Thursday, November 24, 2005

Evolution of a Concept

Ruth Siems, the home economist who helped develop Stove Top stuffing, died November 13 in Indiana. Appropriately or coincidentally, her obituary is reported in the Thanksgiving edition of The Washington Post.

Stove Top was one of many "boil and pour" experiments in hiking food on the Appalachian Trail. Not one of the successful ones, for me at least. Virtually all my main meals were side dishes for normal people--macaroni and cheese, instant pototoes, ramen noodles--bulked up with various other items. Stove Top was one of those side dishes but it never quite worked. It was kind of like eating a loaf of moist bread.

No doubt Stove Top works better as a real side dish with condiments.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

As American As Twinkies

Thank you, Dick Cheney, for recognizing Americans’right to question their government. You, too, George Bush. It’s nice that you now understand the nature of debate in a free society. You two have certainly behaved otherwise in the last four and a half years. But even now, as you acknowledge the worthiness of debate, you seek to limit that debate. Questioning the use of intelligence in deciding for war is “...dishonest and reprehensible,...shameless and corrupt....” Which translated means, “I am afraid to honestly review the decision to invade Iraq because it will discredit me and my ideas to the last generation.”

Too bad. That’s the risk you took when you stole your way into power and proceeded to govern as if the rest of us did not exist, except to pay the costs and provide cannon fodder for your war machine. You two took this nation into a war that has been disastrous from the get-go, a strategic blunder of immense proportions. YOU are responsible for this mess and have no business telling Americans that we cannot hold you fully accountable for the results. I will not accept anything less than and honest and truthful account of your stewardship.

And I will tell you both that if what I have read and heard about the way you and your administration withheld, distorted and manipulated information is true, you should both be removed from office immediately. If the allegations are true, no American will be able to trust you to act responsibly and honestly on America’s behalf. You are fortunate that America is a land of laws and process, so you will have ample opportunity to make your case.

But you cannot tell us that we cannot inquire. You cannot insist that you need not explain. And we insist on doing so not because you are at best incompetents and at worst liars. We insist because only the truth may save this nation from similar disasters in the future. In doing so we live up to Carl Schurz’ famously misquoted tribute to his adopted land:

Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right, when wrong to be put right.


Slate has an excellent article on how BushCheney manipulated intelligence in making its case for invading Iraq.

For more on Carl Schurz, a 19th Century German revolutionary turned American general and statesman see this article. I highly recommend his essay on “The True Americanism” in that article.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


The preceding three posts are all part of a train of thought that started when I read an entry in Applachian Trail hiker's online journal. I met Wilderness Bob, a retired special forces sergeant while I was hiking the trail in Georgia this year. We discussed the war briefly but since we had different views, I spent more time discussing the trail and his experience. He's posting his journal now that he is finished hiking the trail. One entry intrigued me because, being a soldier, other hikers asked or maybe tried to debate the war with him. His response is that critics should run for president and implement their solutions. While I cannot run for president, I can offer throughtul criticism, which I believe is essential in an open, democratic society. So I started writing the "Out Now" post. The following day Rep. Murtha offered his views and was attacked by the Republicans and I wrote the next two pieces. It's three posts on a single thought.

Politics and Morale

Part of the non-debate about Irag is the Republican claims that Democrats are: a) hypocrites for voting for a war that they now oppose and b) are at fault for supporting the war in the first place. I certainly agree that Democrats bear significant responsibility for the Iraq War. Democrats lacked the courage to question and oppose BushCheney’s plan from the outset. Even early on, many legitimate questions were raised about the wisdom and need to invade Iraq but most Democrats failed to press for real answers and explanations. Even if there had not been many, many critics of the proposed invasion, Democrats demonstrated their cowardice and lack of wisdom when they abdicated their Constitutional war powers in 2002. Republicans have plenty of company in the responsibility for the Iraq war.

But I give Democrats and Repbulicans like Chuck Hagel some credit for speaking out now that the war has turned into a long term occupation. It doesn’t take nearly as much courage to speak out now as in 2002 but thoughtful criticism is needed as much now as then. Americans have every right to raise questions about BushCheney’s use and control of information to make their case for war in 2002. Administration motives and methods were questionable then and are still. The difference now is that a few Congressmen are beginning to ask questions. They need to ask more questions and keep asking until they get some honest answers and a credible strategy for accomplishing realistic aims in Iraq.

As for “the troops” their morale does not ebb and flow with debates in Congress. Morale is a mix of many things, including purpose, ability and comfort. Clear purpose supports morale even in difficult situations. Lack of purpose has the opposite effect. It’s easy to see how soldiers and Marines returning to Iraq for the third and fourth times will have low morale at the deteriorating conditions there. Taking a town from the insurgents, destroying much of it in the process, only to abandon it offers no clear purpose. Ability comes with training and support. Well trained, well supported troops will have high morale because they know they can accomplish their missions. Putting truck drivers on infantry patrol with poorly armored vehicles does not create morale. Nor does sending National Guard and Reserves into combat with little training and old equipment. Comfort is key because it allows some respite from the arduous tasks of combat. Living in the dirt, eating marginal food and enduring the uncertainty and tension of combat patrol is only tolerable in limited amounts, especially if the mission seems pointless.

I have read, but cannot remember where, that American service men and women are discouraged when they return to the US and see that nothing has really changed even though they and their entire world are completely changed. Returning troops see that while they have been sacrificing everything, most Americans are sacrificing not at all. It’s as most Americans don’t know that there’s a real war in Iraq, that people are fighting and dying there. The story rings true to me because that is exactly how I felt returning from Vietnam. The war to most people was far, far away. Riding in rush hour traffic from Dulles to National Airports in January 1972 three days after returning from Vietnam, I was stunned by how normal everything looked. The same thing happened when I came back on leave about halfway through my tour. I wanted to shout out “There’s a war on, you know. My buddies are fighting and dying right now.” I wanted people to know, to somehow be part of that sacrifice. I don’t suspect the feeling is any different now.

As for the “cut and run” issue affecting morale. I cannot think of any greater morale boost than heading home. Even heading for a rear area. Throughout my tour in Vietnam, rumors abounded that we would withdraw from the field. The rumors were true in the long run; the last US combat troops stood down about three months after I returned to the US. But even as rumor, it was something we all wished for. Maybe some of the gung-ho types want to stay on but most soldiers just want to get it over with, even if they believe in the mission. I did not believe in my mission. Neither did many of my buddies. It was just something to get through, the sooner the better. War, occupation and the military being what it is, I doubt if much has changed so I am certain morale will improve as American forces prepare to return home.

Morale will improve even more if the US redeploys in a way that salvages some honor from the mission. America’s one and only accomplishment in Iraq was deposing Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist dictatorship. That’s it. And the consequences make even that victory a pyrrhic one. We failed in creating a viable political process. , a failure largely the result of the inability of a foreign power to control events in an Islamic, Arab nation. At best, Iraq will emerge as a stable dictatorship or balkanized mini-states with an virulently anti-American Sunni heartland, a Shi’a mini state allied with Iran and a Kurdish republic with the potential to destabilize Turkey and Iran. Those results will trouble us for years to come. At worst, Iraq will descend into civil war.

If American forces redeploy in a way that prevents wholesale slaughter, perhaps Iraqis will have the opportunity to settle their differences with less bloodshed. I would call that a win of sorts. That doesn’t mean I think the invasion and occupation were ever justified; it means that America salvaged some honor from BushCheney’s reckless aggression.

No Debate About It

The dust-up in the House of Representatives over the “Murtha Resolution” is a perfect example of the non-debate over the war in Iraq. The Republican parody of Representative John Murtha’s serious criticism of a failed effort a political sound bite with no redeeming merit. The merits (or, for that matter, the demerits) of his proposal were not discussed. Instead the Republican leadership hid behind charges of “cut and run” and “our troops”. I heard one Democrat responding to the resolution with accusations of “THIS is IT? This is all the debate you allow?” He’s right. Debate on the War in Iraq has been limited

At every turn, BushCheney has sought to limit discussion, to control information and otherwise prevent any criticism of their plans. The run-up to the Iraq invasion was largely lies, distortion and unnecessary haste. American success in Iraq has never progressed beyond the heady days of the invasion. Despite heroic and determined efforts, the US military cannot defeat an Arab nationalist resistance on its home turf. Continuing the same policy will continue to produce the same results, creating more enmity for America in the Islamic world.

Murtha did not call for abandoning Iraq. His original resolution correctly noted the counterproductive impact of foreign troops in Iraq and offered a reasonable strategy for removing one major cause of instability in Iraq. In place of American troops destroying cities and barging into civilians’ homes, he would leave that job to Iraqis. For major threats (terrorist bases and cells, for example) Murtha proposed an “over the horizon” Marine quick reaction force. Murtha’s pIan is similar to one offered by mid-east expert Juan Cole. In all, Murtha and other critics have offered reasonable approaches that are worthy of consideration.

But no discussion is allowed in BushCheneyWorld were any questions “demoralize the troops”, where any strategy that seeks to reduce an objectionable foreign occupation is “cutting and running” that means “Americans died in vain”. America must “stay the course” which means more Americans and more Iraqis die while Kurdish and Shi’ite militia leaders consolidate their control and further disenfranchise the Sunnis. A prescription for more chaos, instability and death that will ensure that Americans died for nothing. Given the sordid history of this war, beginning with the lies and deceit that put American forces into Iraq and running all the way through the torture scandals, failed reconstruction and systematic destruction of Sunni cities, I wonder what our troops are dying for. The results of their efforts, however heroic, are not likely to benefit America.

Murtha’s resolution offers a chance to redeem that sacrifice. Reducing the presence of foreign occupiers will remove a major flashpoint. Iraqis must still navigate a difficult process of political reconciliation, one that will no doubt sometimes be bloody. This is a path only Iraqis can choose and follow. If they have a reasonable chance to do that, perhaps America’s sacrifices will not be in vain. If BushCheney were smart, he’d listen to Representative Murtha. Unfortunately, for America and Iraq, BushCheney listens to no one.


Arizona (my fair state) figured prominently in the non-debate. Arizona Representative J.D. Hayworthless was the primary proponent of the Republican alternative to Murtha’s resolution. It only seems appropriate that a an odious character like Hayworthless was involved. He’s a former sportscaster who rode into Congress in one of Arizona’s safely Republican districts in 1994 when Republicans won the majority. He was a fat, blubbery white boy who could at best read Republican talking points. Like many of the Class of 94, he pledged to serve only three terms and like many, he ignored that pledge and is now in his sixth term. He has lost considerable weight because his excellent medical coverage allowed him to have a stomach bypass or staple. He is still a phony.

Out Now!

One of the most effective ways to dispute a critic is to demand that the critic offer a solution for solving the problem and then attach the solution. This tactic turns the discussion away from the problem, focusing instead on the shortcomings in the critic’s solution. That is certainly the mode of political debate in the United States these days. And it avoids the more serious discussion about many issues important to America and, in the case of our international policies, the world. Many such issues exist but these days, the Iraq War is the one that has me by the throat. In the same manner that I previously wrote about my fundamental beliefs, here’s my take on the war.

First off, I will say that war is a highly emotional issue for me because of Vietnam. Five months of combat in a war that I thought wrong left a permanent mark on my soul, one that does not readily accept sending young men and women into any war but a Just War. Just War is defined variously but common to all is the idea that must meet stringent criteria of honest efforts to avoid war, of trustworthy leaders and clear objectives that cannot be achieved without war. Self-defense from an unprovoked attack is by far the most common Just War. War on any other basis is a dereliction of leadership, a crime against the people leaders have sworn to serve and the forces they command. I am not a pacifist. I wish I were so strong that I could turn the other cheek when attacked but I cannot passively accept aggression that seeks to destroy the freedom that I have been so fortunate to enjoy in my life. I recognize that the time may come when an honest person can legitimately use force.

Iraq meets none of the Just War criteria. Iraq did not threaten the United States or any other nation in 2003. Whatever threat Iraq may have once posed was long since past. International inspectors were in Iraq, documenting its lack of weapons of mass destruction. There was no need to rush to war. BushCheney and his armchair warriors distorted intelligence, lied and, with the assistance of a weak and complicit press, terrorized the American people into a war of aggression. BushCheney’s failure to anticipate nationalist opposition or the difficulty of occupying an Arab nation rent with longstanding ethnic and sectarian divisions led America into the Big Muddy with no plan to get out. Nothing speaks to his complete misunderstanding of his war than BushCheney’s triumphant “Mission Accomplished” public relations event. He thought it was over. That message was clear, irregardless of his later claim that he only meant the first phase. But the invasion was, in fact, just beginning. Tens of thousands of dead later, the war continues with no end in sight.

So what, you say, we’re in it now. America has no choice. We cannot withdraw without condemning Iraq to a bloody civil war. Maybe, maybe not. I believe America launched the civil war in Iraq when we invaded with insufficient troops to secure the country, its institutions, resources and infrastructure. America could not control the forces it unleashed. Civil war is now a fact that, for all their sacrifice and bravery, American troops cannot combat or end. The Iraqi people will have to come to terms with each other as best they can. The process may be bloody and ugly but only an Iraqi solution, however imperfect, will in the end bring peace and stability to that nation. The American presence only exacerbates and elongates the process, creating more death and destruction for the Iraqi people. The longer the US seeks to control and direct Iraq, the bloodier and nastier the final outcome will be.

My solution is immediate withdrawal. I would call a cease fire, pull American and other foreign forces back to major bases for redeployment out of the country. Republicans call it “cut and run”, a victory for the terrorists. I call it reality. BushCheney has no plan for resolving the conflict in Iraq other that to continue doing what created this mess in the first place. The political process supposed to unite the nation newly freed from Saddam Hussein’s yoke has been manipulated to meet American needs, not the conciliation and compromise Iraqis need to address centuries of hostility and persecution. As long as the US maintains a military presence and controls the political process in Iraq, that reconciliation and compromise will not take place. That has been clearly evident throughout 2005; the Shi’as and Kurds have used the political process to consolidate control and marginalize the Sunnis whose position has hardened into a full scale insurgency that promises to fester indefinitely.

Leaving Iraqis to sort out their own differences is a risky strategy. Aside from civil war, it creates the possibility of failed or hostile states that can be used by Islamic fundamentalists as bases for attacks on other nations, including the United States. But that is a risk I am willing to take. In the long run, I believe Iraqis, who primarily want electricity, clean water and personal security, will reject and expel these fundamentalist warriors. I also believe that the US, can work cooperatively with other nations to minimize and neutralize such threats, especially if we are not grinding up our forces in Iraq.

In the end, what I am suggesting for American policy in Iraq applies to all American foreign policy. Rather than the superpower straddling the world, America should begin to act like the member of the word community. It would be a change from 60 years of attempts to control the world in our image with overt and covert military operations that have tarnished this nation’s reputation severely. This change would move America into the 21st Century world, a world we cannot afford to dominate, a world increasingly resistant to domination. America still has much to offer the world. Cooperation and mutual assistance against common threats would make far more effective use of our talents and resources than

So I support a complete and immediate withdrawal from Iraq. This does no dishonor to the men and women who served there. Their sacrifices are real and must be recognized. The dishonor accrues to BushCheney and his minions who chose to ask the utimate sacrifice for the most specious of reasons.