Even as the number of US troops in Iraq continues to (slowly) decline, the State Department is cranking up its headcount such that in many parts of Iraq the number of official Americans is actually increasing.
The number of Americans in Basra will actually increase significantly in the months ahead as the State Department dramatically expands its consulate. Officials say the consulate will employ more than 1,200 people, making it larger than most embassies. The bulk of its employees will be security contractors and civilian officials from the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
The US consulate in Erbil will be even bigger, with eventually at least 1,400 people, including more than 100 troops.
The World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad easily retains its title, adding another couple of thousand USG employees to Team Iraq.
The US Mission in China, country with a quarter of the world’s population and a double-digit percentage of American debt, muddles by with something like half an Iraqi consulate’s worth of staff. Same for other important Embassies in the UK, Japan, Moscow, never mind smaller places without Muslims we stopped caring about when the Cold War faded away.
Given that most of the State employees in Iraq will be contractors, at $200,000+ a year in salary, or diplomats who cost close to $500,000 to maintain and support (although they make much less than contractors in actual pay) and you’re talking billions and billions of Ameros just to pay salaries.
Which begs the question: what (or, WTF) will all those people do in Iraq? What are their jobs? What does the US need from them so badly that we’re in hock again to pay for it? What remains so special about Iraq that it needs resources so far in excess of China, Russia, or even Afghanistan?
Sorry, a bit of a trick question, because I don’t know.
I can’t conceive of what all those folks will do, except perhaps write memos to each other, provide support for memo writers and of course, security for memo writers. After eight years of war heading into a ninth, Iraq still remains so unsafe that an American cannot drive, never mind walk, the streets.
Which brings it all home. Under such conditions, exactly what are all those State Department people going to do in Iraq? Is this in fact the long-sought Obama jobs program?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The New York Times today featured my Op-Ed in both its online and New York print editions.
I wrote, in part:
On Saturday, control of the United States mission in Iraq will formally pass from the military to the State Department. But after eight years of war, Iraq is still plagued by corruption, sectarianism and violence. And after a year spent in the desert outside Baghdad as the leader of two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams, I don’t have much faith that the department can turn things around. We closed down our operations last September as part of normalizing relations, and I am still haunted by the Iraqis we left behind. No matter the strategic value of the war, our legacy will be written in those human lives.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
I had the pleasure of taping an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition. The questions were quite good, and we covered some of the funny parts of the book as well as the serous stuff. The interview will air on Saturday, October 1.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
I didn’t plan it this way, but I ended up with three articles on ForeignPolicy.com today. Take a look if you have a chance.
In the interest of a fair and balanced portrayal of things, here is one comment received by ForeignPolicy about my Iran article:
After 1 year as a PRT team leader in Iraq you seem to think you are an expert. You cannot have it both ways, claim “The work was done by amateurs like me, sent to Iraq on one-year tours without guidance or training” and provide analysis of Iraq and be expect to be taken seriously. While of course some of your conclusions are accurate, (the sun shines on a dogs ass occasionally too), the rationale behind them provided here clearly demonstrates that although you were in Iraq for a year, judging by this piece you could have never been there and are merely regurgitating highlights from the latest SIGIR quarterly report.
Those of us who have put in real time (much more than 1 year), and REAL effort, and continue to do so, can see right through your “analysis” errrr.. attempt to pander to media outlets and grab a headline in order to promote yourself and your book. Whether it is your ridiculous self-promotional photo, or your half-baked writing style, it is clear that you, like so many other FSOs hitting the 20 year mark, are interested in improving your post-Department prospects and instead of doing real work to improve conditions, whether in Washington or Baghdad, you are now taking the easy way out. Enjoy your 15, I mean 14 minutes of “fame”.
Go for it. More power to you.
Once you’ve come and gone, those of us who are determined not to give up on correcting mistakes made by your generation will still be striving to get these things right, and not throwing up our hands and allowing failure to happen on our watch, and simply point the finger at the other guy.
So Mom, c’mon, stop writing in to web sites about me…
After the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) interrogated me twice over a link on my blog to a Wikileaks document already posted elsewhere on the web, I said some unkind things about the folks at DS. Actually I called them bullies.
But, the record will show, I did not call them child porn lovers or Chinese spies. In fact, I used the made-up example that while a link to Wikileaks was not the disclosure of classified information, putting a Top Secret document under one’s coat and handing it to the Chinese would be disclosure.
Anyway, now I don’t have to call anyone at DS a child porn lover. The FBI has done it for me.
The Smoking Gun discloses that an FBI sting operation last month snared a Department of State diplomatic security officer, according to court records. James Cafferty, 45, who was stationed at the US Embassy in London, was named in an August 29 felony complaint charging him with possession of child pornography. His name and phone are on the Smoking Gun site, so I’m not outing an alleged DS child molester here.
According to the disclosures by the FBI, Cafferty first came to the attention of federal agents in the course of a probe of a “criminal organization” that operated 18 separate web sites selling access to child pornography. The probe revealed that Cafferty had used his PayPal account to pay for access to five of those web sites. At least two of Cafferty’s PayPal charges date back to October 2006. Cafferty reportedly confessed to using his PayPal account to purchase subscriptions to about 10 child porn web sites. He also admitted to “having approximately 10,000 to 15,000 files of child pornography” and accessing the FBI undercover web site.
There was no mention of how many State Department employees in London Cafferty hassled over peaks at Wikileaks whilst peaking himself.
As for spying on behalf of the Chinese, the FBI comes through again.
Bryan Underwood, a former contract guard working at a US Consulate in China, has been charged with one count of attempting to communicate national defense information to a foreign government, two counts of making false statements, and one count of failing to appear in court pursuant to his conditions of release.
Rest easy diplomats. DS has your back. Just watch them around your kids.
Note: To save you same few people from writing in, I acknowledge that the majority of DS employees are good people, who do their jobs honorably, and, until recently at least, have treated me fairly. It is possible that some of the DS people who have treated me like they were bullies feel bad about being used as tools to beat up on me because the Department does not like my book, Wikileaks or free speech. I get that, you don’t need to write again. If it makes you feel better, I’ll re-read your old emails tonight. And yes, I have tried, as several suggested, to go f*ck myself, but it is just not possible. Maybe when I was younger. For the one writer who has physically threatened me, yes, yes, if we met outside of work I am sure you could show me a thing or two. I am not a good fighter, you’ll win.
For the person who wrote some very unkind things from a State Department work computer whose IP address resolves to a DS office (don’t they teach you this stuff in security class?), I am sure someone will follow up on my formal complaint sometime this century, but I wouldn’t say you need to clean out your desk this week.
Just like fashion, if you hang on long enough, things come around full circle. Just like Qaddafi– 1980′s super villain freak, 2009 sticky handed friend of Condi Rice.
Just as a reminder, in the 1980′s Saddam was our pal (shown here with a dapper Don Rumsfeld).
And of course everybody’s favorite freedom fighters of the 1980′s the Taliban, shown here with ace face Ronnie Reagan.
Here is the full text of my article from today’s Foreign Policy.
I never intended to create this much trouble.
Two years ago I served 12 months in Iraq as a Foreign Service Officer, leading a Provincial Reconstruction Team. I had been with the State Department for some 21 years at that point, serving mostly in Asia, but after what I saw in the desert — the waste, the lack of guidance, the failure to really do anything positive for the country we had invaded in 2003 — I started writing a book. One year ago I followed the required procedures with State for preclearance (no classified documents, that sort of thing), received clearance, and found a publisher. Six months ago the publisher asked me to start a blog to support the book.
And then, toward the end of the summer, the wrath of Mesopotamia fell on me. The Huffington Post picked up one of my blog posts, which was seen by someone at State, who told someone else and before you know it I had morphed into public enemy number one — as if I had started an al Qaeda franchise in the Foggy Bottom cafeteria. My old travel vouchers were studied forensically, and a minor incident from my time in Iraq was blown up into an international affair. One blog post from late August that referenced a Wikileaks document already online elsewhere got me called in for interrogation by Diplomatic Security and accused of disclosing classified information. I was told by Human Resources I might lose my job and my security clearance, and I was ordered to pre-clear every article, blog post, Facebook update, and Tweet from that point out. A Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs wrote, without informing me, directly to my publisher, accusing me in writing of new security violations that had apparently escaped the sharp eyes at Diplomatic Security, and demanded redactions. The publisher refused, citing both the silliness of the actual redactions (everything was already online; one requested redaction came from the movie Black Hawk Down, and another from George Tenet’s memoirs) and the First Amendment.
It seemed kind of sad, kind of desperate, and maybe a little bit unfair. I always took my obligation to protect information seriously, and all my material went through a careful vetting process with the publisher as well as with State to make sure nothing had slipped through.
I wrote about all this on the blog TomDispatch, and before I knew it, the story went viral. I found myself returning calls to the New York Times, the ACLU, Reporters Without Borders, CBS, NPR, and about a million blogs and radio stations. I had hoped to promote the book I had written, which came out yesterday, but the story ended up being about me and the State Department instead.
I never intended this to be a fight against my employer of 23 years, and I never intended to become a poster child for the First Amendment. However, I’m not one to back down when bullied, and I am afraid that in their anger and angst, the Department of State has acted like a bully. In addition to false accusations of security violations, State has used its own internal clearance requirements as a blunt weapon.
The State Department, on paper, does not prohibit blogs, tweets or whatever is invented next. On paper, again, responsible use is called for — a reasonable demand. But this rule must cut both ways — responsible writing on my part, responsible control on State’s part.
And responsible standards for clearance. The department’s “pre-clearance” requirements are totally out of date. Originally designed for a 19th-century publishing model, its leisurely 30-day examination period is incompatible with the requirements of online work, blogs, Facebook, and tweets. But the department has refused to update its rules for the 21st century, preferring instead to use the 30 days to kill anything of a timely nature. What blog post is of value a month after it is written, never mind a tweet?
In addition, the pre-clearance rules are supposed to be specific in their goals: to prevent classified or privacy protected information from going out, stopping info on contracts and procurement, and blocking private writing that seeks to pass itself off as an official statement from the Department. In my case, however, any attempts to pre-clear blog posts ran into the Department of Silly Walks. My bland statements about the military in Iraq made using easily Googleable data were labeled “security risks.” When even those were clipped out, everything I wrote was labeled as possibly being confused with an official statement, even though my writing is peppered with profanity, sarcasm, humor, and funny photos. Say what you want about my writing, but I can’t imagine anyone is confusing it with official State Department public statements. As required, I always include a disclaimer, but the pre-clearance people simply tell me that is not enough, without explaining what might be enough other than just shutting up.
So instead of using pre-clearance as it is on paper, a tool to guard only against improper disclosure with which I have no disagreement, it is used as a form of prior restraint against speech that offends State. Me, in this instance.
We have been battered to death with public statements from the Secretary of State on down demanding the rights of bloggers and journalists in China, Burma and the Middle East be respected. While the State Department does not lock its naughty bloggers in basement prison cells, it does purposefully, willfully, and in an organized way seek to chill the responsible exercise of free speech by its employees. It does this selectively; blogs that promote an on-message theme are left alone (or even linked to by the Department) while blogs that say things that are troublesome or offensive to the Department are bullied out of existence. This is not consistent with the values the State Department seeks to promote abroad. It is not the best of us, and it undermines our message and our mission in every country where we work where people can still read this.
I have a job now at State that has nothing to do with Iraq, something I enjoy and something I am competent at. To me, there is no conflict here. I’d like to keep my job if I can, and in the meantime, I’ll continue to write. I have no need to resign in protest, as I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong absent throwing a few pies at some clowns and bringing to daylight a story that needed to be told, albeit at the cost of some embarrassment to the Department of State. That seems to me compatible with my oath of office, as well as my obligations as a citizen. I hope State comes to agree with me. After all, State asks the same thing of governments abroad, right?
One of the surprising but very nice things to happen as this blog gets some attention is that I have started to receive a lot of emails and comments.
Here’s one that was particularly to the point (I deleted some details to disguise the writer’s identity at her request):
I was a Business Development Advisor at a PRT for three years and shared many of your same experiences.
I found it necessary to work beneath the radar to get anything done. In order to achieve something sustainable (several projects were, in fact, completed and continue to work well but only because they were cast as Iraqi inspired and driven), it was necessary to stay off the Embassy/PRT/OPA radar as far as possible. The successes were pooh-poohed by most in the PRT and Econ chain of command (but the Iraqis loved them).
I enjoyed the years because of the quality of a few of my PRT and Embassy colleagues, and because of my very productive relationships with the Iraqis (although I was accused often of not being “objective,” and even being “anti-American.”)
Good luck, Peter. Am hopeful your reporting and analysis will be a force for positive change because the status quo is poorly managed and badly broken.
The Neocon script for Iraq was clear that the flood of crude oil out of a free Iraq would pay for the war, both in actual costs and as a reward for having the courage to invade. Yeah, I know, that did not work out.
I wrote previously about twelve reasons why Iraq will not be a major oil exporter anytime soon. Let’s have another look at reason no. 7:
Oil Guy said the pipeline to Syria was built “back in the day” and looks like Swiss Cheese, full of holes (and a Scooby snack for the allusion!) The pipeline into Turkey is a bit better but can only handle about twenty percent of the oil, and has not had a full pressure test since 1991. That means eighty percent has to be piped down to the one deep water port Iraq has and shipped out through the Gulf by tanker. Somebody (such as Oil Guy) needs to first build all the piping and terminals and shipping stuff which are not there right now. Of course, that builder needs to be careful, because most of the countries in the neighborhood get their fresh water via desalinization plants that draw from the Gulf. An oil spill in an Iraqi port hastily thrown together would create an ecological and political disaster across the entire region that would make the BP Louisiana Gulf fiasco seem like just more spilled milk no one should cry over…
Unfortunately, today’s news confirms the sad state of Iraq’s oil infrastructure:
Iraq’s oil exports through the main oil pipeline, carrying Iraqi crude through Turkey, have stopped entirely, due to leakage, caused by erosion of the of the main line close to Salahal-Din Province, a source at Iraq’s North Oil Company in Kirkuk reported on Thursday. “Oil exports stopped from Kirkuk since Wednesday morning, across the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, because of a case of leakage of crude oil from the main line,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
This is not the only recent incident.
An explosion at Iraq’s biggest oil field earlier in September sparked a massive fire that partially halted crude production. The blast, which left at least 15 people injured, occurred at a gas compressor at the Rumaila oil field, which runs along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. A maintenance team was changing equipment on the compressor when the explosion happened, causing the fire.
Still wondering why Iraq’s oil output in 2011 is roughly the same as it was in 2003? Best read the entire article.
While Van Buren may be ratcheting up his rhetoric against State over the last 24 hours, he’s been criticizing the department and the U.S. government pretty much ever since he launched his personal blog in April as a supplement to We Meant Well. In one of his first posts, entitled “Bureaucratic Chlamydia,” Van Buren described the “half-assed nature” in which the State Department prepared “people like me to live and work in a war zone.”
A month later, Van Buren noted that while the State Department was spending millions to end web censorship overseas, it was censoring TomDispatch, the site he contributed to, in its own offices because TomDispatch ran content from WikiLeaks. Van Buren’s taken his criticism outside the blog as well. In a piece for TomDispatch in June, for example, he questioned State’s long-term plans for Iraq.
Maybe it is time to rethink 1776 and all that after seeing the reactions to my book.
– I am interrogated by the Department of State for alleged security violations.
– State Department writes to my publisher demanding redactions from the book (we refuse).
– Department of State starts investigation with goal of disciplining me, likely dismissal.
UK Defence Forum, which organizes briefing dinners in the House of Commons for Members of the Commons and the Lords, invites me to London to speak at a dinner in Parliament.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do some interviews, so if any of these radio stations are in your area, please check their listings:
NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” nationwide, taped, to air October 1.
KPOJ-AM, Portland, Live at 10am EST on “Mornings with Carl Wolfson”
KPFK-FM, Los Angeles, Live at 7:40pm EST on “4 o’clock on Wednesdays”
KPFA-FM, Berkeley, taped interview for “Letters and Politics” with Mitch Jeserich
PRI’s The Takeaway, syndicated, taped interview
The ambassador, who fancied himself a sportsman, ordered grass to grow on the large sandy area in front of the main embassy building, a spot at one time designated as a helicopter-landing zone, since relocated. Gardeners brought in tons of dirt and planted grass seed. A nearly endless amount of water was used, but despite clear orders to do so, the grass would not grow.
The ambassador would not admit defeat. He ordered sod be imported into Kuwait and then brought by armored convoy to the embassy. No one confessed to what it cost to import, but estimates varied between two and five million dollars. The sod was put down and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were used to make it live, in what was practically a crime against nature. No matter what Iraq and nature wanted, the American Embassy spent whatever it took to have green grass in the desert.
We made things in Iraq look the way we wanted them to look, water shortages throughout the rest of the country be damned. The grass was the perfect allegory for the whole war.
The State Department has a long history of responding negatively to things in the public sphere that are anything short of complimentary, a vengeful side for employees who violate omerta, and no tolerance for critical discussion. They also really lack a sense of humor.
So it was with some interest that I found what looks like State Department press guidance being used as a snot rag by some homeless guy at the Foggy Bottom Metro station this morning. I can’t speak to its authenticity (best check Wikileaks in a few days) and the Department will neither confirm nor deny nor cover their nose while sneezing…
PRESS GUIDANCE – WE MEANT WELL – BY THAT SOB
– Mr. Van Buren is a disgruntled employee/ex-employee and his remarks are his own. (If asked: don’t believe anything he says, he’d rather work at Walmart)
– We have not read Mr. Van Buren’s remarks and thus have no comment (hope the news cycle makes this all go away)
– We’ll have a toady write a “personal” Op-Ed that we’ll force some newspaper to publish as our snappy comeback in a week or two. Look for that.
– We disagree with Mr. Van Buren’s assessment. The proud men and women of the military and the Department of State deserve better (wave flag until commercial)
– We have no comment but to wish Mr. Van Buren well on his new venture (imply he got fired for cause)
– Mr. Van Buren was a low-level employee without access to the events and information he claims to have knowledge of (so take that loser!)
– No comment (but leak to someone that Van Buren is a crazy man, years of bad behavior, should’ve been dropped a long time ago, really off the rails, Diplomatic Security has had their eye on him for years, he just made this up to get money for his meth habit, his mother poses for Crack Whore Magazine…)
The Net is abuzz today with the irony, that Peter Van Buren, a 23-year foreign service officer with the U.S Department of State, may be the only department personnel to be fired over the WikiLeaks’ scandal. Van Buren, who just published the book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Iraqi People this week, relayed in a powerful column at TomDispatch this morning how he was called in, interrogated and accused of disclosing classified material. His crime? Embedding links to WikiLeaked cables in a post on his personal blog.
The State Department is going after the messenger, but we need to keep a laser focus on the message: that our post-invasion efforts to “reconstruct” Iraq in the name of “counterinsurgency” has been a gigantic failure, the proportions of which we will still be measuring for years to come.
Thanks for your interest in my book. I’m sorry that some of it is not to your liking and that you have formally requested in a letter to the publisher redactions of embarrassing information freely available online (including info from a scene in Black Hawk Down, great movie), but I want to find a way to make it right. Here’s an idea– don’t say no yet, think it over.
Let’s look at how the Department of Defense used some taxpayer moolah. The Defense Intelligence Agency tried to stop Americans from reading former Army Intelligence Officer Anthony Shaffer’s book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory. The Defense Department spent nearly $50,000 of your taxpayer money (ka-ching!) to buy up and destroy the first printing of the book. A subsequent printing redacted all sorts of information, including the fact that the author’s pseudonym, Chris Stryker, was John Wayne’s character in the 1949 film, Sands of Iwo Jima (also a great flick).
So here’s the offer. I know that State’s budget is not nearly as big as DOD’s. So, you agree to buy the first printing of my book, and I’ll do my best to negotiate with the publisher to get you a wholesale rate. You list up your redactions, and then we’ll reprint without the Black Hawk Down thingie. I personally promise to not put my unredacted copies on eBay. I already mailed one to my Mom (Hi Mom!), so that one is off the table, yeah? Deal????? I didn’t use a macho pseudonym like “Stryker,” so you have some savings right there.
The story of my interrogation by the State Department, over a link dating from August on my blog to a Wikileaks document already on the web (I was accused of disclosing classified information because of the link!) is all over the web.
If you have not read it at TomDispatch, or are a State Department employee blocked by a firewall from reading TomDispatch, you can still see the article on a growing number of mirrors:
Are words really that scary? Did I set fire to the flag using a cute puppy soaked in gasoline? Did I step on a tiger’s tail?
The State Department has done a number of things to try and prevent me from publishing my book, and threatened, promised or suggested they will do more. The book is on sale now, today, so they have turned to seeking to punish me as an example to others; easier to stop books that are never written.
We’ll focus on only one action at this time (if you want more, have a look at TomDispatch). We’ll take the Department’s word for it that the sudden review of my old travel vouchers from early 2009 (guess what, not in my favor so I had to repay $$$ to the government) is just a coincidence, that after years this week they just decided to take a look.
Almost two years ago, on nearly my first day as a PRT Team Leader in Iraq, I chose not to sign off on a $25,000 project to provide free sheep to five Iraqi widows. This story makes up part of a chapter in my book, “Sheep for Widows.” I felt the project was poorly conceived and would waste taxpayer/your $25,000 without furthering the US’ efforts to rebuild Iraq. Upset because I had pissed on their fire, the contractors involved in the project got together and complained to the Embassy that I raised my voice at them, even supposedly making one battle-hardened veteran contractor cry. I claim it didn’t happen that way, the contractors said it did.
As for the Sheep for Widows project itself, curiously, my boss, and later his own boss, did not overrule me as they could have, and the project was never funded.
Now, almost two years later, the State Department is still pursuing this supposed “raising of one’s voice” as a “discipline case” against me, claiming of course that it has nothing to do with this book.
Nope, nothing at all.
Just like the travel voucher review.
Despite the ultimate penalty for my misconduct being nothing but a “Letter of Reprimand” more worthy of Ferris Bueller, the State Department sent an investigator all the way from Washington to Baghdad to gather evidence. The investigator, since one of the contractors to whom a voice was allegedly raised was female, thought that I might have thus committed sexual harassment, and pursued the charge with zeal. She interviewed only the people who had made accusations. Despite requests by me that she also interview other witnesses, perhaps some who were not complainants, she did not.
Ironically, the investigator works for the Office of Civil Rights, S/OCR, which reports directly to the Secretary of State herself, Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is a lot of juice being applied to a a pretty minor thing, even if true (it’s not).
With the exception of my Iraq boss (who said in writing that the ambiguous he said/she said matter had been settled with a stern talking-to saying “get along”), everyone the investigator talked to was a contractor whose one-year-at-a-time $250,000+ contracts depended on the State Department’s regular renewals. One of the contractors, scheduled at first to be let go, instead had a contract renewed after the investigation commenced. Despite the “incident” taking maybe five minutes of real time in 2009, the investigator came up with 77 questions for me to answer under oath, this part of the several hundred page Report of Investigation (ROI). The Department has assigned a team of lawyers you’re paying for to depose me yet again on these identical questions because, well, they can.
When I objected to the ROI in a formal grievance, the State Department assigned the same lawyer prosecuting me for the alleged raising of a voice to review the grievance that sought to throw out the interviews that formed the basis of all charges. This essentially means that the prosecutor was allowed to rule on a motion to throw out the evidence that forms her own case. When I objected to this as a bit biased and unfair, I was told to shut up, it was OK, by a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), backed up by the Director General of the Foreign Service, the chief HR Officer for the whole Department of State.
To give you a sense of how much effort the State Department is spending on this case, have a look just at their filing just to try and prevent a short delay in the procedures (Dept Resp to Motion for Stay).
But as we stand today, even the State Department couldn’t figure out a way to make an alleged raised voice in the midst of a shooting war grounds for sexual harassment, so I was found guilty of the catch-all of “misconduct.” When I tried to appeal that decision, I was told that I could not ask more than 30 questions of the entire world of people in my defense, and that the State Department would first have to approve those questions in advance. One of the key witnesses ignored by State, a soldier, has died in the interim and can no longer testify on my behalf. Yeah, we thought it too, Kafkaesque.
The effect is chilling.
The State Department only interviewed people who had accused me and who had a clear financial incentive to side with the Department. The State Department refused to interview anyone else. They then found me guilty, and will only allow me a scant few emasculated questions. This shuts out of the process most of the people who might help establish my side of the story.
It essentially assures a guilty verdict every time by eliminating the defense.
No court would allow that, but State treats the employees it does not like that way, just like back when Uncle Joe McCarthy turned his wrath on the Department itself with similar tactics. They learn slow in Foggy Bottom, but they do learn.
The State Department does business this way, and everyone should know that.
Also, please note that the State Department has expended over 1000 personnel hours and the cost of a round-trip to Iraq for the investigator in pursuing a case whose absolute worst possible outcome is a simple Letter of Reprimand. Oh yeah—that investigator, the one who refused to interview neutral witnesses, remember she works for the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights. Ironic.
The book is out.
Congress, as it makes its budget decisions, should be aware of how State chooses to use its limited resources. Really, bullying is kind of immature for a Cabinet agency.
Is the juice worth the squeeze Hillary? They work for you. Is this the public image you want for your agency, because it is the image your staff is creating.
My thanks to The Takeaway for a great interview this morning. If you missed it live, please have a listen to the podcast version, now online.
Just like America, Iraq faces a crumbling infrastructure and a corrupt, ineffectual legislative process. The International Crisis Group says (of Iraq) that “public services continue to be plagued by severe deficiencies, notably widespread corruption… Parliament is hopelessly sectarian and the judicial system is highly vulnerable to political pressure…”
And just like America, instead of facing its problems, Iraq is spending its cash on more weapons. In this instance, some three billion dollars worth of US F-16 fighter jets. Lockheed, who builds the aircraft and who will be on the receiving end of the money rush, said in a statement it was “pleased by the announcement that the governments of Iraq and the United States” have agreed on the sale. The company added it welcomes Iraq “as the 26th nation to operate the F-16.” Along with “Fast and Furious” movies, weapons are one of the US’ last remaining popular exports.
No money for water, sewers, power, schools, but all the dinero Lockheed can swallow for weapons. America and Iraq, like father, like son.
Well, it’s not the cover of the Rolling Stone (that’s gotta wait for my album, which has to wait until I learn to sing), but the nice folks at Rolling Stone interviewed me about the book, and you can read the results online now.
Take a look at Losing the Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq.
Stone also has an excerpt you can read.
Someone said to me “Why should we believe what you’ve written in your book? You paint a dark picture of Iraq, a veritable failure of American foreign policy, when the White House and Dave Petraeus say things are pretty good over there. Who is right? Inquiring minds want to know.”
Well, the White House is right, I have to admit. As you know, Iraq is a thriving democracy, cited by people all across the Middle East, nee, the world, as a symbol of democracy. Tourists flock to visit Iraq, McDonalds will no doubt open a first franchise there, and Tom Friedman and George W. Bush recently honeymooned in Baghdad.
Well, it seems widespread corruption throughout Iraq’s government has hampered development, resulting in slow improvement of public services, the International Crisis Group said in a report published on Monday. The Brussels-based organisation’s sharp criticism comes around two weeks after Iraq’s anti-corruption chief stepped down, citing political interference in his work and describing graft “as part of the struggle for power.” The report said:
Public services continue to be plagued by severe deficiencies, notably widespread corruption, which spread like a virus throughout state institutions during the years of lawlessness… Iraq’s anti-corruption institutions has been hampered by government interference, intransigence and manipulation, a deficient legal framework and ongoing threats of violence… Parliament is hopelessly sectarian and the judicial system is highly vulnerable to political pressure… The fight over stealing the money of the state and its property is the unspoken part of the struggle for power in Iraq today…
Play Somewhere Else
As if we needed another sign that Iraq is an insecure, dangerous nightmare, Iraq will have to play all its home qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup and next year’s London Olympics at a neutral venue due to fears over security, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said. In a letter sent to the Iraq Football Association (IFA), FIFA raised concerns over security conditions and a breach of safety regulations in their qualifier with Jordan earlier this month, according to an AFC statement.
In completely unrelated news, an average three of every five widows in Iraq have lost their husbands due to violent acts committed after the country’s occupation in 2003, Relief International reported. “The study by Los Angeles-based Relief International found that about 10 percent of the estimated 15 million women who live in Iraq are widows. Among them, 59 percent have lost their husbands during the U.S.-led war,” Fox News Agency reported. “The study warned that criminal gangs and terrorist groups might try to recruit desperate widows, and that ignoring their suffering could lead them to prostitution, drugs and terrorism,” it continued.
Need a Drink
Also, one fifth of Iraqis do not have access to suitable drinking water, a figure that almost doubles in the rural areas. Only 66 percent of the people have garbage collection service in the country, while only 8 percent of the rural areas get service.
Yet More War
Meanwhile, Turkish warplanes have resumed their raids against northern Iraq’s Kurdistan border areas on the villages of Qandil Mountain, causing terror among their inhabitants and material damage to their properties, eyewitnesses said.
Shine on, Iraq, shine on.
It was a great honor to tape an interview with Dave Davies of NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this week. The interview is running now, on Monday, September 26, and via podcast after that. Check listings to see when it will be played on your local station. The podcast version will be online after 5pm EST September 26.
NPR is also running an excerpt from the book, as well as some commentary from their own staff about what I wrote and said. Take a look at The Greedy Battle for Iraq’s Hearts and Minds.
Dave asked a lot of excellent questions, walking me through some of the more interesting chapters in the book. If you haven’t decided whether to buy the book or not, I think this interview will give you the information you need to know if this read is right for you. I managed to make Dave laugh a few times as well; it was a fun interview and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
My thanks to the ever-important Small Wars Journal for publishing an article I wrote on how civilians can better interact with our military. Snark (mostly) aside, this is a practical piece, based on the million and one errors I made when first embedded with the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq.
State’s so-called “training” for its officers assigned to military embed positions as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team Program is documented in an excerpt from my book you can read elsewhere on this site. For those pressed for time, the short version is that there was no practical training given. Unless one was lucky enough to have had some military experience, good luck. I certainly practiced more diplomacy and cross-cultural skills inside the wire learning about how to interface with the military than I did outside with the Iraqis.
I was also lucky, in that the men and women of the 10th Mountain somehow figured out I was sincere in my desire to learn and not just overly stupid. They taught me a lot about working effectively together, and I tried to capture some of those ideas in the Small Wars Journal article. If you’re headed out to work with the military, take a look at my list and see if it helps you prepare.
Ever-faithful Ms. Sparky tells all:
A former member of the U.S. Army employed by a private security firm was arrested at Miami International Airport today on charges of bribery, fraud and theft of government funds, in connection with the award of a contract to provide services to a U.S. government provincial reconstruction team in Farah, Afghanistan.
Raul Borcuta was arrested when he tried to enter the United States from Europe. Upon Borcuta’s arrest, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois unsealed a nine-count indictment charging Borcuta and his co-conspirators, Zachery Taylor and Jared Close, with mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, bribery and theft of government funds.
According to the indictment, Borcuta, 32, defrauded the U.S. government in connection with a contract to provide two up-armored sport utility vehicles to be used by an official in the government of Farah Province, Afghanistan, who had received death threats from insurgent groups. The indictment alleges that Borcuta bribed U.S. Army contracting officials Taylor, 40, and Close, 40, with $10,000 each to award him the contract and to make full payment to Borcuta before the vehicles were delivered. Taylor and Close, formerly U.S. Army staff sergeants assigned to the provincial reconstruction team in Farah, allegedly authorized a payment of approximately $200,000 in U.S. government funds to Borcuta. According to the indictment, Borcuta received the payment and never delivered the vehicles required by the contract.
So, a little summary: our stalwart Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan paid out $200,000 to buy two armored SUVs to GIVE to some Afghan warlord who had received death threats. That alone is obscene. Hey, USG, buy me a $100,000 SUV– you should see the hate mail I get through this blog!
It is almost as if the three guys stealing the cash for themselves was redundant.
For today’s whacky Afghan corruption report, we welcome special guest Sidharth “Tony” Handa. “Tony” is a decorated former Army captain, who was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for taking more than $300,000 in bribes from Afghan contractors, a scheme the government called the largest bribery case to be prosecuted related to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. “Largest” meaning as of today, as I am sure there is more to come.
“Tony”, of Charlotte, N.C., who somehow received the Bronze Star for his non-bribed service in Afghanistan, was arrested earlier this year. He had been targeted in an undercover sting in which Handa agreed to help a purported heroin dealer who had promised to help Handa collect additional bribe payments he believed were owed to him. The smack dealer would supply the muscle, Handa would collect the green. According to federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., Handa was assigned to help coordinate reconstruction projects in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He solicited $1.3 million in bribes and received $315,000, which he split with an interpreter. A generous guy!
“From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case was prosecuted. “His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted.”
Otherwise, yeah, we’re still winning in Afghanistan. The show, now entering its 11th year, is scheduled to last for America as long as the Chinese will pay for it, and as long as proud Americans like “Tony” are willing to step up and serve their country. Hoooo-rah!
A pair of State Department briefings in connection with the UN General Assembly meetings in New York in recent days suggest President Barack Obama’s drive to bring more transparency to the U.S. government is, well, a work in progress.
Obama is proudly touting a new open government partnership, a group of 30 countries committing to greater transparency and to share best practices on making government more accessible to the public. However, journalists could not hope but note the irony when State Department officials insisted that a briefing Monday on the new effort be conducted on an anonymous basis, meaning the officials involved could not be identified by name in news stories.
“Has it struck anyone as odd to [hold] a briefing about open government and transparency on background?” one journalist asked during the session. “Why is that necessary?”
“Just so you understand this, we have to explain why officials are speaking anonymously,” a flabbergasted reporter said. “To write a story talking about U.S. officials anonymously plugging an Obama initiative for open government just – it makes – I’m sorry.”
That just says so much about State, where innovation is supposedly a new organizational goal. Clearly the only thing taking place are new, innovative methods of risk avoidance. They are practically at the point of needing an Intervention.
I’d try and contact State for a comment, but I hate to see grown adults break down in tears and run into the bathroom.
Still not sure about buying the book?
Here’s a full chapter, 14 page We Meant Well Excerpt to read to see if you like it.
When the Green Bay Packers visited the White House a few weeks ago to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl title, linebacker Desmond Bishop wasn’t with his teammates. He had forgotten his drivers license on the plane and without ID, was not allowsed past White House security.
Really? Through the action of refusing entry to this semi-celebrity, the president was safer?
I write this after a bought of air travel. We lined up, took off our shoes, were chastised for not pulling a laptop out of our bag while Kindles, smart phones and all matter of electronic stuff flowed through unmolested. We watched a befuddled older woman get pulled aside for having a 4 ounce tube of lotion (3 ounces is the allowed amount) in her bag. She was searched, told she was a bad person and then allowed to travel with the evil extra ounce as some sort of benevolent gift. Others had to drink their water or have it thrown away. There was a bin full of toothpaste and sunscreen in evil amounts.
As we pass the 10th “anniversary” of 9/11, and count our soldier deaths in the thousands, and the number of people we have killed in the hundreds of thousands, it is worth a moment’s reflection before the media hyper drive takes off to think about what we have become. It seems to be one thing to be defeated by a bad guy, another altogether to have defeated ourselves. Yeah, bin Laden’s dead, along with the ever-long list of Number 2′s and 3′s and couriers and significant Taliban commanders, but in a way, so is a piece of us. George W. Obama. It’s a mug’s deal.
The inside-the-Beltway must-read blog Diplopundit posted a review of We Meant Well.
The writer had some nice things to say:
It’s easy to see why the folks in Foggy Bottom will be none to pleased with the stories in this book.
Learning from one’s mistakes is one of life’s most important skills. And if we are really serious about learning the mistakes of nation building in Iraq, Peter Van Buren’s book should be required reading not just for decision makers but for everyone heading to those PRT gigs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan and where ever else it is we are conducting reconstruction and stabilization efforts these days.
In addition to being an engaging storyteller, the author was smart enough not to fill his book with too much government jargon and acronyms that you need a dictionary just to read it. People back home, if they’d bother to pick up the book will find it a fast read. It is also a book that will be a helpful addition to our understanding of what is wrong in Iraq, provided that we care and want to know. For the plenty squeezed and suffering American taxpayers, this would be a hard book to read.
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