Saturday, December 23, 2006

Trump Fired Up

Published: December 23, 2006
The New York Times

Donald Trump gives me an interview, though he has his doubts.

“I would like the interview to be in the Sunday paper,” he says.

He can’t be worried about his exposure, so it must be his boundless appetite for bigger/taller/glitzier that makes him yearn for the larger readership of Sunday.
“Me, too,” I reply. “But the only way that’s going to happen is if I give Frank Rich my notes and let him write the column.”

“I like Frank Rich,” he says, his voice brimming with appreciation for a man whose circulation is bigger than mine.

“Me, too,” I say.

Kurt Andersen, who jousted with the Donald as an editor at Spy, celebrates the “Daffy Duck” of deal-making in New York magazine this week as one of the “Reasons to Love New York,” calling him “our 21st century reincarnation of P. T. Barnum and Diamond Jim Brady, John Gotti minus the criminal organization, the only white New Yorker who lives as large as the blingiest, dissiest rapper — de trop personified.”

When I call De Trop Trump at Mar-a-Lago, he’s still ranting about “that big, fat slob Rosie O’Donnell.” When he granted Tara Conner, the naughty beauty queen, a second chance this week, Rosie made a crack on “The View” about an oft-married snake-oil salesman not being the best person to pass moral judgments. He slimed back, and the Great American Food Fight was on.

This past year was rife with mistakes — global mistakes, bigoted tirades, underwear mishaps. Winding up 2006, I asked the celebrity arbiter of who-can-stay and who-must-go about redemption.

In the case of Hollywood’s overexposed and underdressed young ladies of the night, Mr. Trump judiciously notes that in some cases, carousing is good for your career. His rule is, the more talented you are, the less you should mindlessly party. But if mindlessly partying is your talent, go for it.

“Britney,” he says, “doesn’t carry it off as well as Paris.”

How about those other international party girls, the Bush twins?

“When you’re a president who has destroyed the lives of probably a million people, our soldiers and Iraqis who are maimed and killed — you see children going into school in Baghdad with no arms and legs — I don’t think Bush’s kids should be having lots of fun in Argentina,” he says.

Should viewers give Katie Couric another look?

If you can’t get the ratings, he says, you’re cooked: “I like Katie, but she’s hit bottom and she’ll stay there. She made a terrible, tragic mistake for her career. She looks extremely unhappy on the show. I watched her the other night, and she’s not the same Katie.”

Can Gwyneth rebound from her comments comparing Americans unfavorably with Brits? “Gwyneth Paltrow is a good actress with average looks,” he says. “She likes to ride the high English horse. But when she puts down this country that gave her more than she should have had, it’s disgusting.”

Michael Richards and Judith Regan made irredeemable mistakes, in his view, as did Al Gore and John Kerry, when they couldn’t win winnable elections, and W., Cheney and Rummy, when they invaded Iraq.

“No matter how long we stay in Iraq, no matter how many soldiers we send, the day we leave, the meanest, most vicious, most brilliant man in the country, a man who makes Saddam Hussein look like a baby, will take over and spit on the American flag,” he says. “Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in history.”
Colin Powell, he considers irredeemable as well: “He’s speaking up now, but he’s no longer relevant. I call him a pathetic and sad figure.”

He thinks John McCain has lost the 2008 election by pushing to send more troops to Iraq but that Hillary should be forgiven for her “horrendous” vote to authorize the war. “Don’t forget that decision was based on lies given to her,” he says. “She’s very smart and has a major chance to be our next president.”

He deems it “not a good sign” that Barack Obama got into a sketchy real estate deal with a sleazy Chicago political figure. “But he’s got some wonderful qualities,” Mr. Trump says, and deserves another chance.

And how about Monica Lewinsky, who just graduated from the London School of Economics? “It’s good she graduated,” he says. “She’s been through a lot.”
When it comes to having an opinion on everything, Trump towers.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Squad Leader Charged in Killings of 24 Iraqi Civilians

Published: December 21, 2006

A Marine Corps squad leader was charged today with 13 counts of murder for his role in the killings of civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year, and seven other marines face counts ranging from unpremeditated murder to failure to report the killings, the Marine Corps announced today.

The charges came after an inquiry into the November 2005 killings of 24 people, many of them unarmed women and children, and what military officials described as “untimely and inaccurate reporting” of what happened that day.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged with 12 counts of murdering individuals, plus one count of murdering six people by ordering Marines under his charge to ”shoot first and ask questions later” when they entered a house, according to charging sheets released to The Associated Press by defense attorney Neal Puckett.

Puckett said his client is not guilty and acted lawfully, The A.P. reported.
Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, of Carbondale, Penn., was accused of one charge of murder involving unpremeditated killings of three males in a house, said his attorney, Gary Myers. “Our view has been and continues to be that these are combat-related deaths,” Myers told The A.P. today.

Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla., also was charged, but his attorney, Jack Zimmerman, declined to specify the allegations before the government’s announcement.
A military investigation into the killings and the subsequent handling of the case by the Marine Corps began last March and lasted nine months. Marines from the Third Platoon of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, are accused of killing the villagers after a roadside explosion killed one of their comrades.

A Marine Corps official and a defense attorney representing one of the marines said earlier this month that charges were expected against Sgt. Wuterich, 26, of Meriden, Conn., the squad’s leader; Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla.; Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 21, of Carbondale, Penn.; Cpl. Sanick Dela Cruz, 24, of Chicago; and Cpl. Hector Salinas, 22, of Houston.
The five marines are said to have been the ones who killed the 24 Iraqis, including five men in a taxi that approached the marines’ convoy after an explosion killed a 20-year-old lance corporal. About 10 of the dead were women and children in houses nearby who appeared to have been killed by rifle fire at close range, military officials said.

The marines have said they believed that they were coming under small-arms fire from a house on the south side of the road. Lawyers for several of the marines have said their clients were responding appropriately, and lawfully, to an attack in a dangerous region of Iraq.

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Iran President Facing Revival of Students’ Ire

Published: December 21, 200

The New York Times

TEHRAN, Dec. 20 — As protests broke out last week at a prestigious university here, cutting short a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Babak Zamanian could only watch from afar. He was on crutches, having been clubbed by supporters of the president and had his foot run over by a motorcycle during a less publicized student demonstration a few days earlier.

Newsha Tavakolian/Polaris, for The New York Times Babak Zamanian, a student at Amir Kabir, in Tehran, is on crutches because of a beating earlier by supporters of President Ahmadinejad. But the significance of the confrontation was easy to grasp, even from a distance, said Mr. Zamanian, a leader of a student political group.

The student movement, which planned the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy from the same university, Amir Kabir, is reawakening from its recent slumber and may even be spearheading a widespread resistance against Mr. Ahmadinejad. This time the catalysts were academic and personal freedom.

“It is not that simple to break up a president’s speech,” said Alireza Siassirad, a former student political organizer, explaining that an event of that magnitude takes meticulous planning. “I think what happened at Amir Kabir is a very important and a dangerous sign. Students are definitely becoming active again.”

The protest, punctuated by shouts of “Death to the dictator,” was the first widely publicized outcry against Mr. Ahmadinejad, one that was reflected Friday in local elections, where voters turned out in droves to vote for his opponents.

The students’ complaints largely mirrored public frustrations over the president’s crackdown on civil liberties, his blundering economic policies and his harsh oratory against the West, which they fear will isolate the country.

But the students had an additional and potent source of outrage: the president’s campaign to purge the universities of all vestiges of the reform movement of his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.

Last summer the newly installed head of the university, Alireza Rahai, ordered the demolition of the office of the Islamic Association, which had been the core of student political activities on campus since 1963 and had matured into a moderate, pro-reform group.

Since then, students say, more than 100 liberal professors have been forced into retirement and many popular figures have been demoted. At least 70 students were suspended for political activities, and two were jailed. Some 30 students were given warnings, and a prominent Ph.D. candidate, Matin Meshkin, was barred from finishing his studies.

The students also complain about overcrowded and crumbling dormitories and proscriptions against women wearing makeup or bright colors, rules that were relaxed when Mr. Khatami came to power in 1997.

Amir Kabir University of Technology, a major polytechnic institute, has been a hotbed of student activism since before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Drawing on networks at universities around the country through an office that links their Islamic associations, students can organize large protests on a moment’s notice. There are also student guilds, which are independent, and more than 2,000 student publications.

Mr. Zamanian, the head of public relations of the Islamic Association at Amir Kabir, said that while the situation had not been ideal in the Khatami years, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s antireformist campaign had led students to value their previous freedoms.

They were permitted to hold meetings and invite opposition figures to speak, he said, and could freely publish their journals. Now, he said, their papers are forbidden to print anything but reports from official news agencies.

The students also complain about the president’s failure to deliver economic growth and jobs. At last week’s protest, which coincided with a now infamous Holocaust conference held by the Foreign Ministry, students chanted, “Forget the Holocaust — do something for us.”

A student who identified himself only as Ahmad, for fear of retribution, said: “A nuclear program is our right, but we fear that it will bring more damage than good.”

Another student said: “It is so hard and costly to come to this university, but I don’t see a bright future. Even if you are lucky enough to get a job, the pay would not be enough for you to pay your rent.”

Mr. Zamanian said that the protest had not been planned ahead of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit, but that students were further enraged when they saw supporters of the president being bused in.

Although the auditorium was almost filled with the president’s supporters by the time any students were let in, the protesters forced their way inside, chanted, “Death to the dictator,” and held banners calling him a “fascist president.” They also held up posters of the president with his picture upside down and set fire to three of them. Many of the students are now in hiding.

At one point, the head of a moderate student guild complained to Mr. Ahmadinejad that students were being expelled for political activities and given three stars next to their names in university records, barring them from re-entering. The president responded by ridiculing him, joking that the three stars made them sergeants in the army.

The president was eventually forced to cut his speech short and leave. But angry students stormed his car, kicking it and chanting slogans. His convoy of four cars collided several times as they tried to leave in a rush. Eventually the students were dispersed.

An entry on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Web log, posted Wednesday, played down the scale and significance of the protest, writing that the president had a “good feeling when he saw a small group amid the dominant majority insulting him without any fear.”

A few days after the protest, former Amir Kabir students affiliated with the Islamic associations’ coordinating office wrote a letter to Mr. Ahmadinejad. In it, they turned down what they said was his invitation to share their problems with him, because they believed that he wanted to use the occasion to bolster his candidates in the local elections.

The students also wrote that the president had insulted their intelligence by talking to them in the same language he uses in remote villages on his provincial trips.

“You should know that what happened at Polytechnic University was the voice of universities and the real voice of the people,” they wrote. Tehran Polytechnic was the university’s name before the revolution.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Defense Secretary Arrives in Baghdad

Published: December 20, 2006
The New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 20—Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in Baghdad today and said he expected to “learn a lot” in his first talks with American commanders and Iraqi officials since taking office.

“The whole purpose is to go to talk to commanders, talk to the Iraqis and see what I can learn,” Mr. Gates told reporters traveling on his airplane.

His visit to Iraq only two days after taking over from former Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reflected the intense focus on Iraq strategy by the Bush administration, which is weighing an American troop surge and other options for restoring security in Baghdad and other areas of the country.

Mr. Gates was scheduled to have several meetings with Gen. John P. Abizaid and Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., and other top American commanders, during his first day in Baghdad. He is expected to see Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki later in his visit.

His trip, like those of all senior American officials since 2003, was not announced beforehand for security reasons.

Also today, the military announced that General Abizaid plans to go ahead with his overdue retirement next spring. Since General Casey is also likely to step down around then, Mr. Gates will have the opportunity to reshape the top ranks of commanders overseeing Iraq at the same time that a new strategy is adopted.

Capt. Gary E. Arasin Jr., a spokesman for Central Command in Tampa, Fla, said today that Mr. Rumsfeld asked General Abizaid last spring to stay on until March 2007, beyond the usual term in that position. “He does not intend to extend beyond that period,” Captain Arasin said.

As Mr. Gates left Washington for Baghdad, there were already other indications that the replacement of Mr. Rumsfeld is affecting Bush administration policy.

President Bush told the Washington Post in an interview Tuesday that he favors increasing the size of the United States military, a move that Mr. Rumsfeld had long opposed. Mr. Bush said he had told Mr. Gates to develop a plan for boosting troop levels, which follows public complaints by top generals that Iraq and other deployments have stretched American forces too thin.

Mr. Gates has given few indications about his views on the strategy options under consideration, except to say that an American failure in Iraq could lead to a wider regional conflict in the Middle East.

"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come," said Mr. Gates, said at the ceremony.

Mr. Bush has put off a speech on his strategy decisions until next month, in part he said to give Mr. Gates time to formulate his views.

Joining him on his trip to Iraq was Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior aides from the Pentagon, the White House staff, the State Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Gates traveled to Baghdad earlier this year as a member of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel created by Congress to recommend a new Iraq strategy. But he resigned from the panel after his nomination and before it issued its recommendations last month.

Its recommendations include phasing out most American combat troops by early 2008, increasing training for Iraqis and talks with Iran and Syria in hopes of curtailing the violence.

At his swearing-in ceremony earlier this week, Mr. Gates promised to rely on advice from military commanders in comments that were widely seen as a signal to uniformed services that his style would differ from that of Mr. Rumsfeld. He was often criticized for overriding the views of senior military commanders.

General Casey is formulating a plan to dramatically boost the number of American advisers attached to Iraqi units, a move aimed at improving the Iraqis’ performance over the next year, officials have said.

Additional trainers are already being drawn from American combat units in Iraq. Still under discussion is how large to make the training teams, which now have between 4,000 and 6,000 personnel, officials said.

Senior commanders and members of the Joint Chiefs have not publicly endorsed increasing American force levels in Iraq by 20,000 or more in a short-term surge aimed at restoring security. Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said recently that the chiefs would back a troop increase if it was accompanied with a plan for using the forces effectively.

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Flunking Our Future

Published: December 20, 2006
The New York Times

The only sects that may be more savage than Shiites and Sunnis are the Democratic feminist lawmakers representing Northern and Southern California.

After Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman had their final catfight about who would lead the House Intelligence Committee, aptly enough at the Four Seasons’ hair salon in Georgetown, the new speaker passed over the knowledgeable and camera-eager Ms. Harman and mystifyingly gave the consequential job to Silvestre Reyes of Texas.

Mr. Reyes promptly tripped over the most critical theme in the field of intelligence. Jeff Stein, interviewing the incoming chairman for Congressional Quarterly, asked him whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” the lawmaker guessed.

As Mr. Stein corrected him in the article: “Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an Al Qaeda clubhouse, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.”

Mr. Stein followed up with a Hezbollah question: “What are they?” Again, Mr. Reyes was stumped.

“Hezbollah,” he stammered. “Uh, Hezbollah. Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish?” (O.K. ¿Que es Hezbollah?)

Sounding as naked of essentials as Britney Spears, the new intelligence oversight chief pleaded that it was hard to keep all the categories straight. Thank heavens Mr. Stein never got to Syrian Alawites.

Many Americans, including those in charge of Middle East policy, are befuddled and fed up with the intransigent tribal and religious fevers of the region. As Bill O’Reilly sagely remarked, “I don’t want to ever hear Shia and Sunni again.” But it is beyond the job description of top officials to wish the problems away, especially when the entire region is decomposing before our bleary eyes.

If Mr. Reyes had been reading the newspaper, he might have noticed Mr. Stein’s piece on The Times’s Op-Ed page two months earlier, in which, like a wonkish Ali G, he caught many intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as members of Congress, who did not know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite.

“Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting,” he concluded. “And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.”

The lack of intellectual urgency about our Middle East wars is chilling. The Iraq Study Group reported that our efforts in Iraq are handicapped by the fact that our embassy of 1,000 has only 33 Arabic speakers, just six who are fluent.

W., of course, failed a foreign affairs pop quiz and still became a close ally of the Pakistani dictator he referred to as “General ... General.”

Once they have the job, the incentive of politicians to study is somewhat dulled. Charles Z. Wick, who headed the U.S. Information Agency during the Reagan years, sent a memo to his staff saying that he and the president needed to know if France was a member of NATO. Mr. Reagan had already been the president for years, The Times’s Steve Weisman reported, when he expressed surprise at learning that the Soviets had most of their nuclear weapons on land-based missiles, while America had relatively few.

One possibility is that Mr. Stein’s questions were just too darn hard. He should have pitched a few warm-ups, like: How many sides are there in the Sunni Triangle? Or: Which religious figure, Muhammad or Jesus, has not been the subject of a Mel Gibson film?

Perhaps the questions could be phrased Jeopardy-style, as in: “The name shared by two kings in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.” (What is Abdullah?)

A multiple choice might be easier on harried policy makers. For instance, which of the following quotes can be attributed to Dick Cheney?

a) “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people: greedy, barbarous and cruel.”

b) “Don Rumsfeld is the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had.”

c) “Certain things are not known to those who eat with forks.”

Or this: Is the Shiite crescent a) a puffy dinner roll, b) a new Ramadan moon, or c) an arc of crisis?

Once our leaders get a grasp of the basics, we can hit them with a truly hard question: Three and a half years after the invasion of Iraq, with nearly 3,000 American troops dead and the Iraqis not remotely interested in order or democracy, what on earth do we do now?

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Not-So-Long Gray Line

Op-Ed Contributor
Published: June 28, 2005

Los Angeles

JUNE is the month in which West Point celebrates the commissioning of its graduating class and prepares to accept a new group of candidates eager to embrace the arduous strictures of the world's most prestigious military academy. But it can also be a cruel month, because West Pointers five years removed from graduation have fulfilled their obligations and can resign.

My class, that of 1969, set a record with more than 50 percent resigning within a few years of completing the service commitment. (My father's class, 1945, the one that "missed" World War II, was considered to be the previous record-holder, with about 25 percent resigning before they reached the 20 years of service entitling them to full retirement benefits.)

And now, from what I've heard from friends still in the military and during the two years I spent reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems we may be on the verge of a similar exodus of officers. The annual resignation rate of Army lieutenants and captains rose to 9 percent last year, the highest since before the Sept. 11 attacks. And in May, The Los Angeles Times reported on "an undercurrent of discontent within the Army's young officer corps that the Pentagon's statistics do not yet capture."

I'm not surprised. In 1975, I received a foundation grant to write reports on why such a large percentage of my class had resigned. This money would have been better spent studying the emerging appeal of Scientology, because a single word answered the question: Vietnam.
Yet my classmates were disillusioned with more than being sent to fight an unpopular war. When we became cadets, we were taught that the academy's honor code was what separated West Point from a mere college. This was a little hard to believe at first, because the code seemed so simple; you pledged that you would not lie, cheat or steal, and that you would not tolerate those who did. We were taught that in combat, lies could kill.

But the honor code was not just a way to fight a better war. In the Army, soldiers are given few rights, grave responsibilities, and lots and lots of power. The honor code serves as the Bill of Rights of the Army, protecting soldiers from betraying one another and the rest of us from their terrifying power to destroy. It is all that stands between an army and tyranny.

However, the honor code broke down before our eyes as staff and faculty jobs at West Point began filling with officers returning from Vietnam. Some had covered their uniforms with bogus medals and made their careers with lies - inflating body counts, ignoring drug abuse, turning a blind eye to racial discrimination, and worst of all, telling everyone above them in the chain of command that we were winning a war they knew we were losing. The lies became embedded in the curriculum of the academy, and finally in its moral DNA.

By the time we were seniors, honor court verdicts could be fixed, and there was organized cheating in some units. A few years later, nearly an entire West Point class was implicated in cheating on an engineering exam; the breakdown was complete.

The mistake the Army made then is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?

I've seen the results firsthand. I have met many lieutenants who have served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, practically back to back. While everyone in a combat zone is risking his or her life, these junior officers are the ones leading foot patrols and convoys several times a day. Recruiting enough privates for the endless combat rotations is a problem the Army may gamble its way out of with enough money and a struggling economy. But nothing can compensate for losing the combat-hardened junior officers.

In the fall of 2003 I was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq, and its West Point lieutenants were among the most gung-ho soldiers I have ever encountered, yet most were already talking about getting out of the Army. I talked late into one night with a muscular first lieutenant with a shaved head and a no-nonsense manner who had stacks of Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker and The Atlantic under his bunk. He had served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and he was disgusted with what he had seen in Iraq by December 2003.

I feel like politicians have created a difficult situation for us," he told me. "I know I'm going to be coming back here about a year from now. I want to get married. I want to have a life. But I feel like if I get out when my commitment is up, who's going to be coming here in my place? I feel this obligation to see it through, but everybody over here knows we're just targets. Sooner or later, your luck's going to run out."

At the time, he was commanding three vehicle convoys a day down a treacherous road to pick up hot food for his troops from the civilian contractors who never left their company's "dining facility" about five miles away. He walked daily patrols through the old city of Mosul, a hotbed of insurgent activity that erupted in violence after the 101st left it last year. The Army will need this lieutenant 20 years from now when he could be a colonel, or 30 years from now when he could have four stars on his collar. But I doubt he will be in uniform long enough to make captain.
One cold night a week later, I sat on a stack of sandbags 50 feet from the Syrian border with another West Point lieutenant; he, too, was planning to leave the Army. "I love going out on the border and chasing down the bad guys," he told me as he dragged on a cigarette. "We've got a guy making runs across the border from Syria in a white Toyota pickup who we've been trying to catch for two months; we call him the jackrabbit.

"He gets away from us every time, and I really admire the guy. But when we catch him, there'll be somebody else right behind him. What's the use? Guys are dying, for what?"

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from another West Point lieutenant; he was writing from a laptop in a bunker somewhere in Iraq. "I'm getting out as soon as I can," he wrote. "Everyone I know plans on getting out, with a few exceptions. What have you got to look forward to? If you come back from a tour of getting the job done in war, it's to a battalion commander who cares more about the shine on your boots and how your trucks are parked in the motor pool than about the fitness of your unit for war."

There was a time when the Army did not have a problem retaining young leaders - men like Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, George Marshall, Omar Bradley and my grandfather, Lucian K. Truscott Jr. Having endured the horrors of World War I trenches, these men did not run headlong out of the Army in the 1920's and 30's when nobody wanted to think of the military, much less pay for it. They had made a pact with each other and with their country, and all sides were going to keep it.

When members of the West Point class of 1969 and other young officers resigned nearly en masse in the mid-1970's because of Vietnam, Washington had a fix. Way too late, and with no enthusiasm, the politicians pulled out of Vietnam, ended the draft and instituted the "all volunteer" military, offering large increases in pay and benefits. Now, however, the Pentagon has run out of fixes; the only choices appear to be going back to the draft or scaling back our military ambitions.

The problem the Army created in Vietnam has never really been solved. If you keep faith with soldiers and tell them the truth even when it threatens their beliefs, you run the risk of losing them. But if you peddle cleverly manipulated talking points to people who trust you not to lie, you won't merely lose them, you'll break their hearts.

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THE REACH OF WAR; Uneasy Exiles Await Those Who Flee the Chaos in Iraq

Published: December 8, 2006

The New York Times

Every day at dusk as the streets of this brooding city empty, people like Halima Reyahi scramble to become invisible again.

She sticks to side streets, her eyes scanning for the increasingly frequent police dragnets and checkpoints set up in search of illegal Iraqi immigrants like her. The loneliness of her exile is magnified by the fact that all four of her sons have been turned away repeatedly at the Jordanian border.

Ms. Reyahi is one of nearly two million Iraqis who have fled the vicious chaos of their country since the American invasion nearly four years ago, flooding neighboring states, especially Jordan and Syria, but also Lebanon and Egypt.

As they leave Iraq at a rate of nearly 3,000 a day, , the refugees are threatening the social and economic fabric of both Jordan and Syria. In Jordan, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are trying to blend into a country of only 6 million inhabitants, including about 1.5 million registered Palestinian refugees. The governments classify most of the Iraqis as visitors, not refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in a report released last month that more than 1.6 million Iraqis have left since March 2003, nearly 7 percent of the population. Jordanian security officials say more than 750,000 are in and around Amman, a city of 2.5 million. Syrian officials estimate that up to a million have gone to the suburbs of Damascus, a city of three million. An additional 150,000 have landed in Cairo. Every month, 100,000 more join them in Syria and Jordan, the report said.

In a report released this week, Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group, put the total at close to two million and called their flight ''the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.'' Its president, Kenneth Bacon, said, ''The United States and its allies sparked the current chaos in Iraq, but they are doing little to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the current exodus.''

Every night, hulking orange and white GMC Suburbans and sedans pull into the taxi garage in downtown Amman stuffed with Iraqis and their belongings, adding to the growing social problems they pose while fueling growing fears that Iraq's sectarian tensions will spill over here.
As Iraq seems to disintegrate into warring factions of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, the risk that their dispute will be transferred here and increase local social problems is frightening the authorities. As a result, restrictions on Iraqis have been tightened in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which has been increasing patrols seeking to evict those who have overstayed their visas.
Most of the émigrés bring tales of horror and sadness. Ali Ghani, a onetime champion Iraqi body builder, said that his father had been grabbed from their house in Iraq, apparently because he was a Shiite; his body was later found in the street. Several other friends have met a similar fate, he said.

Partly as a result of such strife, refugees here claim, there is a growing sectarian dimension to the official crackdown. They say the authorities of this officially Sunni country have paid more attention to deporting Iraqi Shiites, fearing that their militias are trying to organize here.
''There is only disrespect for us now,'' said Qais Attiyeh, 36, a Shiite sculptor who says he has been granted refugee status in Amman. ''And now I increasingly find Jordanians who ask me, 'Are you a Shiite or a Muslim?' '' he said, referring to extremist Sunnis' rejection of Shiism as a branch of Islam.

''I read their facial expressions and tell them what they like to hear,'' he said.
Faris Braizat, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, said, ''It's becoming clear that with these kinds of numbers we are creating a massive problem further down the road.'' Jordanians, once proud of their Iraqi neighbors, have become unwilling to continue sacrificing for them, he said.

The first wave of Iraqis, mostly doctors, intellectuals and teachers, came here after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, escaping Saddam Hussein's Iraq. After the American invasion of 2003, a similarly wealthy wave of former government figures, businessmen and investors came here with billions of dollars that they soon began investing in real estate and businesses. Their arrival drove up prices but was also credited with helping the economy. As their numbers grew and much poorer people started to arrive, however, the problems began.

In particular, when Iraqi suicide bombers attacked three Amman hotels in 2005, this country's attitude toward Iraqis changed abruptly. The attack was organized by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian. Jordanian officials stepped up immigration enforcement, turning away many Iraqis at the border and making it harder for Iraqis to renew their visas.

It remains the case that those able to deposit $150,000 in Amman banks are granted residency almost instantly here. A few have also been sponsored by employers or have married Jordanian women. But the vast majority, poor and with few options, enter on visitor visas and soon become illegal, opening them up to exploitation and abuse.

Human Rights Watch called on the Jordanian government last week to grant Iraqis temporary protection and legalize their status. The group also called on the Jordanians to halt the deportation of Iraqis who registered for temporary protection and to admit asylum seekers, in addition to exempting Iraqis who registered their status from having to pay stiff fines.
Iraqis are increasingly blamed for Jordan's ills. Those with cash are blamed for doubling, and even tripling, property prices, as well as for buoying prices on everything from tomatoes to cigarettes. (Less attention has been paid to the broader market forces that led to the rise.)
The average price of a three-bedroom apartment in upscale West Amman has risen to up to $150,000 from about $50,000. Apartments that once rented for $400 now rent for $1,200, pricing out the average Jordanian, who earns between $500 and $750 per month.
Khaled Saeed, who owns a DVD shop in downtown Amman, was saving for years to buy an apartment near Amman's Sports City complex. He had his eye on one building where, just a few years ago, apartments sold for the equivalent of $35,000.

Then the Iraqis came, he said.

''When I finally came to buy it after some time, I found that the price had risen to 45,000 dinars,'' he said, amounting to almost $65,000. ''So I've changed my mind about the Iraqis. Now I just wish they would leave so that life would go back to normal.''

Late this summer the government loosened restrictions on private education for Iraqis without residency here, flooding Jordanian schools with new students. Principals have found themselves in the awkward position of telling families they have to go elsewhere.

Inflation, too, has doubled to 6 percent from about 3.5 percent in 2005, fueled in part by reduced subsidies on oil and gasoline, and by growing demand from Iraqis, economists say.
Many refugees say the crackdown has focused attention on Shiites, even as the government has hunted down Al Qaeda. Even before this, Shiite prayer halls, known as Husseiniyas, were strictly banned here. Security officials have been wary of Shiites seeking to organize and preach Shiite teachings. A prominent sheik representing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq was deported late this summer.

In the Jordanian town of Muta, the site of a historic battle between Muslim and Byzantine armies,the shrine of the Shiite saint Jaffar al-Tayyar, a pilgrimage site, has come under particularly close scrutiny lately. Last week, security men crawled around the site, keeping an eye on the comings and goings of visitors.

Shiite pilgrims have been banned from sleeping overnight at the site and are now allowed to stay only briefly, a shop owner at the shrine said. Where thousands once came, the number of visitors has dropped markedly, he said, for fear of the security men, and his sales have plummeted.
Security men at the site said they were concerned about attacks against Shiites there, rather than trouble from the Shiites themselves.

Still many Shiites say they are increasingly bearing the brunt of the growing frustration with the Iraqis here.

''When you say 'deported,' people typically think 'Shia' now,'' one former Jordanian official said. ''They are afraid that they will connect with the groups in Iraq.''

Security officials say they have sought to weed out both Sunnis and Shiites who intend to cause trouble in Iraq, and do not differentiate between the sects. ''We don't have a problem with someone trying to advance his Shiite faith,'' the security official said. ''But we do have a problem with someone proselytizing and being political.''

The Iraqi exodus has sent ripples through Syria, too, where the government has maintained an open-door policy for Iraqis, attracting mainly poor Iraqis who have flocked to neighborhoods like Sayeda Zeynab, the site of a Shiite shrine, creating little ghettos.

There, too, rents have risen, more than doubling in poorer areas like Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus. Some officials have begun warning of impending electricity and water shortages in Syria because of the influx of Iraqis. The price of heating oil and gasoline is expected to rise along with the increased demand.

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"THE REACH OF WAR; Uneasy Exiles Await Those Who Flee the Chaos in Iraq" >>

Attacks in Iraq at Record High, Pentagon Says

Published: December 19, 2006

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 — A Pentagon assessment of security conditions in Iraq concluded Monday that attacks against American and Iraqi targets had surged this summer and autumn to their highest level, and called violence by Shiite militants the most significant threat in Baghdad.

The report, which covers the period from early August to early November, found an average of almost 960 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week, the highest level recorded since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports in 2005, with the biggest surge in attacks against American-led forces. That was an increase of 22 percent from the level for early May to early August, the report said.

While most attacks were directed at American forces, most deaths and injuries were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians.

The report is the most comprehensive public assessment of the American-led operation to secure Baghdad, which began in early August. About 17,000 American combat troops are currently involved in the beefed-up security operation.

According to the Pentagon assessment, the operation initially had some success in reducing killings as militants concentrated on eluding capture and hiding their weapons. But sectarian death squads soon adapted, resuming their killings in regions of the capital that were not initially targets of the overstretched American and Iraqi troops.

Shiite militias, the Pentagon report said, also received help from allies among the Iraqi police. “Shia death squads leveraged support from some elements of the Iraqi Police Service and the National Police who facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations,” the report said.

“This is a major reason for the increased levels of murders and executions.”

The findings were issued on the day Robert M. Gates was sworn in as defense secretary, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld.

At an afternoon ceremony at the Pentagon attended by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gates said he planned to travel to Iraq shortly to consult with military commanders as part of a broad administration review of Iraq strategy.

“All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again,” Mr. Gates said. “But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.”

Over all, the report portrayed a precarious security situation and criticized Shiite militias for the worsening violence more explicitly than previous versions had.

It said the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki has not confronted despite American pressure to do so, had had the greatest negative impact on security. It is likely that Shiite militants are now responsible for more civilian deaths and injuries than terrorist groups are, the report said.

But the report also held out hope that decisive leadership by the Iraqi government might halt the slide toward civil war.

While noting that efforts by Mr. Maliki to encourage political reconciliation among ethnic groups had shown little progress, it said that Iraqi institutions were holding and that members of the current government “have not openly abandoned the political process.”

The Pentagon assessment, titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly.

The new report, completed last month, noted two parallel trends.

On the one hand, the Iraqi security forces are larger than ever, with 322,600 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other troops, an increase of 45,000 since August. Iraqi forces also have increasingly taken the lead responsibility in many areas.

The growth in Iraqi capabilities, however, has been matched by increasing violence. That raises the question of whether the American strategy to rely on the Iraqi forces to tamp down violence is failing, at least in the short term.

The Bush administration has decided to step up substantially the effort to train and equip the Iraqi forces. A major question being pondered by Mr. Bush is whether that is sufficient, or whether more American troops are needed in Baghdad to control the violence and stabilize the city.

According to the Pentagon, the weekly average of 959 attacks was a jump of 175 from the previous three months. As a consequence, civilian deaths and injuries reached a record 93 a day.

Deaths and injuries suffered by Iraq’s security forces also climbed to a new high, 33 a day, while American and other allied deaths and injuries hovered at 25 a day, just short of the record in 2004, when the United States was involved in battles in Falluja and elsewhere.
The increase in violence coincided with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when there had previously been a temporary spike in attacks, but also reflected the deeper sectarian passions that have flared since an attack in February 2006 on a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

According to Pentagon data used in formulating the report, there were 1,028 sectarian “executions” in October. That was a slight dip from July, when there were 1,169 executions, but a major increase since January, when there were 180. During this period, “ethno-sectarian incidents” have steadily risen, the report noted.

Security difficulties varied in different parts of the country. While sectarian strife was the biggest problem in Baghdad, in Anbar Province it was attacks by Sunni militants. North of Baghdad, in Diyala and Bilad, terrorists linked to Al Qaeda have been battling the Mahdi Army, it says.

While Shiite militias are active, the group known as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is still a major threat, despite the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, its leader. “The emergence of Abu Ayub al-Masri as leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq demonstrated its flexibility and depth, as well as its reliance on non-Iraqis,” the report noted.

Indications of progress were few. The report credited the Iraqi government with taking “incremental” steps at assuming more responsibility and said its security forces “have assumed more leadership in counterinsurgency and law enforcement operations.” But it remained “urgent” for the Iraqi government “to demonstrate a resolve to contain and terminate sectarian attacks.”

In a briefing for reporters, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, a senior aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Baghdad operation had been constrained because the Iraqi government had not allowed American and Iraqi troops to “go in and neutralize Sadr City,” the base for the Mahdi Army.

Crude oil output was 2.3 million barrels a day, 7.5 percent higher than in August but still below the government’s goal of 2.5 million barrels.

Proponents of sending more troops to Iraq cited the report to argue that only Americans could ensure security in the short term and that more were needed. Critics said it showed that the initial effort by the American military to reinforce Baghdad had failed to stop the killing.

Gen. James T. Conway, who took over this fall as commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters in Missouri on Saturday that among other options, President Bush was considering sending five or more combat brigades to Iraq, or about 20,000 troops.

General Conway said he believed that the Joint Chiefs would support such an increase as long as “there is a solid military reason for doing so.” He said sending more troops just to be “thickening the mix” in Baghdad would be a mistake.

Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was opposed to more troops. “Everything I’ve heard and everything I know to be true lead me to believe that this increase at best

won’t change a thing,” he said, “and at worst could exacerbate the situation even further.”

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

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