Thursday, September 15, 2005

Moving Beyond Me to We

A friend passes on an article (subscription may be required) by Yonce Shelton of Sojourners magazine in which he calls for a greater sense of community in the wake of Katrina, all the while implying that such community is presently deficient in the United States. It is, of course, true that we could always benefit from stronger social bonds and that there are centrifugal forces in our culture which pull us away from each other, but his article reads as if it were written in 1960 rather than in the wake of Katrina. He tells us:

To fear, love, and respect God means to honor his creation and our neighbors, especially the less fortunate. Hurricane Katrina is a striking opportunity for us and our national leaders to act to show the true depths of claims of caring. That requires vision and voice, but above all action. And when top leadership in this country seems not to understand what the common good is about, it's up to us to act even more.

We have to wonder exactly what Mr. Shelton means by that last sentence. What does he base his judgment upon when he concludes that the top leadership of the country, i.e. President Bush, seems not to understand what the common good is about? Perhaps he doesn't feel the need to explain any uncomplimentary things he might say about the Bush administration because "everybody knows" Bush only cares about his rich buddies at Halliburton.

We wish to respectfully remind Mr. Shelton, though, that to "fear, love, and respect God" also means to honor our neighbor who is trying hard to do the right thing, even if that neighbor is a Republican president. It means making sure that whatever criticism we offer of him is absolutely justified, and it means avoiding the drive-by cheap shot, especially when our neighbor is also a brother in the Lord.

Mr. Shelton goes on to note that:

The Bible does not condemn prosperity - it just insists that it be shared. An accumulation of wealth that allows some people to live in luxury while others are left behind was unacceptable to the prophets and should be unacceptable to us. How Jesus treated others - especially poor people - was anything but "fair" compared to the economic, social, and political norms of his time and ours.

Mr. Shelton's implication here - that Americans are not sharing their wealth with the less fortunate - demonstrates a stunning lack of historical perspective. Since 1965 the American people have spent over 6.5 trillion dollars on the War on Poverty. That sounds like a lot of sharing to me. No one is being deliberately left behind in our society. Indeed, New Orleans is a synedoche for the last forty years of government efforts to rescue the underclass from chronic poverty. The municipal government in New Orleans urged the people to move out, and offered assistance to those who couldn't move, but a lot of people refused to go. They were willing to take their chances and accept their fate. The mayor of New Orleans decided that he couldn't force people to save themselves so they were left to their own devices.

Similarly, over the last forty years the federal government has done virtually everything possible to raise people out of poverty, but it can't force them out. People still choose to squander their schooling, they still choose to spurn marriage even while they're having children, they still choose to emulate the most degenerate characters in our depauperate culture and scoff at the examples of those who have made their way to a better life, and they still choose to do drugs even though a multitude of voices cautions them against it. Many, if not most, people who remain poor in our society, who find themselves stuck in the underclass, have only their own choices to blame.

Mr. Shelton adds this:

The aftermath of Katrina is illustrating the increasing wealth gap between rich and poor. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently said: "The income gap between the rich and the rest of the U.S. population has become so wide and is growing so fast that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself."

Mr. Shelton's point here is not clear because he doesn't offer an explanation for why the gap between rich and poor is widening. There are perhaps two causes of the growing disparity.The rich and poor might both be growing richer, but the rich may be gaining wealth faster than are the poor; or, the poor are actually getting poorer in absolute terms while the rich are staying the same or getting even richer.

Which is it? Mr. Shelton doesn't say, but it makes a lot of difference. If the poor are getting wealthier then to complain because they're not catching the rich is not only an absurd complaint, but it is also to fall prey to the sin of envy. It is to resent that the improvement in my life is not coming as fast as it is for someone else who made better choices in his life. The poor in this country have every opportunity to improve their lot, and indeed, the poor in this country have a higher standard of living than most people in the world today and are certainly "richer" than most people who've ever lived. To complain because they're still not as rich as the very wealthiest is not going to garner them much sympathy.

Unlike 9/11 where Bush was able to point to an enemy, the enemy which caused the current calamity, Mr. Shelton suggests, is God:

It's hard for President Bush to articulate "us versus them" when "them" is a God we should have been fearing and respecting all along.

In telling us that it was God who caused the devastation that was visited upon the poor and infirm along the Gulf coast, Mr. Shelton is asserting that the same God who has a special love for the poor and who insists we treat them with compassion, nevertheless demonstrates His wrath against the callous Bush administration by pretty much wiping out the very people He demands we save. What a strange theology this is that Mr. Shelton holds to. Mr. Shelton's God destroys the lives and property of poor people in order to punish the rich for not caring enough about the poor.

Perhaps wishing to avoid further embarrassment, he draws his essay to a close, but not before tossing the reader one more odd remark:

We must mourn for the greater community and struggle with the pain before us. But we must also cry out in ways that challenge the church and the world to move beyond "me" and to "we." Unfortunately, we have continued to bowl alone since 9/11 and are seeing the negative effects.

We can only conclude from this that Mr. Shelton has been living in a cave for the last three weeks. Hasn't he seen the incredible outpouring of community that followed hard upon the storm? Hasn't he seen the outpouring of compassion and generosity that has surged toward the devastated residents of the Gulf coast? Has he not heard of the citizens of Texas and other states who are welcoming millions of evacuees into their communities, or the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations made by Americans everywhere to charitable and relief organizations, or the thousands of volunteers who have rushed to the disaster area to render aid and rescue.

How can he say that "we must move beyond 'me' and to 'we' " as if we haven't done precisely that? The obliviousness and self-righteousness of this statement in light of what has happened in this country as millions have opened their hearts and pocketbooks makes Mr. Shelton seem completely out of touch with the America he is writing for.

He would do well, before once again taking pen in hand on this topic, to read Anne Applebaum's recent column in the Washington Post. He might wish that he had read it before writing his own unfortunate piece.

He might also keep in mind that calls to "do something" are callow and silly in the absence of solid suggestions as to specific courses of action that people and governments can follow. Mr. Shelton's essay is one long call to "do something" but he never says precisely what he has in mind for us to do.

Moreover, to the extent that a sense of community is wanting in this country it's largely the fault of race hustlers and other African-American "leaders" who, rather than express gratitude for the enormous outpouring of assistance from white America, have chosen instead to whine about how the plight of the New Orleans poor reflects the racism still extant in white America. This is the sort of offensive stupidity that only engenders resentments among the millions of whites who are trying hard, sometimes at considerable personal sacrifice, to do what they can to mitigate the suffering of the storm's victims regardless of their race.

The day when money can be extorted from white pockets by calling whites racist and trying to make them feel guilty is largely fading, except perhaps among Democratic liberals. If Shelton wants a stronger sense of community he might direct some of his chastisement toward these black "leaders" for their intemperate and addlepated remarks.

Tal Afar After Action Summary

Col. H.R. McMaster gave a press briefing on the Tal Afar operation in western Baghdad that is very enlightening. He first made an opening statement and then fielded questions from the press. The whole thing is worth reading. Here are some of the main points from is his opening statement:

First of all, the purpose of this operation is to secure the population of Tall Afar from the terrorists who have infiltrated this city and set up a safe haven support base here in Tall Afar. The whole purpose of the operation is to secure the population so that we can lift the enemy's campaign of intimidation and population -- intimidation and coercion over the population and allow economic and political development to proceed here and to return, really, to normal life.

The enemy in this area is -- this is the worst of the worst in terms of people in the world. To protect themselves here, what the enemy did is they waged the most brutal and murderous campaign against the people of Tall Afar.

I'd like just to briefly characterize the enemy, describe who we're fighting here. This is an enemy, who when they came in, they removed all the imams from the mosques, and they replaced them with Islamic extremist laymen. They removed all the teachers from the schools and replaced them with people who had a fifth-grade education and who preached hatred and intolerance. They murdered people. In each of their cells that they have within the city has a direct action cell of about 100 or so fighters. They have a kidnapping and murder cell; they have a propaganda cell, a mortar cell, a sniper cell -- a very high degree of organization here. And what the enemy did is to keep the population from performing other activities.

To keep the population afraid, they kidnapped and murdered large numbers of the people here, and it was across the spectrum. A Sunni Turkmen imam was kidnapped and murdered. A very fine man, a city councilman, Councilman Suliman (sp), was pulled out of his car in front of his children and his wife and gunned down with about 30 gunshot wounds to his head. The enemy conducted indiscriminate mortar attacks against populated areas and wounded scores of children and killed many others. The enemy here did just the most horrible things you can imagine, in one case murdering a child, placing a booby trap within the child's body and waiting for the parent to come recover the body of their child and exploding it to kill the parents. Beheadings and so forth.

So the enemy's grip over this population to maintain the safe haven was based on fear, coercion, and these sort of heinous acts. And not only were they targeting civilians, brutally murdering them, torturing them, but they were also kidnapping the youth of the city and brainwashing them and trying to turn them into hate-filled murderers.

So, really, there could be no better enemy for our soldiers and Iraqi army soldiers to pursue and defeat and deny the enemy the safe haven in this area.

The regiment began operating here on the 1st of May with our lead squadron, 2nd Squadron. They partnered with the unit that was doing a very effective job at disrupting the enemy here and reinforced their efforts. That was the 1st of the 14th Cavalry. They began to conduct aggressive offensive operations and reconnaissance operations in the city. The enemy noticed that we're challenging this support base, a base that they desperately wanted to hold onto, so they began to attack our forces in large numbers. And we had stand-up conventional fights against the enemy in this dense urban terrain, where up to 200 of the enemy were attacking our troopers as they conducted operations in this urban area.

The result of those operations were that Iraqi security forces and armed forces killed large numbers of the enemy in those engagements, 30 to 40 of the enemy at a time. So the enemy realized this tactic isn't working, so they went back into harassment attacks -- IEDs, roadside bombs, mortar attacks, sniper attacks against our forces, and attempted to do sort of hit-and-run operations against us.

But our troopers were very aggressive in maintaining contact with the enemy. We have an air/ground team here, so our aerial scouts were able to maintain contact with the enemy as they tried to move into the interior of the city. So we pursued them very effectively.

And we were able to gain access to intelligence here by a very good relationship with the people, who recognized this enemy for who they are and were very forthcoming with human intelligence. In one raid in the beginning of June, for example, we were able to capture 26 targeted individuals, some of the worst people here in Tall Afar, within a 30-minute period. And the enemy began to realize this isn't working either, they can't hide in plain sight anymore.

So what the enemy did in response -- and this was part of this continuous interaction we've had with them since our arrival in this area -- is they intensified their campaign of intimidation over the people. They conducted more sniper attacks against innocent civilians, more mortar attacks.

And in response, we targeted their mortar teams. We killed four of their mortar teams and captured two. We killed about 12 of their sniper teams. And we relentlessly pursued the enemy until the enemy realized that a lot of our power was building now toward Tall Afar because we wanted -- as we were figuring this enemy out, we were preparing for operations to destroy their safe haven in a particular neighborhood of the city.

So as the specter of coalition operations became apparent to the enemy, as we isolated the city, as we improved the effectiveness of our traffic control points to limit their movement, as we continued to pursue the enemy, the enemy responded by sending their fighters, many of them, into the outlying communities to hide in the outlying communities until the operation was over.

But what we did is we conducted effective operations in the outlying areas. Simultaneous with our operations in Tall Afar, we were establishing a permanent security capability along the Syrian border in Rabiya, south of Sinjar Mountain and the town of Sinjar. We took over the town of Bosh (phonetic) from the insurgents and established -- reestablished the police force and the Iraqi army there. We went to the town of Afgani (phonetic) about 12 kilometers north of here. We captured, just out of that one town, one small town of Afgani (phonetic), about 116 of the enemy in three separate operations.

One operation -- that was the most effective -- was an Iraqi army exclusive operation, and then that we established two Iraqi companies and recruited police. The police are done training and now there's a permanent security presence there. The enemy is denied that area. We operated in other outlying communities and captured many more of the enemy. So now, the enemy had that option taken away from them, and they resolved then to defend this safe haven in Sarai (district in Tal Afar). I had a chance to walk downtown today and found a lot of their propaganda in their abandoned fighting positions. And this propaganda was: we cannot afford to lose Tall Afar; we're going to defeat, you know, the coalition forces and Iraqi security forces here. It was exhorting their forces to defend Tall Afar at all costs.

So the enemy then -- as we continue to concentrate our efforts on Tall Afar, we've brought in some very capable Iraqi security forces to help us. The 3rd Iraqi Army Division, which is our partnership unit -- which over the past four months has gained a tremendous amount of capability -- integrated them into our operations completely, and then, we also brought in some additional Iraqi army battalions as well some Iraqi police formations. And the enemy then moved into some of these outlying neighborhoods outside of their support base, and they wanted to take the fight there to divert our attention. They also tried some diplomatic efforts to call off attacks for a couple of weeks and to act as if the problem was solved -- again, a desperate attempt to avoid the removal of this safe haven in Tall Afar.

But we conducted very effective combat operations against the enemy, we being the Iraqi security forces and our forces. These were very complex defenses in neighborhoods outside of the Sarai neighborhood, which was the center of the enemy's safe haven here. They had their command and control in a safe house in the center that was very heavily defended. Outside of that, they had defensive positions with RPG and machine gun positions. Surrounding those positions, they had homes that were rigged to be demolished by munitions as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers entered them, and then, outside of those, they had Improvised Explosive Devices, roadside bombs, implanted, buried into the roads.

But our forces aggressively pursued the enemy in these areas. They were able to defeat these IEDs based on the human intelligence we developed. We exploded many of them with attack helicopter fire or detonated them with our engineers. We penetrated that defense. Our tanks led with our Iraqi infantry in support. We absorbed any energy from their rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, continued the assault into these safe havens and destroyed their leadership throughout the city. The word then went out that -- to the enemy that put other elements on notice: look, we're being slaughtered here; we need to avoid these very effective combined forces of Iraqi and U.S. forces. But we continued to relentlessly pursue them as we moved to isolate the Sarai district.

And the main engagements in this fight happened really between the 2nd and the 6th of September, a period of time during which we killed 118 terrorists and captured 137 of them. And we think at this point the enemy realized the futility of their defensive efforts.

In Sarai, the most dense urban terrain you can imagine, there was a very complex defense prepared there, with, again, these roadside bombs, buildings rigged for demolition, machine gun positions, sniper positions, and mortars integrated into this. But with our intelligence, our precision fires capability, we were able to severely disrupt that defense and really collapse it all around the enemy.

We had some very heavy fighting on the 5th and 6th of September, during which we killed many of the enemy, who engaged us from their forward defensive positions. And it was at that point that the enemy shifted their approach again to essentially running away from the area. They gave the word to retreat. They did everything they could to blend in with the civilians who were evacuating from this dense urban area to protect them, and we caught them. We were integrated with the population. The people were pointing out who the enemy was. We had Iraqi army who was very good at sensing something isn't quite right when this man is walking down the street with children, and the children look very nervous. This one man in particular was a beheader who had beheaded over 20 people. And we were able to capture him as the children fled, as we came up to talk to this individual, and the children related to us this man said that they had to walk with him or he would kill them.

We captured five of the enemy dressed as women, trying desperately to get out of the area. Just yesterday we captured 104 of the enemy in these outlying areas.

So we relentlessly pursued the enemy as they attempted to break contact with our forces. But we're maintaining contact with them, and we're continuing to hunt them down.

So I'd like to just end with that and then see what questions anybody has about the operation, what our troopers are doing, and what the brave Iraqis are doing alongside our soldiers.

Go to the DoD website for the rest of the briefing. The Fourth Rail offers some analysis here.