• Archive for November, 2011

    US Sells 21 Tons of Tear Gas to Egypt

    November 30, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    Many naysayers whine about how the US does not manufacture things anymore, that we do not export products like we used to, negatively affecting our economy while we buy more and more plastic crap from China.

    Well, let this be a lesson to them: the US just exported 21 tons of tear gas to Egypt.

    So suck on that, naysayers. Sure, the Chinese may make our Ipods and the Koreans our snazzy Hyundais, but nobody– NOBODY– makes tear gas like we do in the U.S. of A. The Egyptian government, military thugs that they are, could have bought their 21 tons of tear gas anywhere in the world, maybe saved a few bucks with some no-name tear gas from Asia, but they chose to Buy American. When you need the gear to control a democratic movement in your streets, you don’t pinch pennies, you buy the best, dammit.

    The tear gas is made by the few Americans actually left with jobs in Pennsylvania, in this case working for Combined Tactical Systems. In addition to tear gas, these guys also make a whole array of “non-lethal projectiles” and riot munitions, along with the weapons to fire them and handy accessories. Perfect for busting up your favorite “Occupy” site. Check out their “Tear Ball Multi-Effect Grenades,” which disperse hard rubber pellets and tear gas, suitable for indoor or outdoor use! They also sell those pepper spray spray devices like the UC Davis cop famously used.

    Check out their catalog, full of amazing things to harm people with. The company’s slogan is perfect Orwellian-speak for the Egyptian military leaders– A Force for Order.

    Oh yeah, in Egypt, five dock workers refused to assist in the tear gas import but some other guys went ahead and did it anyway.

    Remember, this Christmas, for your non-lethal democracy control needs, BUY AMERICAN MADE.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    TV Interview: Democracy Now!

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    Democracy Now was kind enough to interview me this morning, about changes in Iraq and the State Department’s future there.

    Please have a look at the full ten minute segment online now, or on a later rebroadcast on a local station near you.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Can we make a deal on VIP visits to Iraq?

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    Yes, your man’s man in Washington, Joe “The Stick” Biden, made another unannounced visit to Iraq yesterday.

    According to the New York Times, Biden’s visit to Iraq was kept secret, his “itinerary cloaked in heavy security.”

    The Times by the way was stuck in full-on stenographer mode, merely copying down White House talking points with phrases such as “Landing after nightfall in a military transport plane, a mode of arrival that American officials hope will soon seem like a relic of a distant era” and “Mr. Biden… developed a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of Iraq’s tribal politics and speaks with relish about its tangled feuds and rivalries.” It concludes “But it is the pageantry of the visit that will capture the most attention. On behalf of President Obama, Mr. Biden is scheduled to take part in a solemn ceremony thanking American service members for their sacrifices and saluting the Iraqi troops now responsible for safeguarding their nation’s security.”

    Memo to NYT: You only embarrass yourself when you write like that. Please Google “critical thinking” and “obvious stooge-like tool” and do the former. Jeez.

    Anyway, here’s the deal: No American VIP is allowed to use the words “victory,” “accomplishment” or any synonyms thereof unless s/he is willing to announce their trip to Iraq in advance and land in daylight hours. As long as the country is still so unsafe that VIP visits can’t be discussed publicly ahead of time and planes can’t land in the daytime, let’s just not talk about victory. Deal?

    For those already too cynical to enjoy such sarcasm, may I propose a drinking game as a fun alternative? Between now and the end of the year, any time Obama or another Washington VIP says anything about success, victory or accomplishment in Iraq, drink grain alcohol until you fall asleep on the couch. And bring some over to my place because I’ll be drinking too.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Short Interview with Press TV

    November 29, 2011 // Comments Off

    A short interview with Press TV about the First Amendment:

    “We see that in the efforts to bust up the Occupy Wall Street protests, we see that in acts of parts of the Patriot Act and more recently we’ve seen it in government’s attempts to stifle the free speech rights of its own employees,” Van Buren told Press TV’s U.S. Desk on Monday.

    Listen to the entire interview online.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Wikileaks: So What’s the Fuss?

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    In his first court appearance, Bradley Manning’s lawyer says that three separate reviews of the “damage” done by Wikileaks show that, well, not much damage was done.

    The attorney is seeking public release of damage assessments prepared by the White House, the Defense Department and the State Department.

    One of the reports requested is a comprehensive White House review that he said details “the rather benign nature of the leaks and the lack of any real damage to national security.” He also asked for a report on a State Department review that he said reached similar conclusions.

    Reuters reports that State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.

    Yes, State, what did ever happen to that big-time intra-Departmental Wikileaks Task Force you put together? Did it just… fade… away?

    Also sought was a report on a Defense Intelligence Agency review of the WikiLeaks documents from July 29, 2010. “Specifically, the damage assessment concluded that all of the information allegedly leaked was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already commonly understood and known due to previous public disclosures,” Manning’s lawyer wrote.

    The Pentagon said in October 2010 that a special task force led by the Defense Intelligence Agency had combed the posted reports to determine what might have been compromised. A Pentagon spokesman said then that the review supported the military’s initial assessment that the materials didn’t include the most sensitive kinds of information but still posed a risk to national security.

    So just checking, and please write if you noticed that the United States had collapsed, or anyone got killed, because of a Wikileaks document. Please be specific. The damn things have been out and around for close to two years, so by now there should be some blood on the floor the Government can point to.

    Or maybe most of the secrets compromised were just the embarrassing kind, like the one that got my security clearance suspended by State’s Stasi-in-waiting, Diplomatic Security?

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    New York Cops

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    Over the weekend I re-found my DVDs of the The Concert For New York City. The Concert was a benefit that took place on October 20, 2001 at Madison Square Garden in New York City in response to the September 11 attacks. It was an attempt to honor the first responders from the New York Fire and Police Departments, their families, and those lost in the attacks.

    Performer after performer singled out individual members of the NYPD to thank them, and famous rock stars competed with each other to wear police caps that were thrown on stage. It was a very warm, very moving show, as many of the performers and all of the cops lived in New York and shared a sense of tragedy, place and survival. The cops were us, we were the cops.

    Then I made the mistake of hitting the news, which showed scenes from Occupy Wall Street, where those same NYPD “heroes” from 9/11 were acting like storm troopers to clear peaceful protesters out of Zuchotti Park.

    If anyone needed an image of how far things had changed after ten years of warring, there it is.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Applying for the Old Foreign Service

    November 28, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Here’s an entertaining piece by Olya Thompson about applying for the old Foreign Service. At that time the Department of State was actively discriminating against women, a matter that took many years of court proceedings to resolve.

    (In 1985, 80% of the Foreign Service “professional staff” was male, and 72.5% was white male. Twenty years later, in 2005, the male/female ratio was 66/34, and white males constituted 54% of the total.)

    Here’s an excerpt from that post:

    Now I am told that no matter how hard I could have tried back then or how well I could have presented myself, it wouldn’t have made any difference. The interview was biased. I was wasting my time. Those objective-looking numerical scores I got turn out to have been a product of a very discriminatory process.

    I cannot say I ever suspected a bias. The Foreign Service officers who interviewed me, all much older than I, seemed knowledgeable and professional. I was treated with coutesy and respect. There were no inappropriate questions or comments. The distribution of candidates seemed to imply that men and women were being treated equally. I did note there was only one woman among the interviewers, but I figured that ratio was changing as more women like me pursued professional goals.

    I am left wondeing about this government that tells me now what its polite and couteous officials who still control access to power and jobs must have known and deliberately decided 10 years ago: That they were not hiring women. That we were merely being put through the paces. I am left wondering why, in this bureaucratic game of hot potato, I am the one left holding this letter that lays bare the disturbing consequences of their actions.

    Read the entire piece online.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Iraq: Car Bomb Inside Green Zone is Bad News

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    Of the two large explosions (so far) today in Iraq, it is the one that killed fewer people that is the most significant.

    The more deadly blast took place when a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle near the main entrance of Hout prison in Taji north of Baghdad as family members gathered to visit inmates. An interior ministry official said 13 people were killed and 28 wounded by the blast.

    It is generally a bad thing when bad guys can get an explosive-laden car that close to a government facility… which is why the second attack matters more.

    An Iraqi member of parliament was wounded and at least two other people were killed in an explosion near parliament in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. A defence ministry official said three people were killed and four wounded by an explosion in a parliament parking area, but said that “it is not clear if it was a car bomb or a mortar shell.”

    Liz Sly, a long-time Baghdad veteran reporter for the Washington Post, confirmed via Twitter that it was a car bomb.

    The importance of the event is that a car bomber made it into the Green Zone, bypassing whatever passes for Iraqi security there these days. Hot times to come for the World’s Largest Embassy (c) there in the Zone.

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    Should I Join the Foreign Service?


    Before having my beard shaved off and being shunned, my position was at the State Department’s Board of Examiners, where for over a year since returning from Iraq I administered the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service Officers. I was more or less competent at the task, got a good performance review and, after a year on the job, it was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there. Something vague about not suddenly having judgement anymore, like losing one’s mojo I guess.

    So, I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, since my book came out, ironically more people now approach me with the same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.

    What I tell them is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career and be successful. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time, years, if ever. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or whatever your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation go away with a “happy ending,” whatever that even is.

    At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military?

    Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/under employed most of his/her life. Your kids will change schools for better or worse every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss the politically-appointed Ambassador can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the President’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

    It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment.

    In the universe where you’ll work, the US will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an Empire role after World War II, we never built the tools of Empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American the people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon.

    America faced a choice and blew it. As an Empire, we either needed to take control of the world’s oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.

    Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.

    For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable none the less. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle. You can be a part of that if you’d like to join the Foreign Service.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Freedom War Update: Post-Black Friday Edition

    November 27, 2011 // Comments Off

    Because many people have been tied up with shopping, over eating and leftovers, here is a quick war update. Please put down your forks and over-extended credit cards for a moment. We won’t be long.

    Iraq continues to represent the vision of two American presidents who apparently had nothing better to do than invade and occupy the place because, hey, why not? On Saturday, seven people were killed and 28 others wounded when three roadside bombs exploded mid-morning in the busy Bab al-Sharji commercial district of central Baghdad. Another six men died and 10 others were injured when a roadside bomb hit a minibus carrying young laborers and construction workers in al-Annaz area in eastern Falluja. Both area were primarily Sunni.

    But don’t worry, because earlier in the week 50 people were killed and more than 50 others were hurt when three explosions hit a commercial district in Basra, an oil-rich, predominantly Shiite city. The universe of sectarian killing in Iraq remains in balance.

    America firmed up ties with its best buddy and ally Pakistan by gunning down at least 26 Pakistani troops. NATO helicopters opened fire on two Pakistani military checkpoints near the border with Afghanistan early Saturday, killing 24 soldiers. Another 13 soldiers were wounded in the attack in the Mohmand Agency area. But it’s OK– Marine General John R. Allen offered his “sincere and personal heartfelt condolences” to the families of any Pakistan Security Forces members killed or injured. OK, that’s settled!

    Elsewhere in Afghanistan, six children were among seven civilians killed in a NATO airstrike. A spokesman for the governor of Kandahar said that a NATO reconnaissance aircraft spotted five militants planting mines in the village of Siacha. The plane targeted the insurgents, killing two and wounding a third, and then pursued the other two suspects as they carried their wounded comrade away. “The plane chased them, the insurgents entered a street where children were playing and, as a result of its shooting, seven people have been killed, including six children, and two girls also have been injured.”

    There is more, but my stomach can only handle so much loaded down with turkey and stuffing, so I’ll leave it to your imagination and Google. Americans, thank you, and please now return to your shopping and over-eating.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    State Department Buys $70k Worth of Obama’s Books

    November 26, 2011 // Comments Off

    Now, isn’t this special for the holidays!

    The State Department bought $70,000 worth of Obama’s books since 2009, sending out copies as Christmas gratuities and stocking key libraries around the world with “Dreams From My Father” more than a decade after its release. A Washington Times review of the expenditures in a federal database did not reveal any examples of State Department purchases of books by former Presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton (or my book for that matter).

    One can only hope that State got the books wholesale, which, for a ten year old non-fiction volume means only a couple of bucks per copy. They did get them wholesale, right? Please, someone write in and assure me.

    Luckily, at a time of government austerity and cutbacks, the State Department knows to spend its money on the important stuff, like sucking up to the boss.

    Not related in any way at all, in 2010 the Obamas reported about $1.5 million from book-related income.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Black Friday Book Sale

    November 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    Well, everyone else is having sales, so why not?

    I have a limited number of copies of We Meant Well for sale for a special price of $20 each (usually they cost $25) with $4 media mail shipping in the US. I would be happy to endorse your copy of the book as you wish (either send suggested language or just provide the TO: name) and sign each myself.

    These would make a nice holiday gift, and your purchase will help support this web site and my blogging.

    If interested, please send me an email at info@wemeantwell.com with your name, mailing address, the name you’d like inside the book and any suggested endorsement.

    Payment is by Paypal only– I’ll provide the details in responding to your email. The book will be in the mail to you within a day or so, safely in time for the holidays.

    If you just want the book, without the endorsement, it is cheaper over at Amazon– just click on the link to the right.

    Thank you,

    Peter Van Buren

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    November 24, 2011 // Comments Off

    To celebrate Thanksgiving, here is a video of our Thanksgiving at FOB Hammer in Iraq, November 2009. As part of the celebration, the officers served dinner to the enlisted men and women. I assisted– because I had a beard, I am the one wearing a facemask stretched over the lower part of my chin.

    (In case the video is not embedded for you, follow this link)

    You could almost write a book based just on the history of Thanksgivings in our war in Iraq. Remember in 2003, flush with manly, victory-laced testosterone, George W. Bush secretly flew into Iraq to have turkey dinner with the troops? Anybody expect Obama to drop by this year? Then, during the boom years of occupation, no expense was spared to provide a full, all-the-trimmings Thanksgiving feast for our men and women in uniform, such as you can witness in the video above.

    Now, in 2011, many troops enjoyed MRE meatloaf, or frozen turkey parts in a stryofoam tray. Here at home, military families at bases outside of Washington DC lined up for charity turkeys because their food stamps would not stretch to pay for the traditional feast.

    Meanwhile, in the freedom city of Basra on Thanksgiving Day, at least nine people were killed and 40 wounded when three bombs exploded on Thursday in a market in Iraq’s southern oil city of Basra, police and hospital sources said.

    Many of the casualties were police and soldiers who responded to the scene of the first blast, officials said.
    Hospital sources put the toll at nine dead and 40 wounded, while a police source said 11 people were killed and 42 wounded.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Iraq War Creates Iraq Whores

    November 23, 2011 // Comments Off

    And who says the invasion of Iraq did not accomplish anything?

    A report released by the London-based non-governmental group Social Change for Education in the Middle East (SCEME) hopes to change that. Entitled Karamatuna, or Our Dignity, the study highlights the plight of girls as young as 10 who have been trafficked from post-war Iraq into countries including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for sexual exploitation.

    While sexual exploitation existed in Iraq, as anywhere, long before the war began in 2003, “the invasion and instability that followed led to an environment where young women and girls became much more vulnerable to trafficking,” the report says. One Iraqi non-governmental organization, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, estimates that about 4,000 women, one fifth of them aged under 18, disappeared in the first seven years after the war. Although hard data is hard to come by, the group’s research suggests many were trafficked by criminal gangs nationally or internationally, or sold into forced marriage by their own families in need of money once Iraq’s internal economy collapsed in the post-invasion violence.

    Oh yes, why not? As if this war could not get more depressing. The chaos unleashed by the US invasion tore apart the civil societal fabric of Iraq, overnight changing a country used to authoritarian rule into a complete lawless free-for-all. OK, sorry about that Iraq, but at least we got rid of Saddam for ya’, right? Right? C’mon, cheer up, it’s almost Christmas season!

    Read the full report.

    (The photo above illustrates a woman reduced to begging in central Baghdad, not prostitution, so it’s OK)

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    Hawaii State Department Shooter Pleads Not Guilty, Faces Civil Suit

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    State Department Diplomatic Security “special” Agent Chris Deedy pleaded not guilty but was otherwise silent at his first court appearance in Hawaii. An Oahu grand jury indicted Deedy Wednesday for second-degree murder and using a firearm to commit a crime.

    Michael Green, who represents the victim’s family, said he served Deedy with a notice of the family’s civil suit and that he also plans another suit in federal court because he believes Deedy was on duty when the shooting occurred. Rumors online say the whole incident was captured on security camera video.

    Oops. That’s a rap for second degree murder, a likely wrongful death suit ($$$$$$) and for good luck, a suit against his employer, the Department of State ($$$$$$).

    Deedy’s lawyer will ask for a 90 day continuance due to a schedule conflict, so it may be a while before this case comes to trial.

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    Write to Bradley Manning

    November 22, 2011 // 5 Comments »

    Bradley Manning can receive mail and (money order) donations now, with some very specific restrictions/conditions. However, if you wish to contact him you can. Follow the rules on his lawyer’s website.

    After over 530+ days in captivity, Manning gets his first appearance, albeit at a military court, next month. Ironically, the appearance is simply a placeholder formality to determine if grounds exist to move forward. Yeah, right, after all this time, maybe it was all just a mistake, right?

    From my own experience with prison correspondence rules, they are very specific and the people who administer them are very particular. Think about it– that is not a job sought by free spirits and creative thinkers. If the restriction says no more than five pages, they mean it. Prison administrators will either return the entire six page letter to you, destroy it, or at least throw away the last page. Don’t waste time writing in to Bradley’s busy lawyer (as people are doing on his blog) asking about exceptions, or “what five pages” really means.

    Also, prisoners pretty much anywhere can’t receive goods. If you want to help Bradley with pens, stamps or whatever, follow the rules and send him a money order he can use at the prison store.

    The good news is that this means Bradley is aware of the support he is receiving outside, as well as having some minimal situational awareness of what is going on in the world around him.

    More info also from the Bradley Manning Support Network.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Corruption Consuming Up to 30% of Afghan Reconstruction Money!

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    Yea Juggalos, we’re winning again in America’s Never-Ending-Gob-Smacker-Sucker of a war, the Afghan-Taliban-Pakistan Warapalooza!

    For those who have been in a coma or tied up Occupying somewhere, we have been defeating the Taliban for the past ten+ years in Afghanistan, and reconstructing that same place for pretty much the last ten+ years. But for reconstruction, it is perhaps best to think in dollar terms, not time: we have spent over $70 billion (borrowed) on rebuilding.

    By most accounts, the reconstruction has not been successful, and lots of people are unsure why not.

    Now we have an idea, from a new Congressional Research Service report released November 14. Here are a couple of the money quotes:

    One USAID official estimated that on some projects, up to 30% of contracted project costs can be attributed to corruption. A number of government and industry officials stated that corruption is the ‘price of doing business’ in Afghanistan.

    Corruption takes many forms, including government officials charging bribes for transporting goods across the border and extorting protection payments. Many analysts view large swaths of the judicial sector and the attorney general’s office as corrupt, as evidenced by the lack of prosecutions against high-ranking government officials or warlords accused of being involved in criminal activity or rampant corruption. In other instances, members of the Afghan security forces use their position to demand bribes and extort shipping companies at Afghan borders and airports.

    The billions of contracting dollars spent to support military operations and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan raise a number of potential questions for Congress that may have significant policy implications for current and future overseas operations. These questions include to what extent U.S. government development and CERP contracts contributing to the overall mission in Afghanistan.

    That last paragraph of course is a hoot; people, it has been over ten years of doing the same stuff in Afghanistan and only now are you asking if it supports the overall mission? Did someone just forget to think of that question earlier? Isn’t it sort of late in the “game” to wonder if our reconstruction efforts were supporting the overall mission?

    Anyway, if you have the stomach for it, the whole report is online.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Same as it Ever Was: US Commander Predicts Violence Ahead in Iraq

    November 21, 2011 // Comments Off

    Here’s some good news on a Monday– The top US general in Iraq predicted a level of upheaval in the country as militant groups jostle to fill the vacuum left behind by the withdrawal of all American forces in the coming weeks.

    Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the threat from the Sunni extremist organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, could grow at the same time that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are also seeking to assert themselves.

    “Al-Qaeda will continue to do what it’s done in the past, and we expect that it’s possible they could even increase their capability,” he said. Meanwhile, Shiite militias based mostly in the south will pursue their efforts to expand their capabilities, Austin said.

    But, he added, “I’m hopeful that the right things will continue to happen.”

    Wait, according to a million email signature lines, “hope” is not a strategy. Has that changed?

    So, quick summary: almost nine years after the invasion of Iraq, $63 billion in reconstruction, so many elections and of course the Surge/Awakening that was supposed to have helped settled the Sunni-Shia civil war, as the US withdraws the best view the Army’s main guy can offer is a revived al Qaeda and renewed Sunni-Shia violence?

    That sort of seems like… after everything… we… did… not… accomplish… much.

    See you on the Embassy rooftop for the ride home. Last person out of the compound shut off the lights in Baghdaddy’s!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Very Sexy Videos from State Department

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    Did you know your government has a propaganda arm? No, no, not Fox News, they’re independent, I’m talking actual Federal employees. They live and work inside the State Department (New motto once someone can figure out the Latin translation: “We’re Almost as Good as the Military”) and they make cartoon videos like this one:

    (Follow this link if the video embed does not work)

    The video cartoon has an Arabic title, which Google Translate (New motto once someone can figure out the Latin translation: “We’re Better than the State Department”) says is What did not know about the Arab spring – very sexy. To be fair, the “very sexy” part likely means “very interesting” though even the possibility of a misquote is for laffs.

    Anyway, even without understanding Arabic, watching the cartoons you can get State’s propaganda point, that Terror = Bad, Peace = Sexytime.

    Um, State, I know you’re all Hollywood on this and all, but if you’re looking for notes, here’s one: al Qaeda recruits are created by our drone attacks, collateral damage massacres at weddings and funerals, support for “friendly” dictators in Bahrain and Saudi, invasions and bombings of Muslim countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, etc.), not by cartoons. Memories of Abu Graidh tortures, Nissoor Square, the Black Hearts rape/murder and the like loom much larger in Muslim minds than cartoon images.

    Bottom Line: work on your Latin, this propaganda sucks.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Cost of APEC in Hawaii

    November 20, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    In addition to providing the means, motive and method for a State Department official to shoot and kill a man in a Waikiki McDonalds, as well as video of a nearly-naked man running behind your Secretary of State with the flaming torch, the recently concluded APEC meeting in Hawaii was supposed to be a boon to the local economy. With the world economy depressed, Hawaii, which sees most of its income come from tourism, was supposed to benefit from all the media attention and rich dignitaries in town for the summit.

    It may not have worked out that way. Hawaii blog “Random Thoughts” writes:

    Conditions on the ground ended up being quite different from what was supposed to occur. Normal social and business activities were, in fact, so disrupted that local businesses had to close their doors for the week of the summit and residents stocked up on food so that they would not have to face the hours of sitting in their cars, waiting for their car to be searched, every time they wanted to leave or re-enter residential areas to go grocery shopping.

    Worse yet, local business owners are suing APEC over the loss of business they experienced.

    The Clubhouse Honolulu Restaurant is right across the street from the Hawaii Convention Center. They bought signs welcoming the APEC guests but instead were greeted by barriers. “Sure enough not a single person showed up here,” said Ernie Inada, Clubhouse Honolulu President. “The police actually blocked the entrance to my parking lot. I could not even come into my parking lot.”

    Read more on Random Thoughts. Aloha!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Iraq is rated No. 1!

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    Iraq, Iran and Pakistan bottomed out as the countries with the worst reputation, according to a survey conducted by the US Reputation Foundation.

    Published by Agence France Press (AFP), said the survey covered 50 countries, gauging quality of life, security and public services, with Canada, Australia and Sweden taking the forefront.

    The survey covered 42,000 people in 50 countries about “their people’s trust, appreciation and admiration, about the quality of life, security and concern for the environment.”

    The report shed light on Iraq as result of its occupation that ranked it “very low, as well as Iran and Pakistan,” pointing out to rampant corruption and cronyism in government institutions in the water and electricity supplies, worse than during the regime of Saddam.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Review: Spero News

    November 19, 2011 // Comments Off

    Spero News was kind enough to review We Meant Well, saying:

    Andrew Bacevich, the prescient author of the recently published Washington Rules, shrewdly noted that years after the self-serving memoirs (mainly ghost-written) by the major actors in the invasion and occupation “are consigned to some landfill,” Peter Van Buren’s sensible, funny, and ultimately sad portrait of failed nation-building will need to be resurrected and read and re-read, especially in our schools and media offices, the latter because so many publications and TV commentators were cheerleaders for the invasion.

    “‘Tell me how this ends,’ General David Petraeus famously asked a reporter during the early days of the Iraqi invasion.” In We Meant Well Van Buren answers, “I know, Dave—it ends when we leave.”

    Read the full review now at Spero News.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    New Afghan PRT Book: The Valley’s Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban

    // 1 Comment »

    Though I have not yet read it, I wanted get out in front and tell you about a new book covering the “mid-years” of reconstruction work in Afghanistan (2005-2006), The Valley’s Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Talibanby Dan Green.

    Amazon says:

    In this gripping, firsthand account, Daniel Green tells the story of U.S. efforts to oust the Taliban insurgency from the desolate southern Afghan province of Uruzgan.

    Green, who served in Uruzgan from 2005 to 2006 as a Department of State political adviser to a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), reveals how unrealistic expectations, a superficial understanding of the Afghans, and a lack of resources contributed to the Taliban’s resurgence in the area. He discusses the PRT’s good-governance efforts, its reconstruction and development projects, the violence of the insurgency, and the PRT’s attempts to manage its complex relationship with the local warlord cum governor of the province.

    Upon returning to Afghanistan in 2009 with the U.S. military and while working at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until 2010, Green discovered that although many improvements had been made since he had last served in the country, the problems he had experienced in Uruzgan continued despite the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.

    Sounds like worthy reading.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    DS Hawaiian Murder Update: Bullying and Self Defense?


    As reported here and everywhere, State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security “Special” Agent Chris Deedy is charged with second degree murder in Honolulu. Deedy was in Hawaii to provide security for the APEC conference. Something went down at a Waikiki McDonald’s at 3am and Deedy shot a local guy in the chest, killing him. Deedy is also charged with using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

    The dead man tested positive for alcohol and cocaine. Deedy refused to take an alcohol test, but the press has carried reports that he had been drinking too.

    After a first court appearance in Hawaii, a few more details have come out in the media. The clearest version of the story online now is that the victim was “”aggressively bullying someone else” at the McDonald’s at about 2:30 a.m. November 5. There is nothing to indicate that the victim was armed. Deedy asked “Do you want to get shot?,” then kicked the guy in the chest, before cranking off three rounds from his State Department-issued firearm. The bloody knife mentioned in some reports appears to have been Deedy’s. Deedy claims he pulled the knife to cut open the victim’s shirt before performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation on the victim after he was shot.

    Special Agent Deedy remains in Hawaii, on “admin leave.” His arraignment is set for November 20.

    So a couple of questions for you legally educated folks:

    1) When I learned CPR it was not taught that we had to cut open a victim’s shirt. Anything changed with that?

    2) Is it normal for a law enforcement guy to fire three shots in a crowded fast food restaurant against an unarmed man, even if that man was a bully, even in “self defense”? Deedy’s lawyer says the killing was self-defense. I thought self defense was supposed to meet some sort of proportional test, otherwise cops would just be free to blow away anyone messing with them.

    3) Is it DS’ policy that its officers are allowed to carry their service weapons off hours even when drinking? Asked if Deedy was drinking beforehand, his lawyer said, “We’re investigating to see whether that is so, and if so, if drinking had any impact on Mr. Deedy’s behavior.” The victim’s lawyer said Deedy was drunk. It is usually bad news when your own lawyer won’t say clearly that you weren’t drinking.

    4) Can’t the Hawaiian cops get a warrant to force a murder suspect to take an alcohol test? Cops can do this in alleged drunk driving cases. Why wasn’t Deedy tested? Some kind of cop courtesy thing?

    5) According to Deedy’s lawyer, “The [State Department] want him to come back to work as soon as he’s able.” Does DS have no other criteria other than a stone-cold felony conviction? Can you kill a man in McDonald’s at 3am and just pop back into Rosslyn HQ a month later, no questions asked? Maybe like about judgement and suitability?

    6) Does Deedy still carry a State Department badge, gun and ID card while on admin leave awaiting arraignment for murder? In some cases (er, mine), admin leave is accompanied by State physically taking away my ID card and barring me in writing from entering any State Department facility. For the record, I did not kill anyone, just wrote a book. Does DS apply the rules evenly, even with its own special agents?

    7) (Extra credit) Do cops in Hawaii ever say “Book ‘em Danno” just to amuse themselves? Did they say it with Reedy?

    Anyway, we’ll know more come November 20. Stay tuned!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Veteran’s Day: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

    November 18, 2011 // Comments Off

    Military suicides are claiming more lives than the enemy.

    Pick the statistic that makes it mean the most to you: between 2005 to 2010, active duty service members took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours. The Veteran’s Administration estimates that a vet at home dies by suicide every 80 minutes. The Army reported a record number of suicides in a single month for June 2010, thirty- one soldiers in all, more than one a day for the whole month. For July 2011, it was thirty-two, a dubious new record. The Marine Corps posted annual suicide rates similar to the Army’s. A journalist who had written a best seller about his long embed in Eastern Baghdad has started on a follow-up, a kind of where are they now about his soldiers and has given it the working title “suicide book” because so many have taken their own lives.

    These sad, dark numbers are reported in a new report on military suicides entitled Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide, by the Center for a New American Century (CNAS). It is important reading about another horrific piece of aftermath of Empire.

    The report raises some very scary points: military suicides increase among those who deploy overseas, among those who suffer brain injuries and particularly among those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — that nagging sadness, that feeling of depression, of regret, of loss, of lack of energy, a movie that won’t stop running in your head because of what you saw and did on orders of the United States.

    It Feels This Way in Here

    You wake up some days and the sun and the kids are playfully noisy. Other days taking a shower seems an effort too much. For me, though I had seen less and done less than many (it doesn’t really matter, but we still measure against each other), for days at a stretch after I first came home I could not get off the couch. Sometimes the TV was on, sometimes the blank screen was just as interesting, until one day it just seemed different and I got up. Not healed, but bearable, remembering T.S. Elliot said human kind cannot bear very much reality. I was going to be OK but not everyone is.

    The exacerbating factors for those who find it hard to get off the couch can include a feeling of uselessness, driven home especially for Guardsmen and Reservists whose units disband or, all too common now, unemployment, those long hours of nothing in contrast to the intensity of being deployed. Disconnected. Family who missed you not being at home all those months now wish you’d get out once in awhile.

    Efforts Have Been Made

    Efforts have been made, the CNAS report tell us, but obviously fall short. More resources are available. Previously inaccessible domestic suicide prevention hotlines are now available abroad through the military phone system. Service members are now required to undergo PTSD and suicide screening before boarding flights home. The requirement to do so is a good idea; the CNAS report cites the military’s macho culture and its aversion to “needing help” as a problem. Some troops told me of being afraid to tell the truth, fearing that the doctor might prevent them from reuniting with their family, or limit their onward duties, especially if they were officers. For others, the screening was presented as a kind of test to pass to get on the plane. The macho code then chases the veterans home: about half of all of their suicides are by a self-owned gun, with another fourteen percent done with a service weapon. Firearms are the most commonly used means of suicide among both males and females. Alcohol is often involved.

    It Feels This Way Out There

    Though all are in a way the same, each is tragically unique. Here’s what I saw, taken from my book, We Meant Well, that the CNAS report missed.

    At one of forward operating bases (FOBs) I was stationed at in Iraq, Private First Class Brian Edward Hutson (name changed) put the barrel of his M-4 semiautomatic assault rifle into his mouth, with the weapon set for a three-round burst, and blew out the back of his skull. He was college-aged but had not gone and would never go to college.

    I heard about his death at breakfast and walked over to his trailer. I took a quick look inside and saw the fan spray of blood and brain on the wall, already being washed off by the Bangladeshi cleaning crew. The bleach solution they used was smearing more than cleaning, and the Bangladeshis had little stomach to wring out the mop heads all that often. Blood like this smelled coppery. It reminded you that you were not welcome. Even if you’d never smelled pooled blood before, you didn’t have to learn what it was, you already knew something was wrong in this place.

    The death of any soldier reverberated through the FOB. This was, after all, a small town, and nobody was left untouched. The comfort of ritual stood in for public expressions of actual feelings, which were best kept private and close. And the ritual prescribed by regulation was the same, whether the death was by suicide or in combat. The chapel had rows of chairs set up, much as it would in Hamilton, Ohio, or Marietta, Georgia, for a wedding, only at the front of the room was a wooden box, made and brought to Iraq for this purpose, with holes for the US and the unit flag and a slot to stand the deceased’s rifle. The remains of the deceased were likely already on their way home and not with us. The box was made of plywood, stained and varnished like paneling, and reminded everyone of a B+ wood shop project. The dead man’s boots stood on either side of the rifle, with his helmet on top. It was fitting no one had cleaned the boots, because the presence of the dust and dirt wiped away a lot of the cheapness of the ritual. Before the event started, the hum in the room was about future meetings, upcoming operations, food in the chow hall, the workaday talk of soldiers.

    There was a program, done up on a word processor, with the official Army photo of the deceased, wearing a clean uniform, posed in front of an American flag — young, so young, you could see a few red pockmarks on the side of his face, a chicken pox scar on his forehead. All these photos showed a vacant stare, same as every high school graduation photo. The program was standard fare — some speeches, the chaplain reading the 23rd Psalm, and a final goodbye.

    The speeches were strained because the senior officers who feel it important to speak at these events rarely knew, or could know among the many troops under them, the deceased. As with every other briefing they gave, albeit without the Power-Point, the officers read words someone else wrote for them to give the impression of authority and familiarity. The dead man’s job had something minor to do with radios and most present couldn’t say much beyond that. The eulogy thus rang a bit hollow, but you reminded yourself that the words were not necessarily intended for you and that the Colonel may not have been the best man for the job. He was a responsible man, trying hard to do something impossible, and he probably felt bad for his lack of conviction. He did understand why we were all here, and that a task had to be done, and that he need not be Pericles or Lincoln to do a decent job of it.

    The last speaker was by tradition someone acquainted personally with the deceased, a friend if one could be found, a junior leader or coworker if not. In today’s ceremony, things were especially awkward. The dead man had taken his life and had done so after only a few months in the Army and even less time at this FOB. Nobody really had befriended him, and this being the third suicide on the FOB made the whole thing especially grim. The ceremony felt rushed, like an over rehearsed school play where the best performance had taken place the night before.

    But sometimes things surprised you, maybe because of low expectations, maybe because every once in a while somebody stood up and said just what needed to be said. A young Captain rose without notes. “I was his team leader but I never really knew him. Brian was new here. He didn’t have no nickname and he didn’t spend much time with us. He played Xbox a lot. We don’t know why he committed suicide. We miss him anyway because he was one of us. That’s all I have to say.”

    This was how the Army healed itself. It was a simple organization, a vast group of disparate people who came together for their own reasons, lived in austere conditions, and existed to commit violence under bewildering circumstances. Simply, we will miss him anyway because he was one of us. The word that raised the sentence beyond simple declaration was “anyway.” It was important to believe we all meant something to one another because we were part of this. When it rained, we all got wet. We could hate the war, hate the President, hate the Iraqis, but we could not hate one another.

    The ceremony ended with the senior enlisted person calling the roll for the dead man’s unit. Each member answered, “Here, Sergeant Major” after his name was called. That was until the name called was the dead man’s. “Brian Hutson?” Silence. “Brian E. Hutson?” Silence. “Private First Class Brian Edward Hutson?” Silence. Brian was not there and almost none of us had known him but yes, today, at this place, we all missed him anyway.

    Our wars are terrible enough that they should not suffer more. Think twice before sending more of them to fight. Take care of your soldiers, America. Support the troops.

    Need help? Know someone who might? Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Press 1 if you are a veteran.

    (This article, written by me, originally appeared on Huffington Post)

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Review: AmericanDiplomacy.org

    November 17, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    John Brown over at AmericanDiplomacy.org has written a very nice review of We Meant Well:

    In 2009 and 2010, Van Buren points out, suicide caused more deaths among the U.S. military than combat. While often depressed during his tour and missing his family “terribly,” the very rational Van Buren opted, thank God, for staying alive, keeping sane by scrupulously observing the situation around him. The result is this black-humor book, personal and often very funny, which recounts, from an “on the ground” perspective, the pathetic and tragic American attempt to remake the cradle of civilization.

    Of the many boondoggles witnessed by Van Buren is the Vatican-city-sized American Embassy in Baghdad and its staff (“male, pale, and Yale … their work involved staying in the Embassy and sending important memos”). In one of many passages making one laugh in order not to groan, he describes efforts by the U.S. ambassador to have a grass lawn in front of the main Embassy building in the heavily protected “Green Zone,” a world apart from the dangerous “Red Zone” outside the compound, where the dreaded “bad guys” lurked.

    No one dared to admit the cost of this exercise in herbaceous futility, which included sod to be brought from Kuwait delivered to the Embassy by armored convoy. But the project reportedly required expenditures of between two and five million dollars. “The grass,” Van Buren notes, “was the perfect allegory for the whole war.”

    I am especially honored that John Brown reviewed the book. John was one of three State Department Foreign Service Officers who resigned in 2003 rather than participate in State’s support for the invasion of Iraq. Read John’s prescient letter of resignation. Conscience costs.

    Then, if you’d like, please read his full review of We Meant Well.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    The National Counter Terrorism Center Kids Page!

    // 1 Comment »

    Almost too much to bear, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) has a special kids page on its web site to, I guess, make kids happy about counter terrorism, or maybe to get them to turn in their parents for thought crimes.

    Your tax dollars pay for such Orwellian pablum as this:

    The people who work for the NCTC and our partner agencies have a vested interest in keeping the country and the world safe from terrorists and terrorist acts. Thinking of their families, friends, and country is more than motivation enough in this fight against terrorism.

    They also have a coloring book. The page has groovy multi-everything cartoon characters, including for some reason an African-American statue of liberty person and a hip computer kid named “Chip” in a wheelchair.

    It’s just like Glee!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Northern Virginia Book Signing

    November 16, 2011 // Comments Off

    If you are in the area, please join me at One More Page books for a reading/book signing this Wednesday, November 16 at 7pm.

    One More Page is a great, small, cool, indie bookstore walkable from the East Falls Church Metro station. In addition to books, they also sell gourmet chocolates and wine, along with some other eclectic stuff.

    Map and directions here.

    See you Wednesday evening!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Diplomatic Security Five-O: Nearly Naked Guy Nearly Enflames Hillary

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    So your Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Hawaii for the APEC Conference. We all know that because of the great love they spread around the world (delivered 24/7 by drone, right to your home or hovel), big-name American officials need big-time security wherever they go, like with other celebs such as the Jonas Brothers or Gallagher.

    The Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is responsible for protecting the Secretary from Gallagher and other dangers in Hawaii. We know DS is a man short right now, one of their special agents having been arrested for second degree murder in connection with his shooting a local guy to death in a Waikiki McDonalds.

    Maybe that explains this hilarious security gaffe:

    (Follow this link if the video embed does not work on your browser)

    OMG, was that a nearly naked Hawaiian guy with a fiery torch running just a flame’s lick away from your Secretary? It was. Now, she was probably safe, as the nearly naked guy was probably part of some tourist thingy where they light torches on the beach and raise restaurant prices at night.

    Still, what if that nearly naked guy had been… Herman Cain? What if Hilary’s hair scrunchie was flammable? Why didn’t a DS agent leap into the arena and take a flame for the Secretary? Aren’t they trained for that? I saw it in that Clint Eastwood Secret Service movie, so it is true.

    Luckily– this time– the gaffe ended well, and YouTube garnered another billion hits as the only casualty. But the nearly naked guy stands as a reminder of the need for DS to be constantly vigilant.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

    Afghan $4 Million Road to Nowhere

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    In We Meant Well I chronicle an almost endless list of reconstruction projects that failed, either due to corruption, stupidity or both. In Iraq we spent millions to pave roads from nowhere to nowhere (waste), or to pave roads that did not exist (corruption), or in one instance I wrote about, pave a road that ended up making it easier for insurgents to shift fighters around and thus had to be unpaved at our own expense (both).

    The Miami Herald features a story about failed road work as part of the US’ efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan. The tale could easily be another chapter in We Meant Well, except that the loss of money is in the millions and climbing, the setting is Afghanistan and not Iraq, and that it shows no one learned anything from the debacle in Iraq.

    The Herald writes:

    From 2008 to 2010, the U.S. government paid $4 million to RWA, a consortium of three Afghan contractors – only to see it pave less than two-thirds of a mile on a road that’s supposed to stretch 17.5 miles. The contractors said the area had become too violent to work in, but U.S. and Afghan provincial officials think that two of the principals absconded to New Zealand and the Netherlands, having pocketed much of the cash.

    U.S. officials describe the Ghazni affair in positive terms: They saved the $6 million that remained on the contract for other projects, terminated RWA’s existing contracts and blackballed it from future work, and say they’re ready to cooperate with Afghan investigators should they decide to pursue legal action against the consortium.

    But it’s also a reminder that corruption, violence and political disputes continue to plague U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

    Last year, a McClatchy Newspapers investigation found that U.S. government funding for at least 15 large-scale Afghan programs and projects ballooned from just over $1 billion to nearly $3 billion – despite questions about their effectiveness or cost – in the headlong rush to rebuild the country and shore up its struggling government.

    The whole story is worth reading, on the Herald site. If you live in Detroit, or New Orleans, or anywhere in the US with crumbling infrastructure, try pretending to be Afghani to secure US government funding. It may work!

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    Posted in Democracy, Military

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