Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Squeezing the Pig

The Fourth Rail has a good visual that enables the viewer to track the progress made by coalition forces over the last year in its transition from "search and destroy" to "clear and hold missions." The visual illustrates pretty starkly that the number of towns being held by the coalition is expanding rapidly toward the Syrian border now that Iraqi combat troops are growing increasingly competent and available.

Of course, there may still be terrorist activity in towns that are under Iraqi military control, as there was recently in Ramadi, but these towns are no longer sanctuaries for terrorists. The bad guys know their range of operations is growing more and more restricted. They no doubt feel like a pig in the coils of a python. An apt simile, that.

No New Strategy

Fareed Zakaria includes the following bit of silliness in a column he writes for Newseek:

This shift could be seen in microcosm in a report last week in The Wall Street Journal on the town of Tall Afar. Tall Afar was an insurgent stronghold, where last month American and Iraqi forces launched a major operation, killing and arresting hundreds. But to avoid the mistakes of the past, when cities were won only to be lost again in a few months, the commanding officer of the American squadron, Lt. Col. Chris Hickey, spent a great deal of time, energy and attention constructing a local political order that would hold. That meant empowering both the Sunnis and Shiites. Hickey reached out to the main Sunni tribal sheik, a man who only a few months earlier had been considered an insurgent leader and imprisoned in Abu Ghraib. "Reconciliation is the key to this thing," explained Col. H. R. McMaster, commander of U.S. forces in north-western Iraq. "This insurgency depends on sectarian tension to move and operate." McMaster articulates a strategy that is part military and part political.

Many military experts have weighed in on the need for a better counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq-one that defends towns and regions, thus securing people's lives, rather than simply killing bad guys. In fact, that strategy is being adopted, using Iraqi troops and local leaders as the crucial ingredients to keeping the peace. That's why conditions in several key trouble spots in Iraq-Sadr City, Mosul, Fallujah, Najaf and Tall Afar-are much, much better than they were a year ago. There is a general recognition even among many Shiite leaders that a purely military strategy will not defeat the insurgency.

Iraq is still in rough shape, but the Bush administration's strategy has moved in the right direction.

Zakaria gives the impression that the current "clear and hold" tactics that coalition forces are employing along the Euphrates River and elsewhere in the Sunni triangle are a novel development. He makes it sound as if the administration could have been setting up local forces in cleared towns all along but were too obtuse to see the value of it and are just now getting around to revising their strategy. This is nonsense.

The fact is that it has been administration policy from early on to train Iraqi troops to handle precisely this sort of mission, but it has taken time to prepare the Iraqis for that task. Now, however, there are dozens of battalions ready to fight the Islamists and provide security in Iraqi towns and more troops are coming on line every month. As the troops are becoming available the policy is coming to fruition, but the policy isn't new. It's only that people who are loath to give the present administration any credit for anything wish us to think that somehow they have just come to see what everyone else has been seeing for months, i.e. that we need a new strategy.

We didn't need a new strategy, the Henny-Pennys and Chicken Littles among us notwithstanding. What we needed was patience and resolve to see the strategy we already had through to it's culmination. Bush had it and it's now clearly paying off.

Prom Night

In case you missed this story, Joanne Jacobs provides us with the link:

Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school: Students putting down $10,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons for a weekend bash. Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a limo loaded with liquor. Fathers chartering a boat so their kids could go out on a late-night "booze cruise."

Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School fired off a 2,000-word missive to parents at the start of the school year informing them that the Catholic school would no longer put on the spring prom.

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence," Brother Hoagland said, fed up with what he calls the "bacchanalian aspects" of the prom.

"Each year it gets worse -- becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he added. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. (Kellenberg) is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy." The move has brought a mixed, albeit passionate, reaction from students and parents.

"I don't think it's fair, obviously, that they canceled prom," said senior Alyssa Johnson of Westbury. "There are problems with the prom, but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."

In his letter, Hoagland cited a litany of problems that he says have developed over the years. He began a dialogue on the future of the prom last spring after it was discovered that 46 Kellenberg seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a $20,000 rental in the Hamptons for a post-prom party. When school officials found out, they forced the students to cancel the deal; the kids got their money back and the prom went on as planned. But Hoagland said some parents went ahead and rented a Hamptons house anyway.

Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia and the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," said this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.

"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," she said, noting it is not uncommon to see students pay $1,000 on the prom and the surrounding folderol: dresses that cost hundreds, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines, pre- and post-prom parties. Best pinned some of the blame for the burgeoning costs on parents, who are often willing to open their wallets for whatever their child demands. "It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this."

Edward Lawson, the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom for their children without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school, which features pristine athletic fields, immaculate hallways and the latest in audio-visual technology. "This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."

Some parents lined up in their cars outside the school to pick up their children on a recent afternoon said they are backing Hoagland. "The school has excellent values," said Margaret Cameron of Plainview. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school and I totally back everything they do. I trust my child with them and I trust everything, all the decisions they make for them."

Hoagland said in an interview that parents, who pay $6,025 in annual tuition, have expressed appreciation for his stern stand. "For some, it (the letter) was an eye-opener," he said. "Others feel relieved that the pressure is off of them."

Chris Laine, a senior from Rockville Centre, said the cancellation was "unfortunate, but you can't really argue with the facts they present. ... It's just what it's evolved into. It's not what it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It's turned into something it wasn't originally intended to be." He insisted, "there's never been a problem at the prom, but everything that happens after it has turned into something ... it's what an average 17 or 18 year old is doing, but it's not necessarily what they should be doing."

Besides, Laine noted, the senior class still has a four-day trip to Disney World scheduled for April. "We go to all the parks with our friends," he said just before hopping into his jet-black Infiniti and driving off to meet friends for an after-school bite to eat. "We fly down together and stay in the same hotel and so it's not like we're totally losing everything."

They may not be losing everything, but Ms Johnson and Mr. Lawson are certainly missing the point. The expense extravagance and licentiousness of these affairs is as ludicrous as it is obscene. For the school to continue sponsoring the event is to assume responsibility for the message it sends, i.e. that such behavior is morally acceptable. We're delighted that a high school principal had the steel to stand up to parents and students and refuse to let his school capitulate to the crass materialism and sensuality that the parents encourage their kids to indulge in.

The article doesn't say it, but we assume from the fact that the students pay tuition that Kellenberg is a private school. It will be interesting to see how many public school administrators this year, and in the years ahead, demonstrate the character and wisdom displayed by Mr. Hoagland.