Greetings from Baghdad. I realize this is the first you've heard from me since I left, but this time they have me out a lot more, and I have little time for anything other than work.
I was able to make time for a Blogger's Roundtable conversation with Admiral Keating, the PACOM commander. For those readers who are not expert on the military structure, this makes him the peer of General Petraeus, who is currently the CENTCOM commander.
CENTCOM is always in the news, but PACOM is our real center of gravity. That is true not only because the command encompasses more than half of the earth, as the admiral pointed out, but because of the importance of the shipping routes. If you were to name the single biggest thing that military forces can do to ensure peace between the major powers, it is to guarantee the security and stability of global trade. In PACOM, the US Navy is that guarantor, partnering with smaller nations like Singapore and Thailand, but always ready to lend a hand when challenges overwhelm. PACOM is "pacific" in the larger sense chiefly because that mission has been done so well, and so diligently, for so long.
Having said that, it's almost unfair to mention that I really wanted to talk to him about PACOM because of a problem set I was looking at in Iraq. I was disappointed to hear that the strategy being employed two years ago to help bring the Moro Islamic Liberation Front deeper into the political process had been discontinued. Here also, there are groups that backed the wrong horse in the war; and now some of them would like to 'come in from the cold' and reconcile. It can be a difficult process when you have isolated yourself from the political process, from neighbors, and so forth; but it is a process we, the Coalition, have to encourage. If we can help them tie in and build a stake in the new Iraq, it is less likely they will backslide if insurgents should try to come calling.
By the same token, if we cannot, they have less to lose. Already poor and embittered, they will be easy to sway.
We've reached the stage in my part of Iraq where there are several such small groups, representing tribal or religious factions that chose the wrong horse. Tying them into the successes of the economic model and the political model is the last real task to ensuring stability. It would be bold to say that was an easy task! I appreciate the Admiral taking time to speak to the issue, even if I was sorry to hear his answer.