30 May 2009

We knew it was coming...

With SWJ appearing on the Hot List in Rolling Stone, the jokes have been flying. The guys in the Small Wars Council were joking about a SWJ bikini shoot (bad mental image).

It's better than the initial joke that I had, where the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine would be a boy band consisting of Nagl, Exum, Dave Dilegge, Zenpundit and David Kilcullen called the "Small Wars Boys". (As South Park astutely notes, there must be 5 people in a boy band)

Well, the guys at the Mudville Gazette have this joke topped. (Thank God he didn't photoshop Andrew Exum into Lady Gaga's bubble bikini)

Anyway, someone at the Small Wars Council apparently got ahold of a copy of the magazine and posted the text. There's a picture of a Somalian pirate, along with the following:

Hot Intelligence: 'Small Wars Journal'
The Military's New Must Read

Want to know how Obama is going to fight the war in Afghanistan? Then check out Small Wars Journal, an online magazine that provides a crash course on asymmetric warfare. Get schooled in fighting Somali pirates. Find out what Malcolm Nance, a former Navy interrogation instructor, thinks about waterboarding ("a torture technique, Period"). When David Kilcullen, special adviser to Gen. Petraeus, live-blogged the Iraq surge, he did it for SWJ.

Contributions include who's who of the sharpest minds in uniform, regardless of rank. "You're judged purely on the strength of your intellectual argument," says John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who helped write the Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Run by two former Marines, the site is a must-read for military insiders. "We must be doing something right," says co-founder Dave Dilegge, "because we get people calling us Attila the Hun warmongers one day and counterinsurgency-loving tree-huggers the next."

29 May 2009

Quick Links, Admin Notes

Over the past week or so, I've been able to meet some new milbloggers, and I've been able to read some great new posts from some of my regular milblog friends. Without further ado, the links of the day:

  1. Blog--The Huguenot Corsair. A gentleman named Duncan Kinder keeps an excellent blog regarding piracy, particularly in Africa, but also throughout the Mediterranean region and Asia.
  2. Blog—Root Cause, Corrective Action, by someone I'll identify as Corey, a US Navy officer who is currently serving as an engineer in a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan. He has an amazing talent for photography; I highly recommend subscribing to his blog.
  3. Blog—The Suppliants, by our very own Greg in Mexico, who discusses the narco-insurgency situation in that country. It's amazing that he can continue to work teaching at a school and ministering in the middle of the chaos, but he does.
  4. The Kilcullen Doctrine by Zenpundit
  5. Looks as if ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), the military actor in Afghanistan, is taking some advice from a recent SWJ/Foreign Policy article (quoted here at WOI) and is now putting out several "Tweets" per day.
  6. More Afghan social networking. If you're a service member in Afghanistan, a site called "Why Afghanistan Matters" wants to hear from you about the important things the US is doing in Afghanistan. Check it out.

I'd also like to thank the gentlemen at Small Wars Journal for linking to a recent post of mine which was a call to action for junior officers to tell the Army how valuable sites like CompanyCommand and PlatoonLeader are. With the Army (rightfully) shifting its funding from the generating force to the operating force, every dollar should be looked at with a critical eye. Let's hope that our praise of these web tools is heard by those in charge of making the budgeting decisions, which I'm certain it will. Thousands have benefitted from these forums.

You may also notice, if you scroll down the page, that there is now a tracker embedded on the right hand side of the blog. I had no idea how much traffic I was getting, and from the sites they are coming from. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my efforts to attract viewers with a picture of Megan Fox in a Star Wars T-shirt would be successful. That's guaranteed geek success. Even some Saudi Arabians are risking getting arrested by their local moral police by Google searching "Megan Fox Star Wars T-Shirt". Wonders never cease.

What I was surprised with, however, is how many people are coming here from Small Wars Journal and from Foreign Policy Online. I've also noticed that I'm getting a lot of visitors from the Washington DC area, and from Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas. I guess that means that either the Army's Combined Arms Center is checking me out, or the military prison is checking me out. Go figure…

28 May 2009

Congratulations, Small Wars Journal!

Small Wars Journal is a great site. But you normally wouldn't associate it with Rolling Stone Magazine's "Hot List". Until now.

This time, we're banking on an assortment of movers, shakers and muckrakers that runs the gamut from the warfare digest "Small Wars Journal" to Hot Issue cover girl Lady Gaga (check out video from our photo session here, and shots of her wildest moments here). Plus, flip through our Hot List photo gallery to see the faces of the list, and check out profiles of some of the figures breaking through this summer.
The online version of Rolling Stone mentions SWJ in the intro to its "Hot List", but I can't find an in-depth discussion of it in the online version of the magazine. I think RollingStone.com would rather post large pictures of Daisy Lowe than a screen capture of SWJ's home page (no offense to the SWJ editors, but I can certainly sympathize).

It looks as if I'm going to have to acquire a copy of Rolling Stone when it gets shipped over here.

Eurofighter takes a trip to the grocery store...

During the Second World War, the German military actually employed a number of incredibly high-tech devices which their local propaganda machine dubbed "Wonder Weapons" ("wunderwaffen"). These weapons included jet fighters (the Me-262), Man-Portable Air Defense Systems ("Pilot Fist"), and Inter-continental ballistic missiles (the dreaded V-2 rocket).

While these weapons were impressive, they were utter strategic failures. The supersonic V-2 rocket, for example, was negated by asymetric means. Most notably, the British Intelligence service had cracked the German codes, imprisoned most of the German spy ring, and transmitted false targeting information to the Third Reich, causing the missiles to overshoot Britain and land in the sea. It also helped that Allied attack fighters, vastly outnumbering the Me-262 jet fighters, were also able to destroy V-2s on the ground.

Many 5th Generation fighters these days are quite similar to the Wunderwaffen. Although they show great promise in dogfights against any potential rival aircraft, their use is limited in the types of conflicts which have come to dominate the early 21st Century. For example, the new F-22 has sat out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the time being--it's of little use against an insurgency which plants bombs on the sides of roads and easily blends back into the local population, and it can do little to prevent sectarian violence.

It is worth mentioning, however, that the F-22 is the best jet fighter in the sky today. Bar none. The only fighter that can come close to the F-22 is an aircraft called the Eurofighter Typhoon, a joint venture from Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Spain--most of whom (except Austria) are NATO allies.

I actually have high praise for the Eurofighter--it's performed remarkably well against the F-15 Eagle in dogfights, and the F-15 is famous for enjoying the greatest air-to-air performance record of any plane in history (115 kills with no losses).

But like the F-22, the Eurofighter also has little to bring to the table in the conflicts Europe might see in the near future. Certainly, it's not exactly the best thing for preventing further civil war and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia.

So what's the best way to use these aircraft? Well, none other than the German Luftwaffe seems to have an idea.

Apparently, a German diplomat in Croatia ran out of a certain type of mustard that went with a particular brand of sausage. With a dinner party quickly approaching, the diplomat was determined not to commit a culinary faux pas. Rather, he called back to Germany, where a Eurofighter Typhoon was dispatched, carrying the exquisite mustard to the reception.

That's right, a fighter that costs about $100 million per copy just ran an errand at the grocery store for a diplomat. Wonders never cease.

27 May 2009


When I get back home to my Blackberry, I am going to start posting Twitter feeds. Twitter is a social networking site which has gained immense popularity in the last few months, particularly with Oprah Winfrey using the site.

The US Army usually lags behind in terms of social networking, but now even the Army has a Twitter site. It's a great way for the Army to put out its message in the Web 2.0 world. Of course, the number of followers of the US Army pales in comparison to...a cat. Yes, Sockington, a cat, has over a half a million followers on Twitter, posting comments about, well, whatever cats like to think during the day.

I swear this must be a sign of the apocalypse or something.

So true...

I miss drinking, partying and all sorts of ill debauchery so much after looking at this cartoon...

Link of the Day

Thomas Ricks posted a great link to an essential packing list for Afghanistan (although it could apply to Iraq as well) on his blog at Foreign Policy Online.


6. Drop Leg Holster (Blackhawk or SERPA) and Uncle Mike's Paddle-Holster for wearing around every day (drop leg will wear a hole in ACUs over time). I also have one for my IBA so I can have my 9mm handy when in the gun hatch going through towns.

I agree...the thigh rig (or the vest holster) is preferrable when flying, but for normal day-to-day wear, the "hip hugger" holster is best. For the record, I only have my hip-hugger now, and it's made by Bianchi. Stylish.

13. MP3 PLAYER W/ x-tra pair of spare headphones
14. Enough batteries to last you 30 days

Agreed and agreed. You will lose the nubs or ruin your headphones regularly, and probably won't be able to find a good set for a while, particularly as units rotate out and buy up everything at the PX. Same thing goes with the batteries. I would also add a voltage transformer (or three) on there as well. You see, we use 220V on US bases in the Middle East, even though the housing is built by the American company, KBR/Halliburton...

27. More books/magazines than you think you will need.

Better yet, an Amazon Kindle--it fits in a cargo pocket!

38. Extra boot laces

You can always order winter clothing in the middle of summer and have it shipped to Iraq, but boot laces are always out of stock. WTF.

49. Get a Skype account and download the software from skype.com. This is how I talk to home 95% of the time. If you call computer to computer it is totally free. You can also skype out from your computer to a regular phone for $0.021 a minute. There is nothing cheaper than that.

66. A good assault pack, I have one from Tactical Assault Gear with aluminum stays in it for support. It's been a lifesaver several times,the one the Army issues is a P.O.S.

I bought mine from BlackHawk, and I've taken it everywhere. Wouldn't use anything else.

Focus: What else?

Quick Post--The New Media in peril?

Excuse typos and whatnot, I need to post this before the power goes out again.

I just received this e-mail from someone involved in an Army-based web forum called "CompanyCommand.com" (whose sister site is "PlatoonLeader.com"). Seems that, with projected budget "cuts", the first thing to go isn't bloated programs like the F-22 Raptor or the Army's Future Combat System, but rather, inexpensive projects which have actually yielded impressive results by spurring innovation from the field. Says the e-mail:

Fellow member of the CC professional forum:

We need your help!

Budgets & personnel are on the chopping block. One colonel told us this month that his plan to meet the cuts was to get rid of us and asked, "What does a website have to do with the mission?"

This isn't just a website or another Army organization. This is a grass-roots movement of leaders who are sold out to the cause of leading and loving Soldiers and growing combat-effective teams. Thousands of Company Commanders and Platoon Leaders (past, present, and future) are already engaged in a vibrant, ongoing conversation--sharing our hard-earned knowledge and experiences with each other, becoming more effective, and advancing our profession.

Take a moment and consider the MilSpace Platform. MilSpace provides the foundation of CompanyCommand and PlatoonLeader and also hosts your personal area (dog tag) and the Pro-Reading Forum. Soon, we will launch LeaderCast, which is a place for video clips of leaders like you talking about their experiences (we already have hundreds of clips set to post). The team also takes responsibility for monthly articles in ARMY Magazine and other projects such as the MCCC Yearbook, the Iraq Cdr AAR Book, and the Afghan Cdr AAR Book--all possible because of a groundswell of leaders like you who are on a mission to share their knowledge and to learn from others.

Again, I don't know how serious the recommendation was to shut down CompanyCommand.com, but should anyone question the power of "The New Media" on combat operations, I merely direct them to this article in Small Wars Journal. (Includes interviews from Zenpundit, David Kilcullen, Thomas Ricks, Abu Muqawama, and, of course, from me).

Focus: If you have an account at CompanyCommand or PlatoonLeader, log in and tell the admins not to shut the site down.

26 May 2009

Okay, I admit it

A few months ago, I was on an aircraft that got stuck at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, outside the city of Balad. As the name suggests, it serves as a large logistical hub for supplies all throughout Iraq. This, of course, means that the base has every amenity known to mankind. In the words of David Axe, "you want a brand-new main battle tank, two tons of artillery shells, or a gross of blueberry muffins, well...Anaconda's your one-stop shop". Indeed, when USO stars such as Carrie Underwood visit Iraq, where do they go? Balad.

Having said that, a landing at Balad led us to encounter what we like to call "Air Force luck". You see, when Air Force cargo planes are traveling across the world, they almost always seem to have a maintenance issue during a stop at a US base in Germany, where the beer is cold and the women are hot. They never break down in Iraq, where the weather is hot and the beer is, erm, non-existent.

Well, similarly, we wound up with a torque split--each of the Black Hawk's engines producing drastically different levels of power--at Balad. We stopped for repairs, which wound up being quite extensive: the troubleshooting process resulted in the maintenance crew replacing almost one entire engine and half of another engine bit-by-bit. This resulted in a delay which lasted for three days. Although I have to admit that there were far worse places to be stuck.

Unfortunately for us, it was winter, so we didn't feel like partaking in the two swimming pools that the base reportedly houses. We also heard that the base contained some palaces on the "Air Force side", but I have yet to confirm that. But above all, we had to take advantage of their dining facility. At the time, we were eating out of mermite containers in a hangar, so any facility which cooked its own food was a culinary thrill. Of particular note was the fact that, at Balad, the dining facilities are quite good (though they pale in comparison to the facilities in Tal'Afar).

Balad's dining facility also appears to be the only place in all of Iraq where we could actually find barbeque sauce.

This was such a novelty that, after looking around the room for a bit, we stuffed a bottle or two into our pockets before making a hasty, erm, exfiltration. I suppose someone is already keen to this little trick, because there was actually someone stationed at the exit to make sure we didn't steal food from the dining facility. Fortunately, the guard seemed to chuckle and smile as I casually waved my hand and said something about "not needing to see my identification", and we were home free, with our precious bounty of barbeque sauce, fit for consumption on hamburgers in slightly more austere areas of Iraq.

Focus: Admit it, you've all done something like this. 'Fess up...

25 May 2009

Fiasco--I need to retract a post

In an earlier post, I expressed surprise that the Wall Street Journal was apparently blocked on DoD networks. I thought, mistakenly, that the DoD had gone so far as to block the Wall Street Journal from their networks after a long line of banning a number of other military-related websites. Unfortunately, I was incorrect. After talking with some people who are in the know on these issues, I realize where I made my mistake.

It's actually a simple one to make--the DoD's ad-blocking software has some odd quirks to it. Strangely enough, links in official Army e-mail (known as "AKO mail") are blocked, since the software apparently interprets links in an e-mail as spam.

Additionally, results for very legitimate websites in Google--such as the Wall Street Journal--usually come up with an ad for that particular site as the first link, and not the actual link itself. If you click on the ad--even if it clearly says "Read the Wall Street Journal at www.wsj.com"--it will be blocked. If you type in the URL on the other hand, it's not blocked.

Ordinarily, I'd go back and simply delete the inaccurate post and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, I got a link to it.

Now, this link actually came as a surprise to me. I used to think that only a handful of people read this site. It should have tipped me off as to how many visitors I was getting when my parents actually said they were reading my blog. They can't even come up with a password more complicated than "1234", and they found my blog! (Oh yeah: Mom, you might want to change your password soon.)

Well, it looks like I had more fans than I initially thought. And one of these people is someone that I'm actually a huge fan of as well.

Thomas Ricks, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from the Washington Post and the author of one of my favorite books on the Iraq War, has made reference to me on one or two occasions on his blog at Foreign Policy Online. I actually own not only the Kindle copy of the book, but also a hardcover edition of the book, which I have with me here in Iraq. See:

Yes, "The Gamble" is not only on my Kindle, but it is also cradled in my bookshelf (yeah, I had a bookshelf shipped over here) among T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Thucydides, a book about John Boyd, The Alphabet of Manliness, a book on pick-up artists and, finally, a book on Tantric Sex sent to me by one of my fans. Some things you can't make up...

Anyway, unfortunately, Mr. Ricks quoted me on the WSJ story that I now learned was inaccurate, which actually gained him some negative comments. For that, I sincerely apologize. In fact, if Mr. Ricks is ever in the Upstate NY area when I re-deploy, I am hereby offering to make it up to him with a copious amount of Sackets Harbor 1812 Amber.

In all seriousness, I apologize for misinforming Mr. Ricks--it was an honest mistake.

Arlington National Cemetery

An article from CNN yesterday caught my eye:

Mementos adorn 'saddest acre'

More than flowers adorn the graves in Section 60. Visitors of all faiths have picked up the ancient Jewish tradition of leaving a small stone on the headstones to show that a visitor had been to the grave. In most cases these are pebbles found near the grave. But some people have taken to leaving colored glass beads or elaborately painted stones with shamrocks or words like "hero."

Capra recently found a small Yoda figure on her husband's grave. She doesn't know who left it, but it must have been a friend, because her husband loved "Star Wars."

"We never know who puts stuff" on the headstone, she said.

Some mementos leave one to wonder about the story behind them. Like the headstone topped by a tiny bottle of Tabasco hot sauce. Or a set of dog tags with a name that didn't match the name on the headstone.

There is another topped by a small Lego toy, perhaps left by a child whose father died in a far-off land before they even knew each other. Or the grave adorned with an empty bottle of Bud Light, a rubber duck and a candle.

Nearby an empty Wild Turkey bottle is the lone addition to the grave of a soldier who died in a country where drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden.

Capra has found a variety of items on Tony's headstone.

"Coins, lots of rocks, candy. My husband was a candy freak," Capra said. "There was a cross. A little necklace, Mardi Gras beads during Mardi Gras season. Anything they have they'll put on top to show that they are thinking about them at the time."

Alexander seems to draw strength from the items she finds.

"Someone came and did a picture of Lee, and it was a hand-drawn picture. I thought that was very interesting," she said.


"People who haven't been seen in years will leave a note of some sort. It's nice to know that you've been remembered after all of this time. To know that we have friends who still love and support us, that is just wonderful."

24 May 2009

When you Facebook, you defeat Ahmadinejad

Months ago, we looked at the social organizing potential of Facebook, particularly in light of a Facebook group which prompted millions to participate anti-FARC protests throughout the world, and caused massive defections from the FARC. (In fact, I even talked about it with USSOUTHCOM Commander, Admiral James Stavridis).

It looks as if Facebook might now have the potential at undermining the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Iran has a massive youth population, and some have speculated that this population is grossly sick of the current regime. Indeed, it looks as if many of them are supporting one of Ahmadinejad's opponents, Mir Hossein Mousavi, in an election coming up some time next month.

Mr. Mousavi has what, in Iran, is considered quite a following: over 5,000 young Iranians have joined his fan page on Facebook. Granted, this pales in comparison to the awesome popularity of Tucker Max (80,000 fans) and the LOLCats (25,000 fans), but it's popular for Iran. Maybe if Mousavi had more tales of drinking, fornicating and accidentally backing a car into a donut shop, he'd have more fans. But I digress.

Mousavi has a number of positions, which, dare I say it, are quite normal after witnessing the last few years of Ahmadinejad--foremost among these positions being that, yes, the Holocaust actually did happen. Unfortunately, he's going to have a difficult time getting out his message among the youth which seem to form his base--Ahmadinejad and company have reportedly blocked Facebook in Iran.

Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi -- a former prime minister considered a threat to current hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- created a Facebook page for his campaign that has more than 5,000 supporters on the site.

Those attempting to visit Facebook received a message in Farsi saying, "Access to this site is not possible," according to CNN personnel in Tehran.

ILNA reported the Masadiq Committee, made up of representatives from Iran's intelligence ministry, judiciary and others had ordered the action.

After a few hours, the blockage was lifted, but was then reinstated, ILNA said. No reason was given for the block.

"We are disappointed to learn of reports that users in Iran may not have access to Facebook, especially at a time when voters are turning to the Internet as a source of information about election candidates and their positions," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

23 May 2009

Get inside the loop--information operations

Robert Haddick of Foreign Policy Online, in conjunction with Small Wars Journal, posted an interesting article regarding strategic communications in Afghanistan. I think most of us realize that the field of information operations is still evolving, and we've yet to fully explore the various ways we can exploit it. That being said, there's something inherently wrong when a band of men in caves are out-communicating the world's most interconnected superpower. We can do better than this.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report on strategic communications highlighted at Small Wars Journal showed how good the Taliban have become at propaganda and how far the United States must run to catch up. The Taliban doesn't need 16 days to get its message out:

[Michael] Doran [a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense] said that in Afghanistan, U.S. forces carry out an operation "and within 26 minutes -- we've timed it -- the Taliban comes out with its version of what took place in the operation, which immediately finds its way on the tickers in the BBC at the bottom of the screen."

Taliban information operations are not only speedy -- they also reach a range of media markets:

Taliban warlords renovated printing presses; launched new publications in Dari, Pashto, Arabic, and English; and maintained Voice of Sharia, a radio station, for dissemination of Taliban ideas and statements. ... By early 2009 Afghan and Pakistan Taliban factions were operating hundreds of radio programs, distributing audio cassettes, and delivering night letters to instill fear and obedience among their targeted populations.

Again, we can do better. Granted, we're at a disadvantage, simply because we're the outsiders, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible to wrangle control of the information landscape back from the Taliban.

The New Media might play a critical role in some areas--particularly global communication--but let's not be too enamored with it. Remember, many in Afghanistan are illiterate, and will not communicate in the same ways we do in the West, or even in Iraq. It is going to take some innovative thinking to get the anti-Taliban message out faster than our enemies are getting out the pro-Taliban message.

In sum, we need to get inside the Taliban's informational OODA Loop...

22 May 2009

The best-laid plans

For at least twenty years prior to the First World War, German planners developed, honed and revised the "Schlieffen Plan", which was probably the most meticulous battle plan ever created...and still lost. Part of the reason this plan didn't work was because it, like many military plans, didn't allow for sufficient flexibility.

An old maxim of combat is that no plan ever survives the first ten minutes of contact, and many times, this is true. One of the greatest military strategists of the modern era, Colonel John Boyd, studied many successful generals who practiced the art of "maneuver war", such as Ghengis Khan and Erwin Rommel. What he discovered was that successful maneuver armies not only have plans to accomplish their primary objectives, but also have "branches" in their plans, to allow for greater flexibility. For example, junior leaders not only have their primary objectives, but secondary ones as well, should the primaries not be attainable. Boyd also noted that great armies and organizations (much like animals) were not necessarily the strongest armies, but the ones which were the most responsive to changing conditions on the battlefield.

All operations involve some degree of the unknown, and will be subject to forces well outside of anyone's control. This week, I had just that sort of operation. The plan and the timeline were in a constant state of due to a number of factors--sandstorms, broken aircraft, meetings that go on forever, you name it. Just when you think you have the plan finalized, a sandstorm delays things for days.

Everyone involved in the operation can easily get frustrated. But the frustration that occurs, the blaming of one another when things don't happen as planned, all this leads to what Clausewitz called "friction". This is exactly what the maneuver warfare artist seeks to exploit in other armies, and exactly what we need to avoid in our organizations.

So relax, accept the change, and move on with life. Nothing is ever certain. Just execute a superior OODA Loop and you'll be all right.

Today’s power outage brought to you by the letters K, B and R.

Good morning, gentlemen, the temperature is 110 degrees, and once again, I'm just now getting my power back after an outage. For the fourth time today.

Yes, we can all thank the world-famous electrical work of Kellogg, Brown and Root (formerly Halliburton). I mean, I do have a blog to run here...


Today is a day which shall live in, erm, the opposite of infamy. Indeed, today, I found out that Megan Fox likes chicks in addition to dudes.

20 May 2009


The sandstorm has blotted out the sun, making it cooler. This would be ideal weather for long-distance running if it weren't for the long-term health effects it might have, breathing in massive amounts of dust and all. Decisions, decisions...

Posting will be light...

Posting may be erratic in the next few days. Due to some generator issues, I've been experiencing intermittent power recently. A discussion I had with another Soldier while shaving sums it up.

Me: Can you believe it? The power was out again...the third time in the last 24 hours.
Soldier: That generator needs to get replaced. Soon...
Me: That's putting it mildly.
Soldier: Okay, that generator needs to be slingloaded out to the range and used as target practice.
Me: That's better...

19 May 2009

Question from my fans, answered indirectly

Every once and I while I get to kill two birds with one stone by combining two posts into one. The impetus for this post came from a gentleman named Roger from Scandanavia, who wanted to know if drug use among Soldiers was as much of a problem now as it was in the 1970s (the short answer is no. Drug use is relatively rare thanks to random urinalysis and the end of the draftee system.)

His question, however, led me to thinking about this post made on TaskForceMountain.com back in January.

Major General Michael Oates, the commander of the 10th Mountain Division, made a post on the discussion board portion of his blog at Task Force Mountain.com which spurred some discussion about the activities that Soldiers have in Iraq. Surprisingly, there were a few who groaned at the fact that Soldiers on forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan get to partake in Wii tournaments, Salsa classes, and Texas Hold 'Em tournaments.

I guess that, based on the complaints, there must be a significant portion of the population that wants to return to the good old days of the Vietnam War, where Soldiers got to pass the time with drugs, alcohol and prostitutes. I thought all of those commercials on TV were supposed to get you to develop your "anti-drug". What if your anti-drug is a Wii tournament--which, by the way, can actually be quite a workout.

Before we deployed, I told my Soldiers that they needed to pick up some sort of hobby. In an environment like this, there's bound to be free time (just watch the movie "Jarhead"). I suggested to my Soldiers that, instead of wasting their time watching TV or playing video games--or worse yet, sitting around and being depressed--that they spend doing something productive. Really, anything would do. My recommendations were, obviously, taking some college classes online, reading, or working out. Basically, I challenged them to leave Iraq better than when they first arrived. Many of them will.

Keeping the mind busy is a great way to beat depression. If Soldiers want to spend their time participating in Wii tournaments with their friends, hey, it's healthy fun. If they want to hold a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, are they really wasting government funds? All they need are a few decks of cards and some poker chips--that's it. It's certainly no more expensive than a lot of other things the government wastes money on.

There are a number of different clubs and groups available on the larger bases--you can usually find Soldiers with any one of a number of interests gathering. For example, I like to run long distance. Thankfully for me, I can usually find a running event about once a month that will not only introduce me to new people, but also score me a free T-shirt. Best of all, the clubs hardly cost anything--they're usually organized by Soldiers in their free time.

If we're going to have a General Order Number One which bans alcohol, sex, and yes, even porn--which, when you look at American military history, is damned near unprecedented--can't our Soldiers at least fill the void with a Wii tournament or a fun run?

18 May 2009

Mail Call: New Toy

I've been eagerly awaiting this care package for the past week.

As the mail came in today, someone read my name off of the addressee line, then noted something unusual about the packaging. "Who do you know in Switzerland?"

I leaped up, snatched the package, and opened it up. Among the goodies sent from one of my Swiss fans, Claudia (who is currently in DC at the Air and Space Museum), came one of Switzerland's finest creations--and this is the country that gave us Rolex, Nestle chocolate, and, of course, Swiss bank accounts.

In the package, nestled among some chocolate, were two Victorinox knives, known to us Americans as "Swiss Army knives". Folding knives of this sort were manufactured by two rival companies, Wenger and Victorinox, both of whom had a contract to supply field knives to the Swiss Army. Each knife (from both companies) featured the white cross on a red background, and most models were colored red--in fact, today, the color red for folding knives is actually a registered trademark of Victorinox.

The knives proved quite popular in Central Europe, where many German officers purchased the knives, some of which subsequently fell into the hands of American GIs, who referred to the knives as "Swiss Army Knives". (Well, it was easier to pronounce than "offiziersmesser", the official name for them)

The knives have been taken everywhere--to the top of Mount Everest and even into outer space. They've been used for countless purposes. My most frequent use for one in Iraq, aside from the obvious use of the knife itself, is the bottle opener/flat-head screwdriver.

Why am I using a bottle opener when there's no beer? Well, in order to pre-flight the Black Hawk, you need to first check to ensure you have fuel. Simple enough, right? But the thing of it is, unlike a car, where you just turn on the battery and check the fuel gauge, the only way to get the electronic fuel gauge to light up is by starting the auxiliary power unit--a massive turbine generator--which you should really only do after you pre-flighted everything else.

So how do you check to see if there's fuel? Well, you open up the fuel tanks and you look inside to see if there is, indeed, JP-8 (That's Jet A for you in the civilian world) sloshing around on the inside. Problem is, the new childproof fuel tank caps are quite difficult to open, so I have to use the flat-head bottle opener to pry open the fuel tank so that I can look inside. It's not as sexy as using a Swiss Army Knife to fight terrorists, like MacGyver, but it works for me.

An interesting thing to note is that, a few years ago, the Swiss Army was looking to buy a new pocketknife for its Soldiers, and forced Victorinox--the company who trademarked "Swiss Army Knife"--to compete and bid to win the contract to manufacture the new Swiss Army Knife. (Take note, KBR, even Victorinox had to bid to build Swiss Army Knives)

Fortunately, Victorinox won the contract and is continuing to build knives for the Swiss Army, with many of the seemingly-innocent items, such as the bottle opener, being used to help assemble the SIG 550 rifle.

Focus: What have you used your pocketknife for?

17 May 2009

Curse You, Small Wars Journal!

I am nearing completion of an article for Small Wars Journal regarding "hybrid war". I thought to myself that, yes, this article looked quite original and would make for excellent discussion at SWJ.

Then, as I do a little research into Hybrid War, I see that Mr. Frank G. Hoffman from the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has pretty much said everything I wanted to say and more--and did it far more eloquently than I could.


I basically wanted to make the following points:
  • That "hybrid wars" are not necessarily new
  • That "hybrid wars" are taking place in an environment of decreased state power and greater access to weapons technology by non-state actors, and as a counter to conventional Western-style military strength.
  • That "hybrid wars" can be viewed as a tactical phenomenon (a merging of conventional and unconventional conflict), or as a strategic phenomenon (multiple types of conflict in the same area--such as counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan)
Mr. Hoffman made these points far more eloquently, and provided a fascinating read. This article is well worth a look.

Focus: Ever think you came up with something original, only to find out that someone already did it before, and much better than you did?

Links of the Day

Two links for today.

  • The first link is an article entitled "Change from Above" from Vertical Online (obviously, a helicopter-related magazine/website). Although the article spends a great amount of time discussing the ins-and-outs of helicopter flight over Afghanistan with the US Department of State (and their pilots from DynCorp), there is quite a bit of talk about current counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan. It's worth taking a look at. Also of note is that DynCorp is operating a fleet of twin-engined Huey helicopters, Soviet-designed Mi-17 Hips, and even DC-3 cargo planes to ferry around diplomats and participate in counter-narcotics operations. The article's well worth a look.
  • Another article is from the Washington Post, entitled "Countering the Military's Latest Fad". Although the article is critical and harshly worded (particularly in the title), it brings up a number of good points. Although our new coutner-insurgency doctrine was sorely needed, and represented a huge improvement in our ability to adapt to modern conflict, it's not the complete be-all-do-all-end-all to all of America's conflicts. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not "pure" counterinsurgencies in the vein of Malaysia and Vietnam. Rather--let's repeat it again--they're hybrid conflicts, combining a number of different types of phenomena in one geographic region. While the new counter-insurgency doctrine is certainly a critical component of waging modern "Small Wars", it is only one component of it. Although the improved security situation in Iraq owes much to the Troop Surge (and when I say "Surge", I also include the counter-insurgency strategy which accompanies it), but there were also a number of other factors which also came into play at roughly the same time, such as the Awakening movement and the stand-down of the Mahdi Army. I should also mention that, although the article is critical of General Petraeus' enthusiasm for applying Iraqi counter-insurgency principles to Afghanistan, the General has also gone on record in noting that his staff was, in fact, making a serious assessment as to whether or not the Iraqi Surge strategy would work in Afghanistan. Time will tell, and with new leadership, new troops and a new outlook on Afghanistan, things look as if they can only improve.

16 May 2009

War is Economics...Redux

The other day, we discussed the economic situation in Iraq and how it might be influenced by the American drawdown. I decided to share this information with a fellow captain, who, like me, is Irish and thus, possesses the stereotypical Irish hobbies (i.e., drinking).

I discussed the effects of the closure of many combat outposts and forward operating bases, noting that when the Americans left these bases, so did American dollars. This was exceedingly critical, since the global economic downturn has hit Iraq hard, particularly with the massive drop in oil prices; and don't forget, Iraq's security is tied to its ability to sustain a relatively healthy economy.

Aside from the oil industry, Iraq doesn't have that many other opportunities for employment, with the remainder of jobs being either government jobs or in unskilled service. Both of these job markets are sustained with funding from the United States and from the Iraqi government, the latter of which is, in turn, is funded by the aforementioned oil industry.

I compared the economic effects of the troop withdrawal to the "BRAC"--Base Realignment and Closure--process, in which the US military's closure of many bases had the effect of shutting down the only source of revenue and jobs for a number of rural communities.

I noted, "Just take a look at the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company--right after we deployed, they actually started to close down business a few days a week. I guess we were the ones that kept that place in business."

My fellow Irish captain's eyes went wide. "Are you serious?"


"Well, I suppose that might be my fault more than anyone else's. Whereas you had a running tab, I just directed the Army's finance office to pay my bar tab via allotment."

Focus: Take note--if I die, I want my liver buried with full military honors.

15 May 2009

That sinking feeling...

Before deploying, I took the cheap route and picked up a used holster for my 9mm pistol that I carry with me in the cockpit as a backup to the M-4 rifle. As time went on, and the holster became increasingly exposed to the elements, it began to look a little worse for wear. Unbeknownst to me, the little snap that was supposed to fasten the holster had fallen off, so I was essentially running around with a loose 9mm pistol.

How I found out about this is actually kind of funny--I was flying along, minding my own business, when I heard a slight "ker-thunk" behind me. With crew chiefs constantly moving equipment around in the cabin, re-positioning machine guns, and closing windows, I paid the little "ker-thunk" no mind. That was until I adjusted myself in my seat and realized that I couldn't feel the reassuring metal of the 9mm pressed against me.


I began to panic. Frantically, I searched the seat and adjacent floorboard to no avail. My heart instantly sank into my stomach as I suddenly began to think that, yes, I had now become "that guy" that lost a pistol while flying through the sky. I tried to remember when I heard the "ker-thunk", and calculated it to be several miles back--good luck finding a pistol in the middle of the desert. I had flashbacks of playing "Hands Across Fort Bragg" after a particularly unlucky night jump when a Soldier had accidentally jettisoned his M-16 rifle in the middle of the air. Would we comb the desert for a pistol in a hostile country?

Thankfully, after a little contorting, I realized that the pistol had merely fallen underneath the seat and into the maze of circuits and wires in the nose of the aircraft. That was a relief. It also marked the time that I realized that I needed a new holster. And a lanyard for the pistol might be a welcome addition as well...


The Mudville Gazette--a blog you should all subscribe to--has linked to a story on Wired.com which should serve as inspiration to all milbloggers:

Former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne thinks the best solution may be to let the troops themselves document the story. “We need to make sure we capture the news cycle by providing our troops with something like a combat blogger,” Wynne tells Danger Room.

But that means changing the Defense Department’s often-schizophrenic approach to bloggers in uniform. Within the armed services, there’s a growing recognition that average soldiers are the most trusted voices the military has. But leaders are squeamish about letting their troops publish online. The result: Army secrecy regulations, read literally, make it next-to-impossible for average soldiers to blog — while leading generals, deployed to war zones, are keeping online journals of their own.

Wynne thinks it’s time to let military bloggers have a freer hand. “This thing of letting the Taliban, letting Al Jazeera, letting the enemy public affairs unit get a hold of 24 to 48 hours of news cycle and then you announce that you’re forming an investigative team — what is that?” Wynne says. “The sad part is, that when [the military] forms an investigative team, it looks like it’s only for one reason: to cover it up.”

Something I've been saying for a while (again, check in with me next week for my awesome news). The Mudville Gazette takes it a little bit further, adding:

Off the top of my head I can think of one subsequent example of rapid, real-time "IO victory" by deployed milbloggers. While the DoD has made great strides forward in putting Humpty together again over the past two years, by the time the surge was launched in 2007 my distant early warning that if milblogs were outlawed only outlaws would have milblogs was (with few notable exceptions) effectively fact. I was in Iraq in December, 2004 - and back again for the surge. But among the few deployed "milbloggers" during that second tour (not many more in all of Iraq than were in that DFAC in 2004) the most well known and widely-read was The New Republic's DFAC correspondent Scott Thomas Beauchamp. Funny how that worked out.

On a closing note (for now): soldiers don't quit, and milblogs won't die. There are still guys in-theater - Iraq and Afghanistan, blogging away. (And we still follow them here.) Their numbers are small, but another point I made at the milblogs conference is worth repeating here: for that they are a national treasure.

Good News, Bad News (Link of the Day)

Today's link comes from the Council on Foreign Relations (via Small Wars Journal) and has some good news and some potentially bad news from Iraq.

One of the things that's somewhat reassuring about Iraq's improved security situation is that the recent string of bombings directed against Shia shrines and pilgrims has not prompted massive Shia reprisals, unlike those which took place after the Samarra bombing of 2006 (much of which was actually undertaken by the Shia-dominated Iraq Army).

Nevertheless, Iraq still remains a fragile state, and is subject to the whims of Black Swan events. The Council on Foreign Relations puts forth four potential scenarios for a "Reversal in Iraq", the first three of which, unfortunately, could erupt at any time during the US drawdown or in the immediate aftermath, (with Arab/Kurd conflict being the most likely, followed by a shift towards a Shia-led dictatorship). It also provides a number of interesting measures to mitigate these risks. It's worth checking out. One quote in particular sums up the tenuous calm which we've recently experienced, and offers a pragmatic view of the future of Iraq:

Iraq today is in the early stages of a negotiated end to an intense ethnosectarian civil war. Transitions from civil warfare to peace and reconciliation are notoriously volatile and uncertain. Some succeed, but others collapse into renewed fighting. Of twenty-three such settlements between 1940 and 1992, ten—or almost half—failed within five years of the original cease-fire. And the Iraqi transition may be more fragile than most. Four interrelated scenarios could plausibly derail the prospects for peace in the short to medium term (next six to twelve months):

It's difficult to say what really will happen to this country after US forces leave. As a wise man once said, "Always in motion, the future is". What are your thoughts? Or, in the words of General Petraeus, tell me how this ends.

14 May 2009

Most Influential Man Ever

There have been many people of influence throughout history: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, you get the picture.

But there is one very unsung influential man in history: Scott Altman, commander of the current Space Shuttle mission, and former Naval Aviator who had a key role in the movie Top Gun.

The retired Navy F-14 fighter pilot is the commander of the current space shuttle Atlantis mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. He also doubled for the actors, including Cruise, during the Southern California shoot of the 1986 hit movie.

Then a young pilot, Altman had just gotten back from a 7½-month tour onboard an aircraft carrier when he got the "Top Gun" call from his commanding officer.

"The skipper of our squadron picked four guys he thought he could trust to have this kind of carte blanche to break the rules a little bit," Altman said. That included a scene in which a brazen Navy pilot buzzes the base's control tower. That would never happen in real life, Altman said.

Altman is not one to brag about his flying in "Top Gun." The U.S. space agency, NASA, doesn't mention his film heroics, either. But Altman is in one of the movie's most memorable scenes. While flying upside down, inverted, Altman gives an obscene gesture to the pilot of an enemy plane.

Step aside, Chuck Norris...

Big news in the next week or so

I'm not going to give a whole lot of details at this time, but stay tuned this week, as there is going to most likely be some big news concerning me and the art of milblogging in the very near future.

John Nagl writes in "Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife" that successful armies during counter-insurgencies were "bottom-up" learning organizations which thrived on information and suggestions from junior leaders in order to make improvements at higher levels. Five years ago, this wasn't the case. Three years ago, this might have been the case. Right now, this is definitely the case. Now the Army has some great outlets for junior leaders to offer professional constructive criticism and make great changes in our organization.

Small Wars Journal, of course, being one.

13 May 2009

Light Posting for the next week or so...

I've been putting off composing something for Small Wars Journal, and I'd like to finish it sometime in the next week. I won't go too far into the topic but I will admit that, yes, I am jumping on the "hybrid war" bandwagon.

Until then, it's Wednesday, so enjoy a little dancing stormtrooper to get you through the mid-week blues:

Quick post regarding Afghanistan

It looks as if the Afghanistan and Pakistan situations are unfolding rapidly, and I haven't exactly had the chance to keep up as well as I would have liked to.

The big news is, of course, that the previous commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lt. General David McKiernan is being replaced in favor of Lt. General Stanley McChrystal. One can only assume that this is a signal that the new administration is serious about a reversal of course in Afghanistan. This is sorely needed, particularly in light of the fact that during the last 11 months or so, we've seen the near-closure of supply lines through Pakistan after a number of ambushes by anti-NATO forces, a massive upsurge in Taliban activity, and displeasure even from Secretaty Gates over the number of civilians killed in airstrikes from unmanned aerial vehicles. (See, if Lt. Gen. McKiernan had just read this blog, he might still have a job)

Anyway, a few links of the morning which discuss the rapidly-changing situation in Afghanistan:

  • Sic Semper Tyrannis has posted an article which gives an excellent summary of the strategic situation in Afghanistan, as well as recommended national aims. He also analyzes the various "enemy" factions we face in Afghanistan, and what their eventual aims are. SST, unlike Sen. McCain on Fox News, knows the difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban.
  • It also never ceases to amaze me that our enemies have adapted by completely re-defining the nature of the conflict--something that they have, distressingly, been able to do much more quickly than Western forces. This is perfectly summed up in a press release from General David Petraeus, in which he states the obvious--that Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is al Qaeda's "unassailable base" (in the words of T.E. Lawrence) of operations.

12 May 2009

The Old Media...The New Media

A few outrageously stupid things I saw on the morning network news made me reflect on how much I like "The New Media" (as Dave Dilegge refers to it) as opposed to "The Old Media".

The first comes from CNN. Did you know that now CNN is giving in to the whole "XTREME!" marketing craze? Did you know that now CNN has, and I don't make this up, "EXTREME WEATHER"? Seriously, EXTREME WEATHER is about as interesting as EXTREME COOL RANCH DORITOS. That is to say, not very EXTREME!

The second thing that annoyed me to absolutely no end was a commentator on MSNBC, who, apparently oblivious to increasing Taliban activity in Pakistan and drug wars in Mexico, felt the need to talk at length about the trials and tribulations of Miss California, Carrie Prejean, a woman known not only for her views on gay marriage, but also for her pictures in Playboy. Be it also known that Ms. Prejean's pictures can't hold a candle to those inMegan Fox's last photo shoot, and Megan Fox was clothed. Well, mostly.

Quoth the MSNBC talking head:

"Here is a name that all Americans should learn in the next few days: Carrie Prejean".

You know what, I have a name that all Americans should know...how about Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Why don't we focus on that instead of not-quite-a-celebrity news? (The obvious answer being that enough vacuous idiots love this type of "news")

The new media, on the other hand, puts amateurs on the same footing as many "professional" sources, and many times, the amateurs outperform the professionals. Blogging is just one example. User-made video,distributed through sites like Youtube, is another.

Just as military technology has become cheaper and more easily proliferated among non-state actors, leading to an erosion in state power, so has media technology become cheaper and more readily accessible to amateur artists, leading to an erosion in the power of large entertainment moguls.

Indeed, take a look at the evolution of Star Wars fan videos. Originally laughably bad, reminiscent of something out of Mystery Science Theater 3000, they now feature amazing choreography and lightsaber effects:

Zenpundit has brought to our attention that we can now see the same treatment--albeit on a much grander scale--given to Lord of the Rings, with a fan-made web video entitled "The Hunt for Gollum". Watch the trailer below or watch the full 40-minute movie here.

THE HUNT FOR GOLLUM - FULL Trailer 1 from Independent Online Cinema on Vimeo.

Ed. Note: Now, with that said, I should also mention that for every "Hunt for Gollum", there must be about a million "Leave Britney Alone" videos. So basically, the debate over the New and the Old Media boils down to a debate between whatever God-awful sitcoms are on NBC, and "Dramatic Chipmunk". You be the judge.

11 May 2009

War is…economics…by other means?

Three articles came out in the last few days (courtesy of Small Wars Journal) which commented on the economic situation in Iraq. Economics is one of those key factors that underlies much of Iraq's internal security. During the Awakening and the Surge, many former insurgents were actually paid money to stop fighting for groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq and to serve as concerned local citizens--a sort of ad hoc police force which kicked the remnant of al Qaeda out of their towns. Counterinsurgency theory would dictate that, since some portions of the population become insurgents simply because being an insurgent pays better than legitimate business, that it is good practice to give people economic opportunities which provide incentives for leading a somewhat more placid life.

With that said, let's take a look at Iraq. Saddam Hussein's years of domination meant that, among other things, he controlled the economy, the money, and the means of production. Many Iraqis expected the government—not private industry--to compensate them for work. To be certain, there are plenty of legitimate ways that Iraqis can work for the government—hundreds of thousands are joining the Iraqi Police and Army, and many others are still being employed as the "Sons of Iraq". All of these are legitimate alternatives to fighting as insurgents (most of the time). Others, on the other hand, work for the government performing menial ad-hoc work, such as picking up trash in the cities, or performing routine maintenance on American forward operating bases. Unfortunately, as the US leaves, there's less and less money available to put many of these unskilled laborers to work.

Moreover, even though the Iraqi Army and Police provide security for the population, they're just like all government employees in that they don't produce revenue—they take it up. The private sector needs to step up to fill the gap, if Iraq is to have any semblance of autonomy. Unfortunately, thefledgling private sector hasn't quite been able to step up to the challenge.

Some economists thought that Iraq was so isolated that it would not be affected by the recent economic crisis. They must not have heard about this little thing called globalization.

Anyway, on to the articles.

Article number one is from the Wall Street Journal, and primarily discusses the effects on the security situation with the American drawdown. However, the author notes that, along with American troops withdrawing from the cities, so do American dollars.

U.S. officials say job-creation programs like the one Mr. Hadi oversaw in Adhamiya yielded big counterinsurgency gains. Many are now being abandoned.

Mr. Hadi's Iraqi contracting firm, Rosco Co., got its first U.S. contract in 2005, clearing the hulks of bombed-out cars from the streets. It won more U.S. jobs, becoming one of Adhamiya's largest employers. Neighborhood elders erected a billboard thanking Mr. Hadi for the work.

"We bought a lot of security with these jobs," says Army Maj. J.P. Hart, a civil-affairs officer in Baghdad. "Now the city just can't afford to pay these guys."

The U.S. military is trying to persuade the government to take over such projects. But Mr. Hadi, 32 years old, says he hasn't signed a new contract since October. "There are no contracts, no work and no money," he says.

Ashraf Amin, a quiet 26-year-old, says he supported his sick father for the past year and a half on the $12 a day he earned from one of Mr. Hadi's contracts. Driving down Adhamiya's main drag, he pointed to dozens of apartment blocks, store fronts and single-family homes that he painted in pastels. When U.S. funding on his contract ran out late last month, Mr. Amin lost his job.

"Every family I know in this neighborhood has at least one person working on these U.S. contracts," Mr. Amin says. "They don't realize yet that there is no more work coming."

Article number two is from the Los Angeles Times, and discusses the precipitous drop in oil prices. What's actually eerie to note is that some of these sentences look as if they were stolen word-for-word from a newspaper describing the economy in the US and most other Western nations. Looks as if the Iraqis might become familiar with that old American custom of base closures (and the associated turmoil it causes in those communities):

"Some people said Iraq wouldn't be affected," said Bassem Jamil Anton, an economist who sits on the board of the Iraqi Federation of Industries. "Those people were stupid.

It's easy to see why Iraq was never going to escape unscathed. The collapse in the price of oil from a peak of $147 a barrel last summer to about $50 today has gutted revenues in a country that depends on oil for 90% of its income. U.S. reconstruction funding has dried up, and no new resources are likely to be forthcoming from the Obama administration, which has vowed to unwind U.S. involvement in Iraq.

In 2009, Iraq will be cushioned by surpluses from previous years. But by next year, there is a real danger that the government will be in a position "where they basically run out of money," said a senior U.S. official here, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Forced to curtail spending because of a budget deficit this year of at least $18 billion, Iraq has launched a major drive for foreign investment. But private investors have shown little inclination to commit resources to a country where bombings and shootings, though greatly reduced, are still a regular occurrence.

Most immediately, the shortfall in revenues has forced the government to impose a freeze on new hires; at least 30,000 planned recruits to the police and army are on hold.

It also puts in jeopardy the government jobs promised to about 90,000 members of the Sons of Iraq, with potentially worrying implications for their support for the government. The Sunni paramilitary fighters who switched sides and fought the insurgents were instrumental in turning the tide of the war, but it remains unclear how they will be absorbed into a postwar society.

More generally, Iraq needs to create jobs for the estimated 28% of young Iraqi men who are unemployed, and for the 825,000 new entrants to the job market every year, if it is to deter them from turning to the insurgency for funds to support their families.

But surprise, surprise, there's one area of Iraq that's able to attract foreign investors and produce oil (Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal). (Bonus: the Iraqi spokesman is named "Mr. Jihad")

Despite those issues being still unresolved, Baghdad -- under increased financial strain because of weak oil prices and falling revenue -- will allow the Kurds to begin exporting 60,000 barrels a day from June 1, oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said. "We are agreeing to the exports," he said. The Kurds said Friday they would start exports regardless of the ministry's approval. [Ed.—there's a shock]

Mr. Jihad didn't say why Baghdad had reversed itself, but it is likely that the central government's need for more revenue played a part in its decision. The government has slashed its 2009 budget three times because of falling oil prices.

Baghdad's acquiescence is also welcome news for the small foreign oil companies, including Norway's DNO International ASA, that have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into finding and producing oil in Kurdish Iraq but haven't been able to export a single barrel.

Afterword: I went looking for an article on the Wall Street Journal on a government computer, and, wouldn't you know it, the Wall Street Journal's primary URL, www.wsj.com, is blocked. The Wall Street Journal, of all newspapers. Just who the hell runs the proxy server? Are they sitting behind their desk, cackling as they click "ban" on alleged American propaganda sources, such as the Wall Street Journal?

"Ah, finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh Comrades?"

No response…

"I'm so ronery…"