Thursday, January 22, 2009

Conservatives Aren't Heartless

The above statement is a statement of fact. Granted, it's a statement of fact that runs against conventional wisdom, but it is nonetheless true.

Every so often, a major survey comes out on Charitable giving in the United States. The United States is one of the most generous nations in the world. Americans give to countless charities that help people both at home, but also abroad. The overwhelming response from private citizens to something close at home like Hurricane Katrina and something half a world away like the Tsunami are clear indications of the good hearts of Americans.

Yet, I cannot count the number of times I have had a Liberal Friend tell me that the reason we need higher taxes is because conservatives don't give to charity and this is the only way to make them help other people. The other charge is that conservatives don't care about poor people, or sick people, or homeless people. Both charges have become viewed as "fact" in the Mainstream Media and Culture. Yet both charges couldn't be further from the truth.

Numerous reports and surveys have shown the charge to be false and now another response to the great lie has now been released. The Wall Street Journal, the best American Newspaper today, carried a piece by Arthur C. Brooks. It is titled, "Conservatives Have Answered Obama's Call". The survey, like many before it, finds that conservatives generally give more to charity than liberals. This is not to say that liberals do not care, but there probably is something behind greater private charitable giving by conservatives that has to do with their ideology and worldview. This is also not to say that they could not give more, they could, but it shows for a lie, some of the great slanders of the left.

So the next time (if you are conservative), a liberal tries to tell you conservatives don't care, give them the facts. And for the liberals, the next time you think about saying conservatives don't care, look at the facts.

There are so many deserving charities out there, even in these tough economic times, it is worth taking the time, to do our part, and help them carry on their mission.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hail to the Chief, America's Transfer of Power

As we approach another peaceful transition in power in the United States, I think it’s worth looking back and thanking President Bush for the job that he has done.

While it is true we currently are in a financial and economic mess, it was a storm neither of his making, nor one that can be solved quickly. Like the Great Depression, it will likely take years to emerge from the economic distress we are currently in as the business cycle and the economy heals itself. Hopefully with that healing, the American people realize that a “negative savings rate” isn’t a good thing, and at least become less of the instant-gratification type so many currently are.

I think the most telling part of the Bush Legacy is security. As much as far left extremists scream that we were less safe with President Bush, the facts say otherwise. After September 11th, the average American expected another attack. Every Intelligence Agency and Law Enforcement Organization expected another attack. Every politician expected another attack. We are still waiting, thank God. That is no small thing and is, in itself, a significant legacy.

In a world where our blissful “holiday from history” was shattered, Bush steered a course that prevented terrorists from perpetrating any more attacks against the American people on American soil. That alone is a sterling example of the job he has done guiding the ship of state for the last seven years following 9/11. God Willing (Insha Allah as the locals say), President Obama will continue guiding our country through the turbulent seas of Islamic terrorism and maintain America as safe and secure.

Despite the deranged predictions of the some on the left, President Bush is leaving office. He is leaving with the same grace and class that he entered, even if that level of respect (or even a modicum of respect for the office) was unfortunately never afforded him while he was in office. A member of the other political party won an election, despite some accusations that Bush was going to become a dictator or destroy our freedoms or destroy free elections. None of that came to pass.

However, I am really annoyed seeing AFN ads for CNN, BET, and other channels touting special Obama programming, “A New Birth of Freedom”. Apparently, unbeknown to many of us, freedom took an eight year holiday - no one was able to notice because nothing really changed. It’s this hyperbole that does the American system a grave disservice and is emblematic of wider societal problems.

President Obama is an inspiring symbol because he represents all that is good about America. He has lived the American dream and is another symbol that we have overcome our racist past. But Freedom is not being born again in America - it never died.

Hopefully decades from now, looking back, these people will realize that they may have overreacted. A president’s legacy is not written by the same generation nor is it written in the first decade after he leaves office. President Truman, probably one of our strongest Presidents, was considered a complete and total failure when he left office on January 20th, 1953. That judgment against him does not stand today.

So on January 20th, we say farewell to one President. A man who has kept this country safe and secure when it emerged from the holiday of the 90s, into a cruel multi-polar world where non-state actors have the ability to bring mass death anywhere and anytime. We say welcome and salute a new President who is faced with similar challenges and represents all that is good about America.

Things will change, but America endures. As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else”. Our democratic republic has survived a Civil War, economic depressions, global wars, a Cold War. It will survive Islamic Terrorism and another Economic Depression.

God Speed President Bush.

President Obama, Good Luck - we are praying for your success.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Learning from T. E. Lawrence

We’ve all seen (hopefully) the stunning visual masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia. I definitely remember the great scenes of “El Lawrence” running atop the broken Turkish train with his white Arab robes flapping in the wind, or leading the Beduoin Arabs across the desert to assault Akaba.

I recently finished reading his masterpiece, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It is the story of the Arab Revolt in which he played a key role, in his own words. T.E. Lawrence is experiencing a new renaissance in his historical importance with the War in Iraq and the new Counter-insurgency strategy championed in FM 3-24. T.E. Lawrence served as a modern day ODA (Special Forces team) to the Beduoin Arabs. He helped train and mold them into a fighting force that was able to wage a war that threatened the Turkish logistical lines and railroads through Guerilla War.

One of the most famous T.E. Lawrence quotes, so often used to discuss proper counter-insurgent tactics was: “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly”. It certainly is a true statement that it is important to put a Host Nation face on operations. We are doing that right now in our Operating Environment (OE). We are partnered with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and working through, with, and by them in order to increase the level of security in the area. With the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), we are taking a secondary and assisting role to the ISF. They might not be as capable as our own forces, but they are capable of conducting operations with our assistance.

The quote used above actually comes, not from Seven Pillars of Wisdom but from The 27 Articles of TE Lawrence, which were a guide to how British officers assisting the Arab Revolt were to conduct themselves. It is the 15th Article in this guide: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is”. Yet, T.E. Lawrence did not feel that these rules were universal. He wrote that these rules “are meant to apply only to Bedu; townspeople or Syrians require totally different treatment. They are of course not suitable to any other person’s need, or applicable unchanged in any particular situation”.

Article 15 has a lot to say about the proper strategy for counter-insurgency. It is important to put the Host Nation forces in the lead. Ultimately, the Iraqis are fighting for their own country and freedom. We are their guests now (as SOFA indicates) and it is our job to assist them. We are excellent at killing the enemy, but sometimes, our methods, might not be the best, as is sometimes indicated in Afghanistan. We have a lot of history available to us to learn from. The 27 Articles of T. E. Lawrence is an excellent document on how to operate with Host Nation forces. The rules as written by T. E. Lawrence are designed for operating with the Bedu Arabs, yet, some of the rules, applies to working with other Host Nation forces who are not Bedu Arabs.

It is always dangerous to try and push a square peg into a circular hole. At the same time, it is dangerous to not take some of the lessons of the past that worked, and try them in our modern circumstances. SOFA and COIN put the Iraqi Security Forces up front with their Coalition Partners (us) to improve security, but to do so in such a way that we emphasize the legitimacy of the Government of Iraq. It can be difficult because the GOI is not nearly as efficient as the US Government (though, let's be honest, the US Government is a money pit too), yet, every success the GOI has, raises up its legitimacy amongst the people. It is better that the Iraqi Arabs do it, sometimes, we must assist them in doing it. But we must do it through, with and by them.

So, if you haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia, go to Blockbuster, rent the movie, and watch Peter O’ Toole, Omar Sharif, and Alec Guinness in that cinematic masterpiece.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

RIP Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

Catholicism lost one of its greatest contemporary voices today. Our loss, is Heaven's gain, as the Lord calls his servant home. One can imagine that Fr. Neuhaus had now heard, what we all long to hear, "Well Done, My Good and Faithful Servant".

I was never an avid reader of First Things like my father and grandfather, but I will tell you, the intellectual and theological depth, as well as its Orthodoxy, made it an excellent publication. I was perusing another site on the web that posted the following written by Fr. Neuhaus, "Born Toward Dying" in 2000. It was published in its entirety in "Introductions to the Eternal Pity".

"We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word "good" should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good."

For the complete essay please check out First Things.

I will always remember watching EWTN during the last Conclave and listening to his insightful analysis and his correct view that Cardinal Ratzinger was very likely to be the next Pope. The Church has been so very blessed to have Fr. Neuhaus for the time it did.

Rest in Peace and May Perpetual Light Shine Unto Thee

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Priest Shortage

The one area that is really feeling the “Catholic Priest Shortage” is the United States Armed Forces. It doesn’t help that Catholic “Progressives” often dislike the military and either discourage priests from considering serving as Army (or Air Force, or Navy, or Marine) Chaplains or have nothing but contempt for them. It’s a sad but true statement of their real priorities so present on the website of the National “Catholic” Reporter. But I digress.

The United States Army has requirements or MTOE (modified table of organization and equipment) for 200+ Catholics priests to serve as Army Catholic Chaplains. During WWII and Korea the Catholic Chaplain was an indelible part of life. One of the greatest scenes in the WWII classic “The Longest Day” is an Army Catholic Priest walking the streets during the Battle for Carentan administering Last Rites. Today, there are only 80 Catholic Priests in the United States Army. That obviously creates a situation where the shortage is especially present and its impacts felt. The priest shortage is not nearly as severe in parishes in the United States where demand for access to the Sacraments has fallen precipitously since the early 1960s (I don’t assign the problem to Vatican II, though some of its “Fruits” perhaps caused problems). If you want to go to Mass, you don’t have an issue. My mom recently discovered where you can find Mass times for the entire United States. In the military, with a finite number of priests, but enormous demands, there will be a shortage.

The unit that replaced the 172nd SBCT up in Mosul in August of 2006 did not have a Catholic Priest. That meant that Catholic Soldiers would maybe have access to the Sacraments once a month at best. I’ve been fortunate that both brigades I’ve been a part of had assigned Catholic Chaplains with the Brigade Support Battalion (BSB). Fr. Greschel was an outstanding and committed Catholic priest from Chicago with a great sense of humor and of duty. Since the Brigade was based on a Super FOB (first Courage/Marez and then Victory) there was no problem offering the Mass for as many soldiers as desired it. This deployment our BSB has a great Polish missionary priest (who first was a missionary to the native population of Alaska). It’s an experience going to the Sacrament of Penance in three languages: English for the confession, Latin for the Act of Contrition, and Polish for the absolution. That’s the universality of the Church. Anyway, now that we are on deployed COPs, our priest has to travel to offer the Mass for soldiers who do not have access to it on FOB Warhorse. The end result is that at least every other week, if not a couple weeks in a row, we do not have access to Sunday Mass. Today was no exception. I went to Mass, expecting mass, but Fr. Maciej had not returned from one of the outlying FOBs/COPs to offer Mass. We had to have a Sunday Service in the Absence of a Priest (SSAP) instead, which is still a great opportunity to gather and pray, but without the benefit of the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass.

On a somewhat related note, the Mass and the whole story of the Christian Faith is summed up in the Pulpit of the Cross. This synopsis by the late great Archbishop Fulton Sheen is such an important discussion of the Heart of the Christian Faith and Salvation History. Please take the time to read it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year Brings Changes to Iraq

Today is January 1st, 2009. Last night at 2359 the United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing MNF-I's presence in Iraq expired. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States and her coalition allies (Poland, Great Britain, Australia, South Korea, and many others) have operated under a United Nations Mandate.

As Iraqi Security improved, the need for that mandate and the corresponding operational abilities it provided were seen as less necessary. Thus, the United States and the Republic of Iraq began lengthy negotiations over a document that is now known as the Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (the SOFA). At 0001 on 1 January 2009 that document and its rules came into effect. It is a great moment both for the US Mission in Iraq, but also for the Republic of Iraq. The SOFA recognizes the sovereignty of the Government and Nation of Iraq and establishes the United States and Iraq as fully and equal partners in the endeavor to build a democratic government in the Middle East.

As of today, the Armed Forces of the United States are valued partners in helping Iraq rebuild their country, but are also guests of the Republic of Iraq. There might be more restrictions that make life more difficult, but it is well worth it. The symbolism of it is enormous and it demonstrates how far Iraq has come from the days of Saddam Hussein. So truly, Happy New Year Iraq!

On another unrelated note, I recommend this great article on the changing role of the Infantry Soldier in the Counter-Insurgency fight. The fight against insurgents and terrorists is only a small part of the greater fight in Iraq and this article highlights the skill and adaptability of the American Soldier.

Normally, the role an Infantry Soldier plays can be summed up simply: Infantry Soldiers are Soldiers who are primarily trained for fighting on foot. However, with ever-changing modern warfare and the enhancements made to the country of Iraq by the efforts of coalition forces and Iraqi security forces, the role of the Infantry Soldier is undergoing changes of its own. (For the rest please go to the above link)