• Archive for July, 2011

    Iraq Looking to Buy F-16s

    July 30, 2011 // Comments Off

    What a bankrupt nation we have made out of Iraq. No electricity or water, but damn they’re gonna buy millions of dollars worth of fighter jets. No money for the basics, but plenty of cash for war.

    Looks like they learned their lessons well from the US. To wit:

    “Every gun, every bomb we make takes food out of a hungry child’s mouth…” Dwight David Eisenhower.

    Or wit:

    Doctors at a major Boston hospital report they are seeing more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families.




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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Whistleblower: PW Talks with Peter Van Buren

    July 29, 2011 // Comments Off

    Publishers Weekly posted an interview with Peter that included some straight talk on how the State Department tries to keep its whistleblowers quiet:

    Did you struggle with the decision to write about working for the State Department?

    I did, and I continue to do so. The State Department, where I have worked for 23 years, is like a Mafia family: one doesn’t talk about family matters outside the family. I can’t name one objective book written by a State Department Foreign Service Officer—the few who do write things stay strictly within the exciting travel memoir genre or, if they are former Ambassadors, the “I was right all along” personal insights. When a colleague learns about my book, the first question is always “Are you in trouble?” I am afraid the answer is yes. State started an investigation against me—a hearing is scheduled coincidentally just about the time the book comes out. My current boss also told me she was asked to “deliver a message,” just like in a gangster movie, from a “senior Department person” that my writing had left people at Foggy Bottom “more than upset” and threatened additional discipline, including suspension, if I continue.

    You write that the small advances were inevitably cancelled out by tragedy. Can there be any hope gleaned from those small moments?

    There were days when more things went right than wrong. If you were the American Embassy you could write happy press releases oozing with minor success. But what we were trying to do in Iraq over the course of eight years and $63 billion in reconstruction money was to rebuild a country we had destroyed, to provide a decent life for the 30 million people of Iraq. Those people needed electricity, hospitals, clean water, schools, and a government that would care for them. In those respects we failed spectacularly. We wanted to leave Iraq stable and independent, and we dropped 4,462 American lives, 100,000 Iraqi lives and a trillion dollars trying to do so. But we spent our time and money on obviously pointless things, like plays and pastries. As one Iraqi said, “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”

    How did you chose the title, which can clearly be interpreted with varying degrees of irony?

    Many reluctant participants in the war, like me, started off with good intentions. We never intended to be complicit in fraud, sign off on waste and encourage corruption, but that is what happened. It would have been an easier war to understand, and an easier book to write, if I had found our efforts populated by Americans out to steal money, or mean-spirited State Department people set on messing up Iraqi lives. But that wasn’t the case. What happened was a sad but intensely American thing, the destruction of a civil society simply through misguided good intentions we were too clueless to even see as we committed our sins.


    See some sharp commentary on the author’s battle with the State Department.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Another Win for Iran, in Iraq

    July 28, 2011 // Comments Off

    All-around Bond-villain Muqtada Sadr has won pardons for at least 50 prisoners jailed for crimes including murder, kidnapping and, oh yes, attacks on US troops. Among those pardoned are prisoners who were convicted under anti-terrorism laws, crimes for which the Iraqi Constitution specifically forbids granting a pardon. At least three prisoners were serving life sentences; some were arrested by the US military.

    One Iraqi lawmaker, Amir Kinani, defended the “legitimacy of the work” of Sadr followers who were jailed “for hitting foreign forces.” Sadr pledges to continue attacks on any US troops/trainers left in Iraq by year’s end. In fact, his group now requires members to sign pledges of conduct which include the note that yhey must consider “as enemies only the United States, Britain and Israel.”

    The pardons were granted by Prime Minister Malaki, Washington’s man in Baghdad.

    For those too stoned to understand what this means, it means Iran wins again. Sadr spent his years on the US hit list “studying” in Iran. Malaki is also deep into Iran’s butt, having spent time in exile there himself under Saddam and of course owing Iran for putting together the current coalition. This allowed Malaki to steal the Last Election That Will Ever Be Held in Iraq, last March. Of course, Sadr is part of that coalition, and thus Malaki owes him.

    In related news, June was the deadliest month for Americans in Iraq in two years, with 14 troops killed in attacks. The Sadr movement’s Promised Day Brigade claimed responsibility for 53 attacks against Americans last month, according to the US military. In the south, local governments in Basra, Maysan and Nasiriya have passed decrees banning US military personnel from entering cities.

    Wanna meet the Iranian now in charge of Iraq? He’s a well-known guy in Baghdad, even if his name is not commonly used in the West.


    For every parent, brother, sister, spouse and child who lost someone in the eight year’s war in Iraq, this is what your loved one’s sacrifice has been given for. As the US concedes we just plain lost another war, Iranian influence in Iraq will remain ascendant.

    The State Department will call this democracy for a few years until we realize how fucking stupid we have been.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    More Kids Dead in Iraq, Due to Freedom

    July 27, 2011 // Comments Off

    Commie nancy boy lamers UNICEF are interfering with America’s victory in Iraq by making up tall tales about kids who are now free.

    UNICEF wrote that nearly 900 children were killed in violence in Iraq between 2008 and 2010 and more than 3,200 wounded, in a report marking the “Day of the Iraqi Child.”

    This is too sad to even think about for too long: The Day of the Iraqi Child was named after 32 children were killed by a car bomb on July 13, 2005, as they rushed toward American soldiers offering them candy and toys.

    Children accounted for 8.1 percent of all casualties in attacks during the period, UNICEF said, adding it “remains concerned about the indiscriminate violence that continues to violate the rights of children in Iraq.”

    The UNICEF report also noted that attacks against schools and professionals in the education sector, such as teachers and administrative staff, “have significantly increased,” impacting children’s right to education. During May and June, 11 incidents were documented to have targeted or affected schools, teachers and education officials, the report said.

    I’m going to masturbate over my George W. Bush action figure now and then cry myself to sleep.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Where Have We Heard This Before?

    July 26, 2011 // Comments Off

    Ryan Crocker used to be the US Ambassador to Iraq when in 2008 he negotiated the deal that would have all US troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011. He said “The agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, and we anticipate that it will expressly forswear them.” Here in 2011, the US is desperately negotiating with Iraq to allow those troops to stay on, in permanent bases.

    Ryan Crocker is now the US Ambassador to Afghanistan. In 2011 he said “We have no interest in permanent bases in Afghanistan… We will stay as long as we need to and not one day more… We have no interest in using Afghanistan as a platform to project influence into neighboring countries.”

    Better yet, that line about “not one day more” has a history. George Bush said of Iraq in 2003 “American troops will stay in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day longer.” Mmm, credible.


    Psssst… hey, Afghanistan… he might not be telling you the truth… better keep your hand on your wallet when the guy who looks like a Muppet is in the room!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    DHS: Roundup of Norwegians to Begin

    July 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    Terrorist Following the horrific events in Oslo last week, Homeland Security officials in the US announced the pending roundup of Norwegians in the Homeland (i.e., America). “We are taking steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our Homelandians (i.e., Americans),” stated a DHS spokesperson. “Now that we know white people are as dangerous as brown people, these are steps we need to take.”

    Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann was quick to pick up on the issue, leading a group of overweight voters to protest in front of the Secaucus Ikea store, located only six miles from Ground Zero in a different state. Despite being informed that Ikea was an iconic Swedish brand, Bachmann was undeterred in shouting anti-Norwegian slogans. “If we thought sharia law was a threat, the ability of these people to blend in among us makes them an even greater threat.” Bachmann denied that she had once eaten Norwegian food in Minnesota, home to many Norwegian immigrants. “Lutefish, or as I call it, Freedom Fish, is as American as hamburger or pasta,” said the angry Bachmann as she left the scene on leathery wings that sprouted from her spine.

    An Angry Mob (c) grew frustrated as their lack of knowledge of Norway made racist statements hard to come up with. “We can’t call ‘em ragheads, or make fun of ‘em eatin’ watermelon or fried chicken, so it’s hard,” stated one slack-jawed yokel. “Also nothing rude rhymes with ‘Norwegian’ so our chants are pretty lame.” The Angry Mob planned to morph into a Drunken Crowd and go home.

    NPR regular voice of wry reason Garrison Keillor called for calm. “I wrote whimsically about Norwegians in my books about Lake Wobegon. Let us remember those happy tales and not jump to conclusions.” Keillor did note that he was only half Norwegian and hey, who can pick their parents?

    The issue did not escape White House comment. President Obama spoke briefly to the nation on the QVC Channel to say “Typically America responds to terror attacks that have nothing to do with us by sending armed drones into action. Right now my staff is carefully checking to see if Norway has any oil and if they do, then we will start bombing immediately. America expects nothing less, and I will do nothing less to protect this nation.”

    The President’s speech was met with bipartisan support, as Congress voted to eliminate the states of South Dakota and Missouri to free up funds for the new nordic war.

    What, not funny? Too soon for irony? Imagine what would have happened if the attacks had been carried out by Muslims.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Why “We Meant Well”

    July 22, 2011 // Comments Off

    Along with the semi-regular threats (why are they ALWAYS IN ALL CAPS!?!?!??!), people do ask about the title of the book.

    Here is what one faithful reader wrote as a comment in Salon:

    We meant well?
    Why not be honest and title it ” I’m a brick in the road to Hell”?

    Everybody wants a pass on their part in the last decades madness. Fuck That. You willingly took part. The day of the sin eater is long past, nobody on this planet can absolve your sins.

    Now go make few bucks in false piety.


    We had a lot of discussion about the title, We Meant Well. The idea is that many reluctant participants in the war, like me, started off with good intentions. We never intended to be complicit in fraud, sign off on waste and encourage corruption, but that is what happened. We came to see that is what had to happen, given how messed up the entire effort was from the start. Let’s destroy a country and then rebuild it begs the question of why destroy it in the first place.

    So, over the course of the war/book, what starts out as good intent– We Meant Well and we’ll try to fix things– ends up as irony– We Meant Well but we fucked up. Like living it, after reading the book I hope you will come to the conclusion that what was called reconstruction (or nation building, or promoting democracy, etc.) was doomed by the lack of thought and planning needed to backstop good intentions. These were peoples lives we were playing with, and people in need of water, medical care and basic services could not have their thirst slaked simply by good intentions.

    It would have been an easier war to understand, and an easier book to write, if I had found our efforts populated by Americans out to steal money, or mean-spirited State Department people set on messing up Iraqi lives. But that wasn’t the case. What happened was a sad but intensely American thing, the destruction of a civil society simply through misguided good intentions we were too clueless to even see as we committed our sins.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Kirkus: Starred Review of We Meant Well

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    From Kirkus Reviews:

    “Laugh-out-loud stories about how the United States failed to rebuild Iraq.

    After 2005, the State Department suddenly received orders to reconstruct the country. In the loop after years of neglect, it scrambled to find qualified personnel but never succeeded. The main criteria seemed to be a willingness to live in Iraq for a year at a salary of $250,000 and three paid vacations.

    A career Foreign Service bureaucrat with a daughter requiring college tuition, Van Buren volunteered. After a hasty “Islam for Dummies” orientation (“dudes kiss, no serving bacon, no joking about God”), he flew to Iraq, collected his helmet, body armor and armed guards (mandatory when off base) and set to work. The author’s hilarious vignettes do not conceal his outrage.

    ‘The more projects the better’ mantra trumped inconveniences such as market research. A clothing factory opened and quickly closed in the face of far-cheaper Chinese imports. Researchers doubted Iraqis would pay double for fresh chicken what they currently paid for the frozen Brazilian variety, but American contractors built a chicken-processing facility anyway—and proved the researchers right.

    Easy, feel-good projects were popular, producing cheerful photos of troops giving free stuff to happy kids, while avoiding sullen Iraqi adults observing from afar. Long-term development proved difficult because Iraq’s government refuses to assume salary and maintenance costs once American contractors finish, leaving the nation dotted with empty school, clinics and other facilities.

    A few moving essays reveal a desperately unhappy nation, but mostly this is a delightful companion to Richard Galli’s classic Vietnam hearts-and-minds satire, Of Rice and Men (2006).

    One of the rare, completely satisfying results of the expensive debacle in Iraq.”




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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Losing Money Through Stupidity in Afghanistan Again

    July 21, 2011 // Comments Off

    The title alone of the lastest SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstrcution) report sums it up:


    LIMITED Interagency Coordination and INSUFFICIENT Controls over US Funds in Afghanistan Hamper US Efforts to Develop the Afghan Financial Sector and Safeguard US Cash.


    Better yet, to show you the level of duplicity practiced by State, the US Embassy in Kabul suggested to SIGAR that they change the title to be:


    IMPROVED Interagency Coordination and ADDITIONAL Controls over US Funds in Afghanistan Hamper US Efforts to Develop the Afghan Financial Sector and Safeguard US Cash.



    What a sense of humor. But we digress.

    You can probably piece the story together yourself. After only ten years of fightin’ and reconstructin’ in Afghanland, the various US government agencies involved do not cooperate and State, the lead Federal agency for the debacle, is not exercising its Daddy role well. Meanwhile, Afghan bad men are taking advantage of this to suck billions of dollars out of our pockets. The Taliban are doing wicked good, thank you, and the US is no closer to its goals than, oh, say ten years ago.


    Not Playing Well Together

    If you really have the stomach to know more details, the report is quite thorough in documenting how poorly everyone plays together.

    For instance, a key interagency working group did not include all US agencies involved in implementing financial sector development programs. Specifically, DHS, which is implementing programs to strengthen the visibility over currency flows through the financial sector, was not a member of the group. Also, DOD and DHS have not coordinated their work with the same commercial banks.

    Afghans Not Playing Nicely at All

    Afghan ministries have not always cooperated. Treasury reported that its programs to strengthen the Afghan government’s ability to identify financial crimes have had limited results because of Afghan officials’ reluctance to prosecute.

    Afghan officials received 1.8 million Large Cash Transaction Reports, over 600 Suspicious Transaction Reports, and between 10,000 to 13,000 currency declaration reports from passengers leaving Afghanistan via Kabul International Airport. From this massive fetid pile, Afghan officials forwarded only 21 leads to law enforcement organizations. The Attorney General’s office pursued only 4 of the 21 leads to prosecution.

    Additionally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned US government advisors from working at Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB). USAID has provided assistance to DAB under other initiatives since 2003, so, hey, why not.

    US Drops the Ball in Play

    US agencies do not record the serial numbers of cash disbursed to contractors. Commercial banks do not record the serial numbers of electronic payments made by US agencies to contractors when their electronic payments are converted into cash. Also, US contracting regulations neither prohibit prime contractors from using unlicensed facilities to pay subcontractors nor require them to use banks capable of handling electronic funds transfers. The US still disburses some seven percent of funds in straight up cold cash, with no electronic records or receipts.



    What Does This Mean?

    As a result, the US is unable to record information as funds enter Afghanistan’s economy, and the Afghan and US governments are unable to track these funds as they move from person to person, information that could be important for law enforcement purposes. Basically we just throw the money (now up to $70 billion in US tax dollars for Afghan reconstruction alone) out there and hope it never reaches a narco trafficker, the Taliban or other naughty boys.

    So what does happen to all this money? A lot of it appears to be leaving Afghanistan, likely on flights to Dubai and other banking black holes. DHS reports that installation of two custom-built bulk currency counters for the airport’s customs areas was delayed by seven months because of disagreements over where to place the machines. Other impediments to DHS efforts include the Afghan government’s practice of allowing VIPs to bypass the main security screenings used by all other passengers. Additionally, DHS officials are barred from the facility that VIPs currently use.

    But there is good news! SIGAR makes a recommendation to the US Ambassador to Afghanistan to improve interagency coordination on financial sector issues. Whew, so that’s settled. Suckers.



    Read the whole SIGAR report.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    China Ascendant in Iraq

    July 20, 2011 // Comments Off

    Further evidence that we failed in Iraq: Iraq has asked China to set up a fund to help with the reconstruction of the war-battered country, an Iraqi government official said on Monday during a visit to Beijing by Iraqi Prime Minister al Maliki.

    For those keeping score in blood and treasure at home, the US spent $63 billion on reconstruction efforts since the 2003 invasion, plus billions more in Iraqi money, all to little avail. Ordinary people have seen little improvement in their lives while contracting firms grew rich. The US went on to build the World’s Largest Embassy © in Baghdad, I wrote a whole book about the failure of reconstruction, etc., etc., etc.

    But let’s talk about a winner today instead! China has done well for itself in Iraq. The country eased into a cozy relationship with Iraq by writing off 80 percent of its Saddam Hussein-era debt.

    In 2008, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) successfully renegotiated a contract originally signed by the previous regime to develop the Ahdab oilfield, becoming the first country to sign an oil service contract in Iraq under the new U.S.-backed regime.
    CNPC completed construction of the first phase of the oilfield in June this year, and it is also developing Iraq’s Halfaya oilfield. CNPC also has a 37 percent stake in a service contract to develop the Rumaila oilfield, which pumps out almost half of Iraq’s total oil output.

    Iraqi government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh hinted also that the country might buy weapons from China, necessitating the need for PLA trainers to visit Iraq.

    Indeed, Iraq and China on July 19 signed a Memo of Understanding (MOU) for economic and technical cooperation and another MOU for the training of the Iraqi cadres in China, according to a statement on Monday by Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki’s office, now on a visit to China, leading a high-level delegation. These will be followed by the signing of an MOU for cooperation in the field of electric power

    The US, in its odd desperation to have things succeed somehow, anyhow, in Iraq, has even been helping the Chinese exploit Iraqi oil outside Basra. To ensure their safety, most of the foreign oil companies have their offices located within the confines of the US military base at Basra, along with the US PRT, the British Consulate and the Russian and Chinese oil exploration firms, which must make for some interesting cafeteria small talk.

    “US policy at this time is that the USG in Iraq should assist in facilitating the mobilization of these companies without regard to the nationality of the companies,” said Kenneth Thomas, head of the energy section of the Basra PRT, though he added “But we are not going to assist an Iranian company.”

    Chinese investment deals are worth noting. Outside of oil, one of the biggest is Shanghai Electric moving ahead with a $1 billion power-generating plant to boost Iraq’s electricity capacity by 1,320 megawatts. The planned steam power plant in the town of Zubaidiya near the city of Kut, southeast of Baghdad, is seen as one of the biggest power projects in the country, where intermittent electricity is one of the public’s top complaints.

    Of course, billions of dollars and eight years after the US invasion, Iraq’s national grid still only supplies a few hours of power each day.

    On a smaller scale, Chinese goods are readily found in Iraq’s markets and stores. A PRT project to make clothing, fully subsidized by the US Government, went belly up because Chinese imports underpriced our crappy knit goods by 30 percent. Another project, this time the Army’s plan to hand out free food, ended up being flooded with cheap Chinese gift bags, complete with intellectually pirated Disney characters on the outsides. Of course, no US base was complete with its so-called “Hajii Shop,” a sort of local bodega whose main item was illegal DVDs, shipped on via a reverse Silk Road journey from Guangzhou. Even some of Iraq’s prostitutes came from China: every Chinese restaurant was rumored to include some special off-menu services being available.

    China remains popular enough in the region. In the latest Zogby poll, when presented with several countries (e.g. Turkey, Iran, France, China, the US etc.) and asked to evaluate whether or not each of them play a constructive role “in promoting peace and stability in the Arab World” eight in ten Arabs give a negative assessment to the US role — rating it significantly lower than France, Turkey, China, and, in four of six Arab countries, even lower than Iran.

    So, quick recap:

    Since 2003 the US has lost 4474 soldiers and a couple of trillion dollars. Iran has risen politically such that there is talk of Iraq being nothing more than an Iranian vassal, and economic relations between the two countries are sweet as a summer peach. Trade with China is purring along the old Silk Road. Then China grabs a bunch of the oil at no cost to itself in military expenses, human lives or loss of prestige in the Middle East.

    Yep, this war has worked out just fine, just fine.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    US Losing Grip

    July 19, 2011 // Comments Off

    The Pakistan Observer ran an editorial today that was scary in its frankness and simplicity of tone as we approach the anniversary of 9/11 once again:


    Despite using excessive force and resorting to torture and intrigues for a decade, the US couldn’t disable Taliban power. Rather, they have become more powerful and resilient and are enjoying a military edge over the collection of most powerful armies of the world and are unprepared to negotiate with USA on its terms. With the killing of bin Laden, America is left with no excuse to prolong its stay, particularly when it claims that al-Qaida’s back has been broken. In fact it had barged into Afghanistan with the main objective of punishing al-Qaeda for its alleged role in 9/11. Ten years intense oppression and massacre of tens of thousands of Afghans and al-Qaeda operatives and death of most wanted top leader are enough to avenge deaths of about 3000 Americans.

    This amount spent in the name of insane war which has given nothing except pain and ignominy to USA is a big waste which can be profitably utilized for welfare of home public. It is ironic to see the sole super power mired in heavy debt and getting more and more dependent upon its archrival China for its sustenance.


    Read the whole article.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Another Charm Point: Increased Risk of Kidnapping in Iraq

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    Always on the watch to add another charm point to life in Iraq, the World’s Largest Embassy (c) got some snipe off their fat ass in the DFAC Slurpee line long enough to issue an all points bulletin to American Citizens unlucky enough to be living in Iraq.

    The bulletin reminds:


    The US Embassy wants to apprise all US citizens of the potential for increased kidnapping operations throughout Iraq, including Basrah and other metropolitan areas. The US Embassy recommends that US citizens in all areas of Iraq maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security at this time.

    First of all, who uses words like “apprise” anyway? Second, how helpful is this advice– what the hell does it mean to “take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security”? Does anyone know in the context of living inside an ongoing war what that means? Does it mean carry a bigger gun? Stay inside at night? Aim straighter? Don’t cuss out Muslims?

    Oh wait, here’s what the Embassy says you should do: register online somewhere. And get this, they say “US citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the US Embassy.” How many Americans in Iraq (’cause all of them work for the USG or some private mega contractor) don’t have web access and if they don’t, how are they reading the Embassy’s message?

    You’d almost think that nothing was real inside those walls, that people at the World’s Largest Embassy imagine that their apprising actually means anything, that while Hillary barks on and on about business opportunities in Iraq, actually it remains a kinda unsafe place not that the Embassy would just fucking say that. Indeed, on the front page of the World’s Largest Embassy Website (c), one article is entitled “Baghdad IRC ‘Swings’ for Jazz Appreciation Month.”

    Maybe Americans kidnapped and chained to a basement wall somewhere in Sadr City will be allowed to listen to jazz on the BBC World Service. That would be nice.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    One More: 4474, Five Already in July

    July 18, 2011 // Comments Off

    The US military says an American soldier has died in Iraq in a noncombat incident, which can mean an industrial accident but is most commonly used as a euphemism for a soldier suicide. A total of five soldiers have died this month in Iraq.

    A good question for America to ask itself: How many more? At what point have we paid with enough lives? Why does Obama want to keep troops in Iraq past the negotiated 12/31/2011 deadline?

    Gold Star Father, commenting below when the loss total reached 4473, wrote:


    I measure time by numbers. I lost my son 2475 KIA’s ago. Every one of the 4473 means the world to me. I’m afraid I’m in a very small minority in my own country.

    How many more Mr. President?



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    You Haven’t Read This: CIA Secret Prison in Somalia

    // 1 Comment »

    Never having learned any lessons, it appears that the US continues to operate secret prisons around the world to hold “terrorists” without the unpleasant need for trial, courts or rules. The semi-secret facilities in Afghanistan have been around for awhile, and we learned that US Navy ships are used as floating gulags.

    However, The Nation reports on a full-on mini-Guantanamo run by the CIA in Somalia. Read the story and realize that shutting down Guantanamo (which hasn’t happened anyway) was just an Obama ruse to continue yet another horrendous Bush policy.

    This is what has happened to our country, what America has been reduced to doing.

    Bonus!

    Want a career in government service? Practice torturing a human being to death with this actual online game.

    The photo show above comes from the French, who tortured terrorists in Algeria as part of their counterinsurgency plan. Didn’t work there either. See more.




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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    4473: American Soldier Dies in Southern Iraq

    July 16, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    The death on Friday of another American soldier in Iraq brings to 4,473 the number of troops who have died since the invasion of 2003.

    You’re welcome, Iraq. Right? You’re grateful for all we’ve done, yeah? Hello?

    And you, America, you’re paying attention, yes? Sacrifice for freedom and all that? Anybody out there? Hello?

    And of course while the death of an American may or may not break into the news cycle between weekend sports and entertainment news, the fact that the number of victims from the three explosions that took place in Karbala Province over the past 24 hours have reached 113 killed or injured might as well be news from Venus.

    (Tumbleweed rolls through frame, slow fade to black)



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Blackwater Faces Another Suit for Cheating State Department

    July 15, 2011 // Comments Off

    It is beginning to become more and more clear why these wars are so darn expensive: the State Department keeps tossing away money on things they never receive.

    Employees of the security contractor previously known as Blackwater filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit in US District Court alleges that Blackwater (now known as “Mr. John Smith”) overbilled for protecting State Department employees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Blackwater billed the State Department for sniper services from one individual who sat behind a desk, probably without a rifle. In at least one other case, the company allegedly billed for services provided by a marksman who had failed a required drug test. A spokesman for Moyock, N.C.-based mercenary company declined comment, citing the pending legal action.

    In addition to the ongoing hilarity involving anything “contracty” that the State Department touches in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady drumbeat of these kinds of lawsuits and investigations drives home the point that after ten years of wars of terror, State still has not figured out how to supervise the thuggish contractors they employ. It is equally clear that those contractors sure as hell have figured out the game, and feel free to shoot people, double bill or just outright steal money, knowing the consequences of getting caught are few.

    Kinda like working for the White House, consequence-free no matter what happens. Viva!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Five Indicted in Iraqi Contract Kickbacks

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    Whether it is State Department fumbling that sends $174 million astray in Afghanistan, or just old fashioned corruption and kickbacks, contracting in America’s wars of terror means easy money.

    Today’s atrocity reveals three former Army Corps of Engineers employees and two foreign contractors participated in a kickback scheme surrounding the award of more than $50 million in construction contracts in Iraq, according to an indictment handed down Thursday.

    The men secured tens of millions in Iraq construction and used at least six foreign bank accounts in Jordan and Egypt to transfer illegal bribes and kickback payments to US. bank accounts in New Jersey.

    “The defendants allegedly treated projects to secure safe access to fuel, electricity, education and medical treatment as opportunities for illegally amassing personal wealth,” New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.

    The Jersey angle just makes this all that much better. Yo, Paulie, dump those stolen smokes, the real money is in Iraqi contracting. C’mere, I love you! Badabing!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    State Fumbles $172.4 Million Intended For Afghan Police Training

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    Some things just don’t go well together: hot dogs and ketchup, cats and dogs, and the State Department and contracting.

    Just doesn’t work.

    You’ll recall State Management Droid Pat Kennedy, back in early June, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer contracts.

    And then we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    Wonder why State was so shy about allowing inspections? Maybe this will clarify things.

    A new joint audit found that State didn’t properly handle $172.4 million from funds for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Additionally, the report found that some of those funds went to paying contractors for hours they didn’t work. Some of the money was improperly spent in other areas, even though it was specifically designated for training the ANP.

    The report says that the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs used $22.47 million for “a United Nations contribution, the Federal Prosecutors Program, counternarcotics personnel salaries, travel costs, and a DynCorp equitable adjustment.” Some money went towards ANP salaries but not training as it was intended.

    More than $300,000 went to travel costs from Texas to Washington for DynCorp personnel to attend weekly meetings, even though DynCorp was supposed to have employees in DC who could have attended the meetings. On top of that, the report found that the transportation, hotel and flight costs were all not in compliance with contract regulations.

    One example is of an employee purchasing a round-trip ticket for $355, but then changing his ticket so many times that it ended up costing $1,931. Some travel costs were for five-day trips, even though meetings only happened on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    Overall, the report found that the money was misspent because “State lacked adequate procedures for obligating, monitoring, and deobligating funds for the ANP training program.”



    Meanwhile, in other fucked up contract news, State recently signed another contract, worth $8 million, with ArmorGroup to guard the Kabul Embassy.

    ArmorGroup, you’ll recall, used to hold a contract worth an estimated $189 million to protect the embassy. But that was before the Project on Government Oversight revealed in 2009 that the guard force operated a Lord of the Flies environment, complete with pictures documenting it, of guards peeing on people, eating potato chips out of ass cracks, doing vodka shots out of ass cracks, broken doors after drunken brawls, but not “jamming guys in the ass per se.”

    Onward to victory in Afghanistan!!!!!!!!!!!!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Embassy Baghdad Can’t Get the Twitter

    July 14, 2011 // Comments Off

    On its own lame ass “blog“, the State Department believes it is working hard to build networks and communicate with people around the world. Knowing the power of social media because she is a cool dude down with young people, SecState Hillary Rodham Clinton bleated out talking points that said:


    “I want to say a few words, but more than 140 characters, about the importance of social media tools, like Twitter, which are a critical part of what I at the State Department call 21st century statecraft. Thanks to these connection technologies, people can exchange ideas and information instantaneously, anywhere on the planet — from a laptop in London to a cell phone in Cairo.”


    It works in London and Cairo, but not in Baghdad. If you visit the Twitter site of the World’s Largest Embassy (c), you find, sadly, the message “@USEmbBaghdad hasn’t tweeted yet.”

    Still, they have 111 followers of nothing (a zen thing), which is more than I have on my Twitter, so I should not be rude. Many of the followers of zen are journalists, no doubt hoping for the beast to stir, as well as those trolling for jobs and visas. One follower claims to be a Pakistani web designer, so there may be hope for the site yet. A few heroic FSOs, no doubt seeing another opportunity to suck up, are listed as well.

    Maybe the World’s Largest Embassy (c) needs one more person on staff, a teenager who can do the Twitter.

    Tweet on, for freedom!



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    State Can’t Speak Pashto Either

    July 13, 2011 // Comments Off

    Our posts below detail the sad state of Arabic language speakers at State. Now an inspection report by State’s own internal team shows that pretty much nobody speaks the key languages of Afghanistan and Pakistan either.

    The report shows that a total of FOUR FSOs speak Pashto at a professional level. Man, those poor four bastards are gonna be locked into an endless cycle of tours of that region. Sorry about those dreams of a year or two out in Paris, or anywhere else with flush toilets.

    State still remains properly stubborn, refusing to hire FSOs based on their existing skills (such as languages) and insisting that everyone pass through the hallowed testing process blind. Of course, since it has been only ten years since 9/11, State’s plan to train up a bunch of people to talk that foreign talk is working out well.

    Other than being embarrassing, why does this matter? One reason is this: The January 27, 2011, arrest in Lahore, Pakistan, of an American official assigned to Embassy Islamabad drew attention to a public affairs skills gap. Not once during nearly two months that coincided with the inspection did a Pakistan-based American public affairs official engage the Urdu-speaking media in that local language about this issue.

    No wonder they hate us, shouting at them in English all the time. Some good news though: a friend of ours just got accepted into two years of Japanese language training, and another into Finnish, so those are covered if al Qaeda or the Taliban relocated.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Interview: How I Helped Lose Hearts and Minds in Iraq

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    Journalist Kelley B. Vlahos, of Antiwar.com and Fox News, recently interviewed Peter about his work at the State Department and of course, the book.

    Vlahos wrote:

    We Meant Well, appears to be one part exposé, one part confession, because when talking to Peter, it’s clear (not just from the title) that he wants you to know that for a time, he willingly participated in the failure of US policy in Iraq and truly believes that if he does not tell his story, the government will continue to repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan, unchecked by an American public kept largely in the dark about the ugly facts on the ground.

    Van Buren is not your typical American bureaucrat. As a foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department, he does not put his head down, he does not keep his mouth closed, and he doesn’t put his 23-year career in front of the good of the country.

    He remains one of the few American bloggers still devoted to talking about the War in Iraq. To him, it is all of a piece, Afghanistan and Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, so-called modern counterinsurgency.


    Read the whole interview at Antiwar.com.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    WMDs Used in Baghdad Today!

    July 12, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    Chlorine gas sickened over 700 people in Baghdad today.

    Health officials say hundreds of people have been sickened by a chlorine gas cloud that leaked over Baghdad after an explosion at a water treatment plant.

    Dr. Ali Bustan al-Fartousi, manager of the Rusafa health office in the capital’s east, said no one died in the Tuesday night accident and nearly all of the 700 people treated had been released from hospitals.

    Al-Fartousi said most of those affected were from the sprawling Sadr City neighborhood where many of Baghdad’s poorest Shiites live.


    This justifies everything! The damn Iraqis have been hiding this chlorine gas all these years, waiting for the right moment to use it against their own people. It is a good thing we deposed Saddam or who knows where this would have led.

    Sadly, it is hard to say anyone lives closer to the ground and has suffered more than the poor bastards who live in Sadr City, a slum within a slum. Sorry this had to happen to them.




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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Last American Out of Baghdad Please Shut Off the Lights

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    Oops. The World’s Largest Embassy (c) is running out of gas. Literally.

    The Embassy’s air conditioners won’t be operating at full power until further notice due to a temporary fuel shortage. “Recent security incidents” have halted fuel deliveries to Baghdad’s Green Zone, according to an email sent Tuesday morning to Embassy staffers. Iraqi officials have blocked roads leading to the Green Zone, meaning the compound’s main fuel supplier, KBR, is allotting fuel in smaller quantities.

    “As a result, the Embassy is running low on reserve fuel,” the email said. Until further notice, the Embassy is increasing temperatures inside its buildings in an attempt to conserve fuel. Staffers reported room temperatures close to 80 degrees.

    It is hard to know where to start with this one.

    Firstly, one has to wonder about security plans after the US military leaves/draws down at the end of the year. Roads in Iraq stay open in large part because out military patrols them, conducts route clearance of IEDs, uses drones to survey the roads ahead of convoys, and provides the muscle to get contracted drivers out of trouble when attacks occur. It is very, very unclear that State’s planned mercenary guard force will be able to pull off these very, very military duties. This will leave the World’s Largest Embassy (c) very vulnerable; after all, there is nowhere locally for them to buy any of the fuel, food and supplies needed to keep operating.

    The bigger irony of course is that all of Iraq suffers from lack of electricity; Iraqi power guys estimate that less than half the juice needed by citizens will be available, meaning the suffering that most Iraqis have endured under US-provided freedom is now being visited on the World’s Largest Embassy (c). Last year, temperatures rose to 120 degrees, and people took to the streets in anger. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki sacked the Electricity Minister, and then banned all protests. That unrest could be repeated again this year, despite all the government’s promises of new power projects. Also, on June 25, in a vote of confidence, the director general at the Ministry of Electricity was assassinated in southeast Baghdad.

    Lastly, it is amusing to note that while the US Embassy trucks its fuel into Baghdad by road from Kuwait (average cost is $18 a gallon), Iraq proper buys a lot of its fuel directly from Iran.

    Even that Iranian fuel might still be available to the Embassy– on the black market. Officials in the Ministry of Electricity are involved in the theft of millions of dollars of fuel intended for power stations, an MP from the ruling National Coalition claimed Saturday.

    Susan al-Saad said that the tankers used to transport fuel to power plants across the country regularly go missing, and that this would not be possible without official collusion.

    “Many officials in the Ministry are involved in the theft. Which is sad because it adversely affects the performance of electrical provision, in addition to contributing to the phenomenon of widespread financial and administrative corruption in state institutions,” she said.

    Last irony: Iraq sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves. Maybe the Embassy should consider cutting out the middleman and drilling for its own oil inside the compound.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Tongue-Tied State Department Failing in its Core Mission (Part II)

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    In addition to the obvious opportunities for waste, fraud, corruption and just plain stupidity, the real problem is how lack of language capability within the State Department contributes to the further militarization of foreign policy.

    There 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. At the same time, Congress continues to hack away at State’s budget. As head-count shrinks, the number of FSOs who can be pulled off the assembly line and sent to Arabic training (it takes two full-time years of study in the State Department system to have a chance at qualifying as generally professionally competent in a hard language like Arabic) the so-called “training float,” also shrinks.

    There are other, more institutional problems, as well. State insists on holding at least the first year of any language training at its campus in Arlington, VA, where students joke about learning to speak Arabic, or Dutch, or Tagalong with a Virginia accent. The Arlington location limits the pool of teachers to those who happen to live in the area, a zone rich with Homeland Security contractors snapping up good Arabic speakers for higher salaries. Officers in language training are pulled out of real contention for promotions, death in State’s up or out system and a severe disincentive. Person applying to the foreign service only get credit for foreign languages they speak after otherwise being accepted; they get little advantage in the very difficult testing and evaluation process that begins with a written test so difficult most people fail. State offers some bonus pay for language skills, but has never measured the impact of the pay incentive on increasing foreign language proficiency.

    A Congressionally-funded hiring boom between 2002-2004 that was supposed to create a “training float” was instead squandered by State in staffing the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad, as well as its smaller, twin evil sister in Kabul.

    The GAO concluded however that the worst problem is State’s bureaucracy:

    In 2002, GAO reported that State had not prepared a separate strategic plan for developing its foreign language skills or a related action plan to correct long-standing proficiency shortfalls and recommended that the Department do so.

    In 2009, seven years later, GAO wrote again that “State’s efforts to meet its foreign language requirements have yielded some results but have not closed persistent gaps and reflect, in part, a lack of a comprehensive, strategic approach.” The GAO recommended arcane techniques such as “measurable goals, objectives, milestones, and feedback mechanisms” to State.

    In a 2010 follow-up report, GAO wrote again “State has efforts underway to identify foreign language needs and capabilities, but persistent shortfalls in foreign language-proficient staff highlight the need for a comprehensive, strategic approach.”

    They are really stubborn people over there in Foggy Bottom.

    In economic terms, State’s comparative advantage has always been that we could talk to foreigners. Give that up—alongside the smaller head count, the flaccid budget—and what is left? As America continues to find new countries to invade and occupy, the chances become greater and greater that the only Americans foreigners in many Middle Eastern countries will see wear green and carry a weapon, and they’ll not be in the mood to chat.

    “We cannot effectively sway our allies or adversaries if we do not speak their language,” said Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee. The tool box America uses to deal with issues abroad will shrink, as there will be fewer people around who can talk to foreigners.

    Guess we’ll just have to shoot more of ‘em.

    Read Part I of “Tongue-Tied State Department Failing in its Core Mission”



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Panetta in Iraq: You Do the Math

    July 11, 2011 // Comments Off

    Since new SecDef “I suffer from a permanent hound dog face” Panetta dropped by Iraq this week to beg for US permanent bases and to invigorate the new rationale for the war, or more precisely, for continuing the war (hint: it’s all about Iran now), a few things to review:

    Before 2003 (per the 9/11 report and others) there were zero al Qaeda in Iraq. Panetta now says there are 1000 members.

    – Before 2003, Iraq and Iran were sworn enemies (photo above is the “Victory Over Iran” Memorial), and had fought a bitter war. Now Panetta frets about Iranian weapons flooding into Iraq, and Iran and Iraq are good friends. Commerce and social intercourse between the two nations is at an all-time high.

    – Saddam hated Iran and had nothing to do with them politically. After 2003, Iran played a very significant role in brokering the agreement that led to the current Iraqi government’s formation. The current Iraqi government shares close ties to Iranian leadership.

    – Before 2003, the number of American soldiers who died at the hands of Iranian special forces was quite small, possibly limited to a few of our own special forces troops. Since 2003, Iraq’s Shia militias have benefited from Iranian weapons, training and likely direct action from Iranian Qods Force SOF present in Iraq.


    Despite these obvious realities, Panetta in his alternate universe “aimed at urging the Iraqi military to take stronger action against Shiite militias and to see Iran as the Obama administration does — not just as a threat to American troops, but as a potential cancer in the country.” Panetta is the third top American official to raise an alarm about Iranian influence in Iraq in recent days. The Iraqis seem unconcerned, as one might expect. Iran is at war with the US, not Iraq.

    Panetta’s visit to Iraq also coincided with the death of another American soldier in Iraq, bringing the total killed since 2003 to 4471.

    One final note: Number of Americans who will be killed by Sadr militia, Iranian weapons and other sources if the US keeps troops in Iraq after 12/31/2011: Unknown but significant.

    Number of Americans who will be killed after 12/31/2011by Sadr militia, Iranian weapons and other sources if the US departs Iraq on schedule: Zero.


    Which alternative seems the best course for America? You do the math.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Tongue-Tied State Department Failing in its Core Mission (Part I)

    // 2 Comments »

    What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. Three languages? Trilingual. Only one language? An American.

    If you had to reduce diplomacy to a single function, it would be “talking to foreigners.” The Department of State talks to foreigners. We talk with them about nuclear treaties, we talk with them about Americans in jail abroad, we talk with them about who the President will visit with and, in Iraq, we talked with them about reconstruction. We talked about what we thought they needed, we talked with them about whose brother-in-law would get the next contract, we talked with them about not killing us at checkpoints. We talked a lot; it is what we do.

    The problem is that we talked to Iraqis almost exclusively in English, or at least we spoke English, and relied on a rogues gallery of so-called translators and interpreters (the Army called them ‘terps and therefore so did we). The fact that very, very few Americans involved in either destroying Iraq or rebuilding Iraq spoke any Arabic was a huge problem. No one will ever know how much of our failure in reconstructing Iraq was caused simply by bad translation, but it would be a decent percentage.

    This was and is a significant problem, with two nasty sides to it.

    The first side is that even now, ten years after 9/11, very few people in the Department of State speak decent Arabic. Of the approximate 7600 Foreign Service Officers, only 380 speak Arabic at a “general professional level,” a language test score of 3/3 for you Foggy Bottom insiders. This score means that the individual is “Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics. Nevertheless, the individual’s limitations generally restrict the professional contexts of language use to matters of shared knowledge and/or international convention.” So those folks speak Arabic pretty well, but nobody is saying fluent. In fact, in US Embassy Yemen’s example, a senior official complained that a level 3/3 proficiency in Arabic is not enough for mission officers to participate in debates about US foreign policy in Arabic.

    (How does the State Department test languages anyway?)

    However, on average, only 64 percent of FSOs are overseas at any one time, so of those 380 Arabic speakers, only 243 are outside the Beltway today. Because of State’s whacky assignments system, there is no assurance that an Arabic speaker will be assigned to an Arabic speaking country, or a Chinese speaker to China for that matter. All sorts of things can affect assignment, including that many native speakers of a language (say a naturalized Pakistani-born FSO) often are not assigned “home” for security reasons. Whatever portion of those 243 Arabic speakers who are abroad are spread across 23 posts in the Middle East. Lastly, of the subset of officers, statistically over 35 percent have less than five years of service with the Department—so-called entry level officers—and typically are assigned visa work or other junior tasks. That knocks out a few more, leaving us an estimated 130 or so FSOs who can have a semi-professional conversation in Arabic.

    No one knows the numbers, but you will need to also deduct a few for people not medically qualified to serve overseas, those in jobs that limit them to inside the Embassy and a couple who might have gotten the right test score but don’t actually speak Arabic all that well in practice, book learners.

    That latter variable is no joke—the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found substandard skills in 31 percent of the approximately 3600 FSO jobs that require a certain level of language proficiency, up from 29 percent in 2005. In Iraq, 57 percent lacked sufficient language skills. Overall, forty-three percent of officers in Arabic language-designated positions do not meet the requirements of their positions. Doh! Doh! again, however you would say it in French.

    So not very many people in the State Department can speak Arabic. In fact, on both of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) Peter led in Iraq, not a single subject matter expert, contractor or FSO spoke a word of Arabic. No one in our parent Army units did either. We all used translators, the ‘terps.

    Most Americans’ don’t speak a foreign language, and have only had their high school French or Spanish as a guide. In reality (Peter speaks Japanese and Mandarin at the general professional level), it is really freaking hard to learn a foreign language as an adult. There is something biological to all this; kids pick up languages well, but adults really sweat it out to get beyond simple greetings and memorized phrases. You can’t just order up more Arabic speakers. It works both ways, for Americans trying to learn Arabic and native speakers of Arabic who are trying to learn English (Quick test. If you think you speak a foreign language well, translate this out loud, respectfully and persuasively: “Unlike as we discussed at the council session, changes to our fiscal plans meant that the dike was be built upstream of your farm, unfortunately flooding your pasture. We are unable to pay compensation for your deceased goats.”). The very few who can really handle languages fluently get big bucks and work for the White House or the UN, not at a remote PRT, even if that’s the tip of the spear in the war on terror.

    The majority of our ‘terps were Iraqi-Americans. They had immigrated to the US and become citizens years ago. Most were from Detroit or Chicago, recruited by subcontractors for their alleged language skills. Most of our Iraqi-American translators were employees of an Alaskan Native-owned business. This business had one employee in the US, an Alaskan Native far away in Alaska, and subcontracted to some other business that recruited Iraqi-Americans in Detroit or Chicago and sent those people to us in Iraq. To help support minority businesses such as those owned by Alaskan Natives, the US government offered them an advantage in the otherwise competitive bidding process, a sort of contracting affirmative action, even as they subbed out 100 percent of the work and lent nothing to the company but their name and ethnicity. It seemed like a get-rich-quick internet scam, but this one apparently worked.

    The Iraqi-Americans made six-figure salaries, got free trips home and the sweet benefits that all contractors hauled in. Many of them had not lived in Iraq for years yet we used them as cultural advisors. Some had lived entirely within Iraqi-American communities in the US and spoke poor English, yet served as translators. Some were Kurdish and/or Christian, which no doubt impressed the Muslim Arabs we primarily interacted with. Trust and personal relationships are critical to doing things in the Middle East (as well as in Iowa, really) and we had the tools to establish neither.

    It gets worse. Most ‘terps used by the Army, and often the PRTs, were hired locally. Typically this meant a young man (most women still stayed home in free Iraq) who had learned some English somewhere who could pass security vetting. Often times the kid was good-hearted but knew relatively little English. His manners were rough and tough, making interactions with older government officials, educated sheiks and those who thought themselves important lame exercises. Between the bad English and the bad manners, very little got done.

    Though Iraqis will shout their opinions at you in the street and wave their hands like a crack-crazed aerobics teacher to make a point, it was hard for us to sort out what they said from what they meant from what was what they thought you wanted to hear. Add in a bad translator who reduced three minutes of spittle-flying speech to “He disagrees but loves all Americans and Obama President” and you often had no idea what was going on.

    Not knowing what was going on became sort of a problem in our efforts to rebuild Iraq. It meant having no way to verify what was being said around you—did your amateur translator make a grammar mistake or did he ask for a bribe? Are the frowns because your offer was too low or because the English slang ended up being mistranslated as something rude in Arabic? We did not know. We had no way to know. We just had to live with it, because there was no other way. Not to beat a dead horse, but while we meant well, we acted foolishly in a way that preordained failure.

    It had to end poorly.




    See Part II of this article…


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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Iraq, Land of Contrasts

    July 9, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Laundry Room, inside US Embassy, Green Zone, Iraq




    New Baghdad City, about a mile from the Green Zone, Iraq


    Decades of war and international sanctions have turned Iraq into one of the worst places for children in the Middle East and North Africa, with around 3.5 million living in poverty, 1.5 million under the age of five undernourished and 100 infants dying every day, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Contractors in Iraq Never Held Responsible

    July 8, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    If my child does something wrong, as a parent I’m responsible for interceding. If an employee does something wrong, the employer steps in to fix things. If a US Government contractor in Iraq does something wrong, anything from torture to sexual harassment to murder, nobody is held responsible. By law, it seems.




    Torture

    The latest get out of jail free card was issued by the Supreme Court last week, when they let stand the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that employees of two defense contractors took part in the torture and abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. The justices rejected an appeal by a group of 250 Iraqis seeking to reinstate their lawsuit against CACI International Inc, which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc’s Titan unit, which provided interpreters to the U.S. military.

    The lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of the Iraqis who said they or their relatives had been tortured or mistreated while detained by the US military at Abu Ghraib. They said contractor employees participated in the abuse. The justices declined to review a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit because the companies had immunity as government contractors. The Obama administration supported the companies and said the appeal should be denied. Free at last, I guess.

    Rape

    Another case to make the news concerns the alleged rape in Iraq of KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones by another KBR employee (Ms. Jones’ name and picture have been prominently featured around the web, so we are not “outing” anyone here). The criminal case got lost in immunities, and KBR’s insistence that the allegations be dealt with through the employee arbitration proceedings spelled out in Jones’ employment contract.

    After six years of legal fussing and fighting, the courts eventually sided with Jones, who is pursuing the matter as a civil complaint. Details are complex, and what really happened seems unclear—a good break down of the evidence is on Mother Jones. The claimed attack took place in 2005; ultimate source of all contractor legal matters Ms. Sparky has pages of details on the legal events since then.

    Sexual Harassment

    The problem of contractor liability is not new, nor is it going away. As a reminder, we’ve written previously about the problem women interpreters claiming sexual harassment at the hands of their contractor employment face– it is almost impossible to successfully sue any of America’s finest contractors for things that may have happened in Iraq.

    Murder

    We also wrote about KBR, the contractor who runs the backstage portion of our wars, setting up the chow halls, building the offices, running the power lines and maintaining the plumbing. It is the latter task that resulted in a slip and fall lawsuit just settled after a federal judge ruled that KBR cannot be sued by someone who slipped in a toilet it maintained at Camp Shield. KBR argued against their having any liability for anything they ever did, citing cases as significant as the Supremes’ 1803 hit Marbury v. Freaking Madison in their defense.

    Ironic Comparison to the UK

    No blog post here is complete without an ironic comparison, this time to the way the UK has treated human rights abuses by its soldiers (Ok, yeah, not exactly the same as contractors, but…).

    The European court of human rights on July 7 issued two landmark rulings on UK abuses in Iraq. In the first (al-Skeini and others) it found that Britain had violated the rights of the families of four Iraqis killed by British forces (and one other case in which responsibility for the killing is disputed) by failing to ensure independent investigations into their deaths. In the second (al-Jedda) it ruled the UK had violated the rights of a man it had interned for three years without trial or any real opportunity to challenge his detention, on vague grounds of security.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    America Now Even Freer; Two More Soldiers Die in Iraq

    July 7, 2011 // Comments Off

    Two more American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb outside the main US base in Baghdad today. Military officials said the bomb at a checkpoint outside Victory Base Camp used armor-piercing explosives known as EFPs, a trademark of Iranian-backed Shiite militia.

    Thursday’s deaths bring to 4471 the number of American troops who have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Enjoy your freedom, citizens.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Advance Praise for We Meant Well

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    From Nathan Hodge, author of Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders:

    “The road to Hell is paved with taxpayer dollars in Peter Van Buren’s account of a misspent year rebuilding Iraq. Abrasive, honest and funny, We Meant Well is an insider’s account of life behind blast walls at the height of the surge.”



    From Congressman Dr. Ron Paul:

    “We Meant Well is a must-read, first-hand account of our disastrous occupation of Iraq. Its lively writing style will appeal to a wide audience.”






    From James Spione, Director, Incident in New Baghdad:


    “Peter Van Buren’s searing first-hand testimony is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the true depths of the disaster we created in Iraq.

    With startling candor and mordant wit, Van Buren lays it all out there: the colossal waste and fraud, the clueless hubris, the banal bureaucratic ineptitude of our efforts to “reconstruct” a country with pet projects and plans that have little chance of success in a land where the underlying institutions and infrastructure have been so thoroughly destroyed.

    A fascinating, heartbreaking, hilarious and moving account of our American Empire at work.”




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    Posted in Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

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