Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Does Victory Look Like?

What does victory look like?

That is a question that has been asked since shortly after the fall of the Saddam Hussein Regime in 2003. There were those who argued that victory was the removal of Saddam, regardless of what the aftermath would look like. There are others who argued that we could only claim victory in Iraq if Iraq resembled the United States. The bar for claiming victory has also shifted as those forces who wanted defeat sought to raise the bar to an unachievable level just as those who wanted victory would lower it. As is the case in many things, the truth probably lies in between. Then again, what constitutes victory is ultimately determined by the President as Commander-in-Chief in collaboration with the Joint Chiefs.

In light of recent news, I think it is an apt question for people to ask. As you all know the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed by Ambassador Crocker and his Iraqi partners and approved by the Cabinet. The next hurdle for the document is the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which should be quite entertaining. It makes me upset that there isn't a good English language news station that can cover the debate in English. The bits and pieces shown on Fox News and other news sources indicate that lively would be an understatement. But SOFA is a step forward.

SOFA is part of what victory looks like. As President Bush has said on numerous occasions, "As the Iraqis step forward, we will step back". That is what victory in counter-insurgency looks like. Obviously it’s something incredibly difficult to measure, and what ultimately is victory is up to others to decide. SOFA lays the groundwork for the United States Armed Forces and her Coalition Allies to step draw back as her Iraqi Allies step forward into the gap. The Iraqi Army has not always been ready to take the lead and there is a danger of putting someone in the lead too early. Some have argued that this was the precise problem in 2005 and 2006 - the rush to push inexperienced and under-trained Iraqi units into the lead when they were not ready. The Iraqi Army of 2008 is not the Iraqi Army of 2005/6. There is still work to be done, but they are much more capable than my last tour in this country. Some of the Iraqi units can even operate independently of Coalition Forces support.

It is the Iraqis who must ultimately step forward and win their country. To quote the great insurgent leader, T.E. Lawrence, "It is better that the Arab do it tolerably, than we do it perfectly". Iraqi "democracy" will never be the same as that in our Republic. The Iraqi military will likely never be as professional and well-equipped as ours. But that isn't the issue. As the Iraqis can take the fight to the enemy, and fight for their own country, they are doing it tolerably. The goal of any counter-insurgency is to get the HN (Host Nation) forces to do things tolerably. The Iraqis are rapidly approaching or have surpassed that point in some areas. SOFA is part of that process. It can be frustrating because it can be difficult to take a back seat or a supporting role when one is used to being up front. We have to adapt to the new reality. It isn't easy, but Victories are never easy.

We are winning in Iraq. A great deal of that credit belongs to the strategy employed by GEN Petraeus when he became the new MNF-I commander and now continued by GEN Odierno. The surge worked and because of it, we are witnessing a transition, a transition embodied by SOFA.

It will make my life more interesting, frustrating, and perhaps at times more difficult. It's good to recall the words of T.E. Lawrence to keep myself grounded and focused. What does victory look like? We may soon see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

General David Petraeus: Man of the Year

Like many members of the Armed Forces I am a fan of General David Petraeus. The job he has done as Commander of MNF-I is nothing short of incredible. He has moved on to CENTCOM where he will continue to do great things for Iraq, but also for Afghanistan.

I ran across this article in GQ about General David Petraeus. While I may not always agree with their politics, I think it is a superb article. It labels him: Leader of the Year.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Groundhog Day

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the great Bill Murray's classic "Groundhog Day". "Groundhog Day" embodies what Iraq is and can become. The premise of the movie is that Bill Murray visits Punxsatony, PA to cover Phil the Groundhog's Big Day. Bill Murray, like his character in the great Christmas movie "Scrooged", doesn't appreciate the holiday and the assignment. His bad "karma" results in him being cursed to relive Groundhog Day again and again. At first he reacts negatively to reliving the same day again and again, even going homicidal and killing the lil' groundhog. Eventually he learns to appreciate it and seeks to better himself and of course, win Andie McDowell's affections. He learns French, plays the piano, saves little children and becomes a town celebrity, all while covering the groundhog for his new-station. It's quite funny, but shows just what one can do if one has to relive the same day over and over. Which brings us to Iraq.

Obviously ever Iraq experience is different. Reliving the same day has to be viewed in a manner that DOES NOT breed complacency. Complacency is a hidden enemy that leads to accidents and mistakes that can result in real serious consequences. So the first requirement is being careful and mindful of that dangerous possibility. But as a Staff Officer, my Iraq time is truly Groundhog Day. I'm trapped in Bill Murray's hell, only I'm not enjoying a nice bed and breakfast in beautiful Punxsatony, PA. I'm in a trailer in not quite as beautiful Diyala, Iraq.

Every day I'm in the office NLT 0700 to review the INTSUM and prepare it for the boss. I check my email; I usually get over 50 emails during the course of the night so it takes about an hour to review all of those. You would find it hard to believe, but there is such a thing as SPAM email in Iraq. I can't tell you who puts it out, but trust me, there is an Iraqi equivalent over here. I have a morning brief with the Commander where we look at the last 24 hours and what's coming up. The middle of the day can change depending on what exciting meetings I have to attend or on whether or not I go outside of the wire with the Commander. The end of the day involves wrapping up the day’s work and prepping for tomorrow.

It's really not a bad life and day when you think of it. It's usually long and the constant repetition does sap a lot out of you. But, it’s how you deal with any sense of "monotony" that really colors your deployment. If you let it beat you down, the deployment will drag and productivity can suffer. If you just take each day for what it is, a gift (even if it is in Iraq) and another day, they can move a little quicker and you get a little more satisfaction out of your day. In a way that is the lesson of Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day". You can either let the repetition beat you down, destroying your morale, and impacting your relationship with others, or you can take each day as a new day, no matter how similar to the one before that and meet it head on. So Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" is a good way at looking at how to thrive, not just survive, a deployment to Iraq.

That being said, someone needs to hurry up and invent a teleportation device, so we can commute to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hope everyone enjoyed this today, a slightly more humorous look at Iraq. So, go rent Groundhog Day or get it on Netflix or iTunes and enjoy the Bill Murray classic.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What is Military Intelligence?

One of the biggest reasons for a complete and total misunderstanding of the nature of intelligence is the argument over Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. It has become nearly "gospel" that President Bush lied about the WMDs in Iraq. That is hardly true. Rather the Intelligence Assessment on Iraq's WMD program was wrong. Intelligence is a guessing game. Intel people don't often want to admit that, especially if they work for a certain three letter agency located in Virginia near a town that starts with an "L". Intelligence is the Fusion (that's the big new word in the Intel community) of various reporting into an Assessment. That assessment is a best guess. In the case of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's weapon program we combined various reporting from defectors, SIGINT, inspector reports, and the actions of Saddam himself to draw a conclusion on his actions. That Assessment we know now GREATLY exaggerated the weapons program Saddam was undertaking in 2002/3. The Intelligence Assessment was wrong, that's not a lie.

In Military Intelligence at the Tactical Level we like to joke that if we are right 51% of the time we are rock-on. That may seem hard to believe and stand, but it is the nature of Intelligence. Intelligence officers and analysts are attempting to draw their best guess on what a threat organization is doing and is going to do. Since we currently lack the ability to be clairvoyant and to read minds, it means we have to guess. We obviously don't call it a guess. We call it an Assessment. That is the better word to use, because there is quite a bit of work that goes into it. We take various indicators and reports and use that to inform our decision making.

The intelligence officer and analyst have various INTs as they are called from which they can use to help make their assessment:

SIGINT: Signals Intelligence -- this is the cool guy stuff involving signals and electronics
IMINT: Imagery Intelligence -- pictures or live video from UAVs or Satellites
MASINT: Measures and Signature Intelligence -- technical intelligence gathered by various sensors
HUMINT: Human Intelligence -- information provided by sources (living breathing human beings)
OSINT: Open Source Intelligence -- Your daily newspaper is OSINT

As a Battalion Intelligence Officer it is my job to review the collections from these various forms of intelligence (our most used form is HUMINT at the tactical level) and draw a conclusion on what I believe/assess the threat is going to do. This ranges from identifying targets for the BN and what means the threat will use to engage me. My shop and I take these various reports and produce an INTSUM (Intelligence Summary) that is a tool for the Battalion Commander, Staff, and Company Commanders to understand the threat picture in our AO. We also produce other products based on the situation on the ground that fulfill our commander's intent and also assist the company in the accomplishment of their mission. Since Intelligence is to a degree, a guessing game, we use certain terminology to indicate how confident we are in our assessment. It is the same standards used in higher levels of Intelligence as well. We rarely can speak with certainly that something WILL happen. Thus we will same something is "probable" if we are very confident in our assessment. Something that is "likely" is just below "probable". Those two words help stress to the reader or the end-user the confidence that we are placing behind our analysis.

I think the most important lesson learned is that Intelligence is not clairvoyance. We are making an assessment based on evidence (or Intelligence from various sources). This definitely requires thinking flexibly and the willingness to be wrong.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Honoring Those Who Served --Have You Thanked a Veteran Today?

November 11th holds special significance for the US Military and anybody who remembers and is cognizant of the special character of military service. November 11th is Veterans’ Day. It’s a holiday that does not get much press anymore, but remains extremely important.

November 11th was initially known as Armistice Day. It celebrated the date that on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, that The Great War, “The War to End All Wars,” came to a close. World War I was obviously not the war to end all wars, but it remained a powerful emotional event for those involved, especially Europe.

Today it has been expanded to honor all of America’s veterans here in the United States. It is especially poignant as we realize that as a nation we only have one remaining World War I veteran still living. The Greatest Generation, those that answered their nation’s call to fight for freedom in World War II, is dwindling in numbers and in a few decades we will no longer have them nor their example. We have the veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and numerous other wars and small engagements fought by the United States throughout the Cold War. Now we have added veterans of the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) to those who we honor at Veterans Day because they continue the proud service exemplified by their forefathers in military service.
I think on Veterans’ Day it is a good time to reflect on what those veterans have given us and our debt to them.

The following sentiments have been attributed to Senator Zell Miller:

“It is the Soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the agitator,
who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
serves beneath the flag,
whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who gives that protester the freedom
to abuse and burn that flag.”

The author of the following remains anonymous and has been forwarded countless times online and I figured deserved posting here:

From an old soldier, a friend; dedicated to all that have served.
(see note below.)

The soldier stood and faced his God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass

"Step forward now you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek,
And to my church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
"No Lord, I guess I ain't,
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can't always be saints

"I've had to work most Sundays
And at times my talk was tough
And sometimes I've been violent
Because the streets were awfully rough"

But I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills just got to steep,

And I never passed a cry for help
Although, at times I shook with fear
And sometimes, God forgive
I've wept unmanly tears

I know I don't deserve a place
Among the people here
That never wanted me around
Except to calm there fears

If you have a place for me here O' Lord
It needn't be so grand
I've never expected, or had so much
But if you don't I'll understand"

There was a silence all around the throne
Where the Saints had often trod
As this soldier waited quietly
For the judgment from his God

"Step forward now you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell"

So spend today thanking veterans of past wars for the freedoms you cherish and listen to a little Lee Greenwood to get your patriotic blood flowing.

And finally, I wish the United States Marine Corps a Happy Birthday!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rain, Diyala, All Souls and Saints, and an Election

Greetings again from mud-ville. I think I can lean forward a little and predict that the drought that has gripped Diyala Province for the last couple of years may be near an end. We've already had over 2" of rain, last year they had 4" total in the entire rainy season. That 10 days of Rain has managed to put large portions of FOB Warhorse underwater. That being said, the water problem in Diyala Province is indeed serious and hopefully the rains continue to fall, even though it will completely screw with my workout regime, I figure the Iraqi's agricultural needs are probably more important.

Our Brigade Commander recently pushed out to the Wolf Family a newsletter updating family on the progress of the BDE and sum of the details. I figured I would pass along some of the information he chose to share since it might help you understand some things about Diyala Province and the area of Iraq that we are currently operating in:

A few facts about Diyala Province, Iraq. Diyala extends to the northeast of Baghdad as far as the Iranian border. Its capital is Baqubah. Diyala covers an area of 17,685 square kilometers (6,828 sq mi). That is an area approximately the size of the state of Maryland.

Diyala has been inhabited continuously since pre-Islamic times as a center for agriculture and commerce. The name itself is thought to have come from the Assyrian language Baya 'quba, meaning "Yacoub's (Jacob) house."

Because of its proximity to two major sources of water, Diyala's main industry is agriculture, primarily in large date palm groves. It is also recognized as the orange capital of the Middle East. Although it is often referred to as the "bread basket" of Iraq Diyala is suffering from one of the worst droughts in nearly 50 years and we can see the effects of the drought throughout the Province.

Baqubah (Arabic: بعقوبة) is the capital of Iraq's Diyala Governorate. The city is located some 50 km (30 miles) to the northeast of Baghdad, on the Diyala River, just outside Iraq's so-called Sunni Triangle. The estimated population of Diyala is 1,224,000 people.

I hope that helps all of you get a better picture of where exactly I am and what exactly this area looks like.

As the Catholics, Orthodox and Liturgical Protestants among you are aware, Saturday was All Saints' Day and today is All Souls' Day. I think the basic and essential meaning of those events take on special meaning in a combat zone. We had two members of our Brigade die recently from enemy action. It is on All Souls Day that we remember all those who have gone before us and here especially, one can begin to understand just how transitive life is. We are only on this world for a short period and we have eternity elsewhere. Thoughts like that bring us to the Feast of All Saints. They are the communion of believers that exists across space and time. Just as theologically speaking any sacrifice of the Mass occurs both on the date it is celebrated and also on Golgotha, the communion of Saints exists here and now just, as it did yesterday and will tomorrow. Eternity is a long time, or so I've been told. Anyways, enough with the really, really deep thoughts for the email. But hopefully they resulted in a little pondering of the "eternal questions" of which we must all someday give account.

On another note, Tuesday is election day in the United States for those of you back home. Seeing how you've been deluged with a two year campaign, it's kind of anti-climactic and I imagine a relief that soon it will be over. Contrary to the greatest fears and hyperbole of the Far Left, President Bush hasn't destroyed American democracy, and in fact, there will be an election on Tuesday between two very different people, neither of whom is President George W. Bush (Also, please note, there hasn't been another Terror Attack in the US Since 9/11 and Bush deserves some of the credit for that). The Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) of many on the Far Left will have to find another outlet, and it will probably dramatically improve their health. Whoever wins, America remains America. We've had peaceful transfers of party for over 230 years, with a violent intermission during the 1860s (The Civil War), that even then featured elections. On January 20th we will have another peaceful transfer of power, showing just how enduring our system of government is and wise our Founding Fathers were. The nightmares and doom preached by the Far Left hasn't happened and won't. Those of you who are happy to See President Bush leave office, will be happy, because he will indeed leave office. We will have a new president with new goals. It's how America works. Just recognize that (on the deep theological thoughts again) even our vote has eternal consequences. I'm personally anticipating a change in the political party which occupies the White House, and America will survive - it always does (we survived Carter, LOL).