Retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey - who helped then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin L. Powell command U.S. troops during 1991's Operation Desert Storm and has been sharply critical of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for denying the harsh "reality" in Iraq today - says Iraqi elections slated for Jan. 30 must proceed as planned.
Still, the retired four-star Army general, now a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Military Academy, told this columnist Wednesday that "it is hard to imagine ending up with a legitimate government, operational economy and decent security forces" in Iraq for at least two years and possibly as many as 10 years.
"Backing off the election is a very risky proposition," said McCaffrey, calling it a critical "way station en route to an uncertain objective."
"My judgment is, if we back off the election, or any other way stations, (insurgents) will take to the streets and ultimately drive the remainder of our allies out of Iraq," he said.
It is equally important, he added, to keep neighboring allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait focused on seeing the elections through. Then, in a post-election period, the U.S. military must continue its arduous, often-bloody task of "thinning out our enemies."
With 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground, "it is impossible to imagine any combination of insurgent forces" could defeat U.S. resolve to bring stability to the country. Nevertheless, and while calling his numbers "soft," he estimated that 80,000 armed insurgents presently are battling U.S. troops in Iraq, with another 5 million Sunnis and Shias supporting the rebel forces.
At the same time, he made clear that he fully supports President Bush's initiatives in Iraq, if not the president's Pentagon chief orchestrating the military operation.
"Leaving Saddam (Hussein) in office was unacceptable, and if we had left him there, five years from now we'd have rued the day we lost our will," he said. "President Bush's political and moral courage taking us to war will pay off in the end, (although) this is not going to be easy in the short term."
He also predicted that if Bush levels with Congress and the public on the obvious obstacles that the United States faces in Iraq, "I think the American people will want to stay the course."
Regarding his recent public criticism of Rumsfeld, McCaffrey yesterday referred to "serious misjudgments by Secretary Rumsfeld" in leading troops, particularly the war's first phase, when Iraqi resistance was underestimated and U.S. troop strength proved inadequate.
"Not much is gained by enumerating. That's past history," he said. "Now it is how we move forward. We need fresh thinking and courage."
SEARCHING THE CLOSET
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest U.S. homosexual-rights group, announced this week that it has formed a 25-member committee to search for a new executive director, in the wake of HRC chief Cheryl Jacques' Nov. 30 resignation announcement.
However, HRC did not name the members of its search committee, prompting San Francisco AIDS activist Michael Petrelis to ask if "closet cases" are running the search.
"Maybe the committee members are embarrassed to be associated with the gay community. Perhaps they're not fully out of the closet, or they just don't want their names released," says Petrelis, a former resident of the District, where he was active with the local chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP).
"Whatever the reason for the secrecy, it doesn't say much about HRC's commitment to transparency and accountability to the community it purports to represent."
Gwen Baba, co-chairwoman of the HRC board of directors, and Vic Basile, co-chairman of the HRC Foundation board of directors, will lead the committee, the group announced in a Monday press release. And while the names of individual search committee members will not be released publicly, Basile characterized the group as "diverse."
Jacques' resignation in November widely was interpreted as a reaction to HRC's failed efforts to defeat President Bush on Election Day, when voters in 11 states approved ballot measures effectively prohibiting recognition of same-sex "marriage" - and "moral values" was cited as the No. 1 issue in exit polls.
In the wake of the devastating tsunami and the United States' initial response to the disaster, a common buzzword in European circles centered on America's "stinginess."
Since then, of course, Americans have responded the way we always do - delivering more relief supplies to tsunami survivors than any other country.
"The United States has made a significant financial contribution, but we have done much more than that," reporters were reminded yesterday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, citing everything from the U.S. military response to deliver food, water and medicine, to former President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton spearheading an unprecedented private fund-raising drive.
In the midst of this massive U.S. outpouring, we read that the mothership of the European Union, Belgium - which lists 629 of its countrymen as missing in the Indian Ocean tsunami - has responded to the crisis by organizing a relief team called B-FAST (Belgian First Aid and Support Team). Or, maybe, not-so-FAST.
Our Belgian source, reading from the front page of the newspaper Metro, relays that an assisting Belgian doctor, Luc Beaucourt, is complaining about the commitment of Belgium's civil servants toward efforts to find missing Belgians and assist thousands of others in peril.
The doctor says the team is dragging its feet, if not responding at all, and calls on the Belgian prime minister's office to take the reins. (Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut denies the charges, answering that the team has done some work.)
According to the article, among the main reasons that B-FAST is not working so well is the result of weak leadership and bureaucratic administrative procedures. Plus, the past few days were a "bank holiday."
MAN OF PRAYER
Here, word for word, is what President Bush wrote above his signature in the condolence books of four foreign embassies - those of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand - the countries most affected by last week's deadly tsunami.
Indonesia: "May God bless all who suffer."
India: "We pray for the victims of this terrible disaster and we stand firmly with the people of India as she recovers."
Sri Lanka: "We pray for victims and families of this epic disaster, and the American government and American people are dedicated to helping you recover."
Thailand: "We pray for the victims and families of this epic disaster. The American people and government stand with you as you recover and rebuild."
The 109th Congress convened this week, and as is customary, with the start of every new congressional body comes the adoption of new rules in the House.
Among major provisions is the repeal of a corrections calendar created in 1995 to expedite the consideration of bills to repeal or correct laws or regulations that are "obsolete, ludicrous, duplicative, burdensome or costly."
It comes as no surprise that the calendar has not been used very often, although, as the Republican Study Committee points out, the "suspension calendar" is still available.
- Allow "relatives" to accompany congressmen on privately funded, officially connected travel. The current rule provides for a spouse or child to travel on such trips.
- Allow congressmen to use their campaign funds to pay for certain official expenses, such as cell phones and other hand-held communication devices.
- Restrict the use of the frank for mass mailings before an election by expanding the window before a primary or general election from 60 days to 90 days, during which a mailing cannot be franked.
LETTER OF THE WEEK
"I am the founder and editor of the Lynchburg (Va.) Current and I appreciate your mention of our travails with Lynchburg College in your column a few weeks ago. When I read about it at the Collegiate Network conference it was a pleasant surprise," writes Rich Danker to The Beltway Beat.
"Last April, in the first issue of the paper, I put an item about the car of an international relations professor having a bumper sticker that said 'Anybody but Bush.' This professor attempted to get me kicked out of school for 'endangerment' and the administration decided to discipline me with a 'Human Rights Violation,' because I had 'caused harm physically or mentally to a member of the college community.'
"It was quite ludicrous and another example of a (college) administration off its rocker."