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Friday, September 14, 2007

Ask the Wrong Questions...

One of my "rules of management" is "Ask the wrong questions and you'll get the wrong answers." In other words, you have to ask appropriate questions to identify the correct answers that allow a problem to be solved. The appearances before Congress of General David Petraeus and Ambassodor Ryan Crocker and the September 13, 2007 address by President Bush serve as a classic study of this rule.

Even a quick glance at the resumes of Patraeus and Crocker conveys the fact they are easily two of the most qualified people ever appointed or promoted to a position of power during Bush's Presidency. Petraeus has been criticized for a "failure" in the training of the Iraqi police forces in 2004 but you can't hold him accountable for widespread desertions of Iraqi policemen trying to protect their family amidst ethnic cleansing made possible in part by our failure to properly staff the post-Saddam occupation. Patraeus understands more about fighting insurgencies than anyone Rumsfeld consulted in planning the war and the hole we're in might not be as deep had Patraeus been in charge instead of Tommy Franks. Crocker has spent much of his career on Foreign Service appointments actually stationed in the middle east or on middle east related domestic assignments. It's not hard to argue our management of the Coalition Provisional Authority would have been vastly more effective had someone with Crocker's insight into local ethnic / sectarian divisions led the effort instead of Paul Bremer.

Despite the competence and relative expertise of these witnesses before Congress, members of the House and Senate panels conducting the reviews failed to pose any question that drew any useful insight into where the current path is likely to lead or the nature of any change that could improve the short term or long term situation. In one case, hilariously lampooned on The Daily Show, Senator Barbara Boxer failed to even ask a single question --- IN SEVEN MINUTES. The pointless questioning of the lead military and civilian Americans in the theatre made it clear how poorly Congress understands the role of these two players, the role and responsibilities of the Commander in Chief and the role of Congress itself in conducting this war or any war.

Republican Senator Norm Coleman asked General Petraeus "Can we get a longer term plan? Can we say that we'll be down to half our troops in say five years? ; we can get to five years; we can be turning over our bases in some other paradigm?" (#1) WRONG. Ask him if the tools provided by the Pentagon enable the type of real-time communication from the field to commanders to conduct his assigned missions. Ask him if intelligence teams are providing sufficient information to identify and eliminate insurgent threats. Questions about whether and when bases should be turned over to a local government to alter the political climate involve decisions way above the pay grade and command authority of a field commander. If Congress has a question about what those goals are or the progress towards them, it should be directed to the Commander in Chief. In their frustration at not being able to ask the big questions of the big guy, Congress also blew its chance to ask questions it needs answered to fulfill its role in overseeing the execution of and spending on the war.

Democratic Senator Barack Obama asked Ryan Crocker "under what circumstances would you recommend more troop withdrawals?" (#1) WRONG. Crocker's responsibility as Ambassador is to maintain communication between the US government and the elected Iraqi leadership, serve as a resource to the Iraqi government on domestic Iraqi political and civil issues and work with our foreign service staff in neighboring countries to improve regional communication and support for the Iraqi government and people. He's not the guy to talk about whether troop levels should change, especially when he's sitting next to the General who DOES carry that tactical planning responsibility.

The cluelessness of Congressional Democrats and Republicans was only eclipsed by the cluelessness of the Command in Chief, demonstrated by his Oval Office address on September 13, 2007. (#2) Bush's obliviousness began with his opening sentence:

----------------------------------
Good evening. In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people. We are now at such a moment.
----------------------------------

Quick!

Which country is being described, and in what sense? Our partner, Iraq, and their need to decide on unity and democracy to secure peace and stability? Or America, which needs to decide to stick with Bush's plan to thwart the "enemies of freedom"? Or maybe a meaning he didn't intend -- America, the country that needs to recognize the drain on its military strength, financial solvency and moral leadership in the world and stop its participation in a war of occupation which cannot be won?

The lack of thought that went into this epitome of Bush fuzzy logic was indicative of the rest of the address. Bush quickly jumped into used-car salesman mode and gave this upbeat assessment of progress in Anbar province as an example of what could happen elsewhere:

----------------------------------
Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working. Last year, an intelligence report concluded that Anbar had been lost to al Qaeda. Some cited this report as evidence that we had failed in Iraq and should cut our losses and pull out. Instead, we kept the pressure on the terrorists. The local people were suffering under the Taliban-like rule of al Qaeda, and they were sick of it. So they asked us for help.

To take advantage of this opportunity, I sent an additional 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of the surge. Together, local sheiks, Iraqi forces, and coalition troops drove the terrorists from the capital of Ramadi and other population centers. Today, a city where al Qaeda once planted its flag is beginning to return to normal. Anbar citizens who once feared beheading for talking to an American or Iraqi soldier now come forward to tell us where the terrorists are hiding.

----------------------------------

Anbar is the best example you have for success? Anbar, the province you visited via a pre-dawn landing? Anbar, the province in which you never left the American air base during your entire half-day visit? Anbar, the home of the courageous Sunni sheik who actually fought with Al Qaeda, shook your hand personally no more than 10 days ago, and was converted to pink mist just this week in a terrorist bombing?

Bush and his speechwriters are so clueless, they failed to contemplate an obvious counter message that comes to mind from any reference to a murdered ally in a speech on progress and improved security. It seems likely Al Qaeda's bombing was aimed at telling the entire world they can reach ANYONE with violence, even someone high enough in the emerging Iraqi pecking order to be trusted with a face-to-face meeting the President of the United States.

Bush went on to say the Anbar miracle is spreading across Iraq, including to Baghdad.

----------------------------------
One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege. Schools were closed, markets were shuttered, and sectarian violence was spiraling out of control. Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.
----------------------------------

This phrasing implies a direct correlation between our presence and the reduction in sectarian violence. This overlooks a more obvious explanation made by CBS reporter Lara Logan, who stated in her September 13 report that we didn't "stop" the sectarian violence with our presence, the killings ended because they achieved their end -- formerly integrated sectors of Baghdad are now distinctly separated into Sunni and Shia camps with no Iraqis brave enough (or stupid enough) to stay in the "enemy" camp and risk execution. That's progress? Progress for the Islamic militants but not for Bush's surge strategy.

The tone of the President's address wasn't calming, confident or convincing. It sounded angry, arrogant and annoyed -- annoyed at reaching a position where he had to explain and justify, regardless of how poorly the attempt, his proposals and decisions. Bush set up the conclusion of his address with what for him is a classic exercise in idiotic circular logic. This logic was first lampooned by media watchers like Mark Crispin Miller, who included this gem in his book The Bush Dyslexicon: Dick Cheney and I do not want this nation to be in a recession. We want anybody who can work to be able to find work. Despite the political weight riding on this address, the best setup to Bush's pitch for spending hundreds of billions more dollars on a lost cause was this:

----------------------------------
Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East. We should be able to agree that we must defeat al Qaeda, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land, and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists.
----------------------------------

WHAT?

We're not debating whether America should act to help preventing chaos and bloodshed anywhere in the world when it lies within our practical power and national interest to do so. No one's arguing about the need to defeat al Qaeda or keep Iran's nut-job leader from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We're listening to see if you can describe how ONE SINGLE immediate tactical strategy you've proposed contributes to any of these goals. YOU DIDN'T. YOU CAN'T.

The conclusion to the address was structured with a reference to a litany of particular audiences he wished to reach with specific messages. Given the importance of the speech to the country, the choice of audiences included is telling:

* Congress - who should reward the profound logic I've just cited with more billions
* the Iraqi people - who simply have to demand their leaders make tough choices to win their freedom
* Iraq's neighbors -- who need to support us in Iraq or else…
* the international community -- who need to support, among other things, the UN I ignored when starting this war
* our military personnel, families and contractors -- who are in large part responsible for the success so far

Notice any group missing?

How about the American public?

The address was obviously aired on network TV to the American public but a read of the actual text shows no actual direct reference to the American public in the address. We, the people, are barely an afterthought to a President who has spent over $500 billion dollars claiming to protect us but has actually harmed our country militarily, politically and financially.

Bush's exclusion of the American public from the conclusion of his address is the truest indicator of his view of his responsibility for the war to date and his obligations going forward. He has no intent to serve as a leader. He isn't running again, he got the votes in 2004, there's no sense of ACTUAL accountability or sense of the need to even CONVEY the ILLUSION of accountability to the American public at large. Even for a war. A disastrous war. He doesn't care. He will continue doing exactly what he wants, the opinions of Congress, the Courts or the American people be damned.

When you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers. For nine months, Congress and the American people have been asking "What will Patraeus say in September?"

WRONG QUESTION.

We should be asking "Who will write the articles of impeachment?"


======================

#1) http://www.slate.com/id/2173737/pagenum/all/#page_start

#2) http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/09/20070913-2.html

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Remember the Constitution?

Delaware Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden appeared on Meet the Press on September 9, 2007 to weigh in on the upcoming report on the Iraq surge strategy and American options going forward. In one span no more than 2 minutes apart, Biden made two comments that do much to explain the mess in which President Bush and Congress have placed the country. (#1)

---------------------------
First of all, let’s speak truth to power here. You need 67 votes to cut that off. All 51 votes will do is delay building these vehicles. And, look, Tim, if you tell me I’ve got to take away this protection for these kids in order to win the election, some things aren’t worth it.
---------------------------

I'm not sure what is more alarming about this statement -- Biden's forgetfullness about the Constitution or his lack of logic. First, by alluding to 67 votes, he is referring to a veto-proof majority in the Senate. He then couples that with the topic of initiating additional spending, forgetting that according to the Constitution (remember the Constitution?), all spending bills originate in the House of Representatives. Do I really need to cite the reference on this? Apparently, I do. (#2) (#3)

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Section. 7. All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy;

---------------------------

Biden's comment also defies logic because he's implying you need a veto-proof majority in either house of Congress to NOT do something. This of course implies that ABSENT any action by Congress, the Executive Branch can initiate new spending or continue spending of an existing program (or even a war) across a Congressional term. In a word, NO. I again refer the diligent reader to the above highlighted excerpts from the United States Constitution. Remember the Constitution?

The situation in Iraq is a perfect example of why, as part of the balance of powers, the Founding Fathers put that power squarely in the hands of the House of Representatives, the elected officials theoretically closest to the immediate will of the people by virtue of their two year term.

---------------------------
I will vote, as long as there’s a single troop in there that we are taking out or maintaining, either way I will vote for the money necessary to protect them, period.
---------------------------

Biden made this point after patting himself on the back for spending on new up-armored troop carriers with V-shaped bottoms designed to deflect explosive forces away from the troops inside. The new transports are a welcome improvement for the troops but Biden fails to mention why Congress failed to investigate why such an obvious tool took so long to deploy. Biden made a second poorly worded, poorly thought out point about the benefit of the new transports ("lives are increased -- lifespans increase 80 percent if we continue to fund building these vehicles") which epitomized the larger flaw in the logic of "supporting the troops" in a failed war. Biden was attempting to indicate casualties are reduced 80% or so by the new transport vehicles therefore continuing spending would help reduce American casualties.

Increasing the spending on a tool that reduces casualties 80 percent in an attack makes perfect sense when taking the risk of the attack is necessary and produces a material improvement in our tactical and long term military goal. In a conflict consisting of nearly 100 percent asymmetric warfare, neither of these conditions are satisfied. Faced with a choice of providing a tool that reduces casualties 80 percent while continuing the risk of attack versus changing strategy and reducing our exposure to attack, spending more on gear that doesn't improve our position makes no sense. Biden's "protect the troops" justification of continued funding is flawed to its very core and represents a gross perversion of the hierarchy of responsibilities of Congress.

We are facing a situation in which a war was instigated by an Executive branch which provided grossly incorrect and misleading information to Congress to "prove" a security threat that wasn't present. The Executive branch's fixation on the Iraq war and its planning shortchanged resources in the existing war in Afghanistan which yielded a less-than-complete defeat of the Taliban, allowing them to reconstitute their forces and keep us tied down in Afghanistan. The Executive branch chose a strategy for conducting the war that understaffed boots on the ground and over-emphasized outsourced efforts for support work and reconstruction, costing American tax payers TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars, including over EIGHT BILLION IN CASH delivered by the ton into a war zone dominated by terrorists which vanished with zero accountability . The Executive Branch has lied to Congress repeatedly about domestic spying programs.

Most importantly, with all of that history already behind it, the Executive branch and this President completely fabricated the intent of the so-called surge. It was publicly pitched as an effort to create an demonstrable increase in security for a significant period of time to allow a "virtuous circle" to have time to kick in and allow all of the original benefits of Saddam's ouster to take effect. Instead, it is absolutely clear the intent of the surge was to increase troop levels so if Congress and the American people later decided they had enough and demanded a change, thirty thousand or so troops could be withdrawn with much public protest from the President and war supporters to yield...

...the exact same disastrous situation with which we started the year. One involving 130,000 troops stuck in the middle of a civil war between factions living in an environment that is literally TOXIC to democracy and the rule of law.

Of course, the surge failure has produced two key differences. The President who instigated this disaster has been allowed to defer further strategy changes to avoid the enormity of the failure becoming apparent until after he leaves office. The shame of our withdrawal will be left to the next President (likely a Democrat) so the remaining neo-conservative true believers can spend the next fifty years fantasizing about the victory that coulda / shoulda been had not the enemies of freedom not again chickened out at the last minute.

The other key difference between January 2007 and now is of course the thousands of additional dead and wounded (American and Iraqi) who sacrificed everything while politicians (American and Iraqi) continue their charades.

With all those facts in evidence, Joe Biden's "protect the kids" position is no less disingenuous than the trumped up security concerns cited by President Bush to start a war we didn't need in the first place. If Congress cannot grasp the deceit presented to it by the Executive branch and its conduct of this war and put an end to it, they are risking far more lives than the 160,000 troops already trapped in the current quagmire. They are risking countless more in future quagmires launched with equally fraudulent justifications and executed with equally incompetent and corrupt leadership. Without a change, those troops are in harm's way fighting for one man and his pride and arrogance, rather than the Constitution.

Remember the Constitution?

=====================

#1) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20676549/page/4/

#2) http://www.constitution.org/constit_.htm

#3) (WTH: While the Constitution only mentions "raising revenue" and not "spending" or appropriation of that revenue, in practice that is exactly how the House and Senate behave.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Failure to Communicate

Michael Gordon, author of the book C.O.B.R.A. II covering the planning and execution of the Iraq War, appeared on Charlie Rose on September 4, 2007 to discuss the current sitation and America's choices. Towards the end of his segment, the issue of communication between Paul Bremer and Bush and his Cabinet was discussed and some amazing information divulged.

The new Bush biography written by Robert Draper mentions the fact that Bush thought he set a policy to retain the Iraqi army to help secure the country and the policy of dismantling was not part of the initial planning. Paul Bremer of course has been providing his view of events and stating he wrote to Bush personally and told him he planned on dismantling the Iraqi army and there should have been no surprise.

Gordon stated that Bremer really doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Gordon has personally seen the documents and summaries of the original war plan supported by commanders in the field, supported by the first appointed interim governor Jay Garner and presented to and agreed to by President Bush which explicitly stated Iraqi army forces were to be used for security in the country.

Uh oh.

Bremer is hanging his hat on the following text in his letter to Bush (#1):

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I will parallel this step with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam's military and intelligence structures to emphasize that we mean business. We are seeing signs that the outlawed organizations are behind some of the street violence here.
---------------------

Gordon points out that the decision to completely dismantle the military itself (not just "intelligence structures" or the "ministry of defense") was actually an "audible" call made by Bremer in those first days of the war when they found vast numbers of the military had gone AWOL and couldn't be found to be reorganized / reconstituted. In essence, after realizing much of the force had vanished anyway, they decided to completely eliminate the entire army as part of their other primary goal of de-Baathification and thereby send a stronger message to Iraqis that all vestiges of Saddam would be eliminated.

Gordon also points out that this decision was made by Bremer and supported by Rumsfeld and others in the strategy department assembled within the Pentagon but was not popular with field commanders and was not shared with Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice or apparently (as we now know) the President of the United States.

UH OH.

The purposeful lack of communication and intra-squad power struggles within the Bush Administration while attempting to plan and conduct a war simply defy belief. Bremer clearly doesn't have a leg to stand on with his story. However, the President and his Cabinet failed in their role as well. With disastrous consequences for the United States.


==========================

#1) http://www.nytimes.com/ref/washington/04bremer-text1.html

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

We're Number One?

A report (#1) issued by the International Labor Organization September 4, 2007 found that America had the highest productivity on a per worker basis of any country in the world. As enjoyable as it would be to be able to say "We're #1", does anyone really buy this?

Before analyzing this in detail, a few obvious caveats require explanation. First, the figure cited is measured on a PER WORKER basis so dividing GDP by the number of people in the work force produces a larger number when the denominator doesn't increase to reflect longer work hours. Per the story, Americans average 1804 hours per year (about 45.1 forty-hour weeks) while some European countries clock in around 1400 to 1550 hours. If the figures are calculated on a per hour of work basis, Norway comes out on top in the productivity race.

The other problem with the figures as reported lies in the count of employees. As you might have heard from recent political debates within the country, America has nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants. Those of working age are not people who tend toward the leisured life sipping margaritas by the pool as they check their portfolio. They are roofing homes, cleaning hotel rooms, mowing lawns, etc. In other words, doing REAL WORK that should be counted in GDP. So are they counted in these numbers as part of the workforce? It's hard to tell. The government doesn't know either and makes no real attempt to include or exclude them per the FAQ page issued with their summary statistics. Whether they are or are not, the numbers still don't add up.

For "per worker productivity" to come out at $63,885 per worker in a $11.6 trillion dollar economy for calendar year 2006, the analysis assumed 181.6 million workers.

Hmmmmm. SOMETHING is out of wack. Recent 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts total employment at 146 million (138 million non-farm). (#2 and #3) Even if you add the entire undocumented alien population into the calculation, you still only have 158 million. So is someone "imputing" another 23.6 million workers? Maybe THAT'S why my project is behind -- I forgot to "impute" another 15 members on the team and leave the windows open at night for the "labor fairies" to materialize in the conference room and do the extra work.

Even after ignoring the "hours worked" versus "people worked" question about the denominator, the fact that American workers come out on top in any figuring of productivity seems highly suspect, especially if you've spent time in Corporate America. I posted a rant (#4) a few weeks back entitled "Earn Your BS In Corporate Communications" about the mindless drivel us wage slaves have to listen to all day as we try to "take things to the next level", get "air cover from senior management" and "work the issues" involved with deploying "business critical functions" across the "enterprise." The rant was pure sarcasm (but possibly quite entertaining after a few beers) but the problem of flawed management and poor / dysfunctional communication in business is very real -- and a major productivity killer.

That's probably the biggest flaw in looking at macro numbers like GDP and productivity. Once spending on contractors, consultants and work that was never required in the first place gets counted as someone else's income, it doesn't suddenly become "productive", especially if you own shares in the business that spent the money on the never-ending project. Furthermore, even a cursory analysis of the numbers coming out of government or think tanks about the economy turns up more questions than it answers. With so many people with vested interests to rig the numbers, it seems a strategy based upon macroeconomic factors as reported / massaged by government and corporate entities is bound to be flawed if your horizon is any shorter than five years.

Now excuse me, I have to log in and check my email at work to find out how many more days my project lost today. I was too tied up in meetings all day to keep up with my project slips.

======================

#1) http://www.rttnews.com/sp/todaystop.asp?item=14

#2) http://www.bls.gov/web/ceshighlights.pdf

#3) http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

#4) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2007/02/earn-your-bs-in-corporate-communication.html

Monday, September 03, 2007

Adventures in Stagecraft

Coverage of President Bush's "surprise" visit to Iraq raises a question for nearly every visual talking point intended to come out of the trip.

Where to Land?

Some have theorized that the Bush Administration selected Al-Asad Air Base in the Anbar province over Baghdad as the site for the visit for symbolic reasons, principally that a province where we have focused military stabilization efforts with surge forces has enjoyed a turnaround and is safe enough for even the American President to visit. CBS reported the site may also have been chosen for the public picture of a Shi'ite dominated government being able to communicate with Sunni Iraqis who dominate the region.

In reality, it seems clear that few other sites were remotely suitable, either from a security or public relations standpoint. The southern city of Basra was not a useful PR choice because even though Iraqi forces are officially taking over from the British (that's the goal, right?), they're taking over because the British decided it was time to leave, regardless. Oops, don't want to remind the American public of that. Baghdad itself was not a viable security or PR choice because we have failed to make a material dent in reducing violence there on anything larger than a block by block basis.

In the end, even the sites involved with the President's visit or on-the-street interviews of General Patraeus by Katy Couric were not terribly useful for the Bush Administration's purposes. Bush arrived at an heavily protected air base and never left the base to venture anywhere in the province outside the base. Katy Couric's walking-the-street interview with Patraeus involved a street seemingly deserted bombed out street and a ride in a presumably heavily armored HumVee in which he said the streets are now quite safe. Really? Why the HumVee?

What Surprise?

The American press uniformly described the trip as a top-secret surprise visit, which of course makes perfect sense given that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also attended. But was it a surprise?

Russ Mitchell and Harry Smith filled in for Katy Couric on the CBS Evening News late last week as she traveled "on assignment" to Iraq to set up coverage for the inevitable focus on the upcoming Patraeus report to Congress. In her Monday report, Katy summarized all of the locations that would be involved with her reporting which included Basra, Fallujah, Baghdad and one or two other major towns, all at opposite ends of the war-torn country. All of this makes perfect sense.

Despite that adventurous travel plan and a Sunday spent almost entirely with General David Patraeus, Katy managed to wind up at precisely the location where President Bush arranged a pep rally in front of troops at Al-Asad Air Base and managed to score a one-on-one interview with Der Decider. I could believe if the President arrived at a major American position within the country and CBS had a stringer reporter or a major "name" reporter like Lara Logan nearby who could then rush in to nab the scoop. However, for the anchor to be in the right place at the right time with the degree of secrecy normally required for an American President to drop into a war zone smacks of stagecraft and a media willing to help set the stage. Bush Administration, meet Katy Couric, your new stenographer. Here's your "scoop." We won't have to wait long to see what was in the scoop.

What's The Mission Again?

The meeting at the Al-Asad Air Base gave the President a chance to give the troops stationed there a pep talk and well-deserved morale boost. But again, let's consider the stagecraft. The video of Bush's talk with the troops depicted him amidst a backdrop of probably 20-30 troops and what sounded like at least 200-300 people in front of him in the facility. As short-staffed as we are across Iraq, I find it puzzling how that large a number of troops, who typically work 12-15 hours probably 6 out of 7 days or 13 out of 14 days, would be all available and on-base to provide scenery for the President's appearance. Obviously, knowing the Commander in Chief was coming would alter daily schedules to increase security but 300 troops cheering the President are 300 troops NOT patrolling the streets of Anbar province and rooting out "evil-doers." What exactly is the mission again?