Wednesday, November 30, 2005

New Government In Iraq

It seems that the current United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) List will loose seats and former Prime Minister Allawi’s List will gain seats in the next December 15th election. The people of Iraq are dissatisfying with the performance of the government. Mohammed of Iraq The Model:

recall that two weeks ago, we expected that the Iraqi Alliance would assume a change in strategy and according to an interview published on al-Sabah this morning, we weren’t wrong in our expectation; Nadeem al-Jabiri the head of the Fadheela Party (one of the 4 major components of the alliance) said in the interview that their goal is to achieve at least 1/3 of the seats of the Parliament as that would grant them the ability to block any alliance between other blocs.

The people in the Alliance realize very well that their chances to lead a government are getting smaller but they’re still in a state of denial, as one can conclude from al-Jabiri’s words “We have put in our plans that the Alliance shall win at least 1/3 of the seats so that no government can be formed without the Alliance…”.

I’d call is a dream rather than a plan because the other two major blocs that are most likely to be part of a government which are Allawi’s and the Kurds seem more inclined to unite among themselves after the elections to form the government rather than to keep power in the hands of the United Alliance.None of this is for sure as of now but the recent friendly meetings between Allawi and the Kurdish leaders like the latest with Barzani makes one think that if these two blocs get enough votes, then the United Alliance will have no choice but to become the opposition.

Mohammed is not who predict that the UIA will loose seats. Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate predicts the same thing.

I’ve also been hearing that the Iranians are doing feverish polling activity around Iraq, and have concluded that their acolytes in the UIA list are in trouble.
If the composition of the next Iraq government changes, it is a very good thing. Not because I favor one party over the other. It is good because it illustrates democracy at work. Government must perform to stay in power. It also shows that those who were concerned about that the Islamist tendency of the Iraqi Alliance List were wrong. It does not matter. In a democracy, the ideology of a particular party in power is unimportant in the long term. They must adjust to the wish of the constituent to remain in power.
Democracy also affects how foreign power deals with a country. In Iraq – both the US and Iraq neighbors must take into account Iraq domestic political atmosphere. The US will find ourselves have less influence on what the Iraqi government does – which actually is not a bad thing – in fact it is a very good thing. Trying to win influence over foreign governments at the objection of the population has not been good for the US reputation. Another benefit is that the theocracy in Iran will also find that it also has less influence over the government of Iraq. It (like the US) cannot pressure the Iraqi government to implement policies that the Iraqi population opposes. Like Mohammed, I am very sanguine about the future of Iraq.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Illegal Immigration Is Not Immigration

I am sick and tired of those who paint those who oppose illegal immigration as opposing immigrant. I am a first generation immigrant myself and very much in favor of immigrants. It fills me with joy every time I read about successful immigrants who realize their American Dream. But I strongly oppose to illegal immigration – whether mass amnesty or the refusal by our federal government to stop it at the borders.

By endorsing illegal immigrants, the US government is violating the “equal treatment” clause by creating two separate standards for immigrants – one for legal immigrants like me and one for the illegal immigrants.

My journey to the US was not an easy. I risked death and imprisonment to escape political oppression in my birth country. We escaped on a small wooden boat – and most of us did not make it. After a harrowing experience - I sat in a refugee camp for almost two years – going through various screenings and interview (by the UN and the US). Only after careful review – an US entry visa was granted.

I was eager to go to the US and the condition in the refugee camp was horrible. But I waited patiently through the process. And my patience was rewarded. I know many others who waited even longer in the camp. One of my friends waited for more than five years. His patience was also rewarded. He is now a successful physician in California. And as we speak, there are oppressed people all over the world who are sitting patiently at various refugee camps waiting patiently to go through the process. They, like generations of immigrants before, respect the laws of the US. These are people we want make fellow citizens – people who respect our law – not people who disregard our law.

It is inherently unfair that special treatment is given to people who simply decide to disregard US law and cross into the border illegally. If the victims of the genocide in Darfur have to go through the process, why can the people of Mexico or El Salvador? Why are they rewarded for breaking the law? And by rewarding illegal immigrants, we are in effect are punishing the aspiring immigrants who follow the process and procedure.

And there are those who are accusing people who oppose illegal immigration as isolationists, anti-capitalists, and anti-free trade. I am a strong advocate of free trade and globalization. Like most consumers, I like inexpensive goods - and the only way of getting them is by importing. But I also want the goods that enter the US to be inspected for health and safety reason. How many of you who want to eat imported meat and dairy that were not inspected? Please raise your hands. I did not think so. The same reason can be applied to immigrant. We want to inspect the people that want to enter this country to eliminate undesirable elements.

And if our labor market is demanding more low waged unskilled labor – let increase the number of legal immigrants. Double or triple the number of immigration visa annually, if need be. Let make it easier for employer to obtain worked visas for their foreign employees (after appropriate background check). But let grant visa to those who respect and value our law; and I even argue that we should make our fellow citizens. But those who show no regard for our law do not belong here.
UPDATE: Pedro makes a good point that illegal immigration is cutting in line. It is therefore absurd that the media keeps refering to those who support illegal immigration as "pro-immigration." Supporting people who cut in line and stole other immigrants chance of comming to America is in fact anti-immigration.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Class Action Lawsuit

A few days ago, I saw on CSPAN a forum of “progressives” (as the Left call themselves) which includes Kevin Drum. I saw nothing progressive about their agenda. There Kevin is selling his pet theory that class action law suit is a good thing. Kevin (I paraphrase) said that the reason class action law suit get a bad name is because of Republican propaganda. He argued that in class action law suit, 20 percents of the award go to the lawyers, and the other 80 percents go to the plaintiffs and it seems to be a fair way to compensate the damaged party.

Let take a closer look at this. And also let ignore Kevin error that the lawyer fee is 20 percent – it is 1/3 which is around 33 percents. Let say in a particular class action law suit, 10 million dollars is award to the plaintiffs. There are 200 plaintiffs and one lawyer. So one lawyer would get 2 million dollars and each plaintiff gets 400 dollars – 400 dollars versus 2 million dollars.

The consumers get such a great deal, why do we even need tort reform? Of course, the people who favor class action lawsuit only have the consumers’ interest in mind. Color me cynical.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bad Sell

A few months back, General Casey, the commanding general in Iraq, testified front of the Senate Armed Service Committee. The next day, in most newspapers, the head line said “Only one Iraqi battalion ready for combat” (or something similar to it). The head line, and the story gave the impression that the training of the Iraqi armed forces have not progressed at all. And if the US strategy in Iraq depends upon the readiness of the Iraqis, the situation seems dark and pessimistic. The headline was wrong. I did listen to General Casey, and I did not blame the Press. General Casey did a very poor job of explaining the situation in Iraq – especially concerning the readiness of the Iraqi security forces. It seems that I, a mere non-commission officer, understood the situation with the Iraqi forces better than General Casey.

When Senator McCain asked how many Iraqi army battalion with rating readiness rating of one; General Casey answered one. His answer is correct, that there is only one Iraqi battalion with the readiness status of 1. But he failed utterly to explain that it does not mean that only one battalion is ready for combat. My impression of General Casey from the testimony is that he did not understand the situation with the Iraqi forces. He read from a piece of paper, but did not seem to understand what it means, or what is actually going on with the Iraqi Defense Ministry.

A day later, at the Pentagon Press briefing, general Petraeus spent a couple of hours talking about the Iraqi armed forces. General Petraeus, unlike General Casey, understood the situation, and was able to explain with articulation and expertise. The readiness status of the Iraqi is based on the US system of readiness. To have a readiness rating of one, a battalion has to be completely autonomous and function. That requires autonomous function in logistic, personnel (pay and administration), intelligence, communication, and various other supporting functions. Therefore, having only one single battalion with the readiness rating of one is not a bad sign – in fact it is an encouraging sign to have any unit with a rating of one. There is a stark contrast between General Casey testimony and General Petraeus briefing.

The sign of progress is not in the number of units with category one rating but units with category two rating. Category II units are units that can conduct operation on their own but still depend on the multi-national coalition for logistic support and artillery support. That means that they control every aspect of their operation – offensive and defensive. But they still need food, bullets, fuel and other supplies from the US to carry out their operation. And there are many Iraqi battalions in category II. That is far cry from the head lines suggestion that only one Iraqi unit is ready to fight.

The reason that there are so few Iraqi battalions in the category one is intentional. The Iraqi Army, unlike the US army has a low teeth-to-tails ratio*. That means that they have a whole lot of riflemen but very few supply specialists, administrative clerks, medics, and other supported specialists. The reason is when we built the new Iraqi armed force from scratch; we started out with the basic skill and function of soldering, mainly infantry skills. This is logical because the combating element is the basic foundation of any armed force. Once that foundation is built, other skill set such as logistic, medicine, administration can be added on later to build a complete and independent unit. Those added on skills set have nothing to do with combat per se, but they are essential to the functionality of an armed force.

Furthermore those added on skill and functions is difficult to teach and built. Those who work in private sector in any managerial capacity will have an appreciation for the difficulty of running a logistic and administrative function. It is a skill set that even Fortune 500 companies are struggling with on a daily basis. How often do you go to your favorite retailer only to find out the items you are looking to purchase is out of stock? It is therefore unreasonable to expect the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, who just set up their logistic command and administrative center, can learn how to do in a short period of time.

But the fact it is I who are explaining this to you instead of the Bush administration is unacceptable. The support – or the lack of it – for the war has less to do with the situation on the ground, and has more to do with the administration inability to explain the situation on the ground. General Casey should not be the one who explain the status of the Iraqi armed force to the Senate. The right person is General Petraeus who was in charge of training and equipment the Iraqi Armed Force. The war does not need a spin – it only needs to be explained clearly. And if I have to give a grade on the Bush administration on explaining the war to the public; I would give them a failing grade. It would be unfortunate if a noble, positive, and righteous war is lost because the administration fails to explain it.
*teeth-to-tails are military term refering to the ratio between combating personnels and supporting personnels. Teeth are combating soldiers; tails are supporting soldiers. With the US Army, the ratio is 1 to 3. With the Iraqi Army, there are a whole of of teeth and almost no tails.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Realism or Unrealism

Realism was the dominant school of thought in International Relation and widely practiced by the US and others. Key aspect of Realism from Wikipedia.

1. The international system is anarchical.

2. Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system.

  • Dismissal of the independent influence of international organizations, sub-state, or trans-state actors.
  • Focus on the primary importance of nationalism, as opposed to sub-national groupings, or transnational ideological of cultural groupings.

3. States are rational actors, acting in their national interest.

  • Distrust of long-term cooperation or alliance.

4. The overriding goal of each state is its own security and survival.

  • Fundamental nature of the security dilemma.

5. State survival is guaranteed best by power, principally military in character.

  • Focus on relative power (i.e. "zero sum") versus absolute power.

One aspect I noticed about Realism is nowhere does the individual mentioned. Everything is about the state – nothing about the individual. This neglect of the individual is the main flaw of Realism. And it is the reason we are in the trouble we are in.

Realists’ strongest argument is that their philosophy is based on pragmatism, functionality and is not pie in the sky idealism. By supporting the status quo - realists hope to maintain stability. If that means supporting tyrants and dictators at the cost of individual’s liberty, they consider it worth the price. Being a utilitarian, I have to concede that the realists are right that chaos and anarchy is dangerous and everything should be done to prevent them. And if the benefit does not clearly outweigh the cost, idealism of democracy and freedom is nothing but an unworkable idea – pie in the sky.

But does the policy of realists prevent chaos and anarchy? I argue that the realist foreign policy does not prevent chaos and anarchy. It seems to provide stability, but only in the short term. In the long term, it compound the instability and make it more certain that instability will occur – and at great scale.

Supporting dictatorship for the sake of stability is like using the pressure cooker. You hold in the steam in the short run. But in the long run, the pressure will result in uncontrollable explosion. If the realists are correct, September 11th would never happen, and we would not be fighting the war on terrorism. In fact, the policy of realism gave birth to Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and million of angry Islamists wiling to blow themselves up.

The evidence on the failure of realism is clear, especially in the Middle East. If supporting the modern Pharaoh Mubarak put a lit on Islamic terrorism, why are so many Islamic terrorists are Egyptians? I have no doubt that Mubarak is sincere in oppressing the Islamists. It is in his self-interest to do so. But he fails miserably. The Islamic Brotherhood is more popular now than ever in Egypt. Egyptian society is now more fundamentalist than decades ago. Clearly, tyranny is the wrong medicine for the religious fanaticism malaise. If anything, it is a booster for religious fanatics. Oppression turns religious extremists into martyrs instead of laughing stocks.

A good comparison is the US, and the West, we have our own nutcases ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the various Christian fundamentalist cults. But none of them are receiving popular support the way Islamists are receiving support in the Middle East. In fact, in our society, they are the subject of ridicule in our society. We do not oppress them (as long they do not resort to violence), so they became laughing stocks and not martyrs.

So if realism does not promote international stability – which is it sole purpose – what use does it have? Realism is an oxymoron - an ideology that base on utilitarianism, but is useless. If realism does not work, let give liberalism a try. (And I am referring to classical liberalism that value individual liberty, not the socialist misnomer that is commonly used). Unlike realism, liberalism has a better track record. It works miraculously in the West and in emerging democracies of the Pacific Rims and India. It has not produced any fanatics who flew planes into building. Let give it a try in the Middle East.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Unholy Alliance Between Realists and Peaceniks

The War in Iraq completely changes the political paradigm. The left-right political divide over the war no longer no longer make any sense. It brings out the best in people – including people who I normally disagree with such as Christopher Hitchens. But it also brings out the worst in people. The devil reveals his true self. Who would have thought ten years ago that Brent Scowcroft would be the hero of the Left? Scowcroft is praised (among the Left) for his scathing statements toward President Bush and the war in Iraq. There are those on the right who criticized the President before. William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer had criticized the President conduct of the war (here, here and here). I have criticized the President conduct of the war. But, often the criticism is direct toward the on how it is fought – rather on why it was fought. Scowcroft criticism is unique among the right because he criticized the very reason for going to war.

It seems that those on the Left who praise Scowcroft must have forgotten who Scowcroft is and what he stands for. Scowcroft philosophy is not a secret – he speaks of it openly and is quite proud of it. This is a man who believes in “our-son-of-the-bitch.” And the sons-of-the-bitch include mass murderer (Saddam Hussein), corrupt tyrant who rob from his people (Ferdinand Marcos), drug dealer (Manuel Noriega), and general low life criminals. Scowcroft calls himself a realist – euphemism for cold-blood calculating Machiavellian. Scowcroft show public distain for humanitarian causes. Humanitarian intervention is not his concern. But Scowcroft is no pacifist. He opposed the intervention in the Balkan, East Timor (Scowcroft was the patron to the Indonesian military) and elsewhere – but had no problem waging war to defend the House of Sabah and the House of Saud – oppressive regimes in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I supported the First Gulf War too, but for a reason different than Scowcroft. I opposed tyrant (Saddam Hussein). Scowcroft defended tyrants (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait). It was therefore no surprise when Scowcroft stood by and watch the massacre of 200,000+ Iraqi Shiite civilians. His clients, the House of Sabah and the House of Saud, were safe. The lives of the oppressed Iraqis were irrelevant in the realist calculus.

Charles Krauthammer wrote a good respond to Scowcroft.

This coldbloodedness is a trademark of this nation's most doctrinaire foreign policy "realist." Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy: The only thing that counts is how countries interact, not what's happening inside. You care not a whit about who is running a country. Whether it is Mother Teresa or the Assad family gangsters in Syria, you care only about their external actions, not how they treat their own people.
So the praising of Scowcroft by the Left say less about Scowcroft (who’s view is well known), but say much more about the Left. At least Scowcroft’s view has been consistent. At least realists like Scowcroft do not pretend to be moral. It shows how morally bankrupted the Left is. It shows that their past criticism of the US foreign policy is simply pretext for anti-Americanism. They must not have believed in what they said then. If we travel back in time to from the 70s to the 90s – the Left main criticism of the US foreign policy is the very same realist position they now praise. The sudden reverse on position must make you wonder about their true intention.

PS: More fisking of Realism and Realists in the next post.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans on Veteran Day

This Veteran Day is more special than others. For the first time, I am a veteran – something I would rather not be. On this Veteran Day, let this point be known – veterans do not want to be veterans.

I for once rather not have spent 2004 in Iraq. Who in the right mind would? Who would want to be in 140 degree heat in full body armor? Who would want to eat food that taste like mud or sleep in a non-air-conditioned tent surround by bugs and insects? Who would want to be on the receiving end of road side bombs or mortars? Trust me – it was no fun. Most important, who would want to be away from our loved ones for a year – to be absent on Christmas, Thanks Giving, and birthdays of those we love?

Veterans are not warmonger. We do not enjoy war. We do not enjoy shooting at people or people shooting at us. Some of us may talk like they enjoy it. Trust me – it is simply bravado for show. At nights – we all looked at pictures from our loved one and wish that we were home. We all longed for a home cooked meal. I remember that most of our conversations I had with my war buddies consist of what we would do when we get home. Not a single day went by that I did not think of home and wishing to be there – not one single day. In fact, the thought crossed my mind every single waking hour I was in Iraq.

I am not regretted going to Iraq. I said that I am proud of what I did. I just wish I did not have to. I would rather that tyrants just drop death naturally and democracy just spring up miraculously everywhere. But since that did not happen, I am a veteran. And since that will not happen, many others will become veterans.

Today I know what Veteran Day is about. For me Veteran Day is about making up lost time. So I am going to give myself a royal treatment. I am going to the best restaurant and eat the best food, surround by my family. Veteran Day is about enjoying what I missed when I was in Iraq.

Happy Veteran Day.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fertile Ground

The situation in France is worrisome. There are those who see this as poetic justice – something France deserves. But I do not share their view – whether France deserve this – or whether it was a creation of their misguide policy - this affect us all. The situation is potentially dangerous for France, for Europe, and for everyone. This is a perfect condition for Islamic fundamentalists to exploit the situation to their advantages.

Before I go on about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, let me disabuse some of the preconceptions. The riot in France in its current form has little or no Islamic overtone. This is because the kids (and they are kids) are not religious or religiously motivated (and many rioters are not Muslims). The majority are children of Muslim descents who rarely attend mosques. They cannot read the Koran because their first and prefer language is French not Arabic. Therefore their motivation is not Islam.

Nonetheless, these kids are now extremely perceptible to Islamic propaganda and recruiting. They are angry at the authority. They are in despair. Their only prospect is perpetual poverty in a welfare state with no future, no dignity, and no hope for a better live. We have seen this before, in the US and elsewhere. In the US, often children such as these join criminal enterprises. In the cities, they joined the Bloods, the Crips, and the Maras. In the rural and suburban area, they joined the Aryan Brotherhood or the Ku Klux Klan. Or they became anarchists, communists, and other fringe political groups.

Among the North African youths of France, they are the fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalism. All it takes is the sowing of seeds. Just imagine these kids who long for a purpose and meaning come into contact with charismatic Islamists (who are plentiful in Europe). Now they are simply burning cars and building. Years from now, they will trade their Molotov cocktail for a suicide vest.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Unintended Consequence of the Welfare State

France suburban riot is on its 8th day. What we are witnessed is the unintended consequence of the welfare state. The crisis in France, as well as Europe, is not social per se. It is true that the rioters are North African Muslim – but the core of the crisis is economic – not racial or religious. One must keep in mind that most of the rioters are second and third generation immigrants, who should be fully integrated into society in normal circumstance. But French society is not a normal circumstance or has it been for sometime now. France is essentially a welfare state in which the government try to provide for its citizens everything – even things that private individual should provided for themselves. France economy is heavily regulated and its labor is extremely restricted. This results in high employment and a very sluggish economy.

How does the economy have anything to do with ethnic riot? Everything – Employment lead to more interaction outside of one ethnic and social group and bring a particular ethnic group into the social fold through the economic process. High unemployment – even with social safety net such as welfare and entitlement – is disastrous to a society. Employment and economic opportunity is not merely material but spiritual. Imagine large number of idle young men, in ethnic neighborhood, with absolute nothing constructive to do – young men full of vigor and energy. They will find things to do to release their penned up energy. And in poor ethnic ghettoes, those activities are often consisted of nefarious activities – crime, or worse, Islamic fundamentalism. (This is particularly true of Saudi young men – idleness had led many of them toward extremism in a search for meaning in life. Bin Laden and Zarqawi were once such idle young men.)

The riot in French suburbs reveals the flaw in Fabian socialism. It does not take into account the psychology of people. It assumes that by providing the basic subsistence to people, that would be enough to keep them content. People are never content with bare subsistence – especially if it comes in the form of hand out and charity. It degrades them and robs them of their self-esteem. It is a shameful existence. Men need pride from their own labor. Self-reliance brings personal honor and pride – a sense of ownership over one own life. This is why the free market economy is not only an efficient and effective system – it is also a humane and honorable. What is more honorable than self-reliance – a complete control over one own life.