Saturday, July 31, 2004

New book recommendations
I added a couple of new book recommendations to my list this afternoon:

Military Power : Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle by Dr. Stephen Biddle of the Army War College. Dr. Biddle is best known for his brilliant essay "Victory Misunderstood" which ran in the Fall 1996 issue of International Security. This book picks up on some of that research into the causes of the stunning U.S. victory in the first Gulf War, but takes a longer look at the foundations of military power and how things like skill and doctrine may count for more than technology. If you read one book on military reform this year, this should probably be it.

Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004 by Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker. I'm a sucker for good political commentary books, and having read many of Mr. Hertzberg's columns over the past few years, I think this compilation will be an absolute pleasure to read. But of course, I don't just read for fun -- I think this book will help those trying to grapple with issues in this year's election, by providing some historical perspectives on American politics over the past four decades.

Last week, I received my Amazon.Com credit from the books you (my readers) ordered through Intel Dump, just in time for some post-bar reading. Thanks for choosing to order through my site -- I really appreciate it. A small part of every Amazon.Com order gets returned to me as a credit, which I then use to order books in order to stay well-versed in the fields of national security, law and military affairs. So in a sense, your orders are an investment in the human capital behind this site, because I think my analysis gets better as a result of this extracurricular reading. Thanks again!
Zen and the art of counterinsurgency
War is a continuation of politics by other means; beating the insurgents will require outsmarting them politically as well as militarily

Pamela Hess, UPI's Pentagon correspondent, has an exceptional dispatch from Iraq that reads like a primer on contemporary counterinsurgency theory. Ms. Hess is right now seeing first hand how that theory works in action, as a reporter embedded with the 7th Marines in Ramadi, Iraq. She begins her piece with a discussion about insurgency itself — what it means, whether it can be defined, and how the current Iraqi threat meets (or fails to meet) that definition.
"He" is the amorphous enemy — sometimes called the "mujahedin," sometimes the "evil ones," often the bad guys, but most popularly in the Western press, at least, the "insurgency."

It's a misleading term and one that chafes on military commanders, who take the word seriously. Col. Craig Tucker, commander of RCT-7 — the 7th Marines' Regimental Combat Team — suspended an interview Wednesday at his headquarters in al-Asad to fetch a dictionary and a NATO glossary to make his point.

"An insurgency is organized," he said, pointing at the page. "It has an agenda. This one has a negative purpose: to bring out violent disorder."

The complexities of Iraq make Marine commanders inadvertent masters of Zen.

"The only truth is what you observe at any given point in time," Tucker said. "And when what you are observing changes, that's the new truth."

This insurgency, uprising or enemy, is not organized by Western definitions. As best the Marines can tell, the enemy fighters have no meetings, no single central command authority, or overarching direction. They appear to be united by happenstance, periodically by operations, and always by the same goal: lawlessness and chaos, and making the Americans go home.

"Don't think of them as groups (of people.) Think of them as motivations," said an intelligence officer over lunch in the clean and bright cafeteria at Camp Blue Diamond.
The article then goes onto describe some of the motivations underlying the insurgents against whom the 7th Marines are fighting. These range from the obvious (nationalism, and the desire to eject U.S. forces) to the personal (a desire for revenge of a family member's death). More and more, the Marines are finding that the motivations of Iraqi insurgents have a great deal to do with personal greed and lust for power. In short, the Marines are seeing increasing amounts of organized crime in Iraq, and increasing convergence between this organized crime and the insurgency.
It is tough to overemphasize the importance of organized crime in the insurgency, Marine commanders say. Millions of dollars flow through the country daily in an unofficial economy and have for the past decade. The perpetrators are motivated by self-interest and greed. They not only plan and carry out violence but pay others to do the same. One commander compared the intransigence of Iraqi organized crime networks to that of the mafia in Sicily before World War II. It has the same stranglehold on whole local economies and populations, and is protected by family and tribal loyalties.

Individual "insurgents" organize themselves into cells, some of which are connected and some of which are independent. Like the criminal networks, all are enriched and supported by family and tribal alliances.

The groups vary in size and composition from day to day. One may be led by a man on a street of five families where U.S. troops mistakenly shot a civilian car. A former fedayeen member may hire a rotating cast of men to wire old artillery shells to motorcycle batteries and Nokia cell phones and set them on the highway. Another man may be led by a foreign jihadist who, with a core group of 10 or 15 men loyal to him, will recruit 50 or 200 other young men with guns, but not jobs, to launch an assault.

Each person in a cell may share some or all of the motivations, and their involvement may wax and wane depending on their economic circumstances, the amount of pressure put on them by U.S. troops, and the recruiting and organizing skills of the cell leaders, some of whom certainly know each other and may work together from time to time.

* * *
The cells are funded from various sources if not directly from its members. Cash is derived from local sheiks who bristle at their loss of authority, smugglers whose livelihoods are threatened, and foreign sources, particularly in Syria, according to the Marines.
There is substantial support in the literature for what Ms. Hess is seeing on the ground in Iraq. The advocates of 4th Generation Warfare theory have long written about potential and actual convergence between terror groups like Al Qaeda and organized crime syndicates like the Columbian drug cartels. Much of this convergence owes to symbiotic goals and needs. Al Qaeda needs to move men, money and materiel around the world; criminal syndicates can provide the means to do so, at a price.

But there is something much deeper to this convergence too. Over time, terror groups and criminal organizations begin to share tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). They forge long-term alliances that are more than mere transactional relationships. Criminal syndicates begin to use terror tactics in furtherance of their pecuniary goals; terrorist groups begin to use criminal tactics in order to recruit members, intimidate opponents, manage their affairs and fund their operations. Over time, the lines become blurred, to the point where it becomes unclear that the drug cartel is merely a criminal organization, and not a terroristic one too.

One of the defining features of the Iraqi insurgency is its structure — which stands in stark contrast to that of past successful insurgent organizations, most notably Mao's Communist uprising in China and Ho Chi Minh's insurgency in Vietnam. Ms. Hess takes us into the mind of USMC Lt. Col. Joe L'Etoile, and gives us a primer on the nature of the insurgency in Iraq — and why the powers that be in Washington can't seem to figure out how to defeat it.
"The insurgency is not one thing," said Lt. Col Joe L'Etoile, the division's director of operations. "This is a multilayered problem. The layers are not stratified, so they can't be addressed in isolation from each other. They animate and feed each other. Every area is different. It manifests itself in a different balance depending on what part of the country you are in."

L'Etoile believes this is a variation on the "foco" insurgency, by definition one in which military action is the beginning, rather than a political agenda. If it takes hold and rocks the legitimate government sufficiently, it is intended to inspire a mass uprising and from that comes the ultimate political agenda.

"In a Maoist revolution you have the politics and then you build to a guerilla movement and then a conventional war," he said. In a foco insurgency, you start with the violence. It's an anti-doctrine. It goes after something. It doesn't build something." It's a difficult concept to grasp in Washington, which tends to see things through the lens of past experience — in this case, Vietnam, a classic insurgency that began with a political agenda and gathered steam as a guerrilla movement, finally breaking the will of the American people to stay and fight.

According to Marine and Army commanders with experience in Iraq, this elliptical adversary defies the linear expectations the West has for an uprising. To the Western mind, an insurgency requires funding, organization, a leader and a central organization. Each of these exists here in Iraq, but in a fractured, evolving and — according to the Marines — apparently haphazard form.

"You can't look at this like it's a football game, that they have a huddle call. It's fluid, it's continuous, and it veers wildly. We have to have agility and flexibility to deal with it. You have to be proactive and shape it," L'Etoile said.

This is not to say there is no coordination among the groups that comprise the insurgency.

"I think there's a strong argument to be made that the insurgents are unified by a common objective — that is, against the coalition," L'Etoile said. "Each one of these different groups has a command-and-cooperation apparatus, but the linkages between them are much less defined."

* * *
This complicated insurgency may be a tough sell in Washington, where those for and against the war are both served by the notion of a unified enemy. Those in the Pentagon and the White House, who are seeking to maintain public support for the war, know the best way to do that is to have an easily identifiable and reviled enemy and show quantifiable progress in defeating him. Critics of the war are served by touting a unified, grass-roots enemy like that in Vietnam, which unmasks the supposed imperialistic agenda of the White House — David against the Goliath.

But commanders here are largely unconcerned with Washington. They care deeply how the war is being perceived at home and are desperate for people to understand the complexities they face — not as an excuse, but to drive home the point that they need time here to do their work.

"The way we win here is with a patient, persistent presence," L'Etoile said.
Unfortunately, as Ms. Hess points out, it's not clear that Washington will buy into a protracted counter-insurgency effort, much less that the American public will. It may be possible to wage such a war with a smaller force, or to wage such a war multi-laterally, as Sen. John Kerry indicated last night in his acceptance speech. But it will not be possible to wage such a fight quickly, or cleanly. Indeed, it will take a great deal more spirit, blood and treasure to win this war. But more than shear resources, it will take the right frame of mind. Men like Lt. Col. L'Etoile have it right. You don't defeat an insurgency on the battlefield — you defeat an insurgency by severing its bonds with the people it hopes to liberate and vindicate. Our ultimate strategy in Iraq must be predominantly political and economic, with a military component designed to further our political objectives.

With the bar exam behind me, I am now reading Army Maj. John Nagl's brilliant book on counter-insurgency, which compares the U.S. Army experience in Vietnam with the British Army's experience in Malaya. One of the key lessons comes at the start of the book, when Maj. Nagl lays out the theoretical foundations for his book. He draws a distinction between the military theories of Jomini and Clausewitz, which each teach that war is a science and an art respectively. Modern military theoreticians and politicians often cite to Clausewitz for the proposition that wars are won on the battlefield with overwhelming force. But in fact, that was Jomini's idea — that war could be won through the scientific application of overwhelming military force. Clausewitz believed, and wrote, that war was the continuation of politics by other means, and that the means of warfare must always serve the ends of politics. In other words, military victory alone is not really victory, if it fails to serve your political ends.

In Iraq, we have learned that our triumph on the battlefield in 2003 was not enough to secure a true strategic victory there. To prevail in the long run, we must secure the peace too, and rebuild an Iraqi nation capable of lasting long after our departure. Securing the peace starts with the realization that military tactics must be used in furtherance of political goals, and that political realities are what shape the vitality and viability of the enemy insurgency. The Marines, led by officers like Lt. Col. L'Etoile, seem to get this. If only our officers in Washington did, we'd be a lot better off.
A dereliction of accountability for CPA contracts in Iraq
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday on a troubling inquiry by the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) inspector general indicating that fraud, waste and abuse were the norm - rather than the exception - in the disbursement of funds by the agency charged with the post-war administration of Iraq. The management of funds was so bad that nearly 27 separate criminal inquiries were launched, and potentially billions in U.S. taxpayer money was wasted.
The report is the most sweeping indication yet that some U.S. officials and private contractors repeatedly violated the law in the free-wheeling atmosphere that pervaded the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild the war-torn country.

More than $600 million in cash from Iraqi oil money was spent with insufficient controls. Senior U.S. officials manipulated or misspent contract money. Millions of dollars' worth of equipment could not be located, the report said.
* * *
The report raises anew questions surrounding the occupation government under Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, who turned over control in June to an interim Iraqi government.

The coalition's failures continue to haunt the country today as Iraqis struggle with security issues and infrastructure problems with electricity, transportation and water.

* * *
Former CPA officials and contracting experts said they were surprised at the number of criminal investigations described in Bowen's report. They noted that criminal corruption charges in the U.S. involving federal contracting were rare.

The CPA has disbanded, and Pentagon officials did not return calls for comment.

* * *
The CPA inspector general's office began in January and has more than 100 employees continuing investigations.
Analysis: Let's be clear about what we're talking about here. This is our taxpayer money -- not some hypothetical, mythical slushfund from beneficent donors around the world. It's not like the Saudis are funding this war the way they did the last Gulf War. To date, we have committed more than $150 billion to the effort in Iraq, and that number is certain to at least double by the time our forces leave Iraq. Even though Congress and the President may spend like drunken sailors, we shouldn't let them get away with it. This is our money, and we must impose some measure of accountability on its use. The American public, through its elected representatives and the media, ought to be screaming for accountability here. Criminal actions should be brought against those who fraudulently spent or took funds. Civil actions should be brought in order to force those who took to disgorge their ill-gotten gains. This is our money, and we should accept nothing less.

But that's not why I'm so upset by this story. I'm upset because every dollar lost by inept CPA officials, or intentionally taken by others, means one less dollar to pay for critical security and reconstruction initiatives in Iraq. In the federal budget world, money generally isn't fungible. You can't take money from Iraq to subsidize a prescription drug benefit in the U.S., for example. But you sure can move money within the supplemental appropriations packages that have been passed for Iraq, like the most recent one for $25 billion. Thus, this wasted money represents money not spent on important things like buying Interceptor body armor and decent radios for the Iraqi police, so they can start patrolling instead of our men and women. It means less money for commanders to dole out on the ground as reconstruction slush money -- useful for building good will and winning hearts and minds. Every wasted dollar is a wasted opportunity for victory in Iraq.

Am I really that surprised by this? Unfortunately, I'm not. Accountability is difficult to maintain in government contracts generally, because of the sums of money involved and the complexity of the task. It's very difficult to maintain accountability in a war zone. But the stakes are high here, and that's why I'm upset. If this money were better controlled and better spent, it could have contributed to the war effort. Ultimately, that might help secure our victory, and allow us to bring our troops home. Instead, this money was wasted. And thus, victory is now a little further away, and a little harder to attain. To me, that's criminal, and it ought to be dealt with.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Dispatches from Iraq
If you're not already reading Owen West's dispatches from Iraq in Slate, where he is reporting from the Marines' 1st Recon Battalion, you should be. Mr. West's writing is informed by the fact that he spent time as a Marine, and his writing conveys both a sense of being there, and a sense of what it's like to be a U.S. soldier or Marine in harm's way in Iraq. From latrine graffiti to the role of contractors, Mr. West's series in Slate contains some great insights into the way things are over there. Check it out.
Corrections count more than news III
The Defense Department's "Early Bird" brief has once again resumed its practice of putting "Corrections" at the top of its page for its daily roundup of news around the world. I think this is a petty attempt by DoD officials to give the bird, so to speak, to the newsmedia who cover the Defense Department. But as I've said here and here, I think it reflects a deeper misalignment of priorities within the Pentagon -- a greater concern for image, rather than substance.

Today's juxtaposition of corrections with top stories deserves mention for two reasons. First, it's clearly designed to rub the NY Times' face in an obvious error that any Army veteran would have picked up. Second, it's just absurd that this correction is more important than the top stories below it, yet that's the message sent by these corrections' placement at the top of the page.
1. Corrections
(New York Times)...New York Times
An article yesterday about James H. Williams, a soldier charged with having stolen a vehicle at gunpoint in Iraq, misstated his rank. He is a sergeant first class, not a first sergeant.
2. Invoking His Past, Kerry Vows To Command 'A Nation At War'
(New York Times)...Adam Nagourney
...Mr. Kerry's speech was from start to finish weighted toward foreign affairs and national security, a striking contrast to Democratic convention speeches of the last generation. The speech underlined the extent to which foreign affairs has emerged as the central issue in this campaign and the urgency Mr. Kerry sees in trying to compete with Mr. Bush on the subject.

3. Iraq Funds Are Focus Of 27 Criminal Inquiries
(Los Angeles Times)...T. Christian Miller
A comprehensive examination of the U.S.-led agency that oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations and produced evidence of millions of dollars' worth of fraud, waste and abuse, according to a report by the Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general.

4. Convention Of Iraqis Pushed Back 2 Weeks
(Washington Post)...Doug Struck and Pamela Constable
Iraq on Thursday postponed a political convention regarded as a key step toward democracy, as Iraqis reeling from the latest grisly bombing bemoaned their government's inability to end kidnappings and violence.

5. Embassy Bombings Figure Captured In Pakistan
(USA Today)...Kevin Johnson and John Diamond
A major al-Qaeda operative, who had a $25 million bounty on his head for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in East Africa, has been captured by Pakistani authorities, federal law enforcement and intelligence officials said Thursday.
Okay... I'll grant the fact that the NYT made a dumb error with respect to SFC Williams' rank in its story. And I'll grant the implication here that the NYT needs more vets on its staff because no vet would have made this error or let it slide. But c'mon... let's be adult here. The Early Bird exists to inform the American military community of the news, not serve as some inside-the-beltway gossip tabloid or tit-for-tat between the Pentagon and the Pentagon press corps. Let's put corrections and letters back where they belong in this brief -- at the bottom.
Gitmo reviews to start today
The Pentagon announced today in a characteristically terse press release that it would begin its "Combatant Status Review Tribunals" today at Guanantamo Bay, Cuba, for the 600 detainees now imprisoned there as part of America's global war on terrorism. To me, these panels appear designed to satisfy both the 3rd Geneva Convention's requirement for "competent tribunals" to determine prisoner status, and the Supreme Court's decisions in Rasul and Hamdi which require some amount of legal process for the Gitmo detainees. (See this Slate article for more on the operational implications of these decisions.)

However, these panels do not satisfy the Court's holding in Rasul, which established a right of access for the detainees to U.S. courts for the purposes of filing a petition for habeas corpus. At best, these panels will satisfy the procedural requirements set forth in Hamdi, where the Court hinted that U.S. Army prisoner status review panels like these could be used to determine the validity of a U.S. citizen-combatant's detention.

I think the 3rd Geneva Convention (and U.S. Army regulations) mandated that we conduct these tribunals a long time ago, at some point shortly after the time of capture. But we didn't, so we're doing them now. My sense is that the Pentagon wants to use these tribunals as a way to gather more evidence against the detainee, and to build a record for subsequent fights in U.S. federal district court over the writ of habeas corpus. The Defense Department will likely release some detainees on the basis of these hearings, when it determines that there is not enough evidence to hold the person — or more importantly, to prevail in a later habeas proceeding.

But for many detainees, I feel that these hearings will end up being quite Pyrrhic in nature. It's not like they're getting a meaningful opportunity for a hearing before a neutral and detached decisionmaker with the assistance of counsel. In fact, I think they're getting none of those things — this is a summary proceeding to be conducted by military officers and overseen by the Secretary of the Navy. At best, it will make some detainees feel better by letting them tell their side of the story. But if I were acting as counsel to these detainees, I'd probably tell them to keep their mouth shut and take it to court on a habeas petition, because they're more likely to get a fair hearing there.

Update: A short confirmatory press release that the tribunal took place is available here on the Pentagon's website. The AP also has a report.
Evaluating Kerry's speech -- and his ideas to secure America
Overall, I thought that John Kerry gave an excellent acceptance speech last night. He hit the important notes he needed to hit, and most importantly, conveyed a personal impression of who he is as a man. That's important because most Americans see President Bush as a likable guy they could drink a beer with, as opposed to Sen. Kerry, who's a bit off-putting and distant. Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry did a great job of laying the foundation for this effort to humanize Sen. Kerry, and I think the speech succeeded here.

Nonetheless, I was a little disappointed by the speech on the national security issues. The single most important national security issue facing America today is intelligence reform. On this issue, Sen. Kerry played hard to get. He said we need to reform intelligence, and to ensure that intelligence shapes policy -- not the other way around. But there weren't a lot of specifics:
"As president, I will ask the hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as president, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."
Undoubtedly, this lack of specificity was intentional. Sen. Kerry is likely still looking for the right solution to reform America's intel community. It might be the creation of a Director of National Intelligence; it might be the creation of a domestic intel agency (like Britain's MI5). It might be something else. Still, this was Sen. Kerry's great moment in the spotlight to say something on this issue, and he didn't use the opportunity. So I was a bit disappointed. Hopefully he puts forward some ideas in this area soon, because I think this is one area where the American people both want and need good ideas. What would I do? I'd get out in front on a few of the main pieces of reform suggested by the 9/11 Commission, e.g. appointing a national intelligence director or beefing up U.S. HUMINT capabilities. If I were Kerry's team, I'd appropriate those issues ASAP and make them a central part of the campaign -- and hammer home the fact that President Bush has not acted on intelligence reform in the nearly 3 years since 9/11. (I don't count the creation of the TTIC at CIA, because that's a relatively minor organizational change.)

In another part of his speech, Sen. Kerry talked about his pledge only wage war when America must; not when America wants to. I think this played well. Sen. Kerry also expressed his intent to give the U.S. military what it needs to succeed in the global war on terrorism, specifically, more troops. Here, I think the swift boat captain may have run aground, according to this transcript from the Washington Post:
"Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a certain response.

"I will never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security.

"And I will build a stronger military. We will add 40,000 active duty troops, not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended and under pressure.

"We will double our Special Forces to conduct terrorist operations, anti-terrorist operations, and we will provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives and win the battle. And we will end the backdoor draft of the National Guard and reservists.

Sen. Kerry fumbled the words when talking about Special Forces and what roles they would play, saying they would "conduct terrorist operations... err... anti-terrorist operations." Clearly, the guy was under stress. But c'mon... that's fundamental. Plus, as a technical matter, anti-terrorist operations are defensive -- SF units typically conduct counter-terrorist operations, which are offensive in nature. "Combatting terrorism" is the term of art to refer to both.

Anyway, that's nitpicking. The real issue is this: can we double the size of America's special operations forces while retaining their qualitative edge? I'm not so sure. The reason why our SOF do so well in places like Afghanistan and the Philippines is because of their experience, tough training, tough selection, and rigorous Darwinian ethic. Given the current size of the military, there is a limit to the size of the special forces if we want to retain this elite level of quality. There may be room for expansion, and there may be room for some direct recruiting of soldiers for things like civil affairs and psyops. But I'm not sure that we can boost the ranks of the Green Berets, SEALs and other SF units with the kind of speed and largess that Sen. Kerry suggests. Doing so will require a ramping up of recruiting efforts, retention efforts, and the institutional training base for the production of special operations soldiers. The latter will be the most difficult, because the current training systems (e.g. U.S. Army's Special Forces Qualification Course, or "Q" course) are only capable of a certain throughput. Requiring these systems to produce too many special ops soldiers, too quickly, may do irreparable harm to the quality of special operations forces -- turning them into non-elite forces with special jobs, instead of the elite soldiers and units they are today.

Finally, there were the innumerable mentions of Sen. Kerry's war record, and the extraordinary prominence of veterans at the Democratic National Convention. Truly, this event was the apotheosis of the veteran in American politics. Historically, military service has played a role in establishing the credentials of politicians and citizens to participate in the political process. While not as extreme as the requirement in Robert Heinlein's famous "Starship Troopers" (you don't get to vote unless you serve in uniform), American voters have historically imposed some requirement for service on their commanders in chief. The exception, of course, was Bill Clinton, who defeated two WWII heroes in order to win the White House in 1992 and 1996. But our nation was not at war then, and it is today. I believe that the character of a candidate's military service remains relevant to the issue of a president's fitness for leadership. And so while I thought it was important for Sen. Kerry to include this stuff, I think he may have gone a bit overboard.

Comments like these:
"I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty.

* * *
"And in this journey, I am accompanied by an extraordinary band of brothers led by that American hero, a patriot called Max Cleland.


"Our band of brothers...


"Our band of brothers doesn't march together because of who we are as veterans, but because of what we learned as soldiers.

"We fought for this nation because we loved it, and we came back with the deep belief that every day is extra. We may be a little older, we may be a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for our country.

* * *
"I know what kids go through when they are carrying...


"I know what kids go through when they're carrying an M-16 in a dangerous place, and they can't tell friend from foe. I know what they go through when they're out on patrol at night and they don't know what's coming around the next bend. I know what it's like to write letters home telling your family that everything's all right, when you're not sure that that's true.

"As president, I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war. Before you go to battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say, "I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm's way, but we had no choice...


"... we had to protect the American people, fundamental American values against a threat that was real and imminent."
... are good, because they connect Sen. Kerry's youthful military credentials with the way that he will act as an American President. It's not enough that he was a brave, intelligent junior Navy officer -- not every brave and intelligent junior Navy officer is fit to become President. Sen. Kerry had to show that his military service was somehow relevant to the way he would lead this country as President, and that it will make him a better President than the current one. (Kerry never said a word about President Bush's service record, although the implied attacks against it were clear to me.) I think that Sen. Kerry made this point, but maybe pushed it a little too far.

Maybe that's necessary, because of the nature of elective politics and the need to drive home a message over and over again. No one ever criticized President Reagan for overusing the "morning in America" or "city on a hill" themes too much, or for overplaying to American patriotism, and perhaps this is a vein that needs to be tapped deeply in order to work. Certainly, the veteran symbolism will help Sen. Kerry win over "red" state and "blue" state voters who are still uncomfortable with Democrats on issues of national security. But I have this feeling (speaking as a veteran) that there has to be something more in order for Sen. Kerry to win on national security, because sterling veteran credentials alone won't do it.

Anyway, that's my armchair analysis from out here in California. I think it was an exceptionally strong speech, and that it met the expectations for the night. But to win, I think Sen. Kerry will have to take these issues to the next level. More to follow...

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Back to normal
The California bar exam ended for me today at approximately 4:30 p.m. West Coast time, with the completion of the second performance test in 3 days of testing. California has the longest bar exam of all the states — most states put their aspiring lawyers through a 2-day bar exam crucible. Hopefully, my combination of luck, hard work and preparation will have made the difference, but I won't know until November whether or not I passed. Until then, I hope to put this exam as far out of my mind as possible.

To do that, my plan is to drink a bottle of Pinot Noir from the Byron winery in Santa Maria, California, vintage 2001. It's one of the best red wines I've ever tasted, and I highly recommend a bottle if you can get your hands on one. Regular writing and blogging should resume tomorrow, July 30. I'm eager to start writing again, because I thought of some article projects during my bar study crunch that I couldn't devote any time to then.