Politics & Policy

Border Security & More

ON THE BORDERLINE

I couldn’t be more disappointed in reading Michael Rubin’s accusations in his “Failed Model” on National Review Online. In it, Rubin accuses MG David Petraeus , CG 101st ABN DIV (AASLT) of “appeasement of Baathists,” and “undermining security” by his border-security policies, based largely on firsthand observations by Rubin during an unsanctioned late-January visit to the border area, and (I’m suspecting) interviews of Kurdish citizens who felt underrepresented in selection of security forces in this area.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As Commander of the 3rd Bde, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT) with responsibility for this important border region, we were extremely aware of the ethnic mix of the border regions, and especially sensitive to ensuring security forces were vetted/selected/trained/equipped/and empowered in accordance with prevailing ethnic percentages, without undue tribal influence (Sunni Arab (Shamir)/Kurd/Yezidi/Turkoman), and in accordance with the security rules as specified by CPA and Coalition (military) leaders. Clearly we took great pains (and pride) in not allowing any individual or group to influence our process, as we knew this would have a deleterious effect on long-term security in our region. Early discussions with tribal and governmental officials were difficult, and were almost unhinged on numerous occasions by our insistence on removing all appearances of favoritism. Every meeting with a Sunni Arab was immediately followed by a meeting with Kurdish officials, as perceptions are often reality in this part of the world. In fact, early attempts by Sunni Arab leaders from the Shamir Tribe (from both the Al Yawar and Al Faisal families) and Kurd leaders (Sinjar Mayor Dakil Qassan Hassan, KDP, and PUK) to influence hiring was appreciated, but declined in favor of a more balanced approach (….I remember too many meetings on this topic…). MG Petraeus was kept informed throughout, offering firm direction to keep the process fair and above board.

In the end, I believe we got it about right, as over 1,000 Iraqi Border Policemen (IBP) were vetted, hired, trained, resourced, and empowered in almost the exact percentage of the ethnicities of the surrounding areas, and were effectively functioning on their own (within months of our mandate). To add credibility to our hiring process, none of the participants–Kurd or Arab–were ever fully satisfied with the numbers of their folks that were hired, which from my experience is a clear indication we had it about right!!

With over ten months as Commander of the very Western portion of Nineva Province, including over 270 kms of Syrian border, discussions of security, water, oil production, cement production, elections, herding rights, irrigation, land-ownership, smuggling, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, Iraqi Borer Police, and politics are very complicated, and often (attempted to be) skewed in the direction of those with whom one is discussing these issues. Single engagements with any individual or group, especially without a full background of the area, often leaves one feeling empathy toward that individual, group, or ethnicity–depending on the nature of the visit.

With a better understanding of the ethnic challenges and the border-security process worked over many months (and involving hundreds of engagements with Sunni Arabs and Kurdish officials), I feel Rubin would have arrived at a different conclusion regarding security on the border in Northern Iraq. That conclusion would have been unlikely to result in an accusation of “appeasement” of Sunni Arabs and Saddam Baathists by leaders of the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT).

Colonel Michael S. Linnington

Commander, 3rd Brigade, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT)

Ft Campbell, Ky.

MICHAEL RUBIN REPLIES: I disagree with Col. Michael Linnington. I am not alone. At an April 15, 2004, press conference, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported, “There are other foreign fighters. We know for a fact that a lot of them find their way into Iraq through Syria for sure.”

The Pentagon is aware that infiltration from Syria is a problem. Myers chooses his words carefully. The U.S. military has done an excellent job in Iraq, especially in units where commanders were willing to identify and correct problems, rather than deny their existence. The October 29, 2003, Washington Post, for example, reports that “Commanders from the 101st Airborne repeated this week that neither the aircraft nor human intelligence sources show significant infiltration from Syria.” Unfortunately, General David Petraeus’s willingness to trust former Baathists and military officers was misplaced, and undercut the value of the human intelligence.

The Washington Post article is disturbing. It continues, “Col. Michael Linnington… recalled the guidance he received in early May from his boss, Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of the 101st Airborne: ‘We need to open the border for trade with Syria. Go out and open the border.’” That there was no mechanism to ensure the validity of Syrian documents at the border did not stop the open border policy. I have written elsewhere of the black market for documents that exists in Erbil, Baghdad, and in other cities. For a few dollars, anyone can by fake passports, identity cards, marriage licenses, and fake manifests.

Linnington is incorrect to assume that my experience was limited to a “single engagement.” Before I returned to Iraq with the Defense Department, I lived for an academic year in northern Iraq. When I did visit the Nineweh (Mosul) governorate after liberation, I met with Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. Relying on a network of friends and former students, I was able to walk the streets of Mosul, Sinjar, or Tel Afar without escort. I did not rely on hand-picked by guides from either the 101st, the Shammari, or the Kurdistan Democratic Party. I used unmarked, local vehicles. And I did not live in Coalition Provisional Authority-provided hotels or behind the walls of military bases.

Linnington is incorrect to assume that I have been naïve about the Kurds’ spin machine; I have a long history of reporting about which Linnington may be unaware. I do balance official accounts with man-on-the-street interviews and my own spot checks. It was shocking to find the border unguarded and breached.

Linnington may elaborate on his precautions, but his care in establishing the system does not negate the fact that General al-Maris abused his position, and re-implemented discriminatory Baathist practices. What happens in the presence of American officials and what happens in their absence can be two very different things. Acquaintances from my residence in the area would come to me, if only because of the intimidation of al-Maris, and their inability to access the commanders of the 101st.

The Ninewa governorate is complex. We can debate district gerrymandering, land-ownership dispute resolution and the merits of various officials later. I do stand corrected on one issue: I should have said Iraqi Border Police rather than Iraq Civil Defense Corps.

Linnington and I have an honest dispute on some of these issues. What we do not dispute is the valuable contribution and service of the 101st Airborne Brigade, as well as the other U.S. and Coalition soldiers who are putting their lives on the line daily to further U.S. national security and bring hope to a new generation of Iraqis.

ON THE LEFT

I find it most edifying that the book, The Price of Loyalty is on your list of liberal best sellers. O’Neill certainly can’t be characterized as a “Liberal.” As you know, he is a “life-long Republican” with a distinguished career as a Corporate CEO.

Perhaps you have decided anyone who criticizes or disagrees with the “Bushies” should be labeled a “liberal.” In your rush to make it an “us” versus “them” contest, your vision has become blurred. O’Neill is no Al Franken!

It’s too easy to classify anything you disagree with as “liberal.” The world is not that simple.

Martin Hoffman

Winter Park, Florida

NRO’S CHRIS MCEVOY RESPONDS: Labeling a book “liberal” or “conservative” or “none of the above” can be a tricky chore. (The rule should be to fall on “none of the above” if choosing between the first two proves difficult.) But in the case of Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty, the decision was straight-forward at National Review Online. The subject of the book, Paul O’Neill, proved himself more Keynesian than supply-side and more fiscally liberal than conservative in his brief tenure as U.S. Treasury Secretary. At the most critical economic point of the Bush presidency, O’Neill sided with demand-side tax theories (favored by congressional Democrats) over Glenn Hubbard’s across-the-board, capital-forming, supply-side tax cuts, which Congress passed and Bush signed in 2003. So, in his critical moment as Treasury Secretary in a conservative administration, he went left–big time.

Since Suskind’s book is the testimony of a one-time treasury secretary, it was judged for NRO’s specific purposes (placement on a list of political best-sellers) on economic grounds. The fact that O’Neill back-stabbed Bush in book-form after he was let go only associates him with liberal tactics, not liberal politics per se. (Anyone is free to make this association, but NRO, necessarily, has not.)

Finally, “lifelong Republican” does not mean conservative (see Arlen Specter).

In sum, the O’Neill/Suskind book belongs right where it is–on the left.

HELL OF HAMAS

Alex Rose’s analysis of why Hamas has proven so ineffectual compared to Hezbollah and the IRA is correct (“The Losers of Hamas), and has been the subject of much discussion amongst those of us “not wholly unsympathetic to Palestinian aspirations,” to use his phrase. However, Rose misses a crucial point in relation to why Hamas has come to embody this mode of ineffectuality and extremism.

When Hamas was formed in the 1980s, its political wing was indeed in command of its military wing. Targets of attacks were almost exclusively Israeli soldiers, sometimes armed settlers, but rarely unarmed civilians. It was only after Baruch Goldstein’s mass murder at the il-Ibrihimi mosque in Hebron in 1994 that Hamas turned to suicide terrorism. Since then, there has been a growing divide between the Hamas political and military leaderships, with political leaders like Yassin issuing veiled conciliatory measures towards Israel, and the military leaders continuing in their wish to “sweep the Jews into the sea.” Indeed, just as Hezbollah maintains that the fight against Israel is not won until “Jerusalem is liberated,” insisting that the fight beyond Lebanon is not a military but a political one, Yassin had offered the Israelis what was variously reported as a “30-year truce” and a “100-year truce” in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. It is hard to believe that, after 30-100 years of calm, Palestinians would be willing to risk the society they would have built in that time in order to “sweep the Jews into the sea,” especially if peaceful relations had been established by then.

Many argue that this was a ruse, as Yassin maintained that “the Israelis claim 80 percent of the territory and will only let us have 20 percent. It would only be an interim solution.” But both David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin made similar pronouncements when they accepted the U.N. partition plan for Palestine. Ben-Gurion said, “The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan; one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.” Begin said, “The partition of the homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature of institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people… Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever.”

Nationalist movements always make grandiose statements in the service of public appeal–indeed, if they did not, few would succeed. Imagine a rallying cry of “On to one half of our homeland!” Rose is correct that for Hamas to become a legitimate, albeit violent organization, it’s political wing must articulate clear objectives and learn to control its military wing, and in the process stop continuously murdering civilians. But so long as Israel continues to assassinate relative “moderates” like Yassin, or like Raed al-Karmi, killed in January 2002, it is not only encouraging more terrorism against its own civilians, but depriving the Palestinians of the reasonable, level-headed leadership they need to fulfill their nationalist dreams, just as the Zionist movement has done for the Jewish people. Rose’s simply claiming that Hamas cannot be satisfied misses the essential point that one of the main reasons Hamas cannot be satisfied is that Israel has killed most of the Hamas leaders who could have been satisfied, leaving only the extremists like Hamas’s new leader, al-Rantissi, to run the show.

Feroze Sidhwa

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland

Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin was as justified as would be America’s targeted killing of Osama bin Laden.

Yassin–the founder and “spiritual leader” of a terrorist organization responsible for the murder and maiming of hundreds of innocents–got what he deserved.

That heads of state from London to Paris criticized Israel’s action instead of applauding it reveals, once again, their utter moral bankruptcy–and their seemingly endless willingness to appease evil.

But as logic suggests and history demonstrates, appeasing evil only emboldens it, and those who fail to learn this lesson invariably become targets of evil themselves.

David Holcberg

Ayn Rand Institute

Irvine, California

PEACE AND PREEMPTION

Both Bush and Blair cite Kosovo as a precedent for Iraq and future preemptive wars. The recent bout of ethnic cleansing and church-torching surely puts paid to the concept of Kosovo as a model (“Carnage in Kosovo“).

Note that prior to the bombing of Belgrade, NATO had held Partnership in Peace exercises with the Albanian Army in Albania while turning a blind eye to that country’s hosting of KLA training camps. “Partnership for an Impending Preemptive War” more aptly described those exercises.

When NATO went to war without U.N. authorization it was not to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Albanians but to impose the Rambouillet diktat on Belgrade. There was no ethnic cleansing prior to the bombing. It was, in fact, the bombing that both escalated what had been a little, albeit nasty, insurrectionary war and triggered the exodus of a substantial portion of the province’s population, with Albanians fleeing into Albania and Macedonia and Serbs into supposedly safe inner Serbia.

Following NATO’s occupation of Kosovo, the KLA in its quest for an ethnically pure province drove out most of the remaining Serbs, Roma, and other non-Albanians. Then the supposedly “disarmed” KLA and its Macedonian offshoot went on to use NATO-occupied Kosovo as a base to make war on neighboring Macedonia. Far from rushing to confront the KLA insurrectionists as was its legal obligation, NATO’s response was one of appeasement. Skopje was duly pressured to make concessions, the most important of which was to upgrade the Albanian minority’s status to that of a nation. This, alas, was the exact opposite of what happened in Croatia a decade earlier when the West approved Zagreb’s downgrading of the constitutional status of its Serbs from “one of Croatia’s two historical nations” to that of a minority. Needless to say, NATO did not go to war to reverse the subsequent ethnic cleansing of the Krajina Serb nation.

The ultimate criticism of those who insist that humanitarian considerations trump international law is their predisposition to the quick-fix solution, namely war. And war, all too often, makes a bad situation worse.

Yugo Kovach

Twickenham, U.K.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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