Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Victory, Part Deux

Tigerhawk has been doing some thinking about victory, too, but deeper.

I'd have liked to have been able to write that. It's an excellent analysis of what victory in the wider war is all about.

Iraq, for us, is only a campaign in the wider war on Islamism. That's an important point to remember. It does us no good to win in Iraq if we lose everywhere else.

However: the war in Iraq gives us a couple of opportunities to exercise a bit of geopolitical ju-jitsu. I'm shooting from the hip, here, but I'll try to stay on point.

One: Tigerhawk's spot on about the importance of discrediting Al-Qaeda. You can't kill an idea, but you can ruin it's worth and vitality by exposing its true nature. We have to reveal it as the busted, worthless thing that it truly is. So, what do we have to put up against it? Freedom, and self-determination. An Iraq that is governed by a regime regularly held accountable to its citizens is a powerful counter-example to the jihadist death-cult.

Two: There's another element that I don't think has been explicitly stated yet. In the aftermath of September 11, one of the challenges raised was the difficulty of engaging Al-Qaeda in open combat. They're an organization, not a government. They have no territory. Nothing to defend. They can melt into the background, whenever they choose.

But, take note of what's happened in the last couple of years. By drawing a line in the sand in Iraq, we've forced Al-Qaeda to adopt that land as their own, forcing them to come out to fight and die for it. We've forced them to forfeit one of their key strategic advantages. They do manage to serve up some unpleasant surprises from time to time, but we've managed to serve up a few of our own. After September 11, they were seen in the popular Arab press as invisible, invincible heroes. Unseen, untraceable, going where they will to perpetrate Jihad. But now? The hatred grows with every bombing of Iraqi citizens. The jihadists can't fight the Americans toe to toe, you see. The best they can manage is to pick off one or two, here or there, but they pay dearly when they do that. The Americans can fight back. Schools, mosques, and police stations are much softer targets.

They aren't melting into the background so well, anymore.

Me, I don't mind that Zarqawi slipped through our fingers last year. He's doing a fine job for us right where he's at. His murder spree is costing them more and more Arab and Muslim support by the day, if not by the hour.

I think it's still a bit early to declare that we've passed a tipping point. Things can still go completely FUBAR in Iraq. But, we're miles and miles ahead of where we were in early 2004. We're even miles and miles ahead of where we were, this time last year. More and more, Iraqis are coming to believe in this new government they've created. They won't fight for an occupier. But they will stand up and fight for their own flag, their own people, their own laws. There's an increasing sense that it is truly theirs, now.

Soon. It'll be soon. Al-Qaeda's credibility runs out like the sands in an hourglass. Their political capital's spent, their monetary captial, likewise. Their top leaders are on the run, and have to be lucky every day for the rest of their lives. We only have to be lucky once.

We do have to keep our eye on the prize, though. It's never too late to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What Will Victory Look Like?

It's a fair question. And, it's one that we all ought to ponder very thoughtfully. We are going to come to some sort of decision point sometime in 2006, most likely. It's a question that's closely tied to another one, namely, "What are our objectives?" That's the better question to ask.

Our basic, number-one objective was to put paid to Hussein's Baath Party regime in Iraq. That was the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to replace it.

The way I see it, that comes down to three or four things. Two of them require our assistance. The other two require that we get out of the way.

The two things that we need to help with are:

(1) Standing up a new government, and
(2) Standing up a new army, police, and security apparatus.

The two things that we more or less need to stay out of the way for are:

(3) Re-constituting Iraqi civil society, and
(4) Re-constituting the Iraqi economy.

The next year is critical time for (1) and (2) above. The worst of the heavy lifting is done on that score, though. Now, it's all about follow-through. The good news is that the Iraqi people have taken to parliamentary politics like ducks to water. They're very enthusiastic about it, and participation has grown in each of this year's elections. The Sunnis, who were holding out only a year ago, have begun to participate in earnest. That, to me, looks as though a critical mass of that population has acquiesced to the new way of things, and does not hold out much hope for a return to their former privileged position.

The critical things to look for in the coming year have to do with how the new Parliament takes care of business. Are the Sunni parties sufficiently included that they feel like they're getting their money's worth? Do things devolve into sectarian knife-fights, or can they find at least a few areas of broad nationalist consensus? This year was all about just getting a political process started in the first place. That's been done. This next year is all about keeping the ball rolling.

Largely, our involvement in that process is done. We can tick off item (1) on our list as accomplished. It's the responsibility of the Iraqi people to manage it, now.

Now, as far as security goes ... There's still work to do. But again, the heavy lifting has been accomplished. It can still be a violent and dangerous place, but over the last year, Iraqi forces have borne more and more of the load. Increasingly, Iraqi security has an Iraqi face. Mind you, the Iraqi forces that are taking over security aren't as good as the American forces they're replacing, but they don't have to be. They only have to be better than their opponents, who have a pretty lousy sense of grand strategy and public relations. To those who question that assessment, just look at the recent record. They discover that suicide bombings aren't necessarily well-received by their own press corps. Their response? More suicide bombings. They ain't the sharpest tools in the shed, folks. They're ideologically fixated on tactics that aren't working, and most likely won't work in the future, either.

So, number (2) looks like it's going fairly well.

The third and fourth items are important, but they are things that will largely take care of themselves if the security environment is something within shouting distance of reasonable. Given good government and safety, people will sort out things like soccer leagues and business plans for themselves. We don't need to fiddle around with that, and will sow much ill-will if we try.

So: as far as we're concerned, the victory conditions are as follows. First, a stable, self-sustaining government that is accountable to its citizenry. Second, an army and police force that is capable of both defending Iraq's borders and keeping the peace within them.

Now, just to clarify for those who ride the short bus: "keep the peace" does not mean "eliminate all violence." That's an unreasonable expectation. There will always be violent criminals to deal with. But we're reaching a point where the insurgency will be just that: an assortment of violent criminals. A syndicate that must be crushed, not ennobled by false attributions of political legitimacy. But, the fact that some of them are still running about cannot be taken as a sign of failure. If they begin to gain popular support, yes, that's a major failure. But so long as the government continues to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and the security forces gain strength, then all indicators are moving in the right direction. Given that, you can't lose so long as you keep your nerve.

So far, so good. We've made real progress in 2005, and have condiderable momentum going forward into 2006. So, what will victory look like?

Purple fingers. Saddam having to answer to a court of law. Free citizens voting their conscience, not their fears. People all over the Middle East looking to Iraq and asking, "Why not here?"

We're not there yet, but I can see it from here. That's more than I could say a year ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Never A Fair Fight

"If we go to war tomorrow, the Raptor will go with us."

-- General Ronald E. Keys, USAF

Yes, sports fans, the 27th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Wing is now open for business. The F-22A Raptor has achieved Initial Operational Capability as of today, December 15, 2005. That means that the next time the USAF has to go abroad to spread joy and good cheer amongst our enemies, the Raptor rides shotgun. Anyone who tries to come up and play will pay, and pay dearly, for the privilege.

That sound you just heard was every Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Syrian military aviator soiling their flight suits in unison.

My brother and I had an argument a long time ago, about whether it was better to have invisibility or super-speed. At the time, I thought being invisible was better.

I was wrong. The correct answer to the question, "Invisibility or super-speed?" is, of course, "Yes."

You really want both. And boy, does the Raptor deliver!

Let's start with stealth. It's not quite invisibility, but it'll do until something better comes along. The F-22A has about the same radar cross-section as a BB, maybe a bit less. It's also designed to minimize its infra-red signature. But mostly, it's built to avoid radar detection. It's also got an advanced suite of defensive electronics, but by current doctrine, the preferred method is to rely on passive detection avoidance.

This is a key advantage. You can't hit what you can't see. And if it can enter the battle area undetected, the first indication that the enemy has that all isn't as it ought to be is when things start blowing up. Then it's a bit late to start searching for the responsible party.

But that's not all. The Raptor is also very, very fast. The other key thing about its design is supercruise, which is the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without going to afterburner. Specifically, it means cruising supersonically on military power. That's an important distinction. Military power is seventy percent of maximum, non-afterburning thrust. At military power, the Raptor is said to be able to fly at Mach 1.5. This is huge, folks. Faster entry to the battle area means being able to spring the attack before it's expected. Faster exit from the battle area means less opportunity for the defense to organize and react. Faster entry to the battle area means that, if your command and control aircraft detects a strike force forming up in enemy airspace, a group of F-22s can be inserted and disrupt the strike force before it gets underway. With speed and stealth, the Raptor has the capability to dominate the battle space.

But that's still not all. The Raptor packs a heck of a lot of computing power. All sensors are integrated, so that the pilot has an easy-to-understand, no-nonsense view of the space around him. And there's data-linking, too, so that what one Raptor pilot knows, they all know. Nobody's sneaking up on one of these.

And yes, there's more. The F-22 has thrust-vectored nozzles. They can swing in unison to boost pitch rate, or in opposite directions to boost roll rate. The Raptor's nose goes where the pilot wants it, not necessarily where Mother Nature wants it.

Not that it makes so much difference. The F-22 boasts a helmet-mounted gunsight, and its AIM-9X Sidewinders have an imaging infrared seeker that can track targets 120 degrees off-boresight. If it comes down to a dogfight, the other pilot is in one hell of a fix. It probably won't come to that, though. The Raptor will start the party beyond visual range, with a volley of AIM-120 radar-guided missiles. The Raptor's radar can track and engage several targets simultaneously. Most of the Raptor's victims will never know what happened.

And to top it off, it can carry the latest precision-guided munitions, and do so in internal bays. No external pylons to disrupt its clean lines.

It's expensive. All that capability does come at a steep price. But we get our money's worth, all right. From the Raptor's cockpit, you own the sky. Name the odds, they don't matter, you're never in a fair fight.

Come on up and play, boys. We dare you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Dash of Perspective

Flashback: Friday, 15 December 1990

Dawn would not come for several more hours. At least, not a natural one.

The F-15E Strike Eagle was flying low and fast, heading towards the East German border. But due to the events of the last few days, it had already crossed the FEBA five minutes ago. Their target was the 70th Guards Tank Division's headquarters, thought to be at Fulda, where they gave the 11th Armored Cav the bum's rush last night. They were in for a rude awakening this morning.

Everybody was.

They were approaching their target, fifty feet above the tree-tops, barely under the speed of sound. They carried a single B61 bomb. The plan was to pull up about two miles short into a 60 degree climb, release the bomb, and then punch up the afterburners, trying to put a hilltop between them and Ground Zero.

"Hey Mac," the pilot called, "I think we ought to modify the plan a little. We want to make sure it takes."

"What do you have in mind, Duke?"

"Just lay it down on target. Low pass, use the drag chute."

"Not much of a chance to get away."

Grim laugh. "You thought we were getting away?"

"No. Not really, no."

"OK, then."

Mac armed the bomb. Duke made some final adjustments, bringing the ship right over the Soviet armor formation. Almost involuntarily, Mac's lips peeled back in a Death's-head grin. "Just about everybody I know is already dead," he thought, "but at least I'm gonna take some of these Red bastards with..."

Light. Impossibly bright, ineffably searing, all-destroying light. Then, nothing.

Welcome to my nightmare. Well, not a current nightmare. That one's about fifteen to twenty years old. I haven't had to worry about that one, lately. I just wanted to share the moment with those of you whose memories don't stretch back that far.

We are at war, true. But our enemy does not command ten thousand atomic weapons aimed at our cities. Our enemy does not command five thousand tanks poised to roll across Europe. Our enemy commands a ratty assortment of box-cutters, homemade bombs, and suicidal idiots.

Guys, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothin'.

It's a walk in the park, by comparison with some of the wars we've seen. Why, the British lost 60,000 in the first day alone at the Somme, in WWI. Two thousand is a grim price, to be sure, but we've achieved more for that price than the Brits did in, say, 24 minutes on that first day. Two years in Iraq doesn't even amount to a pre-game show at the Somme.

Sure, we're in a war, and we're being hurt. But for the love of God, man, let's have a sense of perspective! Are we going to run from a scratch, when we've faced down so much worse without a flinch?

And what kind of threat do we face? Maybe, some kind of terror attack. In one or two places. Well, pardon me for not being impressed. The threat I grew up with, you see, was losing ALL -- count 'em, ALL -- of our major cities. And most of the minor ones, too. The city I grew up in would have went up in a patchwork of fireballs, as far as the eye could see. You'll have to excuse me for not quivering in terror at a few random kabooms here and there.

Boys and girls, we've got their number. We're winning. The great thing is not to lose our nerve. If we keep them from getting us to beat ourselves, we're golden. They're still thrashing, but that doesn't mean we don't have our hand on their throat.

Now, it's time to squeeze.

Withdraw? Sure, when we're done. But not a second before.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


(or, How to Beat A Greasy Spot That Once, A Long, Long Time Ago, Used To Be A Horse)

I made two discoveries this week. One, that Scott Adams has a blog. Related to the first, is that he's waded into the debate over Intelligent Design.

It was a brave, if slightly foolish, thing to have done. But Adams has brilliantly illustrated the real problem with the arguments. To wit, most of those involved neither understand the other side's argument, nor their own. So, the debate leaps almost instantly to various forms of ad hominem.

As entertaining as ad hominem can be, it's still a logical fallacy.

The real problem is that Evolution and ID speak to completely different issues.

Here's the problem that I have with Evolution, as it's usually presented: I have yet to see an explanation of speciation that does not devolve into hand-waving at some point. Natural selection is not at issue, here. That's proven tech. But, here's the problem: You start with a dog, then its descendants change slightly to a different kind of dog, and succeeding generations become really different dogs ... and so on. When, precisely, do you arrive at something that is demonstrably not-dog? Granted, it's something that takes years and years, and it's probable that we haven't had enough generations of mammals to observe it yet ... and for all its flaws, it remains a pretty good description of what seems to have happened over the history of life on Earth.

Be that as it may, it's light-years from having the same weight or authority as Newton's Laws of Motion, and leaves much of the mechanics unexplained. There's a market for something to explain what's going on in the gaps.

As for Intelligent Design ... it's not science, properly speaking. It's epistemology. A different animal entirely. It does not even pretend to address the question of how things came to be, it's more concerned with why. But, it does lend itself to mis-use by people on both sides who want to conflate the questions, by laziness, ignorance, or disingenuous dishonesty.

As such, I'd have to agree with the people who are saying it ought not to be taught in high-school science classes. High-school science classes do such a poor job of conferring the knowledge that we do have clearly, that something like this could only muddy the already-murky waters. Weighty matters such as this should be reserved for those other two well-worn areas of scholarly debate: the lunch table, and after-school fist-fights.

Anyhow ... The problem with ID as science, is that it makes no testable predictions. But even that is not the fundamental problem, since the question really comes down to religion.

To the hard-core fundamentalist, Evolution is the blackest heresy imaginable, since it seems to remove any need for God in the cosmos. It doesn't, but that's beside the point. To the hard-core atheist, ID is the blackest heresy imaginable, because it summons up that damned old bearded guy they keep trying to bury. There is no meeting in the middle, here. The sides have far too much invested emotionally to allow for any compromise. There's only one cure for heresy. But, since we've outlawed burning at the stake, character assassination will have to do.

For the rest of us, there's nothing for it but to pop up a batch of popcorn, pitch a pillow, and enjoy the show. It's fine street theater, for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing.

UPDATE: 19 Nov 05: Vatican Official Refutes Intelligent Design. Yet another take on the argument. And there are subtle shadings of meaning between what someone like Rev. Coyne says, and what Benedict XVI says.


My wife and I were watching a program on television this afternoon, that recalled to my mind one of the 20th Century's vastly underappreciated turning points. It was about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Most of you know the story: how a rag-tag group of American college students put the beat-down on the best that the Soviet Olympic machine could put together.

For those of you who are still scratching your heads: go rent Miracle today. Yes, it's got Kurt Russell wearing jackass plaid pants. But see it anyway. It's important.

Those of you who are too young to remember what things were like 1975-1980, count yourselves lucky. Those were some pretty bleak years. We had taken some serious body-blows to our national self-image. There was the oil crisis. And disco. And inflation. And the way Vietnam ended. And disco. And the seizure of the embassy in Teheran. And did I mention disco?

Enough to destroy a man's will to live, it was. By contrast, everything the Soviets touched seemed gold. Communism was on the march everywhere. They'd pretty much overrun Southeast Asia, they were moving forward in Africa, and making inroads in Central America. And now, they were taking an active hand in Afghanistan.

Then, on a glorious February day in 1980, the tide began to turn.

We'd been beaten for so long, that we'd forgotten what it felt like to be winners. That improbable, come-from-behind win against the supposedly unbeatable Soviets started a renewal of the American spirit. A renewal of pride.

Looking back, we can see that as an important turning point. In the Cold War prior to Lake Placid, there were few victories. After Lake Placid, there were few defeats. By 1990, the Soviet Union was in obvious decline. Afghanistan had become a sucking chest wound, and Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to stabilize the patient, but to little avail. The former Warsaw Pact nations were bolting the coop as fast as they could. Two years later, most of the "Soviet" republics followed suit. Truly, it was a glorious time to behold.

And to think that it started with a bunch of stubborn college kids, and a coach in jackass plaid pants. Miracle. Was there ever a fitter title?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


This is either pure genius, or irresponsible madness. I can't quite make out which.

Behold, the Taser Cam!

On the one hand, this sort of thing is the good policeman's best friend: an honest witness. It's just an extension of the squad car video that's been standard equipment for the past few years. If a cop follows policy and does the right thing, the video will show for sure that he did the right thing, and save him lots of trouble afterwards when things go cubist.

It's also the bad cop's worst nightmare: an honest witness. If he's the sort to throw his weight around and harass innocent citizens, the video will tell the tale, and he'll reap his just reward. Cops are real popular in the Stoney Lonesome.

On the other hand ... this sort of thing just begs for abuses, in the wrong hands.

I can see these videos leaking out, and being circulated amongst drunken adolescents. Maybe even some not-so-drunken adolescents. You can be sure they'd make the rounds on the Internet. Some sad bastard is bound to loop one, sooner or later. To borrow Marv Albert's old phrase: "Let's see that again!"

I think I'll pass on that.

But in the end, I think it'll be a good thing, for the first reason stated above. There aren't too terribly many bad cops out there, but what they do makes it all the more necessary for the good cops to have as much information as they can gather, in their own defense. This gives us, the citizens, one more tool to separate the sheep from the goats. And it gives peace officers one more less-than-lethal weapon, so that they have a real choice between doing nothing, and maiming or killing.

In the end, we'll all be better off for that expansion of options.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Potpourri (i.e., a Mess o' Stuff)

I've been unable to string more than one or two coherent thoughts together lately. I blame it entirely on the weather. Fall is a simply glorious season in Texas. Sun, breeze, and temperature in near-perfect measure, excellent conditions for just about anything except swimming. And there are people who like the occasional dip even so.

So, I've been doing things like watching soccer matches and walking the dog instead of doing heavy thinking about the state of the world. Sue me.

But, some fairly important things have been going on. I'd be completely remiss if I didn't make some mention. I'll try to make sense of it, but I probably won't succeed.

Firstly, I've been holding off on commentary regarding the recent Iraqi constitutional referendum. For the first few days, I was waiting to see if it had passed. The results are ... interesting. In more ways than one. Firstly, it's a triumph for the electoral process. Turnout was even higher than in the January elections. There was very little violence on election day. This marks the third straight election that Al Quaeda has failed to deter. As far as their in-country influence goes, they're just about done. Just about the only people who still have a vested interest in seeing the insurgency succeed are the hard-left nut-bars who run the media over here. Which brings us to the next point: didja notice how sparse the coverage of the election was over here? You had to be paying close attention to see it happen at all. Mind you, we've had some hard-hitting, newsworthy disasters on our home court in the last few months. That's a partial excuse. But, I also think that there's an element in the media elite that really, really does not want to report on the fact that the new government is gaining ground over there.

Maybe they think that if they ignore the story, it'll go away.

But here's one they ignored for the first several days, but won't go away: Riots in France.

It would be easy to gloat. I've never had much use for the French government, and this is their own idiocy coming home to roost. No, the unemployed, unassimilated masses lurking in their capital's suburbs would never be a problem. No, they'd never, never rise up and bust the chops of the oh-so-nuanced and solicitous internationalists who staunchly opposed the simplisme, unilateralist Americans. Oh, no, they'd just stay put, hat in hand, and suck up the dole like good little boys and girls.

Hmm ... gloating came easier than I thought. But, after this, can there be any doubt that we're in a real fight? That we're ALL in a real fight? That appeasement won't cut it?

I mean, they found out in 1940 what appeasement gets you. Are their memories really so poor?

Maybe so. They're getting numerous wake-up calls, in the form of Gospodin Molotov's favorite mixed beverage.

The important thing to remember here, folks, is that this demographic time-bomb would have blown up in their faces, invasion of Iraq or no invasion. The poor damn French don't grok immigration. No one in Europe does. It's something they're either gonna have to figure out, or show most of the immigrants the door. It's a problem I don't really envy them.

We have centuries of experience in assimilating immigrant populations. It's who we are. It's what we do. See, there's a key difference between us, and France, and Germany, and the rest of that lot. If I were to move to France or Germany, I could never, ever become French or German. Oh, I could do so in a purely legal sense. But I would never be truly accepted. I'd always be an American ex-pat.

It's different here. Anyone can become an American. The main thing that's required, is that you want to. That's about it. If you want to badly enough, and you're willing to make it happen, you can be one of us. You can live in our neighborhoods. Your kids will go to school with ours. We'll cheer from the sidelines of the same soccer games. We'll shop in the same stores, mostly, and go to the same restaurants. We may not attend the same churches, but that's OK. There are lots of different ways of being American.

There aren't a whole hell of a lot of ways to be French.

Which is probably just as well, considering.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

From Z To Shining Z

Interesting times, indeed. The main event, of course, is the coming elections on Saturday for the Constitutional referendum. If it passes, and by all indications it ought to, that pounds yet another nail into the coffin of Zarqawi's band of merry murderers.

The insurgency isn't quite dead yet. But Al Qaeda is hurting. Badly.

We've allegedly intercepted a letter from Ayman Al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. The contents are, to say the least, interesting. There's a bit of analysis from Austin Bay, and the full text is here. (Warning! That last is a link to a PDF.)

First question: as I said in an earlier post about a letter purported to be written to Zarqawi, is this genuine? Same answer as before: probably. False letters are as dangerous as sweaty dynamite. Sure, it'll blow up. Maybe in your truck, or in your hand, and maybe even where and when you wanted it to. But it's more dangerous than it's worth.

Three interesting points to ponder.

One, the tone of the letter isn't the tone of someone who's ahead by thirty points with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. It's the tone of the coach who's way down with a few minutes left, trying to talk up his quarterback. He knows he probably can't win. What he's really trying to do at this point is limit the spread to single digits.

Sure, he talks about a roadmap for victory. But his roadmap for victory requires our cooperation. For them to win, we have to abandon Iraq. Not just pull out our soldiers. But abandon them, the way we abandoned ARVN in 1975. Herein lies a tale.

Common opinion has it that the insurgents won the war in Vietnam. That's not quite the case. South Vietnam did not fall to a guerrilla army. The Viet Cong were pretty much used up by the end of 1968. Among the other things that the Tet Offensive did, it mauled the VC something fearful. No, South Vietnam fell to mechanized infantry, armor, and artillery. A similar invasion had been repulsed in 1972, when the US committed its air support and logistical help. In 1975, air support was withheld, and ARVN was given twenty rounds and two grenades per man.

The predictable thing happened.

Just about the only way this sad tale can be repeated is if we utterly abandon Iraq. That's such a monumentally stupid thing to do that it amazes me that it's even on the table. We cannot allow that to happen. If we keep our nerve, and keep faith with such friends as we do have, we cannot lose. We may not entirely win, but we won't lose.

The second interesting point is how Zawahiri hits up Zarqawi for cash.

Read Col. Bay's commentary, and read the translated document itself. And think.

If true, this has absolutely tremendous implications.

See, one of the things that's been going on quietly, behind the scenes, is an effort to dry up Al Qaeda's money supply. Starve the beast, and eventually it'll die. Maybe not all the way dead, but still sufficiently weak that they can't do anything of any real worth.

If the Home Office is dunning the branches for donations, what does that say for their reserves? For Osama's legendary deep pockets?

Maybe those deep pockets have a few holes in them, now?

We've hurt them, folks. Hurt them bad, and hurt them where it counts. Money buys weapsons, airline tickets, mobility, access, power. No money buys air sandwiches, and not much else. They're close to running on fumes.

Lastly, Zawahiri hints at some strategic policy blunders that Zarqawi has made. We've all seen how poorly the slaughter campaign has been playing in the Muslim world. It's not making them love us, necessarily, but it's making them hate Al Quaeda, which works just as well. It appears that Zawahiri, at least, has read his Mao. But Zarqawi has not. Instead of being a fish in the sea of people, he's a bull rhino in a stock tank of people. The people hate his kind with increasing passion, and will dime them out in a heartbeat, if given a reasonable opportunity to do so. Zawahiri has noticed this, and is asking Junior Z-Man to rein in a bit on the beheadings. "Not that the infidels don't deserve it, son, but it's annoying the neighbors."

But it's too late. That boat's already left the harbor. They've seen the pitiful color of Zarqawi's money, and the Iraqi people don't want any of it.

When the end comes, it's liable to come quickly. The whole movement is living off principal, not income, and that's drying up. With the referendum this weekend, another major milestone passes. With it, yet another opportunity to reclaim the initiative slips through their grasp.

Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time to clamp on the pressure for all we're worth. Now is the time for an all-out full-court press. The harder we press, the sooner they exhaust their reserves.

They're not invincible, and time is not on their side.

We can outlast them. Their own message traffic tells us so.

Die, Smurfs! Die! DIE!

Ordinarily, I have no beef with UNICEF. They're fine folks, and their hearts are in the right place. And of course, I'm all for letting kids grow up free from fear.

But, I do have a problem with this new ad campaign, reported here by Varifrank.

You see, I hate those little blue Communist bastards. Always have.

There's a generation of American men of a certain age who are nodding their heads in agreement. We hated, HATED that animated war crime that was lyingly pushed on us as a Saturday morning cartoon. We all wanted with every fiber of our being for Gargamel to catch one, just one, spit him on a stick, and roast him over an open fire. Sadly, it never happened.

Until now.

Is it that wrong to pump your fist and bay at the moon for pure joy at this spectacle of Smurfocide?

Dunno. Maybe. But probably not.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Top Secret Fried Chicken

As a break from the ordinary, I'd like to present a new recipe I've discovered. (Mainly, I wanted to get this down someplace that I wouldn't forget it.)

Fried chicken was my favorite food, growing up. I just loved Mom's fried chicken. It probably wasn't good for me, but it was crispy, salty, and just plain good. I haven't quite re-discovered that recipe, but I'm getting close.

Here's what you need to have on hand to get started:

Chicken: I like the boneless, skinless chicken breasts. For my family, four is a good number. You can also use this recipe for other pieces of chicken. There ends up being enough batter for about eight pieces, I think.

Three eggs.

Two cups of flour.

About two cups of water. (Varies depending on desired consistency.)

Spices. This is a part that you can do a bit of experimenting with. I'll expand on that later.

You'll need a bowl, something like a Presto Fry Daddy, and a baking sheet of some kind or other. I don't know what the technical name for it is, but you'll want something big, flat, metallic, and able to take what your oven dishes out.

Anyway: Break the eggs into the bowl and whip 'em up good, like you were going to make scrambled eggs. Add the flour, and mix well. Now, add the water. I don't know the precise amount. About two cups seems right. You want something more like cake batter than bread dough. Now, add the spices. You can be creative here. I used garlic powder, lemon peel, and black pepper. Next time I try this, I'll probably add some salt, and maybe a dash or two of Tabasco for an extra little kick. You probably have a couple of spices that are near and dear to your own taste buds. But don't add too much. Spices are easy to overdo.

Now, defrost the chicken, if necessary. Coat a piece of chicken in the batter, and drop it in the Fry Daddy for a minute or two. But only a minute or two, dig? You're about to do something very clever with that baking sheet. After a minute or two in the Fry Daddy, put the chicken on the baking sheet. Repeat this until all of your chicken is on the baking sheet.

At this point, your oven needs to have been preheated to 400 degrees. Put the chicken in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. When it comes out, it'll be nice and crispy on the outside, and tender and juicy on the inside. Yum!

Also, you can fry up the batter by itself. Use a spoon to dribble bits of it into the Fry Daddy, and scoop the fried bits out of the oil after a couple of minutes. Bake it along with the chicken. It's tasty and crunchy. Probably not good for you, but tasty and crunchy nevertheless.

Of course, if you don't even like fried chicken, this recipe is completely useless to you. But if you do, it's probably worth trying. Recommended.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Moonward Ho!

Last week, NASA announced its plan to return to the moon.

The link takes you to NASA's site describing the hardware involved. Some of it ought to look more than a little bit familiar.

On the face of it, taking the Shuttle rocket systems apart and jamming them back together like so many Legos sounds ludicrous. But ... it's not a half-bad idea.

Look: the primary lesson we can take away from our experience with the Shuttle is that parallel staging is nothing but trouble. Both times we lost an orbiter, it was because of the hazards inherent in parallel staging. An O-ring burn-through is what killed Challenger, and insulation shedding is what did Columbia in. If the Orbiter had been designed such that it rode atop the External Tank, the Columbia accident could never have happened the way it did.

Now, take another look at the CEV stack. (It's on the right.) SRB on bottom, cryogenic stage in the middle, and the "Son Of CSM" CEV manned module on top. If something goes cubist with one of the lower two stages, the astronauts can jet away with an escape tower. That's proven tech, folks. We never had to use one with Apollo, but the Russians have had to make use of escape rockets, and they really do work.

Looking at the proposed heavy-lift model (it's on the left), we see that the SRBs and External Tank are side-by-side, just like we do it now. But, we've pretty much fixed the O-ring burn-through problem. They'll have to find a brand new way to screw that one up. And the cargo rides up on top. The foam can shed 'till the cows come home, and never hit anything important.

There's evidence of a lesson learned, here. Because we did something quite foolish at the end of the Apollo program in the early 1970s.

We threw all of that old, proven hardware away.

By electing to start from a completely clean sheet of paper, we thought we'd be able to realize some measure of economy by developing completely new technology. But, at the same time, we lost the opportunity to leverage from what we'd learned from building and flying the Apollo/Saturn hardware. We threw away a booster with an absolutely spotless flight record! Every time the Saturn V flew, it put its payload in orbit. A perfect record. You don't see that very often.

What they're doing right here, in my opinion, is leveraging what the American taxpayer has already bought and paid for. We don't need to blow R&D money on a new heavy-lift booster. We've already got one, for the most part, we just need to reconfigure it a bit. We don't need a completely new manned booster. We just need to use what we've already built a little more creatively.

Some might deride this approach as low-tech. Me, I see it as being good stewards of the public's money, using what we've already got to get where we want to go. Using known, proven technology to get the job done. No vaporware. No unobtainium. No dumping massive amounts of cash down a money pit for five or ten years, only to discover that you just can't get there from here.

Well, we can get there from here. What man has done, man can aspire to.

When I was a boy, I saw men walking on the Moon, live on TV. Not many can say that they chose their college major at five years of age, but I did. I always wanted the chance to do that, myself. I probably won't get it -- I'll be 51 in 2018, after all -- but it does warm the heart to know that the Stars and Stripes will once again be planted on extraterrestrial soil.

It is good to see us dare great things, again.

UPDATE: Holy Pimp-Slap, Batman! Now, it's important not to read more into what Dr. Griffin said than he actually meant. He's not saying anything that many of us in the aerospace community haven't already been saying for years: the Shuttle is a seriously compromised design, and always has been. But there's also a side point that ought to be stressed. With the imminent phase-out of the Shuttle, NASA gets a lot of budgetary breathing room. That's where the funds for this new initiative will come from. So, the answer to the inevitable question, "Where's the money come from?" is "Same place it always has." There's no new funding here, just a re-allocation of what NASA already gets.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Back to the Final Frontier (revisited)

I don't often plug products or services. In fact, I don't think I have ever done so. But in this case, I'll make an exception.

The product I'm talking about is Orbiter, a bit of software from Dr. Martin Schweiger of London, England.

For one, it's free. For another, the system requirements for the bare-bones version are quite modest. And finally, I can think of no better way to play armchair astronaut.

It's quite realistic. It's a faithful reproduction of what it's like to fly into, in, and back from space. The learning curve is fairly steep, even for those of us who know our orbital mechanics fairly well. But there are a lot of tools included to help you out. If you're reasonably bright, and you persevere, you'll figure it out.

If you're a flight sim aficionado, it's a must-have. Recommended.

Can do!

We see today from CNN that the Corps of Engineers has patched the broken levees.

This isn't surprising. There are government agencies that can't seem to find their butts with both hands and a map (coughcoughFEMAcough), but when the Corps of Engineers gets marching orders to make something happen, it happens. Mind you, the hard part of that job has just barely begun. Now they have to pump out all the water that came through. But they'll get that done, too. It'll take them a bit of time and a lot of work, but they'll get it done, and quite probably sooner than you might expect.

Difficult jobs, they do immediately. For the impossible, they'd prefer a week's notice.

Let's all raise a glass and toast the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They've made invaluable contributions to the nation's health and welfare, both in war and in peace. We're lucky that our nation's founders had the foresight to establish such a group, and that our leaders since have continued to keep them on the payroll.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Back From the Final Frontier

Some long-delayed thoughts on the recent Space Shuttle mission:

On the one hand, I am a bit disappointed that they were so ready to call off all future missions.

On the other hand, it's somewhat refreshing to see that they're actually paying attention to their flight safety rules.

But on the gripping hand, isn't it way past time to put that sucker up on blocks and build something new? Preferably before it manages to smoke another crew.

Expanding one at a time:

One of my gripes about modern America is how we've become almost obsessively risk-averse. We won't dare anything, if there's a chance of something bad happening. We insist on perfect safety. We insist on absolute reliability. When I look back on who we were forty and fifty years ago, it makes me want to cry, sometimes. Once, we were a people who were prepared to pay any price, bear any burden, dare any deed. Say what you want about John Kennedy's policies, he was a man who called his nation to dream big and dare great things. If we would fail, at least we would fail grandly. If we were to miss, it wouldn't be because we didn't aim high enough. Now, far too often, it seems as though we set low goals, and fail to achieve them.

On the other hand ...

NASA's problems also stem from an eagerness to rush ahead when they've got good reason to suspect that not everything is quite as it should be. Such as, for instance, launching a mission when icicles were hanging off the Orbiter the day before launch. Prudence, in the form of properly-written and observed mission rules, might dictate that you hold on a bit. "Go-fever" always says, go ahead! That's what lost us Challenger. Remember my diatribe about Blaine Hammond a few posts back? How the position of Safety Officer seemed like a dumping-ground for unwanted talent? Maybe, just maybe, that's changed. If that's the case, this may actually turn out to be an encouraging development. A sign that the powers that be really got it this time.

But on the gripping hand ...

Isn't this latest grounding of the Shuttle simply an acknowledgement that it's time to let this old dog go to sleep? When the design was frozen, gas was cheap, no one had ever even heard of disco, and I still thought girls had cooties. That was over thirty years ago, people! It's getting harder and harder to find spare parts for the bloody thing! Ever try to find a water pump for a '73 Buick? Yeah, good luck with that.

Look, it was a marvelous vehicle in its day. It was a bold experiment. We thought that one multi-faceted vehicle would be able to cover all of America's space launch needs. As it's turned out, that isn't true. It couldn't. And now, in its old age, we're finding that it can't even put people into space reliably.

What we need is a vehicle designed according to a whole new concept. A design that's operations-driven, not performance-driven.

Consider a Maserati: a performance-driven design if ever there was one. When it's running right, there's nothing that moves quite like it. But it takes an awful lot of TLC from a highly-skilled mechanic to make it run right.

But on the other hand, consider a Honda: not precisely built for speed. It moves, but that's about all you can say for it. But, it won't darken a mechanic's door for the first two or three years that you own it. THAT'S operations-driven design.

NASA doesn't seem to get it, yet. But that's OK. There are several who do. Rutan does. Elon Musk of SpaceX does. So do a few others. There are enough of them, and their backers have sufficiently deep pockets, that in ten years the center of gravity of the American space effort will be in private industry, not in government laboratories. And where they lead, NASA will be compelled to follow.

A bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone. Maybe that's what's been missing, all along.

Baked Apple, anyone?

I'm not an exceptionally prolific poster to begin with, but I didn't intend to skip the entire month of August. My house was hit by lightning on August 5, knocking out my phone line, and frying my old reliable iMac DV SE, that I've had since '00 or thereabouts. It's taken this long to get back online.

Not that I'm complaining. After seeing what the lightning did, I'm darn lucky the house didn't burn down.

So... I'm back up and running, this time with a cheapo Dell. Which is working out surprisingly well, actually. I've had it about a week now, and I'm quite happy with how it's working so far.

In any case, the rants will resume shortly.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The King in Yellow

Well, he's just about done it again. There's not much else to say.

The story of his recovery from cancer hsa been told almost ad nauseam, but I don't think it's possible to over-emphasize the magnitude of his achievement.

Coming back to good health from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain would have been a pretty inspiring story all by itself. He didn't have more than a 50-50 shot at sucking air a year after his diagnosis, much less walking or even riding.

But that wasn't enough. Not only did he recover, but he returned to his former job as a professional athlete.

But that wasn't enough. He entered the Tour de France in 1999, arguably the world's most punishing athletic event, and won. Not three years after being damn near dead, he won. And kept on winning, for an utterly unprecedented six straight years, soon to be seven. I seriously doubt that we'll see his like again in our lifetimes.

But, at the close of his incredible career, I find myself looking forward in anticipation.

For the past several years, the outcome has been something of a foregone conclusion. No one was hard enough, tough enough, or strong enough to beat Lance for twenty-four racing days in July. He's so far ahead of his competitors that no one can touch him. He's been known to pass other riders in time trials where they start two minutes apart! Think on that -- he can start two minutes behind, and beat the next guy to the finish line. That's dominance, folks.

But netx year, it's wide open.

For the last seven years, we've been watching the field fight like mad for the only two podium spots realistically open to them. But next year, the top spot is up for grabs. Will Jan Ullrich sack up and prove to be the natural bookends to the Lance Armstrong era? Or will Ivan Basso, who has come up second two years straight, take command? (That's the way I'd bet.) Or will someone we haven't heard of yet come from nowhere and surprise us?

It's going to be a righteous scrum next year. The King has had an incredible, legendary seven-year run, but tomorrow, the crown will be laid at the finish line. We'll have to wait twelve months to find out who the next King will be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

This Just In

Just last week, I wrote about our new treaty with India. Well, we've got another pal to add to the list:


That's pretty sweet, since it gives us a commanding location with respect to the Straits of Malacca. Given the growing piracy problem there, that's a good deal for Singapore. They need help, and signing up the world's most powerful navy is a smart move for them. And they've got a pretty sharp little force themselves, so it gives us a useful friend in an important spot.

It's also another shot across China's bow. If they get jiggy, they just might have a spot of trouble getting oil tankers through. They'd have to go from the Persian Gulf, past India, through the straits of Malacca ... any of those places sound familiar?

Thought so.

Mind you, Singapore would be just as happy if things didn't spiral down the drain so precipitously. They also have fairly decent relations with China, and would like to keep it that way. But that's OK. We're recruiting allies, not client states. And come to think of it, we'd be just as happy keeping things nice and peaceful, too. The whole point of this exercise is to throw just a bit more confusion and uncertainty into the thought processes of the Chinese General Staff. The more uncertain the outcome of a military engagement, the less likely anyone's liable to pull the trigger.

Containment, while it does not work for fanatics or madmen, works just fine with folks who are within shouting distance of rational. And that looks to be what we're after, here.

Someone's doing some damn fine work over at State. I'd be somewhat less than heartbroken if she wound up with a bit of a promotion in November 2008.

The Free Man's Burden

This is a habit I simply must break. Great literature should not be toyed with. However, even the greatest of poems can be improved with a new era's perspective. In a slightly different form than the original, it still has much to say to us. And so:

The Free Man's Burden

with apologies to Rudyard Kipling

TAKE up the Free Man's burden -
Send forth the best ye breed -
Go bind your children to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild -
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Take up the Free Man's burden -
In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the Free Man's burden -
The savage wars of peace -
Fill full the mouth of famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the Free Man's burden -
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper -
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead !

Take up the Free Man's burden -
And reap his old reward,
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard -
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah slowly !) towards the light:-
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
"Our loved Egyptian night ?"

Take up the Free Man's burden -
Ye dare not stoop to less -
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

Take up the Free Man's burden -
Have done with childish days -
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgement of your peers.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Back to the Final Frontier

On Wednesday, July 13, if all goes well, the good ship Discovery will light off its solid boosters and climb into space, the first American manned space flight since Columbia disintegrated during re-entry on February 1, 2003.

Despite my slightly conflicted feelings about NASA, this is a good thing. When a horse throws you, the thing to do is get back on and ride as soon as possible. It's poison to be ruled by your fears.

On the other hand, you really oughtn't to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

On the surface, the Columbia and Challenger accidents don't seem to be too much alike. But, if you look behind the curtain at the management decisions that made the failures possible -- even probable -- disturbing similarities come to light.

There were some unsettling pre-shocks in Bryan Burrough's book Dragonfly. In an organization where safety is a priority, you'd expect that the Safety Officer to be one of the most respected astronauts. Someone with a lot of experience, someone whose ability and reputation were beyond reproach. NASA's Safety Officer was none other than ... Blaine Hammond. An able man, certainly, but one who was marked (probably unfairly) as a washout. He'd never get another flight if he stayed with NASA for another hundred years. So why was he Safety Officer? Quite possibly because no one really paid any attention to the Safety Officer.

It's worth noting that Dragonfly was written in 1999, a full FOUR YEARS before the Columbia incident.

Yes, sports fans, four years. Those of us who were paying attention knew that something was rotten in Denmark, but were utterly powerless to do anything worthwhile about it. We were relegated to crossing our fingers and praying.

So in hindsight, it's plain that the moment something went south, disaster could not be too far behind.

Back in the day, that sort of jackassery would not have been tolerated. They ran a proper shop back in the days of Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz. Important information was disseminated as soon as possible, to anyone who needed to know. They brought the crew of Apollo 13 home alive and (mostly) well, depsite massive damage to half the ship.

Not so in the oh-so-modern CYA era. Denied were the photos that would have told the engineers the real state of the vehicle. Not even on the table were measures to attempt a rescue, if the worst was indeed true. The true extent of the damage could well have become known in time, and Columbia could have gone into a low-consumption mode, awaiting rescue by Atlantis. They'd have had to gone to three shifts at KSC to get the work done in time, but it could have been done.

We can only hope that the appropriate lessons have been learned for real this time. It's a dangerous enough business as it is, without preventable errors creeping in.

But I do have guarded hope in the future. The new Administrator, Michael Griffin, seems to be dedicated to fixing what's broke with NASA.

I can't say that I know Dr. Griffin, although I do own a couple of his books. He's well known, with good reason, as a scientific and technical expert. He quite literally wrote the book on spacecraft design, and it's a pretty good book, too. He's also got some administrative and political chops; he was President-Elect of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics when he was tapped for the top job at NASA. He's got a clear vision of what NASA ought to be doing, and how it ought to be done. The things he's doing are, for the most part, what I'd do if I were ever appointed Head Dictator over the American space program. Wielding a great red axe at the top Center levels, as he's done, is a good start.

So. At long last, we're back in the manned space flight business, after yet another hiatus. And just like last time, this will probably be the safest mission for the next decade, with nothing left to chance. Barring unforseen disasters, we can expect a good, safe flight. And even if something does go slightly cubist, Eileen Collins has some of the best hands in the business. If anyone could bring a sick bird home, she could.

Let's hope the hurricanes stay away for the next couple of weeks. Good luck and Godspeed to the crew of Discovery.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Our Newest Ally

Today was a very good day.

Why? Because somebody in Washington is looking ahead, that's why. I don't really care who. I'm interested in results.

Here's the deal: terrorists are a short-term nuisance, not a long-term strategic threat. They can only become a long-term strategic threat if we ignore them or fail to deal with them. As long as we keep our nerve, they cannot win.

There does exist a long-term strategic threat, though. One that hasn't gotten much airplay recently.

Who would that be, you ask?


Don't let the growing "market" economy fool you. It's still a repressive dictatorship. Chinese people do not enjoy basic freedoms that we take for granted. We know from Tiananmen Square what measures the government is willing to take to keep up the repression. What we don't know, and don't really want to find out, is what measures they're willing to take against their neighbors to prop up the regime at home.

But we now have a powerful new friend that we can count on to keep China in check. Who might that be?

Why, India.

India? When we think of India, we think of the teeming slums of New Delhi, or Calcutta. But that's changing. India's economy is also growing. They have a fairly well-educated work force. They have a strong warrior tradition, and therefore, a pretty good Army. They took good notes while the British were in charge, and kept the best of their practices. And, their technical schools are first-rate. The Indian Institutes of Technology are in the same tier as MIT as far as engineering schools go.

So, although they're not a Great Power yet, they're certainly an up-and-comer. Which is why this treaty is so very important for our future.

It's always good for a superpower to have an understudy. Britain did, while they were on top of the heap. It worked out well for them. Even though WWI and WWII between them cost Britain her empire, she was able to retain her prestige, thanks to her close relationship with her one-time protege, the United States.

Up to now, we really didn't have an ally with which we could have that sort of relationship. A nation that shared many of our traditions and values, but was on the upswing of their power curve.

Mind you, this is just a start. It's not a mutual defense treaty yet, though it will probably become one. And India gets a lot of goodies out of this, too. Access to technology, for a start. It would not astonish me to see India added to the list of nations being offered the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, once that goes into production. Nor would I be amazed if they managed to get in on the AL-1 project at some point. And, of course, there are the ever-popular joint training exercises. It gives us a chance to joust against former Warsaw Pact merchandise of the sort that China still fields.

Yes, this is a very good development. You can never have too many good, strong friends.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Damn You, Dick Durbin!

The furor over Dick Durbin's remarks on the Senate floor have largely come and gone, but they won't soon be forgotten.

One telling post over at VodkaPundit has produced some interesting comments, the most telling being this bit:

"Guys like Durbin are why I just can't take the Dems seriously when it comes to matters of national security." -- RandMan

Do note that people like RandMan may be in line with the Democrats' position on many social issues. But when one party is perceived to lack the desire, or even the WILL, to defend the Republic, social issues take a back seat to survival.

Here, gentlemen, is the payoff for spurning military affairs for the past three decades. While we have spent three decades running like scalded dogs from anything in a uniform, the Republican Party has made the military its own private playground. Ask virutally any young man in uniform which sort of politician has his best interests at heart, and he's far more likely to answer "Republican" or "None" before he responds "Democrat".

That oughtta tell you something. It oughtta tell you that we desperately need to change our thinking.

Durbin has proven himself to be a prime example of the bad, old thinking.

Mind you, we do need to do some serious, adult-level thinking about what to do about Guantanamo in the long run. It's obvious that keeping detainees in some indeterminate, in-between status cannot be done indefinitely. Eventually, as soon as practical in fact, they need to be either tried and sentenced, or released. But that's an issue I would like to save for another day.

The question is, how can Democrats approach this issue, and not appear to be raving lunatics?

Here's the problem: we may oppose the war all we like, but the ugly fact remains THAT WE ARE BLOODY WELL THERE!

That particular can of whoop-ass cannot be unpoured, once the pop-top has been popped and the contents emptied out all over someone else's real estate.

We must start with the ground-level reality that we are, in fact, engaged in combat operations and trying to rebuild a society that's been broken.

Point Numero Uno: The very worst thing we can do at this point is walk away right now. That virtually guarantees that people we don't like will win. Not that staying will guarantee that people we like WILL win, but staying increases those odds. Now that we're there, against what we might consider to be all sorts of good advice, we must see the thing through. Why? Why throw good money after bad? Because, part of Al-Qaeda's philosophy is based on the "fact" that Americans will always cut and run when the body bags start coming in. They learned that from our behavior in Vietnam, and in Somalia. We haven't the guts for street-level fighting. Eventually, we'll get sick of it, and go home.

We simply MUST break this image. We will have no peace until our enemies come to the realization that we WILL seek them out wherever they are, and stay as long as it takes to destroy their ability to do us harm. Reagan was half right. We must make them believe that they can neither run nor hide.

Point Numero Two-O: The second worst thing we can do is announce any kind of time-table for withdrawal. That's just the previous case, postponed. The enemy will know exactly how long they must lay low and conserve their strength, before their victory is assured.

What makes Durbin's comments so poisonous is that they can have only one purpose: they sicken the American public's will to see this matter through to its end.

Why, Senator? Why do you want to see us beaten? Not merely the American soldiers fighting in Iraq, but your own party here at home? Do you WANT the Republicans to own the White House for another generation? With every such comment, Senator, you give them more ammunition to use against us.

There are a couple of things that I think Democrats ought to be doing, if they ever expect to be taken seriously on national security again.

First: excise the words "Quagmire" and "Vietnam" from your vocabulary. A flat desert has damn little in common with a hilly jungle. And in the end, the NVA only won because we refused to support ARVN like we had promised to do. We have to stay in this for the duration. Our future as a major power depends on it.

Second: It does us no damn good at all to heap scorn on the President's policies unless we have something positive to put in their place. What, precisely, would we do in his place? Specifics, gentlemen. Do we really have any better ideas on what to do? If not, we'd bloody well better get some.

There's been some work in this direction. Take a look at the Truman National Security Project, and at the Arsenal of Democracy, if you haven't already.

We've got to get to where we're taken seriously in military and foreign affairs again, or we're lost as a national party. And that's got to happen soon.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Father's Day

In a bit of a reversal on the usual custom for the day, I'd like to offer a post in honor of my daughter.

IF (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of trials surpassed,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Woman, my lass!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Breakout and Pursuit

This has been an interesting week, mostly for the action surrounding Operation Matador in Iraq.

The War on Terror can be thought of in some ways as a conventional military campaign. There are elements that are decidedly UNconventional, and those may prove to be decisive, but the parts that we CAN see conform in some ways to the conventional model.

Afghanistan was essentially a Reconnaissance-in-Force. Although there were important strategic reasons for hitting Afghanistan -- we simply HAD to attack and eliminate Al-Qaeda's training and support infrastructure -- we also gained a great deal of information on our enemies. It's arguable whether or not the invasion of Iraq was necessary, but having done the deed, we were able to turn that into a Meeting Engagement, which we were better suited for doctrinally than our enemies were. The climax of that phase was Fallujah in November 2004, but in some sense the operations since then have followed the same theme.

But, meeting engagements don't last forever. One side runs out of something. It's either fighting men, food, water, munitions, the will to fight, or any combination, but once they're out of it, they're done. They stop fighting, and start running.

Then, you get into a very interesting and fluid phase sometimes called Breakout and Pursuit. It's not a complete analogy, mind you, but it seems to fit current events quite well. With the conclusion of Operation Matador, we sit astride the insurgency's lines of supply for cash, recruits, and armament. Armament they don't sweat so much. There's scads of that stuff left over from the old regime. Cash and recruits, now ... They're gonna hurt for those, and possibly soon.

We also have reports now of schisms within Al-Qaeda itself. This is very good news, if true. It speaks, partially, to the morale problems Al-Qaeda has been experiencing in Iraq. It also seems to indicate that those problems are spreading. There was talk a few years ago of Al-Qaeda recruiting armies of non-Arab muslims to do their bidding. Now it seems that such talk was premature, if not completely off-base from the start.

Which brings up the question, "Now what?" Well, I don't know, exactly. As I said, breakout and pursuit is a very fluid thing. It can even be temporary, if the pursuit is not maintained and the enemy can find new bases and sancturaries. But the guys running this show are well aware of that, and will keep the screws on with a vengeance.

The critical battlefield now is not a place as such. The critical battlefield now is the morale and resolve of every American citizen. Truly, that was always the case, but it is more true now that we are in such a fluid phase. The key thing to remember now is that, provided only that we maintain our resolve, WE WILL WIN. They're on the run. Keeping up the pressure may be expensive. There may be temporary reverses. There's still plenty of hard work ahead. But not as much hard work as we've already got behind us. It helps to keep a sense of perspective. Fifteen hundred of our best is a grim price, but ...

Fifteen hundred. Two years in Iraq. Tea-time at Gettysburg.

Stout hearts, citizens! Freedom will yet carry the day!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

According to CNN, we've managed to intercept a letter purportedly intended for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Read the whole thing, and let it sink in.

Now, some points to ponder:

First, is this genuine? It seems reasonable that it would be. It's dangerous to fake something like this. When it comes out (and it's always when, not if), it's like handing ammunition to your enemy. Rather like, oh, those bogus National Guard memos from the campaign last year. It's only out of the kindness of his heart that Kerry hasn't put out a hit on the people responsible for that goat-rope. No, it's probably genuine. We snagged his laptop not too long ago, and have his entire electronic rolodex. We know who he's been making contact with lately, and have been rolling them up as fast as we can. This letter is fallout from that seizure.

Second, there's evidence of a bit of blowback for Cap'n Z for having decamped so expeditiously from Fallujah. This sort of thing never plays well. To this day, there are people who refer to General MacArthur as "Dugout Doug" for having bailed out of the Phillippines. He managed to salvage his reputation -- victory covers a multitude of sins. However, when all you can see of your Fearless Leaders are butts and heels, even fanatics can hit a bit of a slump. One of the functions of leadership is rallying the troops, and it's rarely so important as when your side is suffering a reversal of fortunes. This letter seems to indicate that al-Qaeda in Iraq is falling short on leadership.

Third, despite the continued bombings and violence, it's clear who has the momentum. And it's not Zarqawi. In any struggle, you can generally tell who has the momentum. They're the ones who are acting. Mind you, the terrorists had the initiative at one point, due to the fact that the post-invasion planning was so lackadaisical. The Coalition forces were reacting to the insurgency, not the other way around. They moved around the country at will, and had many safe areas. This included entire cities. We managed to get our act together, though, and things began to shift in Summer 2004. The momentum shifted decisively in Fallujah, during November 2004. That was a key tipping point, because it set up the environment that was necessary for the January elections to succeed. Having seized the momentum, we're keeping it. The new Iraq is taking firmer and firmer shape all the time, with new milestones seen almost daily. Today, for instance, we saw the installation of the new cabinet. With each passing day, the government gains power and legitimacy, while the terrorists gain more and more enemies. And their response? More bombings, more violence.

Didn't someone say once that a good definition for insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result?

All this adds up to an insurgency that's on its desperate last legs. And since the ex-Baathists threw in with Zarqawi, this might well pertain to them, as well.

There will probably be low-level violence for years. But a point will come when terrorist action becomes indistinguishable from garden-variety criminality. And I don't expect to have to wait all that long for that.

No, not all that long at all.

Especially with the opposition's leaders cowering under bridges, for fear of being seen in clear daylight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Expensive Hardware Lobbing

In honor of the roll-out of Discovery to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I offer the following walk on the lighter side of space exploration. To wit:

The history of planetary exploration, as written by a sports journalist.

It's a shame that they stop at Mars. There are four other planets to consider. But, the play-by-play wouldn't be quite as interesting.

Every so often, I get the urge to give that a shot. Here's a first cut.


Earth has stolen a commanding 0-7 lead on the king of the planets, beginning with the Pioneer 10 spacecraft in 1973, and ending the current series with a stupendous performance by Galileo in the mid to late 1990s. That last looked for a while as if it would be Jupiter's first goal in the match, when its antenna failed to deploy properly, but masterful play on Earth's part saved the streak.


Saturn has fared little better, dropping four staight to Earth. Pioneer 11, along with Voyagers 1 and 2, grabbed three quick goals in the early 1980s. A lengthy delay followed, prompting many fans to wonder if Saturn would ever get a chance at a rematch. Earth obliged with the Cassini probe, which scored a successful goal in late 2004.


Uranus has only hosted one match to date, dropping a flyby to Voyager 2 in 1986. Earth leads this series 0-1.


Neptune, like Uranus, has only had one test, with the same result. Voyager 2 earned Earth a goal in 1989, becoming the only player ever to score four goals in succession. Voyager 2 has since gone on to a lengthy retirement tour, but still calls home regularly.


Pluto has yet to host a match. The New Horizons probe is due for launch soon, however, so eager sports fans are watching their calendars for 2014 or thereabouts.

Comets, Asteroids, Minor Planets

In minor league news, there have been few results to report. Giotto slipped one in on Halley's Comet in 1986, giving Earth a quick 0-1 lead. Deep Space 1 edged out a squeaker, almost dropping the goal to failures in the navigation system. NEAR followed that up with a commanding tour-de-force at Eros, extending Earth's lead to 0-3. Genesis carried out a successful comet rendezvous to bring the score to 0-4, but sustained serious injuries sliding in to home plate.

And that's it for the sporting report. Good night!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Morality of Shields

I'd like to clarify something I wrote in my post on stupid intel tricks.

Specifically, the tone of the fourth and last item in that list.

It's a very serious topic, and some of you may not understand how anyone could be flippant about it. I understand. With me, it's a coping mechanism, more or less. Those of you of a certain age understand what I mean. Some things, if you can't laugh, you'll start crying and you might not be able to stop.

Atomic energy has, on the balance, proven a boon to civilization. It provides us a way of producing electricity without filling the air we breathe and the water we drink with industrial poison. If it's ever allowed to come into its own here in America, it can change lives for the better.

Atomic weapons ... are more problematic. On the one hand, I probably wouldn't even be alive without them. Had World War II lasted enough, my father probably would have had to participate in Operation Downfall, and may not have lived through the experience. He'd already survived bailing out of two airplanes. There's no reason to think he'd be three times lucky.

On the other hand, they are the most destructive weapons ever devised. Broadly, vastly, indiscriminately destructive. The only value they have is indimidation, the threat of wide scale annihilation.

They did manage to enforce a fragile peace between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We knew, they knew, that we could never cross swords directly. That way lay death in unimaginable numbers. The utter destruction of everything either side might have been fighting to protect. It was only imaginable in extremis. And, it stained the souls of everyone that considered the problem deeply.

I can only speak for myself on that. But I do know that I have seen the gates of Hell cracked open, and I have looked inside.

For ten years, I was able to put that nightmare vision aside. Between the end of the Cold War and the recent nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, I was able to forget those visions of horror.

See, here's the thing that I don't like: if some nut lobs a missile at us, even by accident, we only have one option open to us. It's what we've solemnly sworn to do for over half a century, now. We will bomb the perpetrators until they glow in the dark for the next ten thousand years.

I find it morally unacceptable that our only option in such a situation is mass murder. But since it is our only option, we must be prepared to make it happen, if it's forced upon us. I sure as hell don't have to like it, though.

How much better it would be, if we were somehow able to keep a stray missile from finding a home. How much better, if we could swat it down in flight, and keep it from erasing San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Portland, or Sacramento. We would have so many more options, in such a case. A successful intercept, followed up by a surgical strike on the offending installations, would send a powerful message to anyone contemplating a similar move.

So why in the eternal name of God are so many people so violently opposed to America's attempt to attain such a system? Why is there such knee-jerk dismissal of such research as destabilizing?

Here's a thing that I find both repellent and curious: the most vehement opponents of missile defense aren't the ones who think it will not work. They're afraid that it WILL. They're afraid that it will provide an effective layer of defense, and provoke an arms race. Therefore, they contend that such a defense is immoral.

Again: the status quo is that our only defense against nuclear strike is the promise of swift and certain thermonuclear genocide. How is that more moral than deploying interceptor missiles and laser-armed aircraft?

In the end, I believe that it is always more moral to threaten things than people. It is more moral to swat an unmanned missile out of the air than promise fiery death to millions who've never done us any harm.

For those of you who still oppose missile defense, convince me of what I've missed in the paragraph above.

THEN we'll talk.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Requiem Donum Est, Domine, Et Lux Perpetuae

Karol Josef Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II, was a giant of the late 20th Century.

I don't agree with everything he said. He was a staunch conservative in the Roman Catholic tradition. Not surprising, really, given his position. He could be obstinately unbending.

But, as with many other important people, you can at least partially judge a man by the enemies he's accumulated.

He fought the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland as a young man, when it would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to just stand by and let it pass. Upon his elevation to the Papacy, he became a beacon of hope and freedom to many who groaned under the oppression of Communism in Eastern Europe. So much so, that he emboldened the Solidarity movement in Poland to do more than just talk. So much so, that the KGB tried to have him assassinated in 1981.

It's almost tautological that if the KGB wanted a man dead, he HAD to have been doing SOMETHING right.

He was very much an activist in his Papacy. He reached out across denominational boundaries, doing as much for the cause of Christian ecumenism as any other man I'm aware of.

And, agree with him or no, his championship of the worth of human life is consistent, end-to-end. He's fighting out his last hours to the last breath, the last gasp, as a testament to what he believes it's worth. Another might have given up when their health began to fail. Another might have resigned his office, at least. Not him. He's staying until his Boss says he's done.

We're losing a great man today. A man of tremendous courage and resolve, a true servant of Christ and His Church. We're diminished by his loss, even us Presbyterians.

I don't envy the next Pope at all. He's got a huge pair of shoes to fill.

You've lived long and labored hard, papa. May God gently speed you to your well-earned rest.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Stupid Intel Tricks

That title is a bit harsher than what I actually have to say, but it will have to do. Besides, I've always liked the "Stupid Tricks" motif.

Several intelligence reports have come out in recent months. There was the final report of the 9/11 commission, back before the election. And now, we've got a report on the Iraq intelligence that was used in 2003 as a casus belli. I'm not linking any of them. They're easy enough to find if you go in for that sort of thing. But there are a few general points I'd like to make. They're all things I've been chewing over for months, and this seemed as good a time as any to go over them.

Point the first: "Being wrong" isn't the same thing as "lying".

This is something I have to remind my daughter of from time to time. Although they are alike in that both involve your having said something that was at variance with reality, there is nevertheless a vital difference. The people who said Columbus was crazy to sail east to find a new path to the Orient because the world was flat weren't lying. They were saying what they truly believed to be true. They were incorrect, but sincere. In his turn, when Columbus said that he'd discovered a new path to the Orient, he wasn't lying, he was just flat-out wrong. He'd discovered America, not China. But again, he was sincere. Sincerely wrong, but sincere.

What's all that in aid of? Well, I think that all the people crying, "Bush lied!" aren't really right. They're sincere in their detestation and hatred of the President, but I think they're wrong in saying that he lied. Granted, the intelligence he used as a justification for going to war was wrong. Vastly incorrect. But he, and everyone he worked with, thought it was correct. Just about everybody thought that Saddam had some sort of WMD program going on. After all, he wouldn't go to such absurd lengths of hide-and-seek with the UN inspectors to hide nothing, would he?

Actually, yes, he would. We found that out the hard and expensive way. Not as hard or as expensive for us as for Saddam, but hard and expensive enough for any ordinary purpose.

But, that's known as "being wrong", not "lying". He thought that to be the case, and acted on the best information he had at the time. Knowing what I knew then, I supported that decision. And in the end, it may still work out OK. But it was a decision made on faulty premises. That is something to bear in mind.

Point the second: It's not always what you don't know that will bite you, it's what you KNOW that ain't so.

Most of us have enough native common sense to keep our hands in our pockets when faced with something we know nothing about. No, what really lands our essentials in the grinder are the things we know with iron-clad certainty that are actually total bat puckey. That's what makes Intelligence so interesting, and so dangerous. We are rarely certain of what we know. What do we know, how well do we know it, and how do we know it to be true anyway? Some kinds of intelligence we do quite well indeed. We're probably the world's best when it comes to image intelligence, or signals, or things of that sort. The techno-geek stuff, we've got in spades. Lately, though, we have tended to come up short on good old-fashioned human intelligence. Agents in place, feet on the ground in places that we need eyes-on-target information about. The right ears listening to the right conversations. The sorts of things that we can use to corroborate bits and pieces of information we get elsewhere. Without that, it's easy to get into sticky situations where you end up acting on information that you're sure of, but that isn't factually correct.

Such as the cruise missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998. There's evidence to suggest that OBL's crew hoaxed up those cell-phone calls, knowing Uncle Sam would be listening in. That's only one recent example.

This is something we have GOT to start doing better.

Point the third: Given that good, reliable information is so rare, a doctrine of pre-emption can be a very dangerous thing.

Intelligence data can't be thought of as nice, clean points on a graph. The points are there, all right, but they have big, fat error bars attached. Now, the premise undergirding any doctrine of pre-emption is that we know what the other guy is up to. The problem is, that's not always the case. A phrase we've heard a lot of lately is "actionable intelligence". It's a very hard thing to get. Intelligence that's truly good enough for you to act upon with a high degree of success is a very rare thing indeed. We had it in 1942, when we were reading the Japanese Navy codes almost as though they were broadcasting in the clear. We gave them a right splendid mauling at Midway that summer, and they never suspected that their codes were compromised. That was proper intel work, that was. But that's a very unusual situation. More often, we have situations like the Song Tay prison camp raid during the Vietnam war. Our special forces were able to infiltrate undetected, only to find that the prisoners had been moved out the week before. Tactically brilliant, but the undergirding intel was flawed.

Jumping the gun on bad intel can sometimes have disastrous consequences. Take the situation in 1984, for instance, when Soviet intelligence was reading a routine series of NATO exercises as a prelude to war. What if they'd taken that as actionable? The consequences would have been monstrously ugly. So much so, that their political leadership opted to take one more look at the situation, and see how things developed ... with the result that we're all still here.

And that's probably the first, last, and only time that I'll ever have anything good to say about that lot of miserable bastards.

Anyhow, I think it's pretty plain that in order to be usable for a doctrine of pre-emption, your intelligence has to be absolutely pristine. Not just pretty good. Not just indicative. It's got to be spot-on, unquestionably reliable. And even then, you're liable to make mistakes.

On the other hand, what if the consequence of not taking action means eating an inbound bucket of sunshine? Or, as Secretary Rice put it a couple of years ago, if the "smoking gun" takes the shape of a mushroom cloud?

Aye, there's the rub.

If the stakes are sufficiently high, you may just have to throw down anyway.

Which brings us 'round to:

Point the fourth: Don't play nuclear Dodge-em with a superpower that's got a case of whoop-ass under each arm and a thirsty gleam in his eye.

If, by some miraculous chance, someone from Iran or North Korea is reading this, take this lesson to heart. Nothing good can possibly come of provoking an atomic scrum with us. You might hurt us. You just might. But it will be the end of your history. We'll hate ourselves afterwards. There'll be absolute torrents of self-loathing, and recriminations galore. You, on the other hand, will be too busy being dead to have time for regrets.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Too Broke To Pay Attention

There's been a lot of commentary these last few weeks about the bankruptcy bill.

The issue is fairly complex, and a wee bit outside my usual area of expertise, but I've managed to figure out a few worthwhile things to say about it. In a nutshell, while the system is fairly screwed up, the bill fixes the wrong problem. I want to spend a moment looking at both sides of the problem.

First, I'll put on my Financial Industry Executive hat.

They have a right to see that they get their money back. When they make a loan, they ordinarily make it with the expectation that they will see their principal again, with a bit of interest into the bargain. And that's all to the good. If it weren't for this system, I'd have had to come up with the full price of my house before I could buy one. By extending credit to consumers, they keep money in motion, which is what keeps the economy running. If bankruptcy is too easy, they stand to lose money on the deal. If that happens, they tighten credit, which may not bring things to a screeching halt, but will certainly heave a monkey wrench in the engine compartment.

On the other hand ... let me change hats, and put on my Poor Broke SOB hat. It's got a few holes in it.

He's got a problem. He got a fistful of pre-approved credit accounts in the mail, and sent them all back in. Lo and behold, he was now swimming in available credit. Mind you, he didn't use them all right away. But it made him happy to have it, for a rainy day. Well, that rainy day came soon enough when he lost his job. He began to use his credit to get by. Which worked, for a while, after a fashion. Weeks stretched into months, and job leads weren't panning out, and the bills were coming due. He kept up with them for a while. But inevitably, he fell behind. Then, BLAM! Up went all his rates. And SLAM! Here's a $35 late fee, and a $40 over-limit fee, on all of his open accounts. Pretty soon, he owes about $25,000, and isn't any closer to finding a job. Well, he gets a spot of luck and lands a job. But he's having trouble making his minimum payments, and the balances don't really go down. He gets a second job, and a third, and keeps hammering away at his debts, but can't keep up with the over-limit fees, and the occasional late fee when he misses a payment by a day or two. In a few years, his balances balloon to $50,000, and he's at his wit's end. Now what?

Here's the thing: while creditors have a clear right to get their own back, consumers also have a right to a fresh start if they well and truly go under. Mind you, there are people who try to game the system. It doesn't work very often. Judges and trustees are on the lookout for that sort of thing, and won't stand for it. What concerns me is that by tightening up the bankruptcy system, a valuable life-line for honest Americans who've fallen on hard times may slip away.

You see, a man who can seek a fresh start, who can negotiate a court-supervised repayment plan, is a free man and a citizen. But a man who can be enslaved to outrageous balances and usurious interest rates is not a free man at all, but a serf. A debt-peon.

What's liable to destroy the American middle class isn't necessarily the paucity of good jobs, although that's definitely not helping. No, what's going to do us in is this exciting new form of debt-peonage that the more unscrupulous lenders want to saddle us with. Smart people can usually figure out how not to fall into the trap in the first place. But with half the population being below average by definition, a lot of people are going to get caught. What happens to them?

This was a bad bill, bought and paid for by the banks and credit card companies. Shame on them, and shame on people like Senator Joe Biden, who ought to have known better. Do those thirty pieces of silver jingle merrily in your pocket, Joe? I hope so, 'cause you'll never see the inside of the White House now, except as a visitor.

Because in the long run, what goes around, comes around.

Monday, February 28, 2005


This may wander a bit, but bear with me...

First stray thought: might it just be that 2005 will turn out to be the same sort of annus mirabilis that 1989 was?

Think of it: last year, 2004, started off auspiciously with the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2002. But things got ugly after that. The insurgency was hanging in there, staging kidnappings, beheadings, and other forms of slaughter. Things didn't get any better after the handover in June, either. There was the aborted assault on Fallujah in the spring, which was somewhat inconclusive.

This year is starting off much better. And not just in Iraq.

In late 2004, elections in Afghanistan. In early 2005, elections in Palestine. Then Iraq. Promises of elections of a sort in Egypt, and even Saudi Arabia (but I'll believe that when I see it). And now, pretty soon, probably some elections in ... Lebanon.

Can you see the wave? It crashed ashore in Eastern Europe in 1989, and washed away the specter of nuclear annihilation. I can smell the sea salt, and I can see the whitecaps ... it's coming ashore. This time, God willing, it will wash away the specter of burgeoning Islamofascism.

Second stray thought: much as it pains me to say this, could it be that George W. Bush was right about the key strategic question of our day? Not so right in the methods he's chosen for going about it, mind you, but on the question itself. He was labelled a fool, an idiot, for linking the spread of democracy with the war on terrorism. When The Wave crashes to shore, the Islamofascists are desperately afraid that's exactly what will happen. Al-Zarqawi has said as much in his own words.

And now we have this from VodkaPundit.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a bellow of pain.

I'd have preferred to go about it differently. A few more months to smooth feathers internationally beforehand, perhaps. Going that little extra mile. Not going out of our way to antagonize nations that have been friends and allies in the past. But these are tactical questions.

The President is essentially right about the strategic question. It's time to give him some props for that.

It's also time to start thinking through a sensible Democratic foreign policy, but I've already said that.

Third stray thought: And now we come to the title of this post. I'm convinced now that this is Islamofascism's "von Paulus at Stalingrad" moment. Islamofascism's in general, and Osama bin Laden's in particular. How bitter this must be for him! To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, you can stand on a hill in eastern Afghanistan and look west, and with just the right kind of eyes, you can see the high-water mark where Islamofascism's wave crested, and fell back. In a weird way, I'm glad we didn't put paid to him at Tora Bora. I'm glad he's survived to witness these moments. He will die, eventually, with the searing knowledge of his utter DEFEAT burned indelibly into his synapses. Yes, this, too, is justice.

But that's a chewed bone. Who's next on the batting order? Lebanon has volunteered to be the next place to be liberated, and Syria seems to have volunteered to be the receiving team.

Bashar al-Assad ain't all that bright. He ought to know by now that when America starts pulling on its butt-kicking boots, someone's about to get a shoe-leather enema. What sort of idiot volunteers for it?

And we might have some assistance from an odd quarter. Could it be -- France? It would appear that Rafik Hariri, the ex-PM that got the dynamite birthday cake, was a good friend of none other than Blaque Jacques Shellaque. Could come in handy, that. As much as I enjoy dogging the French, the L'egion Etrangere are a useful bunch of lads to have around come throw-down time. I'm pretty sure that between them and a division of Marines, the Syrians can be tossed out of Lebanon in short order. The aftermath could be messy, given that Hezbollah and that lot have had plenty of time to dig in. But the important thing will have been done. Getting a butt-kicking in Lebanon will be a career-ending injury for our erstwhile optometrist. It might even be fatal for the Baath Party in Syria. That might be too much to hope for. But, good God, it would be simply glorious to see the end of the last bastion of Arab National Socialism!

Yes, sports fans, I chose those words deliberately. Baathists have more than a little in common with our old friend of the funny moustache and the Final Solution.

There was a bleak winter's day when Field Marshal von Paulus knew that he was utterly screwed. There will soon be a bright spring day when bin Laden and his lot will realize the same thing. I will look back on these days in my old age, and remember fondly when freedom crashed ashore, a second time in my life. I was lucky to see it once. It is more than my worth to see it again.

What a time to be alive! What a time to be free!

UPDATE: Tuesday, 3/1/05, 3:30 PM CST: Assad seems to be showing signs of belated intelligence.