Wednesday, April 30, 2003

In Memoriam

Now that the war in Iraq is over, it is important to remember some of those who played a part in it. History will record the battles and the command decisions of the Great, but individuals will recall it in increasingly uncertain memory; evidenced by souvenir, a lively story or a uniform kept beyond it's season.

Joseph Menusa was born in the Philippines and moved with his mother to San Jose when he was 10. He graduated from Silver Creek High in 1989, then joined the Marines. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton, with responsibilities that included demolition and construction.

He deployed to Iraq during the first Gulf War, where, despite a desire to see action,  his biggest scare came from a camel rustling near his tent at night, a story he repeated with gusto and for which he was permanently ragged. A man who had professed arms all his adult life, he left  a job as a military recruiter in January, 2003 to return to combat and lay the camel's ghost.

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
``To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?

Sgt. Menusa was killed in action on March 27, 2003 in Central Iraq.  His body was sent to the rear in a supply truck from the 6th Motor Transport Battalion, whose sole driver, Lance Cpl. Ryan Yung, was determined to provide such dignity as he could, under the circumstances. He swept the sand and mud away from the cadaver bag with his hands, and as if it were the most important thing in the world, searched for a set of clean tie-downs to fasten it to floor. "They were almost new, like they'd barely been used," Yung said.

Corporal Yung had brought an American flag, which he planned to have autographed as a keepsake, but instead served to cover Menusa's bodybag, with some tape to hold it in place. And in that condition, the lonely cortege with it's mournful cargo and single driver made it's way back to the first of many stops before the funeral at the St Louis De Monfort Catholic Church, in Santa Maria, California. Among the memorial speakers was his brother, Marine Gunnery Sgt David Menusa, who said:

"One thing I regret is that night he took off, I never told him I loved him. He told me, 'I'll be back, don't worry bro, I'll be back. It'll be over in three months,'" David Menusa said. "He came back, I had to meet him in a box."

The remainder of the program called for color guard military honors, a  21-gun-salute and the playing of taps. Then, in the strangest twist in this most typical of war stories, a presentation of a certificate of United States Citizenship was made to Sgt. Menusa by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. For although he had been a Marine for 14 years, Menusa had never been able to attend the requisite interviews required to complete his citizenship applications. And there, at his coffin, it was bestowed by a grateful country.

He is survived by his wife Stacy and son Joshua, who he will never see again in this life. He held up the world for them.

When the oldest cask is opened,
And the largest lamp is lit;
When the chestnuts glow in the embers,
And the kid turns on the spit;
When young and old in circle
Around the firebrands close;
When the girls are weaving baskets,
And the lads are shaping bows;

When the goodman mends his armor,
And trims his helmet's plume;
When the goodwife's shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

Snakes in the Garden of Eden

For more than a decade, Saddam Hussein systematically destroyed the vast wetlands of southern Iraq - building dams and canals to drain the swamps, setting fire to the sea of reeds, and arresting and killing residents.

Those left behind hope Saddam's fall heralds restoration of the devastated land to the paradise they remember - the one many scholars believe was the biblical Garden of Eden.

"By taking our marshes, he took half our happiness," said Salih Karim Judran, a farmer and teacher living in a mud and grass village. The other half, also lost, Judran said, was security and democracy.

Custom Wire

For more than a decade, the Green Movement in Europe never heard of this. It's entirely possible that they will sue the United States for not preventing this sooner.


What Mission?

The leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg met in Brussels on April 29 for a mini-summit on European defense coordination. In a joint statement following the meeting, the leaders endorsed a list of proposals designed to enhance European defense coordination and capabilities, including the creation of a defense headquarters in Brussels and the establishment of a joint rapid reaction capability formed around a Franco-German core.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt called the meeting in mid-March, purportedly to jumpstart Europe's flagging hopes to create a common foreign policy. A day before the meeting, Verhofstadt said that without a viable European defense tool, "a European Union foreign policy is not credible." But the design and timing of the meeting betray another motive: the desire by a bloc that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labeled "Old Europe" to move forward with defense coordination outside of the current structures of the European Union -- and in direct opposition to the United States. By meeting separately, and just on the heels of an Iraq war that all four opposed, the participants might have dealt a mortal blow to hopes for a common foreign policy in Europe.

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The establishment of a separate Franco-German command structure without a corresponding increase in military assets means that units currently allocated to NATO will be "chopped away" from the alliance and given over to the new French-German high command. But the question must be what the mission of the new headquarters must be? To be fair, that question can also be asked of NATO, now that the Warsaw Pact has dissolved. The answer for NATO, of course, is "out of area operations". After all, there is no war in Europe.

But to ask it in the original of the Franco-German high command will yield more puzzling answers. NATO can at least project itself out-of-area primarily using US strategic mobility assets, but the Franco-Germans would also be left with the same default mission without the assets -- apart from small scale interventions in Africa. There is a further difficulty. Apart from France, neither Germany, Belgium or Luxembourg has a blue-water navy. The United States, which is the core of NATO, has been building up a string of sea stations based on England, Portugal, Spain and Turkey leading east, towards the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It has the means to match a possible strategy. For France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, there are no means to match any rational strategy. That leaves irrational strategies. The Franco-Germans may be meaning to propose themselves as the core of a United Nations combat force, to complement Blue Helmet operations. In this scenario, the European Army would act as the hard edge of the peacekeeping, and the posse for serving warrants from the Belgian International Court.

It is a marriage of dysfunctional parts, every component ludicrous in itself; and for that reason it will be immensely popular with the Left.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Islam meets America

"Many people who follow the course of religious affairs here believe that the return of Shiite clerics to Iraq, and the revival of Iraq's historically holy city of Najaf, may pose a serious threat to the rule of the hard-line ayatollahs in Iran.

Najaf is expected to become the center of Shiite faith once again when influential clerics return and begin teaching at its seminaries. Some high-ranking Iranian clerics who believe in freer religious studies, such as Ayatollah Javad Tabrizi, have also said that they would go to Najaf when stability returns."


In a mirror image of American perceptions towards Muslim clerics, the Shiite ministers have come to regard the United States and it's influence, as a mortal threat to the Ayatollahs. The fear derives in part from the opportunity of Iraqi Shiites to do what religions do best: break loose from central control, which in this case means Iran. It doesn't mean that the Iraqi Shiites will suddenly become pro-American, whatever that means in an age of Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon. But it does mean that they may become un-Iranian. The American challenge is to persuade both the Iraqi Shiites and the Ayatollahs that competition does not necessarily imply liquidation.


Monday, April 28, 2003

The primary function of the study of history is to foretell the future; and the kind of history we accept depends on the type of future we desire. Since the past itself is imperfectly grasped, we often stand on what we only imagine to reach what has not yet come to pass. The only consolation in this insane state of affairs is that this circular process sometimes works.