You probably don't know Rafael Peralta's name. If we lived in a country that more fully celebrated the heroics of its men in uniform, you would. He was a sergeant in Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment for Operation Dawn, the November offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which had become a haven for terrorists. What he did on the day of Nov. 15 was an awe-inspiring act of selfless sacrifice and faithfulness to his fellow Marines.Read it all after the jump. (With many thanks to CMC)
The only way we can honor Sgt. Peralta's heroism is to tell his story and remember his name. What follows is mostly drawn from the reporting of Marine combat correspondent Lance Cpl. T.J. Kaemmerer, who witnessed the events on that day.
Well, I think I have just the job for these globe-travelers: Iraq Election Poll Worker. They are familiar with the terrain and people, they have a self-professed desire to help and they seem very articulate. However, their biggest asset is bravery. If they are willing to hunker down between Coalition Forces and a bridge, standing between a foreign terrorist and a polling precinct should be no big deal. Any takers?And while you're visiting Lance in Iraq, take a look at Providing Aid 101
Still, all these were political evils, which my own country had entirely escaped. I optimistically supposed that, in the absence of the worst political deformations, widespread evil was impossible. I soon discovered my error. Of course, nothing that I was to see in a British slum approached the scale or depth of what I had witnessed elsewhere. Beating a woman from motives of jealousy, locking her in a closet, breaking her arms deliberately, terrible though it may be, is not the same, by a long way, as mass murder. More than enough of the constitutional, traditional, institutional, and social restraints on large-scale political evil still existed in Britain to prevent anything like what I had witnessed elsewhere.Read it all, there's much more and it's worth it.
Yet the scale of a man's evil is not entirely to be measured by its practical consequences. Men commit evil within the scope available to them. Some evil geniuses, of course, devote their lives to increasing that scope as widely as possible, but no such character has yet arisen in Britain, and most evildoers merely make the most of their opportunities. They do what they can get away with.
In any case, the extent of the evil that I found, though far more modest than the disasters of modern history, is nonetheless impressive. From the vantage point of one six-bedded hospital ward, I have met at least 5,000 perpetrators of the kind of violence I have just described and 5,000 victims of it: nearly 1 percent of the population of my city—or a higher percentage, if one considers the age-specificity of the behavior. And when you take the life histories of these people, as I have, you soon realize that their existence is as saturated with arbitrary violence as that of the inhabitants of many a dictatorship. Instead of one dictator, though, there are thousands, each the absolute ruler of his own little sphere, his power circumscribed by the proximity of another such as he.
Violent conflict, not confined to the home and hearth, spills out onto the streets. Moreover, I discovered that British cities such as my own even had torture chambers: run not by the government, as in dictatorships, but by those representatives of slum enterprise, the drug dealers. Young men and women in debt to drug dealers are kidnapped, taken to the torture chambers, tied to beds, and beaten or whipped. Of compunction there is none—only a residual fear of the consequences of going too far.
Perhaps the most alarming feature of this low-level but endemic evil, the one that brings it close to the conception of original sin, is that it is unforced and spontaneous. No one requires people to commit it. In the worst dictatorships, some of the evil ordinary men and women do they do out of fear of not committing it. There, goodness requires heroism. In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, for example, a man who failed to report a political joke to the authorities was himself guilty of an offense that could lead to deportation or death. But in modern Britain, no such conditions exist: the government does not require citizens to behave as I have described and punish them if they do not. The evil is freely chosen.
Not that the government is blameless in the matter—far from it. Intellectuals propounded the idea that man should be freed from the shackles of social convention and self-control, and the government, without any demand from below, enacted laws that promoted unrestrained behavior and created a welfare system that protected people from some of its economic consequences. When the barriers to evil are brought down, it flourishes; and never again will I be tempted to believe in the fundamental goodness of man, or that evil is something exceptional or alien to human nature.
Of course, my personal experience is just that—personal experience. Admittedly, I have looked out at the social world of my city and my country from a peculiar and possibly unrepresentative vantage point, from a prison and from a hospital ward where practically all the patients have tried to kill themselves, or at least made suicidal gestures. But it is not small or slight personal experience, and each of my thousands, even scores of thousands, of cases has given me a window into the world in which that person lives.
And when my mother asks me whether I am not in danger of letting my personal experience embitter me or cause me to look at the world through bile-colored spectacles, I ask her why she thinks that she, in common with all old people in Britain today, feels the need to be indoors by sundown or face the consequences, and why this should be the case in a country that within living memory was law-abiding and safe? Did she not herself tell me that, as a young woman during the blackouts in the Blitz, she felt perfectly safe, at least from the depredations of her fellow citizens, walking home in the pitch dark, and that it never occurred to her that she might be the victim of a crime, whereas nowadays she has only to put her nose out of her door at dusk for her to think of nothing else? Is it not true that her purse has been stolen twice in the last two years, in broad daylight, and is it not true that statistics—however manipulated by governments to put the best possible gloss upon them—bear out the accuracy of the conclusions that I have drawn from my personal experience? In 1921, the year of my mother's birth, there was one crime recorded for every 370 inhabitants of England and Wales; 80 years later, it was one for every ten inhabitants. There has been a 12-fold increase since 1941 and an even greater increase in crimes of violence. So while personal experience is hardly a complete guide to social reality, the historical data certainly back up my impressions.
When is the proper time, then, to withdraw the bulk of our 150,000 troops from Iraq? The answer does not lie in the corridors of Washington, but on the streets of Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and Falluja. The answer lies with the people of Iraq.This idea is as powerful as the idea of distributing Iraq's oil revenues directly to the people, Alaska-style. It has the same revolutionary sense of direct popular legitimacy that is unheard of in the Arab world.Should We Stay or Should We Go? (Via Transition Trends)
As it now stands, there are three situations under which American forces could withdraw: we achieve our goals and depart in triumph; we are asked to leave by the Iraqi government; or we leave Iraq in chaos but spin it as a win. There are obstacles or drawbacks to all three. Achieving our goals may be impossible now with the current levels of insurgency and distrust. Iraqi leaders may be slow to show us the door if we are guaranteeing their security. Lowering our standard of success is unlikely to increase American credibility either at home or abroad.
Why not let the Iraqis themselves decide? Ask Iraqi voters in a referendum six weeks after the national elections if they think foreign soldiers should withdraw immediately. Let the Iraqis debate what the absence of American forces will mean for their families and nation. Tell them we'll hold the referendum every nine months until they vote us out or we determine it's time to leave.
Referendums have proved to be an effective first step to broadening political participation in countries making the transition to democracy, like Chile in 1988, Malawi in 1993 and Albania in 1998. The two questions uppermost in the minds of most Iraqis right now are these: how can we be safe? And when are the foreigners going to leave? A referendum gives Iraqis the power to decide these questions themselves in a more straightforward way than sorting through a ballot of 7,000 candidates or waiting for a new constitution to be written and ratified.
The plan has several advantages. First, it affirms an American commitment to self-determination. Such a policy could do as much for spreading democracy in the Middle East as all the support we give to citizens' groups and political parties.
Second, it steals the thunder from the insurgents. Their support arises from their claim that they are the best chance the country has of kicking out the foreigners. A referendum in Iraq would show that democratic participation, not violence, is Iraq's best chance at full political independence.
Third, a referendum could help avert civil war. If the American presence has been divisive, a vote that asks us to leave could prove the opposite. One of the most consistent unifying ideologies in Iraq since its inception has been independence from Western control. We ought to harness this ideology to the benefit of the Iraqi people rather than fight it.
Fourth, if the majority of Iraqis vote for us to stay, then the United States suddenly has a mandate in Iraq - one we can use to win hearts and minds, limited by Iraqi sovereignty and the date of the next referendum.
China is building up military forces and setting up bases along sea lanes from the Middle East to project its power overseas and protect its oil shipments, according to a previously undisclosed internal report prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.That last part's rich. Interesting that China seems to be surpassing Pentagon estimates in the growth of its military prowess. I wish Japan would hurry up and remilitarize; they're just as threatened by this as we are and could act as a useful regional counterbalance for decades to come.
"China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China's energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives," said the report sponsored by the director, Net Assessment, who heads Mr. Rumsfeld's office on future-oriented strategies.
The Washington Times obtained a copy of the report, titled "Energy Futures in Asia," which was produced by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
The internal report stated that China is adopting a "string of pearls" strategy of bases and diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
Beijing already has set up electronic eavesdropping posts at Gwadar in the country's southwest corner, the part nearest the Persian Gulf. The post is monitoring ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea, the report said.
Other "pearls" in the sea-lane strategy include:
• Bangladesh: China is strengthening its ties to the government and building a container port facility at Chittagong. The Chinese are "seeking much more extensive naval and commercial access" in Bangladesh.
• Burma: China has developed close ties to the military regime in Rangoon and turned a nation wary of China into a "satellite" of Beijing close to the Strait of Malacca, through which 80 percent of China's imported oil passes.
China is building naval bases in Burma and has electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands in the Bay of Bengal and near the Strait of Malacca. Beijing also supplied Burma with "billions of dollars in military assistance to support a de facto military alliance," the report said.
•Cambodia: China signed a military agreement in November 2003 to provide training and equipment. Cambodia is helping Beijing build a railway line from southern China to the sea.
•South China Sea: Chinese activities in the region are less about territorial claims than "protecting or denying the transit of tankers through the South China Sea," the report said.
China also is building up its military forces in the region to be able to "project air and sea power" from the mainland and Hainan Island. China recently upgraded a military airstrip on Woody Island and increased its presence through oil drilling platforms and ocean survey ships.
•Thailand: China is considering funding construction of a $20 billion canal across the Kra Isthmus that would allow ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca. The canal project would give China port facilities, warehouses and other infrastructure in Thailand aimed at enhancing Chinese influence in the region, the report said.
The report reflects growing fears in the Pentagon about China's long-term development. Many Pentagon analysts believe China's military buildup is taking place faster than earlier estimates, and that China will use its power to project force and undermine U.S. and regional security.
The U.S. military's Southern Command produced a similar classified report in the late 1990s that warned that China was seeking to use commercial port facilities around the world to control strategic "chokepoints."
A Chinese company with close ties to Beijing's communist rulers holds long-term leases on port facilities at either end of the Panama Canal.
The Pentagon report said China, by militarily controlling oil shipping sea lanes, could threaten ships, "thereby creating a climate of uncertainty about the safety of all ships on the high seas."
The report noted that the vast amount of oil shipments through the sea lanes, along with growing piracy and maritime terrorism, prompted China, as well as India, to build up naval power at "chokepoints" along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.
"China ... is looking not only to build a blue-water navy to control the sea lanes, but also to develop undersea mines and missile capabilities to deter the potential disruption of its energy supplies from potential threats, including the U.S. Navy, especially in the case of a conflict with Taiwan," the report said.
Chinese weapons for sea-lane control include new warships equipped with long-range cruise missiles, submarines and undersea mines, the report said. China also is buying aircraft and long-range target acquisition systems, including optical satellites and maritime unmanned aerial vehicles.
The focus on the naval buildup is a departure from China's past focus on ground forces, the report said.
"The Iraq war, in particular, revived concerns over the impact of a disturbance in Middle Eastern supplies or a U.S. naval blockade," the report said, noting that Chinese military leaders want an ocean-going navy and "undersea retaliatory capability to protect the sea lanes."
China believes the U.S. military will disrupt China's energy imports in any conflict over Taiwan, and sees the United States as an unpredictable country that violates others' sovereignty and wants to "encircle" China, the report said.
The really difficult thing about working at a checkpoint is that if a bomb goes off in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv it could be because you didn't do your job properly. As people who grew up in a democratic country we IDF soldiers learn the value of human life and morality. It is beyond our reasoning that anyone could put a bomb in a child's schoolbag, or an ambulance, or baby carriage, yet our enemies do that. This forces us to search schoolbags and baby carriages, and ambulances. It's not a comfortable thing to do and it goes against our upbringing and our value system, yet we must do it every time.And still manage a friendly game of soccer with the kids. Hats off, guys.
Having teamed up with the US to help eliminate Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Pakistan is once again proving its worth in the "war on terror", this time in Washington's quest against Iran.Fascinating stuff, if true. Maybe Pakistan is a better ally than I thought.
Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker has reported that since at least last summer, US teams have penetrated eastern Iran, reportedly with Pakistan's help, to hunt for secret nuclear and chemical weapons sites and other targets in the hardline Islamic country, which features prominently on the Bush administration's "axis of evil", along with now "liberated" Iraq and North Korea.
Exclusive information gathered by Asia Times Online shows that Pakistan has provided extensive facilities to special United Kingdom and US units to train them in commando operations in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, which in many ways resembles the Iranian towns of Tehran, Shiraz, Isphan and other urban centers. Special forces from the US and Britain have staged unannounced exercises in Karachi. With its maze of high rises, communication networks and the division of the city (Sher-i-Bala and Sher-i-Payien), Tehran and Karachi are very similar.
"Pakistan's support to the US against Iran is logical as Iran did not hesitate to hand over all evidence of Pakistan helping Iran in developing nuclear technology to the international agency [International Atomic Energy Agency]," commented one analyst.
During the exercises, the troops got to know different localities, residential areas, roads and exit points of the city, including railway and bus stations and the airport. For the exercises, the troops were provided with detailed maps of Karachi, including important buildings. The exercises, which started several weeks ago, ended on January 17, highly informed sources revealed to Asia Times Online.