Iraq for who knows how many years.

The General will praise our soldiers as well he should but what he will not say is that our military is unbelievably stretched and we can no longer afford the "can do" attitude of the past. And, he surely will not say that the sacrifices of our soldiers are singular as they are the only Americans dying because of this war.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I am putting aside my prepared speech and want to talk off the cuff about Iraq. Let's put aside partisan politics and believe that we went in with the best of intentions which I believe. We cannot export democracy as we know it to countries like Iraq. As we have discovered, just because you have elections, doesn't mean that you are going to have democracy. It takes time, a long time, generations and is painful. And, for us to bring it about or contribute to it, we would have to be in Iraq a hundred years or more. Also, our initial decisions concerning Iraq were flawed: to few troops to secure the country and especially the borders, dismantling of the Army and Police and purging the Batthists. All of this was made on wrong assumptions that we now understand.

However, all that being said, we are in Iraq and must engineer a way out--a Christian nation (semantics aside) occupying an Islamic one is a perception that the Arab world cannot tolerate, regardless of our good intentions or motives. There are 1.4 million Muslims or so in the world. Most are not the Jihiist extremists that are dedicated to killing infidels. We must accept the fact that we cannot reason with fanatics who will blow themselves up, kill innocents and believe a dogma which is unfathomable to us. Consequently applying Western mentality to an impossible situation is beyond the pale. Iraq is a country with a tribal mentality and they are not going to "come let us reason together" after thousands of years of conflict. For years, under Saddam, Sunnis ruled and exacted blood from the Shiits; the tables are turned and revenge is a big part of the equation, plain and simple.

Here's what I would suggest: get the conventional troops out of Iraq and leave 75,000 or so Special Operations soldiers out in the desert, mostly to serve as advisers and to secure the borders. I wrote the counter insurgency manual and honestly believe this is our best possibility. This Force would include private contractors who are mostly ex Special Forces soldiers anyway and are willing to put their lives on the line. Special Forces (includes Navy Seals, Air Force Special Ops, Delta Force) soldiers love the counter insurgency environment and are trained for a prolonged struggle. Also, we must dismantle most of the bases we have established in Iraq and start the withdrawal process sooner than later. We did not enter this country with a plan but we must leave it with a carefully thought out exit strategy. God bless our soldiers.


Sunday, September 09, 2007


What makes this incredibly fascinating as a movie are those times n which we lived. In some ways Bobby should be coupled for a night of viewing with a documentary, One Bright Shining Moment. They both cover the Democratic presidential campaign 0f 1968. In Bobby, the lives of 22 people come together at the Ambassador Hotel on June 6, 1968 when RFK is assassinated. Interesting way to tell a story with a great cast of actors. Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and is also in the movie.

What this movie did for me is the same thing that One Bright Shining Moment did: make me wonder what would have happened if Eugene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy had won the presidency. Well, we know what did happen. Nixon won and it was business as usual.

For me, the fascination is with the political process. The acceptance that the process is not somewhat corrupted is naive in my view. With politicians, to include the Presidency, there's always a taint of, if not corruption, then compromise. Still, presidents send us off to war and that alone makes who is president very important. There's a scene in Bobby where we are looking at an actual protest march and the signs indicate at that time, only 8000, have been killed in Vietnam. Eventually it was 58,000.

The movie uses actual archival footing of the times and actual speeches by Bobby Kennedy.

The 22 whose stories make up much of the movie really aren't strangers rather archetypes--their stories intersect at the Ambassador Hotel. In light of our political season, this movie should be a must watch for Americans who care.