Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dear Jimmy Carter

Dear Jimmy...I know it’s more common to say Dear John, but since it’s time for us (the American people) to end this relationship I thought I’d stick with your real name. Recently you reminded us that you believe you’re the greatest President in recent history while most of us believe the opposite. The next day you said you meant after leaving office. So I thought in fairness to our relationship we should review why we no longer want to see you.

Recently you managed to do a good thing by travelling to North Korea and offering Aijalon Mahli Gomes a ride home, shame the Dear Leader wasn’t available to say hi, admittedly this trip certainly worked out better for us but didn’t make up for your last trip in 1994 when you seemingly negotiated a deal that eased tensions and stopped the North Korean’s from developing a nuclear weapon...well it seemed the Great Leader (father of the Dear Leader) pulled the wool over your eyes on that one barely waiting for you to leave before they started up their weapons program again and once President Clinton got caught with his pants down it was full steam ahead toward that big bang that President Bush had to wake up in Oct 2006.

You also managed to head off the requirement for the US to fight its way into Haiti also in 94’, I’m sure the 82nd Airborne appreciated not having to jump under fire, sadly your deal ensured that the island remained under Haitian rule and a couple of years later after a coup another sort of dictator took the dictator... same slum lifestyle, thanks for almost actually doing something useful by claiming the Haitian people would be better off with a minimal US presence. You sure were a prophet on that one.

In fall of 2006 while promoting your book, you weighed in on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and that sure helped President Bush’s attempt to negotiate a state for the people of Palestine and the right to exist for the Jewish state. Well done, you have become the first President in US history to manage to solely blame the Israelis for wanting to survive numerous attacks from other countries and their terrorist proxies and suggesting that they were have committed a worse apartheid on the Palestinian people than the South Africans did was a great analogy for sure, except for the fact that it was the Palestinians who rejected the great offer negotiated by your man Clinton that gave them everything they wanted, oh yeah and then to really press the point Yasser Arafat immediately ordered the beginning of the second Anti Fata which unleashed hundreds of suicide bombers against Israeli civilian targets...but I’m sure you had the best of intentions with your enlightened remarks.

I don’t want to be unfair, that whole building houses for people down on their luck is by far and away the best thing a former President has ever done for us and if only you stuck with that instead of getting involved in foreign affairs although I suppose you did so after the numerous successes you had in that arena during your time as President.

I mean getting Israel and Egypt to sign a formal peace treaty was impressive...yeah after the 67’ and 74’ war’s between the two it was truly amazing to then see them shaking hands until one considers that Israel so badly kicked Egypt’s butt and completely destroyed their airforce I’m thinking they realized the only way to ensure they continued to exist was to sign a peace treaty that allowed sufficient time for their Russian friends to get them some new planes and train up some new pilots. We shouldn’t forget your masterful handling of the Shah of Iran either, I mean you figured out pretty quickly that he wasn’t as nice a Shah as he should have been and moved quickly to cut off all support to him...that sure taught him the lesson he needed to be taught, for it wasn’t long after that he was forced into exile and a new guy came in that I’m sure you expected to be nicer to the Iranian people and to us. With a cool name like Iatola (of rock and rolla) was hard to believe that it didn’t work out that way and downright perturbing that he would dare order the kidnapping of US diplomats and citizens...well at least it gave you somebody to blame when that darned B list actor came along to take your job, well after Senator Ted Kennedy softened you up first.

I get how you could think you’ve been a great post President guy but you’re just not for us anymore so we’re asking you to zip it and go back to building homes because your buddy, Barrack, has ensured you’ll have a never ending list of folks that really need your help.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Private Security Company's Good or Bad?

Three years ago today; what became known locally as Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday occurred. This was the day when a Blackwater convoy opened fire at Nisour Square and 15 minutes later when the shooting stopped 17 Iraqis were dead and more than 20 were wounded. Blackwater’s official position was that the convoy had been fired on and returned defensive fire while the Iraqi investigation found that there was no evidence of any incoming fire, and the US military unit that responded to the incident did not find any evidence of insurgent activity in the area. Since that time, I haven’t read a single article about Private Security Company (PSC) operations anywhere in the world that doesn’t mention Blackwater or this incident as proof that those in the industry are undisciplined mercenaries at best or murderers at worst.

Recently President Karzai took everybody including his own cabinet by surprise when he announced that within four month or by 31 December 2010 all PSC’s operating legally in Afghanistan would be decertified and would have to turn their equipment over to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) who would take up all armed protective duties within Afghanistan. The deputy minister responsible for registering PSC’s made the mistake of saying the next day that the MOI was not ready to take up such a task, he was supported by the deputy minister responsible for the Afghan National Police (ANP) who would primarily take over the security effort and some 21 members of their respective staffs. They were unemployed the very same day and escorted by armed guards from the ministry again by Presidential order.

The international community that is working in Afghanistan took several days to respond, giving the Karzai government tepid support for the idea but questioning the timeline and the capacity of the ANP. ISAF did the same as did the US Embassy and NATO (all of whom use PSC’s to protect facilities, personnel and convoys). As they were making public statements of support, frantic meetings were being help with representatives of the largest public and private corporations conducting business in Afghanistan looking to develop a common response but before that response could be delivered a British firm called Blue Hackle was allegedly caught attempting to ship non-registered weapons on a flight departing Kabul for one of the provinces. They were immediately given 24 hrs to cease all operations and turn over all their equipment. While the panic ensued and other companies began taking their personnel and contracts on to ensure their clients were protected, the truth came out, Blue Hackle Afghan personnel were arrested after dropping off 2 expatriates at the airport that were flying out of the country on a leave rotation. When they were taken to the police station they were separated from their landcruiser. When the deputy country manager showed up, he was shown a vehicle with several unregistered AK’s in the back. The sacrificial lamb had been found and the message was sent that Karzai was serious. A few days later, the US government intervened and Blue Hackle’s license was reinstated and they continue to perform on their US government contracts only forcing them to fire 60% of their staff.

In the bigger picture it begs the question, are PSC’s a useful force multiplier keeping deployed troops available for offensive operations and freeing them from convoy escort, basic static guard duties and the protection of reconstruction redevelopment and humanitarian orientated civilians or are they the evil mercenaries that the incident in Baghdad would seem to suggest?

First what is a PSC? Well it’s many things with many companies providing different services but in general it can be broken down into two categories, you have locally owned companies that provide static armed guards who protect facilities and those who protect convoy’s of goods, then you have the International companies (primarily British and American owned) that provide a full suite of services that include, those services in first category plus personal security details (PSD), information services, secure guest houses, close protection, security assessments, training and secure logistics and medical support. They are normally staffed with a mixture of expatriates from Western countries, third country nationals such as former British Army Gurkha’s, and local nationals. In every case the difference between a PSC and a mercenary army is very clear the PSC’s can only participate in defensive protective operations. In no way shape or form can a PSC participate in offensive operations.
The oxford dictionary defines a mercenary as “a soldier, who will fight for any country or group that offers payment. A case could certainly be made and often is, that any fighting be it defensive or offensive in nature is fighting and therefore mercenary in nature, however this definition taken at face value means every Canadian who served in the US or British military is a mercenary, something that’s hard to accept...stretched even further it could even include those who fight for their birth countries therefore I believe a better definition is the more traditional understanding of what a mercenary is; a person who fights strictly for money without regard for the cause or the legalities of the group they are fighting for.

Are PSC’s necessary, again a case can be made that outsourcing tasks formerly performed by military troops is immoral but I believe it’s practical and while the industry continues to need regulatory reform is absolutely essential if you wish to continue with an all volunteer force. There is absolutely no reason a well trained and equipped US Army infantryman should be standing in a guard tower at a military base in Kuwait or even in Iraq. There is absolutely no reason a well trained and equipped Marine should be guarding the entrance to an Embassy. These combat troops need to be available to close with and destroy the enemy which is their primary mission. When I was the project manager of the local guard force protecting the US Embassy in Kabul we provided the protection necessary to the old Embassy, the new Embassy and the USAID compound which freed up a company of Marines to do what Marines do best, go hunt America’s enemies. This Marine company was about to become a tied down Marine Battalion (800 men) who needed logistical support, medical support etc as the Embassy grounds quickly grew and expanded across the street to encompass the USAID effort and that was a foolish waste of military resources so enter a 450 man self contained private force that came trained, equipped and self sustaining. It consisted of, western expatriates, former British army Gurkha’s and local nationals allowing Embassy and USAID staff to go about their business with freedom and safety taken care of. The cost to the government in overall dollars was cheaper and whenever ever a position was no longer required the cost disappeared instantly with no residual cost like a pension and no start up training costs. We followed Department of State rules of engagement and it was made very clear that any form of unprofessional behaviour would lead to termination with form of redress.
President Karzai’s decree is unattainable and will in reality drive reconstruction and aid agency dollars out of Afghanistan if fully implemented as issued. Several issues jump up immediately, first the ANP is not an organization that is trained equipped or trustworthy enough to provide the protection necessary to convince most international companies and their insurance providers that it’s safe enough to do business here, second a legal change would have to be made by Congress to allow USAID to use security funds to pay the ANP or Afghan National Army (ANA) which is currently an illegal use of aid dollars. Third, by channelling hundreds of millions of more money through the MOI for security you are only exacerbating the level of corruption that already exists within the Karzai government not fixing it. Karzai would have you believe that it’s the PSC’s that are bribing his governments officials and that is very true in some cases primarily as it relates to the 25 locally owned companies that are well known to pay bribes to warlords and even Taliban shadow ministers to ensure convoy’s are unmolested instead of having to defend those convoys but then again Karzai doesn’t have far to go to find the corruption, as his brother in law and his Defence ministers son are the owners of the two largest Afghan owned PSC’s and the largest providers of bribes in the industry yet he targets international companies for immediate closure.

The situation is fluid and much can change in short order but the realist approach is something the industry has been begging for over the past nine years as it matured into its current form. It’s time for the major players to come together and not just attempt to self regulate with trade organizations such as the American International Peace Operations Association but to work with Western governments and the governments of host nations to ensure we have common standards, uniforms, equipment, weapons and training as well as laws that ensure that those operators who screw up and run afoul of not just common sense ethics and moral issues but commit crimes understand that they will be prosecuted in their home nations or even in the host country depending on the crime committed. If a financial manager is committing fraud against a US based company it makes no sense to prosecute him in Iraq but if an operator kills a local nation outside of the rules of engagement then he should be prosecuted by the host county in accordance with its laws.

A well regulated Private Security industry is essential if we’re ever to get past the Blackwater or mercenary stigma that is not going away regardless of the efforts of some many good people but just as the actions of a few criminals at the Abu Ghraib prison should not be a reflection on every US service member who conducted themselves properly in Iraq, the actions of a few members of one PSC should not become the rallying cry to disband what has become a very useful and very necessary service.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Building and Burning

Recently the US has faced two major stories related to Islam, first the story about the proposed Islamic cultural center which would include a mosque and then a story about a small non-denominational Christian church in Florida that decided to hold a “Burn a Qur’an Day” on September 11th, then cancelled it and then said maybe.

In both cases the world has chimed in loud and clear. While the majority of 9-11 victim families, New Yorkers and Americans remain firmly against the proposed centers’ location, they’ve firmly run up against the very reason America was created, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Watching politicians that are against the center nuance their statements has been interesting and watching President Obama take both sides of the issue even more fascinating but at the end of the day it would appear that the reality of the situation comes down, not to legal rights, but more importantly to local sensitivities. The Imam who has proposed the center has for some 28 yrs run a mosque roughly 10 blocks from what is now being called ground zero so here’s my question, why not open a center without a mosque at the new location and continue to operate the original mosque? I guess the easy answer would be it’s not convenient to have to move several blocks away 5 times each day to pray and I get that it’s a good answer, so, my second question why not move to a location that allows the center as presented to be constructed in a location that suites everyone instead of pushing forward with your legal rights while setting yourself up for failure. Just ask President Obama how that whole health care bill has worked out for him and the Democratic congress, they pushed ahead with something that wasn’t popular and in the end they won and will most likely lose a great deal more in November. I also wonder what the Imam would say about free speech if a Jewish group decided to open a kosher butcher shop specializing in pork next door?

In the case of burning the Qur’an, you once again find that the law is very clear and has been reviewed up to the Supreme Court level (flag burning upheld) you can burn, books, flags, records and people in effigy but just like the Islamic center case is it morally right to do something that isolates so many people, while the Attorney General and Secretary of State and even Sarah Palin have spoken out against the burning.. Having been stuck in the first of many protests related to the upcoming book burning I can tell you first hand that the people of Kabul were more than convinced that only a President can order such a vile thing to happen. I know what you’re thinking, how ignorant but you need to understand that average citizen of Afghanistan has been raised in a tribal system whereby only the most senior member of the tribe can order people to do anything so when they try and translate that to the US government they don’t recognize the Congress or the Supreme Court as being co-equal partners but only see the President as the senior member of the American tribe and therefore he must be behind the burning. When General Petraeus said this burning would put American troops in danger, and the Canadian Prime Minister said the same about Canadian Forces and civilians they were understating the issue. This is not just another book and people seeing it that way or comparing it to a bible are misinformed, this is something so much more to Muslims and just the rumour of mishandling has sparked vicious riots both here in Afghanistan and around the world.

Perhaps this is the perfect time to have this discussion as we remember 9-11 tomorrow and talk about supporting our troops in their efforts we often say that what the world needs is freedom and democracy but as noted above we have two examples of how freedom and democracy can have very messy results. I truly hate to say this but I don’t believe the construction of the Islamic Center should be prevented. I think that all parties should continue to respectively attempt to convince the Imam to move his center but at the end of the day we must respect his legal right. As for the burning of the Qur’an again I don’t think the government can or should step in to stop this, but again I believe that this Pastor should fully understand the consequences that will come from his stunt and hope he realizes that burning the Qur’an doesn’t make you holy.

If we want peace between denominations we need to get past legal rights and starting talking about ethics and morals, doing the right thing and avoiding doing the wrong thing as well as self acknowledgement of your failings or your faiths failings.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Polls, Policies and Predictions

Are you wondering why President Obama and the Democratic Party continue to slide in the polls? For the Liberal elites it’s the most frustrating question, for in their perspective he’s the most successful first term President in decades and the first term is only half over.

They have an impressive laundry list of accomplishments they love to trot out including, saving the financial system, saving the North American auto industry, closing down the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, banning torture except when authorized by the US President, authorizing a military surge in Afghanistan, passing the largest stimulus package in US history, passing education reforms, passing the largest health care bill in US history, passing financial law reforms touted by the Democratic majority in Congress as the most important reforms since those in-acted after the great depression and ending combat operations in Iraq on schedule.

Wow in only 18 months they have done amazing things, but let’s break each accomplishment down and it might explain the current polling numbers affecting both the President and the Democratic members of Congress running for re-election this November.

1. Saving the financial system: While I know the President is fond of saying his administration kept the financial system from falling off a cliff, it’s a tough stretch for me, since TARP was passed by the Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush not President Obama, with the financial system saved before President Obama was sworn in.

2. Saving the North American auto industry: President Obama can truly take credit for this one, he took a huge gamble coupled with the Canadian government and plunked down a hockey sock full of money when the vast majority of “experts” said the cause was hopeless and in doing so saved 10’s of thousands of high paying union jobs both directly with GM and Chrysler and in the larger context of the auto industry. It was brave, it was done quickly and it has paid off in both jobs saved and a solid return on investment. So why has it failed to result in a political gain for the President, well he already had the vast majority of voters from the unions and those who believe the government should run large businesses (known as socialists) and those who oppose him and the concept of governments running (even temporarily) publically traded large corporations haven’t changed their minds simply claiming he got lucky.

3. Closing the US Detention Center in Guantanamo Bay Cuba: This was in fact a huge moment, the first executive order issued by President Obama and much like the now maligned PR stunt during which President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier flying a banner reading Mission Accomplished and declared offensive operations in Iraq were over, President Obama made a huge deal of this new directive and the signing was covered by all of the Cable News Network’s live and was the lead story on every major networks’ evening news report. As I write this some 18 months later the detention center is no closer to closing, the President doesn’t mention it and the Democratic leadership of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have forgotten that they also championed this as loudly as the President.

4. Banning Torture: The Obama administration made another big deal out of the suggestion of change without actually changing anything. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush authorized 3 levels of interrogations to occur. The first level was based on the US army’s field manual and included techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, and disorientation. The second level included those techniques outlined above plus, threats of physical torture, threats of putting venomous snakes or spiders into a cell if a detainee was known to have a fear of snakes or spiders as well as displaying items such as hammers, drills etc without ever using them. The third level of interrogation included those techniques in levels one and two as well as water boarding. The military never carried out the second or thirds levels of interrogation and the President was the only one allowed to authorize level three interrogations (which he did twice). By the summer of 2005 only level one and two interrogations were in use and by 2007 only level one was being used and studies were underway to rewrite the US Army field manual and ensure that it was the manual that would be used by all US agencies unless other techniques were authorized by the US President. The report was completed in late 2008 and the decision was made by President Bush to leave it to President Obama who then pronounced the new and more compassionate policy which in fact had been the Bush policy for almost two years and still retained the ability of the President to ignore his own directives if he deemed it necessary to prevent an imminent attack.

5. Authorizing a surge in Afghanistan: President Obama almost immediately ordered a small increase in the number of US troop in Afghanistan and appointed a new General to win the war. I’m sure he thought he’d ticked another campaign promise box by better resourcing the good war and putting one of the hero’s of the Iraq surge in charge. I guess the young and very inexperienced President was unprepared for the outcome that includes putting a modern and fresh minded General in charge of a war that hasn’t been in winning mode but treading water mode for several years. It wasn’t long before the White House was hearing that the General was going to ask for 60-80,000 additional troops and more equipment to support them and quickly and very quietly said no. Who leaked the request that outlined the requirement of a minimum of 40,000 extra troops with 60,000 being the optimum number we’ll never know but that leak was one of the first great challenges for the White House and they responded with delay and what they described as thoughtful study which allowed their detractors for weeks on end to remind the American public of the inexperience of the President which was artfully articulated by now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the primaries when she aired the brilliant who’s going to answer the phone when it rings in middle of the night ad and that he opposed the successful surge in Iraq and was now hesitating to give the Generals who made the Iraq surge work what they needed. By the time the President announced his new strategy and the comprise level of 30,000 troops it was too late and as I write this those troops have not yet been fully deployed while missing most of this year’s so called fighting season. The President also put a caveat on the surge which was that by July 2011 the US would begin a drawdown of its forces. This decision meant to appease his base simply ensured that those who argue that the President is making wartime decisions effecting people’s lives based on a political requirement that much easier. President Obama missed the window to show success this year by delaying his decision until late spring and by ensuring that insufficient forces were in place during June, July, August and September to conduct the offensives planned which would then allow the hold and development components of the overall strategy to take place throughout the late fall and winter, so when spring arrived the Taliban would have lost their support and the Afghan government would have gained the traction needed to ensure they wouldn’t lose the ground gained during the 2011 fighting season.

6. Passing the largest stimulus bill in US history: After the G-20 meetings in late 2008 and early 2009 that outlined the program for saving the world’s financial markets and got all participating governments to agree to stimulus programs the US passed a massive bill of almost 800 billion dollars. It was unprecedented and when fiscal Democrats and Republicans balked at the sheer size of it, the President’s economic team went to work letting the citizens know what would happen without it. Massive job losses that would make the current levels seem mild, a much longer recession and as much gloom and doom as they could predict to ensure the fiscal hawks were whittled away sufficiently to get it done. While almost all members of the G-20 have seen good results from their stimulus packages the US has seen the unemployment rate continue to rise almost 2% higher than it was predicted to climb without the stimulus while the economy has struggled to gain traction as the administration bounces from one side of the road to the other trying to juggle the political requirements of the base and the realities of a left leaning President guiding a center right country. His continued determination to raise taxes on the wealthy (ignoring the number of small businesses that make up this category), and the ongoing uncertainty of the costs of health care, coupled with a deficit that makes President Bush look like a fiscal hawk have ensured that the public remains overwhelmingly convinced that the stimulus plan while well intentioned has not produced the promised results. President Obama forgot the golden rule, under promise and over deliver.

7. Passing Education reforms: Really he did? He gets no credit for passing education reforms because nobody has heard about it, which really points to one of the greatest failings of the Obama administrations first two years and that’s the ability to pace yourself and communicate with the American people in ways that remind them that you’re making progress towards making their lives better. While education reforms may be a requirement to ensure a long term economic future in the 21st century it certainly isn’t sexy and isn’t going to win you any votes unless your communications team makes it sexy.

8. Passing the Health Care Bill: The President and the Democratic leadership need to be given an amazing amount of credit for getting this bill passed. The public was overwhelmingly against the various versions for many different reasons, some hated it because it didn’t include a public option, some because it changed the existing system, some because it would cost a ton of money, some because it meant taking funds from other programs while some just felt it was wrongheaded to attempt this during economic peril but the 3 amigos (Obama, Reid and Pelosi) persevered and ultimately prevailed which is exactly why the President is getting nothing but grief for his efforts. While the cost begins immediately, the public sees no real change in health care until after the next Presidential election, oh and did I mention that nobody seems to really know what the bill contains while few members of congress could go on television and explain it beyond using talking points which allowed those against the bill to simply make up their own arguments against the bill which couldn’t be countered effectively with facts. The Democrats in Congress suffered greatly by going into town hall meeting completely unprepared with facts and dismissed the Tea Party movement as crazies instead of recognizing that they were the vocal majority and the vocal majority sets the tone of the debate which for the Democrats meant spending a lot of time on defense. Now they are running hard in the other direction hoping to avoid another summer of videos showing their constituents yelling at them and in many cases them yelling back. At the end of the day the majority of Americans remain against the health care plan as passed.

9. Passing Financial Reforms: Please re-read point 7. While it’s good to bash Wall Street these days and to remind the unemployed that fat-cat bankers are the reason, once again Congressmen and women couldn’t explain to us in a coherent manner how this bill would in fact ensure that financial institutions and huge insurance companies won’t become so big that they can’t fail and must be bailed out again.

10. Ending Combat Operations in Iraq: While President Obama is quick to remind us that he inherited two wars, he’s even quicker to remind us that he’s ended one of them as he promised to do. He even used only his second Oval Office address to underline the seriousness of the issue yet he conveniently ignores (like the ban on torture) that in fact what he’s done is follow the status of forces agreement (SOFA) signed by President Bush in December 2008 that was negotiated with the Iraqi government during the summer of 2008. Does anybody remember the reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush? Of course you do, especially if you hate President Bush as most of President Obama’s supporters do, however that’s when the final details of the agreement were announced including the drawing down of US forces throughout 2009-2010 including the move of all US forces out of major cities in the summer of 2009 and after the Iraqi elections (assuming they went off without a hitch) the end of combat operations by Sep 2010. The agreement concluded that unless the Iraqi government asked for an amendment, extension or enters into a new SOFA agreement with the US, all troops less those required to protect DoS personnel must leave Iraq by the end of 2011. I wonder why President Obama failed to mention that during his address this past week?

President Obama and the Democrats are low in the polls for many reasons but most of all, they have focused on an agenda that isn’t in sync with the majority of Americans, they have not taken care of the number one issue facing them, the health of the economy and most importantly they have over promised and under delivered all the while attempting to continue to blame President Bush for all the ills of the world even when following several policies he put into place.

If the President doesn’t learn to respect the American people and stop attempting to please everybody he’ll quickly be at a point of no return and that point will be the fall of 2011.

If he’s responds to losing the Congress as President Clinton did with the move to the center he and the economy will recover in time for a second term. If he follows President Carter’s path, even an economic recovery won’t save him.