• Archive for May, 2011

    Guardian Story About Bradley Manning

    May 31, 2011 // Comments Off

    I have a small part/quote in a good Guardian story about Bradley Manning. I don’t agree with the article’s statement “FOB Hammer’s overriding culture was one of boredom and casual bullying, where bored non-commissioned officers picked on juniors.” In my time at FOB Hammer, I never witnessed any bullying, though it was a boring place in many ways.

    No mention of Tupac, however. RIP.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Oil and “Iraq’s Transition to Something”

    // Comments Off



    Ben Lando, chief of the Iraqi Oil Report, fails here in making any intelligent point. He reiterates that Iraqi has a lot of oil underneath it (indeed, that oil has been there for several thousand years or more) and that progress in extracting it has been slow. He seems unsure why, though the host offers multiple suggestions such as infrastructure problems and security.

    The only useful line here is “we’ll need to keep an eye on progress as Iraq transitions to, um, something, we don’t know what.”

    To be fair, Ben wrote to me to clarify things:

    I think the bigger picture, which isn’t quite captured on a quickie interview, is that the potential is there and even the people to realize that potential is there – Iraqis inside and outside Iraq, and the ex-pats they trust – but they have a lot stacked against them, including their leadership and that of other countries.

    And this is what I think Iraq is at right now, a chaotic transition, an elongated fork in the road, and their choice/choices foisted upon them, has not been finalized.


    Even richer in irony, Iraq just inked a deal with Iran to buy natural gas for Baghdad’s power plants. Iran will build a gas pipeline that will pass ironically through Iraq’s own rich but undeveloped Mansuriyah gas field near the Iranian border in volatile Diyala province. The gas would supply a power plant in Sadr City in northern Baghdad, and another plant in the northern outskirts of Baghdad. The pipeline will be completed in 18 months.

    It hard to imagine that the US will enforce its own sanctions against trading with Iran against ‘lil bro’ Iraq, though that would be hilarious.

    More specifics are available in Twelve Reasons Iraq will not be a Major Oil Exporter.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Empty Spaces. 4454 Dead in Iraq.

    May 27, 2011 // 6 Comments »

    We honor them this Memorial Day not by sending more of their brothers and sisters to die. Do the dead lack company?

    Since the invasion of 2003, 4454 Americans died in Iraq. How many is that? I decided to show myself, typing one X for each of them.

    It did not take that long– a soldier hit in a major vessel can bleed out in only a few minutes– one key after another. Joshua, Jacob, Rahim, Carol, Towana, Richard, a couple of Peters, another with the same name as my own military-age child. Too many took their own lives, but just an X below nonetheless because they died of this war same as those who died in it.

    Pick one X and think about him. Eleven died in April alone. Alone. Two more in May.

    For every X is a space, 4454 of them too, moms and dads, brothers, friends, girlfriends, dogs, empty spaces.

    Type it out yourself, then do what I did, lock yourself in the bathroom and curse.

    X X X X X X X X X X X X X

    X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X 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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Head of Iraq anti-Baath Committee Gunned Down

    May 26, 2011 // Comments Off

    The head of Iraq’s controversial anti-Baath committee, Ali al-Lami, was gunned down while on his way home in Baghdad on Thursday, while nine other policemen and soldiers were killed in nationwide unrest.

    What This Means in the US Picture:

    1) In free, democratic Iraq, political assassination remains a commonly used tool. After eight years of war and reconstruction, the US has failed fully to create a functioning civil society. Obama last week: “Iraqis have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process.” Hah hah, guy’s a card.

    2) The anti-Ba’ath committee was a fully politicized body that swung elections by declaring one candidate or another a former Ba’ath party member and getting him thrown out of the race. This favored the Shia in general, and Iran in the specific, as al-Lami was neatly tied with the Iranians. This is sign number two that after eight years of war and reconstruction, the US has failed fully to create a functioning civil society.

    3) It also means something complex inside Iraqi politics that I purposely won’t go into, because it is way outside the lane of the US. Our efforts have not succeeded and we have no business trying to be a player in this game. It will only end badly for us, and we need to pull our troops out of Iraq on schedule to avoid being sucked deeper and deeper into the dark hole we created.

    FYI: al-Lami was no founding father type. US forces arrested him in 2008, believing him to be behind a bombing in Baghdad that killed four Americans and six Iraqis. The US, at least at that time, also believed him to be a senior leader of “special groups,” Iranian-backed rogue militiamen in Iraq. Even sweeter, al-Lami was a guy pal to Ahmed Chalabi, one of the Shia thugs that helped nudge the dumb asses in the Bush administration into the war.

    al-Lami kept nice, cozy ties with Iran right up until the end and so was most likely whacked by a Sunni gang.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Nation Building— Waste, Folly, Sheer Silliness

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    A comment from advance reader Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project)

    “Long after the self-serving memoirs of people named Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld are consigned to some landfill, this unsparing and very funny chronicle will remain on the short list of books essential to understanding America’s Iraq War. Here is nation-building as it looks from the inside—waste, folly, and sheer silliness included.”




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Mahdi Army in Baghdad an “Increased Inconvenience”

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    Dear Mrs. Robert “SecDef” Gates: Does begging work with you? I’m just asking because your husband is basically going around sort of begging the Iraqis to “invite” the US to continue to occupy their country.

    You’ll recall we invaded Iraq in 2003 to get the WMDs, er, to get rid of Saddam. Saddam of course was gotten rid of in every practical way by summer 2003, and executed in 2006, but we just stayed on after that for some reason and hey presto, here it is mid-2011 already. Your hubby keeps asking Iraq to let us stay longer, even though they keep saying no thanks. He has to have learned that kind of behavior somewhere, so I thought I’d check with you. If needed, I can also recommend a good couples’ therapist in the DC area.

    While Bob still can’t get any love, the al Sadr experience cast its vote against further US occupation today, with a march of some 2000 Mahdi Army guys through scenic Sadr City, watched by some 70,000 spectators. The marchers represented 15 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

    During the rally, the Mahdi Army showed off new uniforms bearing the Iraqi flag to “express the unity of Iraqis.” The Mahdi Army, formally Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM, was formerly known by their black pajama-like attire. Some caring Americans at the Embassy thus referred to them as the “JAMies.”

    Muqtada Sadr himself (who takes the creepiest photos ever, total Bond super villain) spent a few years as a student in Iran while the US noodled around wrecking things and then trying to reconstruct them in Iraq, returning home for an extended spring break this year. The Mahdi Army, who had been at war with the US, had melted back into the population following an ass-kicking/cease fire in 2008. Sadr has promised to set his Army back to killing Americans full-time if US forces do not withdraw by December 31, 2011, as both Presidents Bush and Obama have promised with their finger crossed behind their backs.

    One bright note: the always optimistic US Embassy (what do those guys take?) did issue a notice to Americans in Iraq about the march today, not that a whole lot of Americans hang out in Sadr City anyway. The notice said:

    The Embassy of the United States in Iraq is following reports of possible protests that may take place throughout Baghdad from May 23 to May 27, 2011. There may be increased inconveniences and security risks to US citizens throughout Iraq on these days.

     

    Ah yes, the magic of words: the arrival of the Mahdi Army on the streets of Baghdad may cause “increased inconvenience” for Americans. Stick around for the inconveniences commencing January 1, 2012 if the US does not pack up and just leave Iraq.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    I am (Rejected by) Bradley Manning

    // 2 Comments »

    peter van buren One year ago today, Bradley Manning was arrested. So you’ll be seeing a lot of him on the Internet over the next few days. Luckily some new photos have surfaced to replace that one of him smiling in his uniform.

    The folks at The Bradley Manning Support Network have a good idea. To raise awareness of Manning’s situation, they invite people to submit photos of themselves holding up a sign reading “I am Bradley Manning.” They are collecting the photos on their web site, and have quite a few, many from regular folks and several from semi-celebs like Daniel Ellsberg and some CodePink people. You can add yours, too.

    (True CodePink story: I was working alone in the State Department liaison office on Capitol Hill when CodePink people rushed in to protest something. One had a giant paper mache head of Condi Rice, with garish buck teeth the size of pieces of Wonderbread. I asked politely if I could finish a phone call before they protested and they very politely agreed. I finished talking, hung up, they shouted a bit and all was well. Politics is one thing, but I think politeness is still very important. Kudos to the giant headed CodePinker!)

    Back to Manning. I sent my photo of support in, above, but it was rejected because I did not have a sign. I guess my “sign” is there, electronically, but apparently you have to have a paper sign to be included. They wrote:

    Thanks for your submission. We are currently processing a back-log of images, but we noticed that yours didn’t quite fit the criteria. Would you mind resubmitting a photo of yourself holding a sign? It is hard for us to map support for Bradley Manning without the photos to prove it! Your sign could say “I am Bradley Manning,” or a message of your choice if you would prefer. Have a look at the ones that are posted, for ideas. 

    I could claim I went green and saved a piece of paper by not having a paper sign, or admit it was faster and easier for me to just add the words to an existing photo. I’m not sure it matters, but it seems to matter to the people at The Bradley Manning Support Network. Oh well, I’m sure they too meant well.



    Manning is held now in Leavenworth, not quite Rapture-level paradise but nowhere near as meaningfully nasty as Quantico was for him. You can read what a typical day for him is like, or see some photos of where he is locked up.

    If you really want to feel creepy, PBS’ frontline has published Manning’s old Facebook page posts as a weird way of marking his first year in captivity.







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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Good News: Taliban Won’t Target Pakistan’s Nukes

    May 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    In what passes as good news these days, the Taliban has no plans to attack Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, its spokesman declared, as the militants kept up their campaign to avenge Osama bin Laden’s death, ramming a pickup truck laden (Laden?) with explosives into a police station and killing six people.

    A larger assault earlier this week by the Pakistan Taliban on a naval base renewed fears that Pakistan’s sizable nuclear arsenal could be vulnerable. The Taliban’s spokesman dismissed those concerns, saying that “Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear-power state.”

    Whew, I’m sleeping sounder tonight. Back to your bin Laden death celebrations, citizens.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Tomato, Tamahto, IZ, Green Zone

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    The State Department talking points are clear: the Green Zone should now be called the International Zone, or IZ. This is to indicate that things have changed in Iraq (they really haven’t much) and that the old calculus, that only the Green Zone was safe (everything else in Iraq was the Red Zone) isn’t true anymore. Actually, that is true: on mortar and rocket nights, even the Green Zone isn’t safe.

    Also, International Zone just sounds better, conjuring up PR-friendly images of boutiques along sunny, tree-lined streets, a cafe or two, lots of foreign embassies with their interesting persons in native costume. Like pretty much everything else about Iraq, none of that exists outside the minds of the Embassy staffers. Remind me to write about the plans for a Baghdad Subway system, or the wonderful watercolor architectural images of what Baghdad was supposed to look like by now.

    Anyway, as dearly as the Embassy loves itself the IZ, the Iraqis are just being off-message again. The sign pictured here was put up by the Iraqis, and stands today at one of the entrances to the, um, Zone.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Blah Blah USAID Project Dies from Fraud Blah Blah

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    Though State maintains a warm spot in my heart, for brazen incompetence you just can’t beat USAID, the US Government’s Santa Claus agency abroad. I could write one of these articles daily about how some USAID project in Iraq or Afghanistan wasted money, failed to accomplish anything, failed to appear or was consumed by fraud blah blah blah.

    USAID may not have any actual employees. Most of their people I met in Iraq were contractors, hired by someone at “USAID” to hire an “implementing partner” (middle man) who would hire another contractor to do something such as dig a well in some village. Each layer of the fluffy cake took a cut (most implementing partners sucked off about 30% of any project) so a million dollars thrown out the window of USAID HQ was only $10 and change by the time it hit the ground.

    If you can stomach more details, Google around for the Community Stabilization Program, which ended up redirecting millions of dollars to the insurgents through dummy trash pickup contracts. In my book I chat about some USAID programs in my own area that did little but feed your money to thugs. One program I discuss was so riddled with fraud that the Iraqis who were profiting from the fraud felt compelled to complain.

    But I did want to share a recent report on a USAID failure in Afghanistan with you because:

    a) USAID pulled the report off its web site after someone read it, but of course it is still available elsewhere on the web. Is it USAID alone that does not know the Internet is written in ink?

    b) One of the conclusions of the report as to why this massive fraud occurred was that “The mission did not have a policy requiring its contractors and grantees to report indications of fraud in host-government institutions or possible problems that could reasonably be considered to be of foreign policy interest to USAID and the US Government.”

    That last one is a hoot– with such a contract clause, would fraud go away? Do we really need to contractually obligate US Government contractors to tell us stuff that might be of interest to us, their employers, like people stealing our money?

    Anyway, enjoy reading the whole text of “Review of USAID/Afghanistan’s Bank Supervision Assistance Activities and the
    Kabul Bank Crisis




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Can’t the Marines Guard the US Embassy in Baghdad?

    May 24, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    As the Department of State’s plans for fielding its own private army in Iraq start to gel, details are limited to what can be discovered through the contracts signed (always follow the money). You can read a lot of what is known here. Basically State wants to spend billions to hire thousands to secure the Embassy in Baghdad.

    Why can’t the Marines do it like everywhere else?

    It might be helpful to step back and look at how things are done now in Iraq, and how security is done elsewhere in the world, to put State’s new plans in some context.

    If you found yourself in Baghdad with an interest in dropping by the US Embassy, drive up to one of the handful of entrance points to the Green Zone, now politically-correctly known as the International Zone by Americans, though the Arabic signs the Iraqis have out still say Green Zone. These entry points are all controlled by Iraqi security forces, because it is sort of their country again. You’ll need one of the many, many kinds of badges issued by the US military to get past the Iraqis (the Iraqi Government has recently started to issue their own badges for the Green Zone, but the two systems work the same). Rumor has it that the proper bribe also works.

    The badges are color-coded, and any Iraqi who deals with the US speaks this language. The worst badge is a red one, which means you can get into the Zone only under escort, like dating in the back seat while your Dad drives. A skilled worker, like a plumber, might carry such a badge. Orange is only a slight step up, meaning the holder underwent some security screening but crucially, still has to be escorted. Yellow badge holders rock, because this is the first level at which you can escort other people, meaning you can bring someone into the Zone. American Embassy, military and loyal contractors have blue and green badges that are like Disney Fast Passes. The ultimate E-Ticket is a blue or green badge annotated for access to the military stores (PXes) and free food at the chow halls.

    What level of access you can get is so important to life in Iraq that the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the US badge issuing office has been called the “most powerful woman in Baghdad” because she is.

    To keep things complicated, persons riding in big US military vehicles do not always need badges, though the trucks do need to sign in and out at the Iraqi checkpoints as the American soldiers and the Iraqi soldiers scowl at each other. VIPS who enter the Green Zone by helicopter at one of its several helo pads don’t have to show badges to anyone (insert “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” joke here for those old enough to get the reference).

    As an aside, the main helo pad (now closed) in the Green Zone used to have the world’s most comprehensive Chuck Norris joke collection written in hundreds of hands on its waiting room walls (insert link to Chuck Norris jokes here for those too old to get the reference. My favorite: Why are they called the Virgin Islands? Because Chuck hasn’t been there yet. I understand the Chuck Norris wall is in the possession of an appropriate curator, who no doubt will eventually turn it over to the Smithsonian.

    Once past the Iraqi security checkpoints with your badge, helo or large military vehicle, you are in the Green Zone proper. However, to enter any of the compounds or buildings in the Zone, you need to pass through each of those places’ separate security. So, still on your way to the US Embassy, you better have a US Embassy issued ID card, or a Diplomatic Passport, or a Diplomatic friend waiting for you or you won’t get closer to the place than the outer perimeter wall.

    But you have the right badge let’s say and hop out at the Embassy gate. Unless you are driving an Embassy vehicle, don’t even think of trying to drive in. Even Army vehicles are not allowed inside unless they have a serious VIP aboard. At the gate you’ll start off showing your badge to the Peruvian contractor mercenary security force that guards the Embassy walls. Most of these nice folks speak little or no English or Arabic, so knowledge of Spanish and pantomime skills are needed. After the first Peruvian, you end up passing through several others, all of whom want to see your badge like it was the coolest thing ever, plus search your bags, run you through a metal detector and maybe have you sniffed at by a doggy or two. All this costs a lot; some 74% of Embassy Baghdad’s operating costs go to security. You made it inside the US Embassy compound.




    So if all this stuff is already in place, today, what does the US military really have to do with Embassy security, and why are all those new contractors going to be needed?

    Despite the restrictions on entering the Zone, and all the perky Peruvians scattered along the Embassy walls, the US military still brings a lot to the table. It is still the Army that owns all the serious armor, and the helicopters, and the drones that constantly scan the Zone and areas nearby for trouble. It is the Army that stands by with a quick reaction force of shooters to intervene if something goes wrong. The Army still does all the EOD Hurt Locker bomb stuff, and controls the radars and electronics that monitor things 24/7. As the Army withdraws, every one of those functions will need to be replaced by a contractor, a hired gun, for the Embassy to function.

    What about the Marines? It is the stuff of legend that US Embassies are guarded by Marines, and indeed they are there in Baghdad and at every other US Embassy. The less-known story is that the Marines are there primarily to protect the building and the classified stuff inside, not necessarily the people. The Marine contingent at any normal Embassy, and even in Baghdad, is often quite small, nowhere near enough men and women to protect the building from a serious assault.

    Around the world at every US Embassy except Baghdad and Kabul the Marines are at best a last line of defense. The primary responsibility for guarding each US Embassy and Consulate office in every country lies with the host government. So, it is Japanese cops who guard our Embassy in Tokyo, and Chilean cops at our Embassy in Chile. Iraq is special, both because there remains an ongoing war and because the Iraqi security forces usually just phone it in, and hence the need for our mercenary army to ensure the safety of the Embassy.




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Future of Iraq: Troops Face Dangers in South

    May 23, 2011 // Comments Off

    Care for a preview of 2012 in Iraq?

    Magic 8 Ball predicts… Iraq agrees to allow US forces to remain in-country under some sort of flimsy cover, I don’t know, protecting something something freedom, with a semi-secret side agreement that the US will be free to hunt terrorists while staying out of “internal politics,” meaning we won’t intervene when Shias gun down Sunnis to keep the Sadrists semi-happy. US troops in central Iraq will be reasonably safe, as long as they avoid the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time syndrome. That said, the working out of the details of this arrangement will hurt; two Americans were killed just yesterday in Baghdad, victims of a car bomb attack on their convoy.

    Northern Iraq? OK, Joe! The Kurds will mostly ignore the soldiers as long as they plop themselves down between the Kurds and the Arabs and keep the two from a cat fight over oil revenues. Not much different than what we’re doing up there today. Likely going to be the easy duty in Iraq. Again, the ground settling will be a bumpy process– last week’s bombings killed dozens right in Kirkuk.

    Which leaves… the south. A Shia area neatly cleansed of Sunnis, Iranian influence remains as important as Baghdad’s. Have a look at a recent Army Times article for a preview of what dangerous duty in Iraq will look like.

    The buffet selection down south include mortars, IEDs, EFPs and more. The groups serving up such delicacies include Kataib Hezbollah, which has links to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group; League of the Righteous, also known by its Arabic name, Asaib Ahl al-Haq; and the Promised Day Brigade, affiliated with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. All are believed to get financing and support from Iran.

    Army Times quotes Michael Knights, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying “Though effective attacks are still rare, the deaths of five US troops in one month is a warning that more determined Iranian-backed attacks could continue if the United States pushes its present initiative to keep a residual force in Iraq.”

    The US-Iran proxy war will continue. Soldiers in Iraq in 2012 and beyond will continue to take casualties long into the future down south. It will be a very poor legacy of eight years of war without a point.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Sound of Freedom

    May 22, 2011 // Comments Off

    It started out as a quiet Sunday in Lake Wobegon. Most days are, sunny and warm, very much late spring. You can smell summer coming. The pool is open and the rhythms of the little place shift again. New people arriving, some others finishing up their year and heading out. Cycle of life stuff and all that.

    Outside the Embassy, fifteen bombs exploded Sunday within hours of one another in Baghdad, killing at least 18 people and wounding 80. PM al Maliki said al Qaeda and other terrorists are behind the killings but also has blamed political movements and security guards. I heard he also blamed Santa Claus, the late Billy Mays and his mom. Everyone else blamed the Americans.

    I heard from a colleague that it was otherwise a quiet Sunday at the Embassy. The USAID staff is moving in, closing down their own little compound in the Green Zone to make nice for a whole of government love festival. Also, it is considered off-message to call the area the “Green Zone” these days– the newspeak term is International Zone.

    The big news at the Embassy was that dozens of new palm trees, all fully grown, are being planted on campus to provide some shade. We live in there with all the shade money can buy, the Iraqis live out there.




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Al Qaeda Magazine Online: Inspire

    May 21, 2011 // Comments Off

    Speaking of American Citizen target al Awlaki, one of his alleged duties is to edit al Qaeda’s online magazine, Inspire. The magazine has been published on and off for the last two years, albeit to an audience mostly limited to US intelligence analysts.

    If you’d like to have a look yourself, the current issue is available. Scroll down to the bottom of that same page to find links to a couple of back issues.

    Interestingly, the mag sides with the US on wanting Gaddafi out of Libya, declaiming him as an apostate and criticizing his “rockstar” lifestyle. I’m guessing al Qaeda would prefer to see Gaddafi replaced by a different dude than the US, but for now, can’t we all just be friends?

    A “What to Expect in Jihad” feature helpfully emphasizes the need to be in shape, suggesting would-be terrorists start jogging. You don’t need to be a Carl Lewis, it says, but you do need to be able to run well enough to storm an enemy position.

    Actually, the mag is just boring. Needs some travel tips or recipes or more celebrity articles.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Leaking: Intellectual Consistency is Inconvenient

    May 20, 2011 // Comments Off

    What happens to you when you leak classified information depends a lot on where you sit.

    If you sit in a grown up chair in the White House, you can leak just about anything without getting into trouble. “Sources” up high have discussed all sorts of bin Laden raid things, including details of the op and tales of stealth helos and drones. SecDef Gates said “Too many people in too many places are talking too much about this operation.” He added that the level of disclosures and blabbing violates an agreement reached in the White House Situation Room on May 8 to keep details of the raid private. “That lasted about 15 hours,” Gates said sourly.

    If you sit in a midlevel chair, you get the same request, only with a stern chaser. CIA director Leon Panetta warned employees in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that leakers will be investigated and possibly prosecuted after a flurry of reports in the media about the technology and methods used to track and ultimately kill Osama bin Laden.

    And if you sit in a low-level analyst’s chair with the words “Bradley Manning” stenciled on the back, you go to jail without trial for leaking things.

    But then again, what’s new here? High level officials at State and the Cheney Vice President’s office blew the cover for CIA officer Valerie Plame and were never punished. Outing a CIA clandestine officer is a Federal crime. It also wastes the incredible sums of money and time that went into creating a sustainable false identity (fake background, transcripts, job history, Facebook account, etc.) and endangers the lives of everyone that officer worked with.

    As a smart person said, “Intellectual consistency is inconvenient in the current political climate.” OK, I get it, nothing new to see here, move along folks.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Memo from the President: My Speech and Guantanamo Suicide

    May 19, 2011 // Comments Off


    Office of the President

    From: The President

    To: White House Office of Media Relations

    So babies, how about that speech today on the Middle East? Did I kick it or what? Can’t decide my favorite line—might have been “marking a new chapter in American diplomacy,” or that bit about “strategies of oppression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore,” maybe that one.

    Quick question though: I saw two news items in my summary just after the speech:

    Afghan Guantanamo Detainee Commits Suicide

    Last British Troops to Leave Iraq

    Do you think these two items will get much play in the Middle East?

    Any chance they might affect reaction to my speech or are Arab people as gullible as Americans?

    Barry




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    First International Energy Company Pulls Out Of Iraq

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    In October 2010 Iraq held its third energy auction. A South Korean and Kazakhstan consortium won the Akkas field in Anbar province. The local government however, protested the deal, and put up one objection after another. Seven months later, the Kazakhstan company pulled out, marking the first time a foreign firm has walked away from Iraq’s rich natural resources.

    Hah! I so so called it! See Twelve Reasons Iraq Will Not Be a Major Energy Exporter.

    Extra Credit News Item: Today’s bombing in oil-rich Kirkuk killed 27, injured 90.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Bin Laden Porn Stash: Hubba Hubba

    // 1 Comment »

    You gotta figure that if anyone could find a porn stash in the middle of Pakistan, it’d be a bunch of sailors.

    You can be equally sure that the hard drives and computer gear taken from bin Laden’s house must be being analyzed in the most Wikileaks proof facility the US government has. So then how is it that everyone in the world now knows that the SEALS discovered loads of porn inside Dr. Evil’s lair?

    The US Government leaked the info.

    With all the secrecy around what was found with bin Laden, it is odd at first that our premiere look inside reveals the guy’s hard drives were loaded with porn. Media speculation throbbed with delight in wondering if he liked gay stuff, or pedophilia, or bestiality or corpo or shemales or BDSM or Trump sex or lesbian wrestling or amputee masturbation or futanari or sexy clowns or schoolgirl anime or… well, if you want more, just Google it yourself. Whatever bin Laden did or not have is available on your desktop anyway and your teenage kids have already seen it. Start with “Two Girls, One Cup” and digress from there. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    So why did the US leak that bin Laden had wank fodder, er, at hand? To discredit him, of course. The US seems to get some sort of self-pleasuring out of insinuating that world leaders we don’t like are sexual freaks. I guess the idea is that devout Muslims will think even less of Osama now that we all know he jerks the gherk even with three wives.

    It is an old game. In fact, blog SpyTalk had the story a year ago that the CIA actually made a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” quoting a former CIA officer.

    Spytalk also reminds us that the CIA had a bag of dirty tricks ready for Saddam Hussein in preparation for the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that included making him look like a pedophile. Citing former CIA officials, the blog said one devious tactic involved creating a video showing the Iraqi strongman purportedly having sex with a teenage boy. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” one ex-CIA official told Spy Talk’s Jeff Stein. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.”

    However, no real need to go all the way back to 2003 to find the US Government trying to make bad world leaders look like hairy palmed teenagers.

    Just last month the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, claimed that Gaddafi is supplying his troops with Viagra to encourage mass rape. Rice made the claim while accusing Gaddafi of numerous human rights abuses. The Viagra claim surfaced in an al-Jazeera report from Libya-based doctors who said they had found Viagra in the pockets of pro-Gaddafi soldiers.

    Or take North Korean Netflix buff Kim Jong Il. Otherwise reliable news sources reported on the 2000 girls employed in the dictator’s “pleasure groups”. Each “pleasure group” is composed of three teams — a “satisfaction team”, which performs sexual services; a “happiness team,” which provides massage and a “dancing and singing team.” The good news for Kim is that he is only accused of heterosexual excesses. Plus really bad hair for such a stud.

    Some folks really seem to believe that portraying bin Laden as a porn hoover will undercut his support. For example:

    This is why the leaks about Bin Laden’s “porn stash” are more than a joke. His sympathizers and potential followers are, by several measures, more categorically averse to pornography, adultery, and the mixing of men and women than they are to suicide bombing of civilian targets. If you want to sour these people on Bin Laden and his movement, calling him a terrorist won’t cut it. You’re better off portraying him as a hypocritical porn hound who lived in a million-dollar mansion, touched himself up for videos, and hid behind women when martyrdom called.

    Got it. Mass murder: OK. Boobs: Bad. Does that even make sense? We’re trying to persuade folks who think killing innocents is OK by appealing to their prudish side?

    Bottom Line: Cheap propaganda does not influence hearts and minds. Like telling fibs, it only serves to discredit the source, us in this case. Can we please stop the silliness America?


    Note: if you’re current on your to-do list, have fixed that leaky faucet, cleaned out your wallet, returned library books, made some extra for leftovers and put it in the freezer, spell-checked your Facebook, deleted your spam folder and sharpened all your pencils, then check out the hash tag #binLadenpr0n on Twitter for more fun.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Red Dawn 2011; Why Reconstruction Cannot Work

    May 18, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    red dawn

    I’m reading Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders by Nathan Hodge. The book is a well-intentioned attempt to offer a popular history of the US’ recent efforts at nation building, the hearts and minds territory that my own upcoming book plumbs. The author amuses himself with euphemisms for the efforts– armed social work, soft power, relief workers with guns, social work on steroids, the armed humanitarians of the title and so forth. The idea in its most basic form can be expressed as a belief: that following military action to kill bad guys (Taliban, al Qaeda, Baathists), expanded access to jobs and the construction of local governments that provide basic services will cause the people to renounce insurgency and instead cooperate with the United States. The new country will be a bulwark against terrorism instead of an incubator for it.

    I say “belief” because generally such efforts—let’s just call it reconstruction—do not and have not worked. The neocon boneheads who sent us to war in Afghanistan-Iraq-Pakistan (AIP) looked into history and decided the model to follow was the British, hardy colonial bureaucrats; Republican stenographer Max Boot wrote of the need for “enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” Author Hodge buys into this thinking as well, and the talk was and still is for some sort of US Colonial Service to step into Phase IV operations (what the military calls the time after the fighting is over.)

    The belief in reconstruction is encapsulated best by the embrace of the fairy tale Three Cups of Tea. I say fairy tale in that it appears much of what the books says just is not true. As the Washington Post wrote, “Spend some time with U.S. Army officers, and this much is clear: They are obsessed with drinking tea. At times, tea can seem a bit like the military’s secret weapon. A young U.S. officer bonds with an Afghan elder over cups of the brew, and soon they are working side by side to win the locals’ trust and drive out the insurgents.”

    Even when it did not work, the Army clung to this belief in reconstruction. The Army hated Phase IV and was desperate to stumble on to some strategy that would provide a path out. The Army grumbled continuously about being forced into Phase IV simply because there was no one else in the government to try it. Hodge buys into the whole picture, sucking in the basic military technocratic view: take a problem (insurgents), find a solution (spend money on schools) and keep doing it until you enter Berlin and the Nazis surrender.

    The problem is that there exists the possibility that reconstruction just will not work, cannot work, that the failure of the process is inherent in the conditions that require it. After all, look back at the British: their gentlemen colonial service members were eventually run out of just about everywhere (including Afghanistan), leaving behind legacies like the India-Pakistan partition as their legacy (I’ll argue Malaysia with anyone willing to buy the first round of beers.) Maybe not the right model.

    Despite the clear weight of history suggesting reconstruction does not—cannot—work, I failed to ever convince my colleagues of this, even the sober, smart ones. So, I will try again, to make the point via some fiction writing I’ll uncreatively call Red Dawn 2011.



    yellow peril The Chinese Army roared through my small town in Northern Virginia. The initial troops were tough veterans of the fighting outside DC, and a lot of people were killed by early shelling and mortar attacks. A tank battle near the hospital destroyed much of the building and intelligence that weapons were being stored inside the elementary school lead to the horrific air attack that killed 50 children with a “smart bomb.” Met by stone-throwing teens, the Chinese troops tore through local businesses. A gang rape of a young woman was never reported on the Chinese news even though it was common knowledge among us residents.

    The second wave of Chinese troops were better behaved. They sought out the few locals who spoke some Mandarin and hired them as translators. Of course language skills were quite rudimentary, and a lot of bad, dumb things happened due to miscommunication. Though the Chinese troops maintained that they were now occupying the town to make things better, for residents the current men with guns looked and sounded a lot like the previous men with guns. The Chinese tried: following local custom, they met Americans at the Starbucks for multiple cups of coffee, forgoing the green tea the Chinese would have preferred to sip on their own back at their bases. The officers had read that Americans loved coffee and were simplistic enough that their allegiance could be swayed just by choking down a few cups of the black gunk together. A popular book back home was called “Three Double Vente Lattes with a Shot.”

    The American translators helped steer some quick “feel good” projects the Chinese wanted to do toward their friends, quickly figuring out that the Chinese spoke no English and, to be truthful, really did not care to spend enough time researching the place to figure out who they should have been seeking to influence. The Chinese seemed happy enough just to report the “success” of each project back to Beijing. Beijing, interested in domestic harmony because of the unpopular war, welcomed only good news. Officers seeking promotion quickly learned which way the wind blew.

    Back in Virginia, the big Chinese banquet held for the town on the local July 4 holiday did not go well, as only a few complacent locals were invited, leading to accusations that they had sold out early. Those same complacent locals ended up receiving a fair amount of money from the Chinese to open a factory making plastic goods; the idea was to create jobs to distract the Americans from a forming insurgency while still keeping Walmart stocked. The first problems started when Chinese contractors took most of the development money for themselves, and no factory was ever built that round. Later the Chinese tried again, this time creating a few manual labor jobs that paid little and offered no sense of pride. The factory produced junk, and could only sell its goods back to the Chinese Army, who purposefully overpaid for them so that the factory could be labeled a success.

    The Chinese decided to turn their attention to the schools, hoping to move opinion by influencing the local kids. The teachers were all fired of course, because they had taught the old “US” way, and were replaced by know-nothings who did know which way the political wind blew. Chinese textbooks, translated into bad English, were brought in. Parents who could no longer afford to feed their kids watched as the only full meal of the day was handed out as charity at school, and Chinese food to boot. The worst was when moms and dads had to watch their kids beg for candy from the passing Chinese soldiers who somehow still occupied the city. The more the Chinese propaganda screeched that their purpose in invading America was to free the country from its lazy, fiscally insolvent previous government, the more the presence of the troops irked. Most residents felt the same way—keep your development money and just send your troops home.

    Some Chinese soldiers “got it,” and made some small differences, but they rotated home as quickly as the bad soldiers. No one was around long enough to really figure the Americans, with their odd customs, out. Good intentions were a good start, but without action they ultimately meant nothing. Simply meaning well was not enough.

    Accidents happened; that’s inevitable when you place military gear in close contact with regular people. A child was run over one night by an armored vehicle. A man was shot poking through the Chinese Army camp’s garbage. Local women were offered large sums of money to act as Chinese “girlfriends” for the troops. About the only way Americans could make any money was by selling knock-off X-Box games to the soldiers, though the Chinese were also grand consumers of porn that featured blonde American girls like the ones they made remarks to on the streets.

    The Chinese, isolated in their encampment for their own protection, failed to notice the impact that failing municipal services were having on the locals. The Chinese had their own generators and water purifiers, and missed the impact that corruption had on siphoning off the money they provided for water and sewer repairs.

    A group named after the former high school sports team formed, intent on killing as many Chinese as possible…

    Get it yet? When a relationship begins with a war and an invasion, and all the acts of violence that go along with that, you start deep in a hole. As corruption, mistakes, accidents and half-hearted efforts plague reconstruction, that hole only gets deeper. It may just be that reconstruction does not work no matter how many cups of Starbucks one drinks. Myself, I prefer a cold soda anyway.

    Wolverines!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    On the Lighter Side…

    May 17, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Iraqs-Prime-Minister-Nuri-al-Maliki Q: What do Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki and Little Miss Muffet have in common?

    A: Both a have a problem with Kurds-in-the-Way/Whey.

    Second place award to the answer “Neither was legitimately elected to be prime minister of Iraq.”

    Now back to our regularly scheduled cynicism…



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    Let’s Kill an American

    // 3 Comments »

    al Awlaki Q: If a foreign organization kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
    A: Terrorism.

    Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
    A: Justice.

    The Government of the United States, currently under the management of a former professor of Constitutional law, is actively trying to kill one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and playground rules goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really shitty human being.

    On or about May 7 a US military drone fired a missile in Yemen (which is another country that is not our country) aimed at American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, a real-live al Qaeda guy. The missile instead blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly dubbed “al Qaeda operatives” since we killed them. The US has shot at al Awlaki before, including under the Bush administration. In justifying the assassination attempt, Obama’s counterterrorism chief Michael Leiter said al Awlaki posed a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than bin Laden did, albeit without a whole lot of explanation as to why this was. But, let’s be charitable and agree al Awaki is a bad guy; indeed, Yemen sentenced him to ten years in jail (which is not execution, fyi) for “inciting to kill foreigners” and “forming an armed gang.”

    Attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US. District Court to issue an injunction last year preventing the government from the targeted killing of al Awlaki in Yemen, though a judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. My research has so far been unable to disclose whether or not this is the first time a father has sought to sue the US government to prevent the government from killing his son but I’ll keep looking. The judge did call the suit “unique and extraordinary” so I am going to go for now with the idea that no one has previously sued the USG to prevent them from murdering a citizen without trial or due process. The judge wimped out and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens abroad.

    Just to get ahead of the curve, and even though my own kids are non-terrorists and still in school, I have written to the president asking in advance that he not order them killed. Who knows what they might do? One kid has violated curfew a couple of times, and another stays up late some nights on Facebook, and we all know where that can lead.

    The reason I bring up this worrisome turn from regular person to wanted terrorist is because al Awlaki used to be on better terms with the US government himself. In fact, after 9/11, the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community. Al Awlaki “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community” by the Army. He attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the Secretary of the Army’s Office of Government Counsel. Al Awlaki was living in the DC area at that same, the SAME AREA MY KIDS LIVE, serving as Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, the SAME UNIVERSITY MY KIDS might walk past one day.

    Even though Constitutional law professor Obama appears to have skipped reading about the Fifth Amendment (release the transcripts! Maybe he skipped class that day!), courts in Canada have not.

    A Toronto judge was justified in freeing an alleged al Qaeda collaborator given the gravity of human rights abuses committed by the United States in connection with his capture in Pakistan, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled. Judges are not expected to remain passive when countries such as the US violate the rights of alleged terrorists, the court said Friday.

    “We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values,” said the Canadian court.

    Golly, this means that because the US gave up its own principles in detaining and torturing this guy, the Canadians are not going to extradite him to the US. That means that the US actions were… counterproductive… to our fight against terrorism. The Bill of Rights was put in place for the tough cases, not the easy ones. Sticking with it as the guiding principle has worked well for the US for about 230 years, so why abandon all that now?

    Meanwhile, I’ll encourage my kids to stay inside when they hear drones overhead.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers

    May 16, 2011 // Comments Off

    My thanks to the dozens of sites that picked up my article on embedding with the military (“Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers”). If you haven’t read it, please visit one of the sites below and have a look:

    TomDispatch

    Diplopundit

    Salon

    Huffington Post

    The Nation

    American Empire Project

    American Conservative Magazine

    Mother Jones

    Michael Moore

    Jezebel

    Le Monde

    Daily Kos

    Myfiredoglake

    Rethink Afghanistan

    Middle East Online

    Guernica

    …and many more I haven’t been able to catalog yet. My thanks to everyone!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    State Department Censors Web Sites China Allows

    May 15, 2011 // 30 Comments »

    chimps see no wikileaksIf you’ve come over from TomDispatch after reading my article there, I am fairly certain of at least one thing (besides your good taste in blogs): You don’t work for the State Department.

    The State Department continues to block web sites within our offices such as Tom’s because they may contain content from Wikileaks, which although available all over the web, is still considered classified by the State Department. If you try to access a forbidden site, you get a message like this (click on the graphic below and it will enlarge so that your computer at home will look like a real US Government computer. Pretend you’re a real diplomat!):

    State Dept Wallpaper

    The doesn’t-make-sense part is that the State firewall does not block mainstream web sites that have a lot more Wikileaks content than Tom’s. Examples include the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Guardian UK. All of these sites have and continue to include Wikileaks material that is otherwise still classified within Foggy Bottom.

    Just to make sure our quotient of irony stays at Defcon 99, the State Department plans to spend $19 million on breaking Internet censorship overseas. State says it will give $19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to “politically sensitive material.” Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of human rights, said that the funding would support technology to identify what countries are trying to censor and “redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked; this is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block.”

    I emailed a colleague in Beijing, and yes, Tom Dispatch is available there to him, at home. In his US Embassy office however, the site is still blocked.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Interview with Tom Dispatch

    May 14, 2011 // Comments Off

    Just finished an interview with Tom Dispatch. It will run as a podcast alongside a piece I wrote for him on embedding with the military. Monday.




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Life Expectancy Drops for Iraqi Men

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    embassy in iraq Following the invasion of 2003, the US spent over $58 billion reconstructing Iraq, including a sizable investment in health care. My own PRT paid for mobile health clinics and a women’s health center, plus we arranged dozens of training sessions for Iraqi doctors and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical equipment.

    Millions were spent by other units rebuilding hospitals (chief among these was a $171 million hospital in southern Iraq Laura Bush “opened” in 2004 that still has never seen a patient).

    The Tarmiyyah Hospital was another major failed construction project. The Army finished ten rooms but did not put a roof on the facility before they abandoned it for security reasons. The hospital had no power from the grid. The Iraqi Ministry of Health refused to accept the building because they did not have the staff, budget or supply systems to open the facility, and it had no roof. Cost: No one will ever know, but in the millions.

    A driving factor behind the failures was that two-thirds of Iraq’s doctors were either killed or more commonly, fled the country as civil society collapsed during the US occupation.

    As a proper metric of our failure, the World Health Organization said Friday the average life expectancy in Iraq fell to 66 years in 2009 from 68 years in 2000, when evil dictator Saddam Hussein was still in power.

    But while Iraqi girls born in 2009 – the most recent year for which figures are available – could still expect to live to 70, boys’ life expectancy dropped sharply to 62 years, compared with 65 years in 2000.

    “The figures reflect the chaos from the conflict and the impact on health systems,” said Colin Mathers, one of the coordinators of WHO’s annual World Health Statistics report.

    The idea is not just to rag on Iraq, or to pile on to tragedy. The idea is that after you spend $58 billion on reconstruction, you generally don’t want to end up with things WORSE than when you started.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    John Demjanjuk Not Killed by SEAL Team 6

    May 13, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    John Demjanjuk is evil.

    He was found guilty May 12 of involvement in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews by a court in Germany, capping a 30-year international legal saga. German prosecutors accused the 91-year-old former Ohio auto worker of being a guard at the death camp of Sobibor in Poland. He was charged with being an accessory to about 27,900 murders.

    Demjanjuk had a hand in 27,900 murders, as a part of the last century’s most horrific crime, the planned genocide of every Jew on earth that took more than six million lives. Yet, despite the scale of his evil, he was afforded access to court systems in three countries (US, Israel and Germany) and allowed to defend himself, even to the point of resorting to dubious legal tactics designed to draw out proceedings. During this 30 year period of legal fighting, Demjanjuk was not held incommunicado, was not tortured and was not prohibited from seeing a lawyer.

    Holocaust museum chairman Avner Shalev said “While no trial can bring back those that were murdered, holding those responsible to justice has an important moral and educational role in society.”

    We have faced down evil before, evil on scale that makes al Qaeda seem like rag tag amateurs. The system worked. This is justice. You defeat an idea with a better idea.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    NATO: Over 2400 Airstrikes Made Against Libya

    May 12, 2011 // Comments Off

    Dancing with the Stars Good news in today as NATO announced they had conducted over 2400 airstrikes for freedom against Libya since the party began on March 31.

    So far the strikes have killed at least one Gaddafi kid, which furthers the humanitarian mission of the bombings. In addition, according to the Libyan state news agency one of latest sites hit by NATO was the North Korean Embassy in Tripoli which we bombed just because we’re freaking NATO and we could. Suck on That, People We Don’t Like.

    Meanwhile, the Libyan rebels, whose names and backgrounds are still harder to find than an atheist in a foxhole, keep having victories in towns somewhere, until they all die or the West gets bored with this war and switches back to air strikes against the cast of Dancing with the Stars (which I would support on humanitarian grounds).

    Also, UN pussy peace-monger Ban Ki-Moon called for “an immediate, verifiable ceasefire” in Libya and demanded unimpeded access for humanitarian workers there. This might matter because the “intervention” in Libya was originally sponsored by the UN, but, naw, we’ll just ignore them.

    Go watch Dancing with the Stars Ban Ki-Moon and leave our fun war alone!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Targeted Killings Wreck Iraqi Democracy

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    Good news America! Of the 214 known violent deaths in Iraq in April 2011, a chunky third to half were caused by assassination– targeted killings– typically by silenced pistol or a magnetic sticky bomb on someone’s car.

    Popular targets for Iraq’s “bullet democracy” include politicians, cops and generals. Democracy has so taken hold in Iraq that many public figures now use taxis to move around, eschewing the more visible official vehicles which scream TARGET. This mimics the rough and tumble nature of any new democracy, same as in the early days of the United States, when the Founders often switched horses to avoid Tory sticky bombs and silenced cutlasses. Someday soon the US will rewrite the Articles of Confederation for them and Iraq will be a nice place again until they pass the Stamp Act or something.

    It is generally seen as good news that the deaths in Iraq cover all political and religious flavors and are not a sign of rising NARROW sectarianism in the bizarre way these things are calculated in Iraq. In that same vein, many positive thinkers will quickly remind you that the 214 dead are nothing compared to the 2000 dead per month seen back in 2006. It’s an improvement!

    It is bonehead thinking like that that allows paid dweebs like NYT’s David Brooks to scribble articles like Nation Building Works. Even more humorful given that a year has passed to make Brooks’ predictions even lamer, how can otherwise educated people keep doing things like pulling out one strand of hair from the wig (Brooks: lots of Iraqis have cell phones and Internet) and extrapolating from that that the $58 billion reconstruction was a success. The Marshall Plan was cheaper and did not include multiple targeted killings per day David.

    To be fair, no one is really sure exactly how many people died by violence in Iraq. In April for example, Iraq Body Count reported 283 deaths, icasualties had 152, and Iraq’s ministers reported 211. That averaged out to 214 deaths per month, and 7.1 per day. Of course there were also an (averaged) 266 wounded by violence in April as well.

    Just for fun, it is also important to note that violence in Iraq targeted at intellectuals has forced many out of the country. Some two-thirds of Iraq’s physicians have left or been killed, along with many university professors. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 300 academics have been killed since 2003, while more than 30,000 attacks against educational institutions have occurred. School’s out baby!




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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    State Department’s $10 Billion Army in Iraq

    May 11, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    The Munchkin Army Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, this one is for you. Let’s spend the money at home, not throwing more of it down the Iraq money pit.

    You just can’t put a price on security—until now. While the town I live in has had to close its library one day a week to save money, and shut down part of the police department, the State Department plans to spend $10 billion on guards for our Embassy and Consulates in Iraq. Some 74% of Embassy Baghdad’s operating costs go to security.

    Danger Room reports that a company named SOC will guard the Embassy facilities, while long-time merc group Triple Canopy will provide protection when personnel need to scurry outside the Embassy fortress. The overall goal is for State to have its own Army of some 5500 contracted mercs, almost two full brigades worth of hired guns. Deflowered old war horse Blackwater, under yet another dummy corporation name, will also get a piece of the money pie. Yeah, Blackwater, that’s worked out well for the State Department in the past.  Having seen these contractors in action in Iraq myself, they are what our military would look like without NCOs, a frat house with guns.

    Congresswoman, better call those State contracting officials back up to the Hill.

    Triple Canopy is the company that now guards the Embassy, using almost exclusively Ugandans and Peruvians hired out of their own countries and brought to Iraq. They get paid about $600 a month, while their US supervisors pull down $20,000 of your tax dollars every month. Many of the Ugandan and Peruvian guards got their jobs through nasty middlemen (i.e., “pimps,” “slavers”), who take back most of the salaries to repay recruitment costs, leaving many guards as essentially indentured servants. Or so we think, as most speak no English and have to suck up whatever gets dumped on them.

    dorm And dump we do—even State’s own Inspector General criticized the foreign guards’ living conditions, noting among other things 400% occupancy rates in the metal shipping containers the guards used as sleeping quarters. The report also details groovy fire hazards at the guards’ quarters, plus features blissfully unclassified photos of the Embassy gates from the inside which would not be helpful for bad guys, all conveniently on the Internet.

    Luckily we won the freaking war, or who knows what security would cost?



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    The Militarization of Foreign Policy

    May 10, 2011 // 11 Comments »

    groucho at embassy freedoniaThere really are more military band members than State Department Foreign Service Officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier. Despite the role that foreign affairs has always played in America’s drunken intercourse abroad, the State Department remains a very small part of the pageant. The Transportation Security Administration has about 58,000 employees; the State Department has about 22,000. The Department of Defense (DOD) has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more in the US.

    At the same time, Congress continues to hack away at State’s budget. The most recent round of bloodletting saw State lose some $8 billion while DOD gained another $5 billion. The found fiver at DOD will hardly be noticed in their overall budget of $671 billion. The $8 billion loss from State’s total of $47 billion will further cripple the organization. The pattern is familiar and has dogged State-DOD throughout the war of terror years. No more taxi vouchers and office supplies for you!

    What you do get for your money is the militarization of foreign policy. During my year in Iraq as a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Leader I watched with some sadness as the majority of our engagement with Iraqis in the field was conducted by young Army captains. I was the lone Foreign Service Officer assigned to a brigade of some 3000 soldiers and while I stayed busy and traveled out of the Forward Operating Base almost daily, there was only so much of me, even overweight and often incompetent as I am. I covered a rural area that sprawled like spilled paint, some one million Iraqis.

    The bottom line was that for most Iraqis not living and working in the Green Zone, the only Americans they saw wore green and carried weapons.

    The militarization issue was always visible at the smallest units of diplomacy in Iraq, the PRTs. The Department of State struggled to field adequate numbers of qualified employees from among its own ranks, forcing the creation of an army of contractors, called 3161s after the name of the legislation in 5 USC 3161 that created their hiring program. The need for 3161s to live on a military base skewed hiring toward self-selecting former military, nearly self-defeating the idea of providing a civilian side to reconstruction.

    The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction in its review of the PRTs’ first year of operation found an Army veterinarian developing agriculture programs, an Air Force aviation maintenance manager as a PRT co-leader, and advisers to Iraqi provincial governors who included a former Navy submariner, a Marine ultrasound technician, and an Army drill sergeant. My own PRT staff fit a similar profile, with the exception of my agricultural advisor, a pig farmer from Missouri. He always felt a bit out of place in Iraq when no one wanted to discuss hogs with him.

    To be fair, out in the field many of those young Army captains did a pretty good job of engaging Iraqis. Many officers were smart, well-educated and generally enthusiastic about their missions of handing out supplies, reconstructing schools and government buildings and generally promoting the idea that America wanted to be besty friends with Iraq over three cups of tea. The problem, however, went something like this:

    Captain: Here’s money for a new village well. We’re friends now, brother.

    Iraqi: You invaded our country, occupy it still and accidentally, you say, killed my son in an air raid.

    Captain: That wasn’t me dude. I was in college when that happened.

    Iraqi: They looked like you. You invaded my country, occupy it still and accidentally, you say, killed my son.

    Captain: Um, how about some more money to buy sheep? Some medical supplies?

    Iraqi: Can you guys please finish your tea and just leave Iraq?

    Unfortunately, that was the good news. There were also some young officers uncomfortable with the hearts and minds mission, unable to switch back and forth from their game face to their happy face seventy two times a day. I can’t blame them; diplomacy is not what they were trained to do. Folks don’t seem to understand that if you want a young kid to put down his rifle, you have to give him some other kind to tools to get what he needs. Patton had a clear mission that could be communicated down to the lowest levels: kill Germans until we reach Berlin, then stop. Unless/until we can attain the same clarity in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we do a disservice to our soldiers as they risk their lives trying to implement our ambiguity.

    You see, there is something to be said for having America’s engagements overseas done by civilians. That system—we call it diplomacy—has worked pretty well for what it is for most of the last couple of thousand years. The military does some stuff well, and diplomats do some stuff well. Remember your Clausewitz: war is what happens only after diplomacy fails.

    Despite the idea of foreign policy being conducted by diplomats, not soldiers, dating back to the ancients, America increasingly seems to be asking its soldiers to take over the job. Have a look at Afghanistan, where beginning last summer DOD personnel (albeit current civilians) began replacing previously untrained US military personnel and contractors as advisers to top levels of the Afghan defense and interior ministries. The credit goes to a relatively new Pentagon program called the Ministry of Defense Advisors (MoDA).

    Within two months after the first deployment of 17 advisers in Kabul, General Petraeus demanded 100 more before the end of this year. Another such program is the Defense Institution Reform Initiative (DIRI), which aims at the defense ministries in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It identifies gaps and then supplies teams of subject matter experts to work with a partner nation.

    (BTW, if you’re looking for this kind of work, there are plenty of positions.)

    In scenic southwest Asia, recent budget maneuvers have sent the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) back to the Pentagon for the rest of the year at least. The Pentagon was the original owner of that fund. Transferring the money as well as the program’s management to State was a key part of Secretary Clinton’s plan to assert more State Department control of foreign assistance programs.

    State tried to take over the PCCF in early 2010; some top senators wanted to give State control over the fund but couldn’t do so last year because State wasn’t prepared to take on the mission.

    As you read this, Congress considers how much of the mission in Iraq (and the money that goes with it) will be passed to State when the military effects some form of a pullout from that country later this year. No one is sure what will happen; Senator Lindsey Graham is doubtful State can do it without the military around.

    The really hah hah not really funny part of this is that DOD does not want all this money and all these missions. In a reversal of bureaucratic infighting that could yet unset the time-space continuum, the loudest voice on the Hill asking for more money for State is SecDef Gates. “The State Department has an unusually strong advocate in Secretary Gates in that regard,” Senator Carl Levin noted. In fact, as Foreign Policy explained, Gates floated a memo proposing that State and DOD share about $2 billion worth of foreign assistance money and administer the accounts jointly. But Hill staffers, who would be the ones appropriating the money, said there was no follow-through.

    Oops.

    Why can’t, as one journalist put it, State get any love from Congress? Foreign Policy again with a big For Example:

    “I think there is a self-limiting quality to how Embassy Baghdad is functioning,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, the recently returned commander of all multinational forces in Iraq’s northern region.

    “They are not actually doing the research to say this is what we need and if you don’t give me this, this is what we are going to have to take away and here is the effect it will have on the effort. Rather they are going through things and saying this is what we think the piece of the pie is we’re are going to get and here is some stuff we could do for that money. That’s all fine and good, but if you don’t actually accomplish the mission in the end, then you actually fail. What good is that?”

    For example, Caslen said the PRTs role in actually helping Iraqis in rural areas with reconstruction is vital and abandoning it in any way would be a mistake. “The task that the Iraqis value more than anything is reconstruction and that clearly is a PRT task,” Caslen said. Regarding plans to alter the PRTs away from the reconstruction mission, he said, “That course of action puts our future relationship at risk. We definitely need the PRTs.”

    The State Department started shutting down PRTs as early as 2009, typically due to lack of competent staffing. Most of the larger PRTs faded away or were combined in September 2010, and the whole PRT structure will disappear completely in Iraq by spring of this year.

    While the military’s can-do responses to Congress keep paying off, State tends to run the bath water lukewarm when handed a task on the scale of PRT work.

    Former PRT staffer Blake Stone offered this assessment:

    This lack of specific planning guidance stemmed from the inherent inability of the State Department to engage in this sort of work—executing what essentially amounted to the last two phases of a military operation. State Department Foreign Service Officer skill sets are much too passive—the collecting and reporting of information, for example, were the professional stock-in-trade of both of our political cone FSO team leaders.

    The primary interests of both our team leaders were good reporting and submitting weekly reports to Washington. The absence of the ability to plan, execute, and lead stability and reconstruction operations was painfully apparent—it just was not a required skill set or core competency within State. For those of us who came to the State Department directly from the military, this nearly universal truism was a constant source of frustration and disappointment. Our State Department leadership failed either to plan effectively or to lead the civilian reconstruction effort.

    A military colleague working with another ePRT summed it all up, saying:

    State is less concerned about what actually gets done. They don’t establish metrics for themselves, or measure accomplishments. More interested in process, policy, effective communication and establishing connections that allow them to generate good reports. The State Department is very happy just to be. And whether or not anything actually gets done is not important to them.

    I wish the sad tales were confined to Iraq and State. Instead, here is an example of how badly broken the system really is: in FY2009 USAID was authorized $35 million to build cyclone shelters in Bangladesh. It was two-year money which will expire at the end of FY11. USAID was unable to execute the program and late last year proposed to spend the money developing home businesses instead for some reason. The US Ambassador to Bangladesh, recognizing that the Bangladeshis needed and had been offered cyclone shelters, requested that Special Operations Civil Affairs personnel instead execute the original program. USAID just finished transferring the money to PACOM and Special Operations troops and seeing to the construction of the shelters.

    Bottom Line: As long as the civilian development agencies are unable to execute needed programs, and convinced that partner nations will be happy with any well-intentioned program whether or not it meets their expressed needs, the military will be the tool of choice.

    Our execution of outreach programs reminds of a line from a Steppenwolf song–“He only had a dollar to live on ’til next Monday, but he spent it all on comfort for his mind.” If we are to get and effectively use a greater share of the budget, we need to spend the money on some goal beyond making us feel good about ourselves.

    State continues to focus on nonsense while at the same time complaining that the military is usurping the State role.

    The slow pace of rebalancing national security spending and the lack of a comprehensive strategy for guiding that process is the subject of a book by former OMB national security funding chief Gordon Adams, Buying National Security: How America Plans and Pays for Its Global Role and Safety at Home.

    “The tool kit is out of whack,” Adams told The Cable. “There’s been a major move over the last 10 years to expand the Defense Department’s agenda, which has been creeping into the foreign-policy agenda in new and expensive ways.”

    What win can State point to to claw back Congressional confidence? What accomplishments, for example, will be cited as the Department works (read: fails) to convince Congress to pour more money into the Iraq mission and thus demilitarize that hunk o’ foreign policy love? The $58 billion it helped spend on “reconstruction” and democracy building in Iraq? The world’s largest Embassy, in Baghdad, that cost $1 billion and includes a driving range, a bar and outdoor water misters? Good spelling and grammar on Wikileaks? State needs to rack up some wins.

    There is not a lot to work with at present, even for the most dedicated PR people and Congressional liaisons. The results described above are almost inevitable.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military