Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who are teh good guys?

Kosovo’s recent unilateral declaration of independence and the response from the Serbs, Russians, the US and most of Europe has got me looking back at my time in Croatia in 1992-1993 and Kosovo in 1999.
When I went to Croatia in September of 1992 the MSM were telling us that the Serbs were the bad guys and were focusing on the destruction of Sarevjho. Although the war began in Slovenia (only lasting 10 days) and then had really taken off in Croatia it seemed like once again I headed to a no-name conflict. Sure enough when I arrived I found that the Serbs had been driven out and that the small remaining Serb population was being slowly but surely eradicated by revengeful Croats eager to make up for years of Serb dominance.
The wildest few days of my 7 months in Croatia came in March 1993 when we were ordered to move rapidly to a city well outside our normal area of operations as the Nepalese Army didn’t have the resources to deal with the problem. The problem being that the Croatian Army’s entire armored corps of some 100 tanks was on the march and ready to take this Serb dominated town and in the process completely destroy the largest concentration of Serbs left in Croatia. Since the UN was neutral we were ordered to dig in and stop the Croatian offensive by force if necessary. I was a fire controller and thus should have had both artillery and mortar assets at my call but instead I had four 81 mm mortar tubes that didn’t have any high explosive ammunition (it was a peacekeeping mission so the powers that be didn’t think HE would be required), instead I had smoke and illumination.
Within 15 minutes of receiving our detailed orders to deploy and dig in for the potential fight I was summoned back to the combat team commanders vehicle along with all the other commanders to find out that our orders were on hold and instead we were heading to a nearby bridge to stop the Serbs from breaking into the Cantonment sites were their weapons were being stored as part of the UN sponsored peace agreement. It was an amazing turn of events in mere minutes we went from defending the Serbs to preparing to attack the Serbs before returning to defend them. Even funnier, while we were on route I was asked to prepare a fire plan to ensure we could get across the bridge. When I radioed back that my intention was to drop illumination rounds on the ground in hopes of scaring the Serbs I was met by radio silence, finally after what seemed like an hour the commander gave me a simple and resigned “understood do your best’. As it turned out our presence and assurances that we were here to stop the Croats was enough and they returned to their homes and we returned to our defensive positions to dig in and await the next showdown. Thankfully I was able to keep my illumination tactics secret for a little while longer.
Amazingly when we first rolled into town we were greeted with cheers and waves but as time went on and the local Serbs realized that we weren’t going to attack and destroy the Croats if they didn’t attack us first we were then subjected to snowball attacks (frozen snowballs filled with rocks) and were given the “you’re number one salute”. It was hard as a young man to make sense of what we were doing, who were the good guys who were the bad guys and why was I freezing my butt off to do this. At the end of my tour I had to attend a mandatory operational stress debriefing and when asked what I thought of the mission I said “what mission, we had numerous missions with numerous contradictory goals, the Croats are cruel and evil and they love to lie and screw us around…the Serbs are mean, mainly drunk, can’t believe they lost and are difficult to negotiate with but at the end of the day once they agree to do something it happens”. So I came home not really giving a crap about either side and mainly with the opinion of too hell with them…feel free to kill each other as long as you want. It’s a sad way to think about your fellow human beings but I didn’t see much humanity over there.
In Kosovo the story was pretty similar in that we were told by the MSM and the military briefers that we were saving the Muslim Kosovars (nobody used the word Albanian that I can remember until we got there) from the evil Serbs who were once again trying to impose their will on a former Yugoslavia province against their will. I suppose in this case it was closer to the truth in that in 1990 Slobodan Milosevic had in fact revoked the provinces special autonomy granted under Tito in 1974 and had immediately taken away many basics rights like having a bank account. Many local managers and supervisors were replaced with Serbs that either didn’t have the experience or qualifications to what they were employed to do. After the wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Mr. Milosevic also used Kosovo as a dumping ground for displaced Serbs granting them land and property previously owned by Kosovars which certainly didn’t make him any friends.
As the wars turned against the Serbs they increasingly focused on what they had left and insuring Kosovo would become a fully integrated Serb province which it had never been. In the mid-nineties the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA to the media) UCK (Ushtria Clinimtare e Kosoves)to us on the ground was formed. At first it was a protest movement but soon followed in the path of the IRA conducting hit and run operations against the police to gather more weapons, against banks to get funds and finally bombing government offices to get attention and attention they got. Having been defeated in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia the Serb army turned its full attention to Kosovo in 1998 and came down on them like a hammer. As the KLA withdrew as rapidly as it could the Serb Army burned and looted it’s way south. Finally in March 1999 the West stung by its late entry into the Balkans and by its failure to act in Rwanda decided that it wasn’t going to wait for a UN Security council resolution (Russia the Serbs greatest allie wasn’t going to let a resolution pass) and began a NATO led bombing campaign to drive the Serb Army out of Kosovo. The bombing campaign like most bombing campaigns even in modern times can only accomplish so much and after taking down every bridge and government building in Serbia it was time for a ground invasion which is where I came in.
Once again the realities on the ground weren’t exactly as described. We were expecting devout Muslims but we got heavy drinking, pork eating versions. Unlike Croatia the Kosovars were ready to work and couldn’t wait to rebuild. We also discovered that the brave KLA was anything but spending most of the real war in the mountains drinking and hoping the Serbs would go away. They were ready to take on the police but certainly not the army, however with NATO in place they came out of the dark and were ready to carry out the same reprisals we saw in Croatia, stopping them became our full time task. Once again as my tour came to an end I attended mandatory stress debriefing and once again I couldn’t for the life of me decide who the bad guys or good guys were. The Serbs definitely set the stage for rebellion but the KLA were nothing but drunken thugs who did nothing for the people other than provoke a massive response from the Serb Army and then ran away to let their fellow citizens suffer the consequences.
Now that I see that Kosovo has once again spit in the face of the Serbs by not having a referendum and then hid behind NATO, the EU and US while the Serbs responded just as expected with violence I can’t really decide who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.
I can’ t figure out why the Serbs don’t yet seem to understand that they’ve fallen again and again into the same trap of being provoked, responding in a stereo type manner, and then being confused and hurt when the world lines up against them but at the same time I wonder how it is that majority of the world has again fallen for Hashim Thaci (formerly the leader of the KLA political wing) and his KLA thugs who were more interested in acting like the mafia and smuggling cars, weapons, drugs and women after NATO fought for their independence instead of helping those people that they’d abandoned in the first place.
Should we recognize them now…I suppose we have no choice, we’ve gone to war for them, we’ve bleed for them and if we don’t follow through they’ll again bleed for those who promised to liberate them. First the KLA made that promise then we did now we’ll live up to our promise while the KLA in Thaci will govern them.
The fallout from this will only serve to further isolate Russia from the West, mind you even without this provocation Russia is once again attempting to become a super power and to rival the West but a bigger problem will be that we’ve clearly shown the fragile nature of the EU. No matter how hard they try they have different agenda’s, different goals and rarely speak with one united voice. Europe is not as united as we believe and the Kosovo declaration is a great example of why this is so.
As we’ve talked increasingly about globalization and integrated economies we splintered even more as a planet creating dozens of new countries in the past 20 years. It’s an odd contradiction.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A year later the Surge Strategy in Review

13 months after the President announced the so called surge strategy it’s time to review whether or not it’s working.
I wrote a piece about the announcement on 19 Jan 2007 and said the following:
At the end of the day I believe for many reasons that the President has got the right mix and right plan in place to pacify Baghdad, whether or not this will bring about a long enough peace to allow the unity government to actually get to work restoring infrastructure and utilities and providing enough security so their citizens can go out for a meal, to the market or for a walk without getting shot or blow up is questionable but it is absolutely necessary to attempt. To leave the unity government in such a fragile state as is it is now would be tantamount to what the US did to South Vietnam when it left them high and dry. The fallout in Vietnam and Cambodia that followed has obviously been forgotten. Perhaps it’s time to rent “The Killing Fields” again and remember what happens when America abandons its friends.
As the summer began so did the offensive operations that were required to remove the terrorists from Baghdad and then the other major cities as both US and Iraqi forces worked to clear and hold neighborhood after neighborhood. It was slow, and painful but as summer turned into fall you could see that the tipping point had been reached and the US had gained the upper hand while Al Qaeda and the various militia’s were in disarray and on the run looking for other safe havens but unlike other large scale offensive operations the US military had enough forces available to chase them down while also being able to hold cleared areas, which was the real change. In the past Al Qaeda simply allowed the US to follow them and then slipped back to a previously cleared but abandoned area. The other major change was the embedding of US troops within Iraqi units, this provided the necessary support and leadership to these tough troops and they were well integrated into the plan. For the first time the Iraqi Army was winning, beginning to lead and was feeling more like a team mate of the US military instead of a junior member who was often ignored or worse ordered to sit on their hands while the US did the fighting. I can’t imagine watching foreign soldiers conduct operations in my country while I sat around the barracks.
I also wrote about my feeling towards Congress and Hillary Clinton who quickly suggested the surge would fail and that ignoring the Iraq study group’s recommendations would just result in more US military and Iraqi civilian deaths. I wrote:
As a final note on this piece I must point out how disheartened I am with Congress over their criticism of this plan before it’s even gotten started. I’ve listened to opportunistic members of the House and Senate snipe at the President and like me as a writer present their own plans knowing that those plans will never lead to a single death nor face the historians who will have the opportunity to write in hindsight and with clarity of how things turned out. If the President is right they get to claim that the price was too high, if the President is wrong they get to shove it in his face and tell the voters if only the President had followed their plan it all would have worked out.

I truly hope this plan is the one that breaks the back of the insurgency and almost as important gets it off the nightly news so that the main stream media don’t get to drive the politicians into positions that we can’t recover from.
I’m still disheartened by the Congress and especially by the Democratic leadership and Presidential candidates as they continue to ignore the reality on the ground both militarily and recently politically. First they claimed the military part of the surge was not working then as the result became undeniable they then focused on the lack of political results, well now the Iraqi parliament has passed all the laws set out as the political benchmarks that had to be reached to ensure both reconciliation and political stability within Iraq. Now I hear the Democrats saying that just because the Iraqi parliament has passed the laws it doesn’t mean that it will translate into positive results on the ground.
Let’s review their position:
· The Military Surge isn’t working….then it isn’t working quick enough…then it isn’t producing the political results that it was meant to produce
· The Political reconciliation isn’t working…then it took too long…then it’s not going to produce positive results on the ground.
Is there a trend here? Say it won’t work, when it does, deny it until you can’t then say it was too slow, then claim it won’t have any long term results until it does and then say it doesn’t matter we never should have gone there.
It’s sad and disappointing to watch political leaders and potentially the next President of the United States suggest the some 3960 men and woman have died in vain and that if elected they will ignore the realities of Iraq to keep a pledge made solely to achieve a political means.
President Bush was right to order the surge, he was right to ignore the Iraq study group and the naysayers and to stick to his position of allowing the military sufficient time to provide the Iraqi’s with the security necessary to do the political work that will ultimately win this war and stabilize Iraq for the long term. Will there be more ups and downs? Surely but 13 months after ordering the surge strategy be implemented we’ve turned a major corner and are finally heading in the right direction. Congratulations to those who had the fortitude to endeavor to persevere.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Eagle is dead, long live the Ostrich

Yesterday Fox and CNN news dedicated several hours of live coverage to the hearing into the allegation that Roger Clemons was injected with performance enhancing drugs by his trainer. It was great drama for all to watch as these serious members of the esteemed house panel grilled Clemons about his butt (the injection site) and grilled his trainer about exactly when Roger appeared or didn’t appear at house party to determine who the liar was. I couldn’t help but watch although I was a bit upset that they didn’t at least break away once or twice to cover the arrival of the commissionaire of the NFL who was ordered to report to Senator Specter to explain why the NFL had destroyed the tapes that showed the Patriots spying on the Jets after the investigation had been completed and the fines and penalties paid.
While all this was going on, TMZ was covering another Britney moment and I was discovering that several US daily newspapers were laying off employees due to declining readership while the two most popular and growing magazines in the country were celebrity gossip weeklies. I was also relieved to find out the economy isn’t really suffering since we were able to spend 2 billion dollars last year on cool ring tones for our phones while allowing the bank to foreclose on our houses because we weren’t bright enough to read the fine print that said the great rate we were getting on our 4000 sq foot home would only last for two years.
While the world was glued to the important hearings being covered live, one of the worst terrorists to have ever lived was reportedly killed in Syria but who knew? When did we forget that real news needs to be covered by real news organizations? I’m sure the hearing could have been covered by ESPN to ensure those baseball enthusiasts got their interests satisfied or for those without extra cable channels they could have turned to the mandated free channel dedicated to covering the house, you know C-SPAN whose mandate is to provide all American’s information about their government. I’m now hoping C-SPAN will pick up some extra Blue Jay’s games this year in return.
Why am I so bothered by this…well let’s see, Hugo Chavez is again threatening to cut off exports of oil to the US if he loses his latest court battle with Exxon Mobile over withholding taxes, Chad, another oil producing nation was overrun by rebels forcing the shutdown of the oil fields and the evacuation of vast majority of expatriates for over a week , in Algeria there was another round of bombings and arrests, in Nigeria the insurance world decided the oil rich Delta region is now a war zone and all premiums will reflect that. Really need I go on? Should we talk about Iraq where the parliament yesterday passed the remaining laws that were required of them to achieve all the political benchmarks…or haven’t you heard?
Before you blame the MSM you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself who’s buying the gossip rags, watching TMZ or allowing Fox and CNN to cover a ridiculous hearing about whether or not a baseball pitcher took drugs, not to mention allowing our tax dollars to be wasted by an almost useless congress?
It’s time we all took a deep breath and demanded more of ourselves and the MSM that cover the issues. If we continue to buy the celebrity magazines at the check-out counter, continue to stay quiet and not send an email complaint to the MSM asking them to fulfill their mandates to provide accurate timely news that really has an effect on America then we have nobody to blame for our shock and ignorance when the price of oil spikes seemingly without warning and the price we pay at the pump jumps overnight or perhaps we’ll be able to demand that the leading Democratic contenders for the Presidential nomination stop saying we’re failing in Iraq when in fact the military successes of the fall are now translating into political success, something they claimed would never happen, if only we didn’t have dig through all the stories about the brother of Paris Hilton being arrested for DUI or the sister of Britney being pregant.
Wake up America and demand to be informed or replace the Eagle as the countries symbol with an ostrich.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Political Dynamic Duo

When I was a young boy, like most young boys I loved super heroes. My two favorite TV shows were Superman and the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin. Although Spiderman was cool he was animated and I preferred the real people and action vice the animated version.
I was really taken by Batman and Robin because I had a best friend who was willing to be my Robin and for endless hours we solved crime, covertly spied on the neighborhood and fought imaginary criminals with great success. Before cable, the Internet and X-box we managed to stay busy all day long and if the weather was bad there were always improvements to be made to the bat cave (my garage).
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Bill Clinton show and the controversy that came out of South Carolina when Bill was misquoted but then managed to let his famous temper spill out when he took on a reporter much like the more famous outburst against Chris Wallace when he had the nerve to bring up the possibility that President Clinton didn’t take out Bin Laden when he had the chance…something that I’m sure still haunts him. I mean with attacks on the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, two Embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole largely ignored by him and his administration I’m sure deep down he realizes his lack of a serious response against the growing Al Qaeda threat led directly to the events of September 11th and that must sting especially when a NBC’s movie of the week had the nerve to expose it all just as Hillary was getting ready to put her presidential campaign into high gear.
I was a bit surprised to see the campaign allow Bill so much oxygen but at the end of the day I’m not really surprised as Bill just can’t stay away from a microphone or an African American church. I’m beginning to thing he has ADHD as he can’t sit still, well unless he’s nodding off at the Martin Luther King memorial ceremony after a late night and the idea of a restless Bill back in the White House must send shivers down the spines of those responsible for the Intern program. Whether it’s Whitewater, travelgate, Bill’s numerous adulterous affairs or his more recent kick back effort in which a Canadian businessman donated some 30 million dollars to the Bill Clinton foundation after a business trip to Tajikistan (a great dictator state with minerals and some oil) there’s more skeletons in this Dynamic Duo’s closet than Batman and Robin had tights so why are the Democrats working so hard to make it happen?
Hill-Billy is the modern day political Dynamic Duo comparable to my favorite superhero’s Batman and Robin (although I’ve never been sure who’s Batman and whose Robin) but instead of providing me with endless enjoyment I’m looking at four years of misery. Even the Joker couldn’t put a funny spin on what’s coming if Hill-Billy manages to pull off the greatest feat since Batman used the anti-shark Bat spray to get that rubber shark to let go of his leg as he tried to climb into the Bat Helicopter. Well either it’s a great feat or Bill has so much dirt on the vast majority of the senior party members that J Edger would be proud.
I doubt it’s possible but if Hillary is to have any success during the national campaign or worse if elected she’s really got to order Bill to the Bat Cave and keep him there. And if she can’t well I can only quote the narrator of the Batman and Robin TV show “Same Bat time, same Bat channel”.