December 28, 2007

Hopes of democracy dashed in Pakistan

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Hopes of democracy dashed in Pakistan
Francona: U.S. must reassess stance toward Musharraf after Bhutto's death

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC

Although it is too soon to know who assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, it is fast becoming apparent that Pakistan remains a crisis for U.S. foreign policy. Hopes of a move towards democracy and an end of the military-dominated rule in the country were dashed with two bullets and a suicide vest on Thursday. Now the U.S. must reassess its stance towards President Pervez Musharraf. The choices are neither plentiful nor especially palatable.

The warning signs have been apparent for years. The Musharraf government has been extremely unpopular — so unpopular that the joke in the country was that Osama bin Laden would have defeated him in a runoff election. Musharraf was in a difficult position: the U.S. approached him following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and convinced him to support American military operations against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Washington had an ally in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Musharraf’s decision to support the U.S. was followed by American demands that he step down as commander of the armed forces and implement democratic reforms. These moves led to serious challenges of his leadership from Islamic fundamentalists — including some in the military and intelligence services — who have no desire for Western-style governance. This was a recipe for disaster.

Enter Benazir Bhutto, a respected former prime minister who the U.S. hoped represented a solution to head off the impending disaster. With Bhutto as the prime minister and Musharraf as president, it may have made the government more palatable to the population and still acceptable to the armed forces, the ultimate guarantor of power in the country. Under pressure from the U.S., Musharraf entertained the idea of a power-sharing agreement. In Washington, that would mean still having an ally in Islamabad.

Another recipe for disaster: the thought of a joint Musharraf-Bhutto government was anathema to the multiple Islamic fundamentalist groups in the country. In the Pakistani armed forces and intelligence services, there is sympathy for the Islamists. The Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), was instrumental in the formation of the Taliban and has a long history of supporting the anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s that placed the ISID in direct contact with bin Laden and al-Qaida. These fundamentalists are committed to the overthrow of the Musharraf government. They have tried to assassinate him at least three times already. Adding Benazir Bhutto — overtly committed to the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida — to the equation only inflamed radical passions further.

Suicide bomb unlikely
Musharraf sympathizers, including his special operations troops, have already been accused by Bhutto supporters of complicity in the assassination. There is a key point they have overlooked — Musharraf’s followers are not the types to commit suicide. Willingness to commit suicide is usually associated with a religious-based ideology rather than a political ideology. The fact that the killer was able to reach her in Rawalpindi, the home turf of the army and ISID, raises serious questions about Islamist penetration of those services.

The U.S. now finds itself in a difficult position with few options. With former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party threatening to boycott the January elections, assuming they are even held, continuing U.S. support for Musharraf appears to be the only viable option. That support should come with a price tag — aggressive action on the Afghanistan border. While we want democratic reform in Pakistan, we need an ally more.

For the time being, the U.S. national interests require Pakistan as an ally in the continuing fight against terrorism. As long as the Taliban challenges the Karzai government in neighboring Afghanistan, and as long as al-Qaida fighters find safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas (North Western Frontier Province and the Waziristans), we need an ally in Islamabad. I wish we didn’t, but we do.

December 22, 2007

John Walker Lindh wants out

He has called himself John Walker Lindh, John Walker, his original adopted Muslim name Sulayman al-Faris, or as he prefers today, Hamza Walker Lindh. Others have dubbed him "Taliban John" or "Jihad Johnny" or "the Marin Mujahid."

Whatever he or others prefer, the correct form of address is Inmate # 45426-083. Lindh is a federal inmate currently incarcerated at the medium-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, having recently been moved from the "Supermax" facility in Colorado. Lindh should consider himself lucky - the Supermax is as tough as it gets.

Lindh is back in the news. His lawyer, James Brosnahan, has again requested that President Bush commute the sentence that he and Lindh agreed to in a 2002 plea bargain. I don't think there is any chance President Bush will reduce the sentence - nor should he. Part of the plea bargain was that there would be no requests for reduction of his sentence.

The current request provides another opportunity for Brosnahan and Lindh's parents to proclaim his innocence.

MARILYN WALKER: "John Lindh had no involvement whatsoever in terrorism or criminal activity. His only offense was serving in the army of Afghanistan - he's admitted this was a mistake on his part. He never fought against the United States."

Ya um hamza (hey mother of Hamza), where have you been since 2001? I know it is hard to come to grips with what your son has become and done, but to make these statements is absurd. No involvement in criminal activity or terrorism? He admitted to it as part of his plea deal. Serving in the army of Afghanistan? He was an unlawful combatant by any definition. If he was not fighting against the United States, why did he not leave Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the day of the American invasion? He stayed and fought - he's guilty.

JAMES BROSNAHAN: "Others have received a lot less in the way of a sentence even when they were convicted of a lot more. I think the mood of the country has changed dramatically since 2001-2002. We're still feeling the effects of 9/11, but we're not as fearful as we were then. We still have enemies, but we're seeing them more clearly now. John is not one of them."

Counselor, we know you have to make these kinds of statements to earn your keep, but if John/Hamza is not one of our enemies, why did you plead him guilty? He's guilty, he admitted it, you got him a deal, end of story. While the mood of the country may have changed since 2001, there is no sympathy for Taliban John. I would have left him on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

December 20, 2007

An opportunity for reconciliation

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An opportunity for reconciliation
Francona: Targeting the PKK may help peace efforts

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC

Turkey’s recent limited cross-border operations into northern Iraq present an opportunity to repair damaged relations between two NATO allies. Over the past few weeks, American intelligence agencies have been providing information on the location of camps and hideouts of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization, inside Iraq along the mountainous Turkish border. This intelligence information has allowed precise airstrikes and commando operations by Turkish forces against the PKK fighters and helped preclude the possibility of a much larger Turkish incursion into northern Iraq; a move that could threaten the relative peace and prosperity of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region.

For its part, Iraq has made the required vocal oral objections to the limited operations, but all sides realize that the Turks have to do something to staunch the increase in PKK operations against Turkish troops and government facilities. The Turkish people had become frustrated with the PKK’s use of safe havens in Iraq, theoretically under the occupation or control of its NATO ally, the United States. To quell rising domestic dissatisfaction with the seeming unwillingness or lack of capability to stop the attacks, the Turkish parliament authorized the Turkish military, a capable force, to mount an incursion into northern Iraq to root out the terrorists.

A full-scale Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq is not in the interests of the Turks, the Americans or the Iraqis. Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained since 2003, when Turkey refused to allow the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division to transit Turkish territory to enter northern Iraq as part of the American invasion force. The ability to attack from the north in coordination with the attacks from the south would have been much more effective and may have prevented the birth of the insurgency in what became known as the Sunni triangle.

Turkey’s refusal to allow passage came only after the heavy mechanized division was spread out over the highways in southern Turkey, requiring the United States to move the division’s troops and equipment back to ports, re-contract adequate shipping, move the division all the way to the Persian Gulf>, offload in Kuwait and move overland to the fight in Iraq. The delay prevented American combat forces from reaching the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad, the area that spawned the Sunni insurgency and became a home to the al-Qaida in Iraq. Many American officers did not regard these as the actions of an ally.

Since 2003, there has been a slow thaw in relations between the two allies. The alliance goes back over half a century when Turkey joined NATO in 1952. As the leaders of the two countries watch events in Russia and Central Asia, both realize the importance to overcome the disagreement of four years ago. The American provision of intelligence is a good step in that direction.

Why does Turkey need American intelligence? The Turks are in the area and have long experience fighting the PKK, so what advantage does the United States have to offer? Turkey can conduct its own aerial reconnaissance using its fighter aircraft, but this is usually detectable and requires the overflight of sovereign Iraqi territory (and coordination with American forces). American surveillance platforms – electro-optical imagery satellites, high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and small unmanned aerial vehicles have the advantage of being virtually undetectable from the ground.

The cooperation between the Turks and American intelligence is important for another significant reason. We are assisting the Turks in their war against a terrorist group, much like we are supporting the Pakistani government in its efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaida. If we believe in the “global” war on terrorism, the support to Turkey is appropriate.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

December 19, 2007

HAMAS seeks a ceasefire - why?

Isma'il Haniyah, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority's HAMAS-led government, called for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Haniyah claims that repeated Israeli air strikes and military incursions over the past months, especially in the last few weeks, have taken an unacceptable toll on the Palestinian people. In a two day period, Israeli pilots killed two HAMAS fighters and 10 members of the Islamic Jihad organization

Haniyah sought to bolster his demands for a ceasefire by blaming Israel for hurting his efforts to rein in the more radical Islamic Jihad terrorists responsible for launching hundreds of homemade Qassam rockets into southern Israel, mostly into the town of Sderot.

Let me see if I understand this. The HAMAS prime minister, himself a member of a designated terrorist organization - HAMAS is an acronym for the Arabic words meaning "the Islamic Resistance Movement" (harakat al-muqawamah al-islamiyah) - is attempting to help Israel and control the Islamic Jihad. While on an intellectual level, that makes sense. On a gut, reality level, I am not buying it.

HAMAS is dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. Israel has said it will talk to HAMAS once the group renounces violence, recognizes Israel and pledges to honor existing agreements made with the Palestinians, primarily with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Islamic Jihad denied any such attempts on the part of Haniyah or HAMAS to stop firing Qassam rockets into Sderot. In fact, the group reaffirmed its commitment to continue the attacks.

I think I hear Haniyah crying kafi, kafi - "enough." The Israelis are finally hitting home and inflicting enough damage to bring about a change in behavior. It will undoubtedly continue until the rockets stop.

December 15, 2007

Rick Francona selected to participate in debate

A quick announcement - I have been selected to participate in a debate in March. The details:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Motion: Tough interrogation of terror suspects is necessary

Brian Lehrer, is host of the highly-acclaimed “Brian Lehrer Show” heard weekday mornings on WNYC® New York Public Radio®, 820 AM, 93.9 FM and He is also an award-winning author and documentary producer. Lehrer holds masters degrees in journalism and public health/environmental sciences.

Panelists for the motion

Mirko Bagaric is a professor of law and head of the Deakin Law School in Australia. He is the author of over a dozen books and one hundred papers in refereed journals in the United States, Australia and Europe. Bagaric has written on a wide range of legal and philosophical topics including international law, practical moral philosophy, and punishment and sentencing.

Rick Francona is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, having served with the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. His tours of duty include Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, with operational travel in virtually every country in the Middle East. Since early 2003, Francona has been a Middle East military analyst for NBC News and can be seen regularly on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.

Heather Mac Donald is the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal. A non-practicing lawyer, Mac Donald has clerked for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was recipient of the 2005 Bradley Prize for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement. Her writings on national security issues have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, the New York Post, National Review Online and the Washington Post.

Panelists against the motion

Robert Baer spent twenty years running agents from inside the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, operating against Hizballah, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations. He is's intelligence columnist and the author of the novel Blow the House Down and the memoir See No Evil, a New York Times bestseller and inspiration for the movie Syriana.

Jack Cloonan is a 25-year veteran of the FBI and an internationally respected security expert. Since retiring from the FBI, where he received commendations and awards for counterterrorism and investigations, he has served as a counterterrorism consultant and commentator for ABC News. Cloonan is currently the president of Clayton Consultants, a global-risk and crisis-management firm that assists victims of kidnapping around the world.

Darius Rejali,professor of political science and chair of the political science department at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, is internationally recognized as an expert on government torture and interrogation. He is a 2003 Carnegie Scholar and the author of Torture and Democracy (2007).

December 11, 2007

The Iran NIE: the British weigh in against American estimate

Just a week after the American intelligence community released a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that reverses the assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, British intelligence officials have stood with their Israeli counterparts in opposition. The Israeli and British services – both professional organizations with excellent sources and reputations – still believe that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons.

U.S. intelligence would be well-advised to listen to their counterparts in London and Tel Aviv. The British have long-standing ties to Iran, as well as an embassy in Tehran – they have much better access than we do. Likewise, Israel has the advantage of its population of Iranian Jews, most of whom arrived in Israel after the 1967 war, with contacts in Iran. If both countries’ services believe Iran still has an active nuclear weapons program, perhaps our intelligence services should listen.

Good idea, right? Not so fast – intelligence services worldwide are reluctant to share information. Well, more accurately, they are reluctant to share their sources. Most of the time, it is not the information that requires protection, it is the need to protect the source that causes services to hoard information. For example, if the British had recruited an Iranian nuclear engineer who could provide information on the problems Iran is experiencing with their uranium enrichment centrifuges and he was easily identifiable as the source, they would be reluctant to provide that information to cooperating services – the Americans and Israelis – since that could lead to his identity.

Source protection is the paramount issue among “case officers” – intelligence operatives who spot, assess, recruit and manage spies. Give too much information away and you run the risk of “losing” your source. “Losing” your source generally means the source is either arrested and imprisoned or executed – you can imagine the treatment in Iran. Take it from an old case officer, we want to make sure we conduct our operations securely so our sources are not “compromised” – spy-speak for discovered and arrested.

On the other side, analysts are concerned about information, not the source. That’s why each report, each piece of information collected is classified at the appropriate level to protect the source. It usually is the source that is sensitive, not always the information itself. If the information could only be derived from a certain source, any compromise of that information places the source in jeopardy.

Because intelligence services jealously guard their sources, they are reluctant to share that information with other services. That’s why the British and the Israelis may have different, complementary, possibly contradictory information – they have different sources, and they may be reluctant to provide information from those sources.

Every country has information they are not willing to share. In the U.S. intelligence system that information is marked NOFORN, the abbreviation of “not releasable to foreign nationals.” The British and the Israelis have similar restrictions. This becomes a problem in combined operations, those military operations involving the forces of more than one country. For example, in Operation Desert Storm, we provided American NOFORN information to intelligence officers of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, our closest allies, but only for those at the headquarters and only for the duration of the operation.

We all have different sources of information on the Iranian program. Maybe we should be listening to the Israelis and British. Of course, they may have to reveal some sources and methods – that may be unlikely.

December 9, 2007

Israel and the NIE – a different perspective

This article appeared on

Israeli perspective on the NIE
Francona: Israel believes Iran is now the country's own problem to fight

The recently released National Intelligence Estimate – Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities – reverses the American intelligence community’s assessment of the Iranian nuclear program. The key judgments state that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and likely had not restarted it by mid-2007.

Within a week of the NIE release, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was invited to Tel Aviv to meet with senior Israeli military intelligence officials to hear their contradictory assessment of the Iranian nuclear program. In Israel, the military intelligence service (Aman) is the senior intelligence entity – it is responsible for intelligence estimates. In the United States, estimates are the responsibility of the community-wide National Intelligence Council.

The Israeli perspective

Israel views Iran differently than we do. To Israelis, Iran represents the “existential” threat to the Jewish state. While other countries present threats, only Iran is perceived to be pursuing capabilities that could destroy Israel. I was in Israel recently and every official presented the same position – Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons to complement its existing ballistic missile capabilities. When Iran has acquired the ability to strike Israel with a nuclear warhead, it will. Israeli analysts posit that three well-placed nuclear weapons in the area from Haifa to Tel Aviv, home to about half the world’s Jews, could deliver an unrecoverable blow that would effectively destroy the country.

Iran has topped Israel’s threat list for some time. No wonder when you look at Iranian involvement in Israel’s back yard. To the north, Lebanon is home to probably the world’s most effective irregular army – Hezbollah. Hezbollah is almost completely funded, equipped and trained by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force – the same group that funds, trains and equips the Shia militias that are killing American troops in Iraq. Most of the rockets that landed in northern Israel during the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006 were made in Iran and funneled into Lebanon via Syria.

To the northeast, Syria is probably Iran’s closest ally. They have had a defense cooperation agreement going back over two decades. Damascus is the gateway for Iranian support to Hezbollah, as well as home to several Palestinian groups opposed to any peace agreement with Israel. Syria and Iran also operate joint intelligence sites intercepting Israeli communications. To the south and east, Israel is faced with terrorism at the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As with Hezbollah, both Palestinian groups are funded, equipped and trained by Iran.

Israel’s outlook

Israel believes that Iran has had an ongoing nuclear weapons development program, one that did not stop in 2007. In fact, Israeli intelligence analysts believe Iran could develop a weapon by 2010. Given the estimate just been released by the U.S. intelligence community, there is almost no chance there will be any American military action against the Iranian nuclear program. To Israel, that means what they believe to be a world problem will no longer have a world solution. It now falls on their shoulders to solve the Iranian problem.

While the recent NIE probably eliminated the possibility of American military action against Iran, it may have actually increased the likelihood of an Israeli attack.

A bad week for the intelligence community

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A bad week for the intelligence community
First the NIE, now the interrogation tapes

It must have been a long week for senior U.S. intelligence officials. Last Monday, the National Intelligence Council released a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities, essentially reversing the community’s earlier assessment that Iran was pursing a nuclear weapon, a position taken in a 2005 estimate.

Before the debris had settled from that bombshell, CIA Director General Mike Hayden announced on Thursday that his agency had destroyed tapes of the interrogations of senior al-Qaida members Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Those tapes contained images of CIA officers employing “enhanced interrogation techniques” – that’s CIA-speak for water boarding. Hayden claimed the tapes were destroyed to prevent retaliation against CIA officers in the tapes if they had somehow leaked.

The long knives have come out on both sides of the Congressional aisle. Republicans are demanding hearings into the intelligence that led to the about-face estimate of Iran’s nuclear program, hinting that they believe the NIE to be politicized. Democrats, on the other hand, are calling for an investigation and possibly a special prosecutor to determine if laws were violated by CIA’s destruction of the interrogation tapes. At least one senator is charging a cover-up of CIA misconduct in the treatment of al-Qaida detainees.

Flash bulletin for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (whom I know and respect): At a time when you are trying to rebuild international credibility and shore up the American public’s confidence in the U.S. intelligence community, you don’t need the perception of incompetence these two incidents are going to generate, nor do you need the explosion of bipartisan witch-hunting that has already started.


Granted, Iran is a tough intelligence problem for the United States – I spent years working the Iranian issue in both the signals intelligence (communications intercepts) and human intelligence (source operations) disciplines and can personally vouch for the difficulty in penetrating this target. With no official U.S. presence in Iran, all intelligence must be collected from outside the country or gained from the cooperating intelligence services of other countries (Israel, the United Kingdom, etc). These factors detract from the quality of information we are able to collect and the intelligence we are able to produce.

Intelligence, by its very nature, is normally based on incomplete and often contradictory information. Analysts are called on to make assessments with the scarcest of data. Reliable sources with access to required information in Iran are difficult to develop. The 2007 estimate, supposedly based on new information, has been touted by many as an indication of an earlier intelligence failure. If this latest NIE is accurate, it could be viewed as an intelligence success.

That said, the question for the intelligence community remains: You were wrong in 2003 about Iraq. You were wrong in 2005 about Iran. Why are you right in 2007?

The tapes

There was probably no worse time for the revelations of the 2005 destruction of the interrogations videotapes. While I generally support the decisions of senior intelligence officials in these matters, I have to take issue with General Hayden. Destroying the tapes to protect CIA officers this is important, or course, but you cannot run an intelligence community on the assumption that information will leak. If so, you would not be able retain any source identification information. The tapes would be useful to prove to the Congressional oversight committees that CIA officers were operating within approved guidelines.

The tapes were destroyed in 2005, before Mike Hayden took over at CIA. He did not make that decision, but he now gets to defend it. Good luck.

We need accurate intelligence. We need an independent, nonpolitical intelligence community to produce that intelligence. It is unfortunate that these two events – the NIE reversal and the revelation of the videotape destruction – come at a time when the community needs all the credibility it can get.

Rick Francona is a retired USAF intelligence officer with over 25 years of operational assignments with the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in the Middle East. He is an MSNBC military analyst.

December 7, 2007

Iraqi politicians far behind the power curve

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Iraqi politicians far behind the power curve
The “surge” provides a narrow window of opportunity

Six months into the surge, there is by all accounts notable and tangible progress on the military front. General David Petraeus has initiated and conducted an effective counterinsurgency campaign, a multi-faceted effort that combines civic action with changed military tactics. The campaign has virtually crippled al-Qaida in Iraq and almost stopped sectarian violence. In an audio tape released in October, Usama bin Laden criticized his followers in Iraq for failing to unite against the “occupiers” and his last tape does not even address his affiliates – one could take this as an admission of defeat in Iraq.

The Shia militias have largely followed the orders of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and stopped attacks on coalition troops. Additionally – for whatever reason – the Iranians have diminished the flow of advanced weaponry to the Shia militias.

That’s the good news. Unfortunately Iraq’s politicians have failed to capitalize on these military successes. The goal of the surge was to contain the violence and give Iraqi politicians a chance to close the wide chasm between the Sunni and Shia factions in the country. The Shias, treated poorly for decades under successive Sunni-dominated regimes and before that by the Sunni Ottomans, are loathe to relinquish any of their newly gained power – guaranteed by virtue of their majority status. The Sunnis, who resent their loss of power, now fear the Shia “tyranny of the majority.” The two sides are still far apart in reconciling themselves to work together for effective governance.

Add to that the Kurds, who are not helping by operating the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government like it is an independent country. Making deals with European oil companies to exploit the natural resources of the Kurdish region circumvents solving one of the major issues in Iraq - equitable distribution of oil revenues. This is a hot-button issue for the Sunnis. If the Kurds are allowed to control the oil resources in their region, the Sunnis fear that the Shias will follow suit and control the oil resources in their area – nearly 80 percent of Iraq’s total oil reserves, leaving virtually no oil resources in the Sunni-dominated areas. The Shia-led government has yet to demonstrate its commitment to national reconciliation to the satisfaction of the Sunnis. Passing a national oil law would be a good first step – it has been in the works for over four years.

Everyone, from the military officers prosecuting the war to the State Department officers involved in working political issues with the Iraqi government, knows that the ultimate solution in Iraq is not going to be decided militarily on the streets of Baghdad. It will only be solved politically in the halls of Parliament. The question is, when? How much time are we Americans willing to give them to come to terms with their situation and develop a workable solution? Our patience is wearing thin.

Bottom line: The current situation presents a brief window of opportunity to make political gains, a brief window of opportunity to bring about reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shias. This opportunity was created by the efforts and sacrifices of American troops. The political leaders in Iraq, starting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, should be put on notice that the American public is fast running out of patience: We have sent our sons and daughters to provide you with a chance to put your house in order – do not squander it, for there will not likely be more chances in the future.