• Archive for December, 2011

    Robust Briefing on Camp Ashraf and the Robust MEK

    December 31, 2011 // Comments Off

    Holding what might be the worst job at the State Department other than whatever is in store for me in 2012, Ambassador Daniel Fried is the Special Advisor for Camp Ashraf. He is tasked with overseeing a nice ending to a problem the US (and Iraq) have conveniently put off for almost nine years during the Occupation.

    The MEK people are still living in Iraq, at a place called Camp Ashraf, and Iraq would generally prefer that they all die, or disappear or die and disappear. The US has run the gamut of emotions and policy positions on MEK (it’s complicated), but prefer that they just disappear without the being massacred by Iraqis part. That would upset the whole illusion of democracy thing for sure.

    The UN has come up with a solution that might work. The MEK people will move from distant, tainted and often rocketed Camp Ashraf into the recently-abandoned Camp Liberty. Once the home of Iraq’s largest PX store during the Occupation, Liberty now has lots of openings for new residents. The nice thing is that Liberty is pretty close to the World’s Largest Embassy (c) and so the US can play a “monitoring” role, basically visiting once in a while to deter the Iraqis from just rolling in and killing everyone one night. The UN is later supposed to arrange something for the 3,200 MEK folks– refugee status, immigration, Publisher’s Clearing House prize, anything to get them out of Iraq before they all are ground into sausage meat by the democracy there.

    There will be “bumps” in the road. On the day the MEK agreement was signed, rockets hit Camp Ashraf. The attacks repeated on the following nights. A statement by people in Camp Ashraf said that as a first step, a group of 400 are ready “to move to Camp Liberty with their vehicles and moveable belongings on December 30.” The transfer, however, did not happen as the Iraqi government stepped in to require that people did not carry more than a travel bag to the new looted camp which now lacks basic infrastructure and drinking water.

    Ambassador Fried (his real name) held a briefing at the State Department that was quite informative, with a transcript now online. Among the many complications, he reveals that there are at least two (Iranian-) Americans among the Camp Ashraf residents. The briefing sidesteps the messy question of MEK’s status on the US terrorist list and keeps the focus on the humanitarian side, which is probably the best way out.

    Sorry but minus three points for the Ambassador for using the word “robust” three times, twice in the same paragraph, to describe the planned State Department monitoring of the MEK people at Liberty. Can you find another adjective in the New Year, please?

    Here are some suggestions:

    healthy, strong, able-bodied, athletic, boisterous, booming, brawny, built, concentrated, fit, full-bodied, hale, hardy, hearty, hefty, husky, live, lusty, muscular, peppy, potent, powerful, powerhouse, prospering, prosperous, roaring, rugged, sinewy, snappy, sound, stout, strapping, sturdy, thriving, tiger, tough, vigorous, vital, well, zappy, zippy

    (P.S. Go with “zippy” or “brawny.”)



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    We Come in Peace, with Dessert

    December 30, 2011 // Comments Off

    Foreign Policy.com, in a year-end wrap up of its best illustrations, chose one from the excerpt they ran from We Meant Well. The caption reminds us of the fun left behind in Iraq:


    State Department veteran Peter Van Buren made a splash this year with his exposé of some of the wasteful and often absurd projects that Uncle Sam had lavished money on in Iraq. One of the most egregious was a nearly $10,000 program to teach Iraqi women the fine art of making French pastries. This watershed moment in the history of public diplomacy was brought memorably to life by illustrator Ward Sutton.



    See the whole article at ForeignPolicy.com




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    More Questions Regarding Arrested Mercs in Iraq

    December 29, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    The story of three “security contractors” arrested by the Iraqi Army, held for 18 days without charges and then released after efforts by the World’s Largest Embassy (c) raise more questions than have yet been answered.

    Almost all of the information about the case comes from Congressman Peter King of New York. The men, two of them American citizen veterans and one from Fiji, were working for a security firm and were arrested by Iraqi Army forces in Mahmudiyah on December 9 but were not charged with any offense, said King. He went on to say that the three men were detained because the Iraqi military “did not like the ‘mission request authorization’ paperwork that had been issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.”

    So, some questions:

    –Did the three men work for a State Department contractor? King implies they did, asking “We’re going to have thousands of contractors over there, including many Americans. Can the Iraqis just take them off the street and hold them? This is a terrible precedent.”

    –Which firm did they work for? Everything I have read about this case has been very particular not to identify the employer. Were they indeed private employees?

    –What were they doing in Mahmudiyah, a rural area south of urban Baghdad? One report says they were “escorting a logistical convoy” and may have gotten stopped at a checkpoint. Who else was in the convoy? What happened to the convoy? Were only the three mercs detained? Why?

    –Why did the State Department get involved in their release?

    –What was the nature of the State Department’s intervention to free the men?

    –Why did the Iraqis really arrest them?

    –What is a “mission request authorization”?

    And the big money question is… what does this incident have to say about the future of the World’s Largest Embassy (c) and the 5,500 mercs/security contractors they employ in Iraq? Is the Embassy going to spend its time putting out fires caused by the unusual non-so-diplomatic arrangements in Iraq, or is this just a beginners blip?

    “We have excellent people at the State Department with management, acquisitions, logistical, security, communications and medical skills,” Patrick Kennedy, who oversees the huge transition portfolio as the undersecretary of state for management said. “We are ready.”

    So that’s settled, for now, and at least he did not say “robust.”



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Jersey Shore: Snooki Takes Over US Foreign Policy

    December 28, 2011 // 6 Comments »

    For those too young to remember when Iran was America’s 51st state in the Middle East, it once was. The CIA helped overthrow one government there in 1953 and installed a monarch, The Shah (not his real name but it’s like on Jersey Shore) who bought American weapons, sold America oil and sucked up to the US like a tipsy Snooki with lips pursed from eating pickled lemons. That, kids, was regime change old-school style.

    Then there was an Islamic Revolution that swept through Iran, flawed in its own right, but appealing to a people who had long been kept in line by the Shah’s security apparatus and tired of playing Snooki to the US’ Vinnie or whoever, I’m bored with the guido satire. The Shah was reviled by many of his country people and, to avoid facing their justice for his actions, fled to the US for “medical care.” “Medical care” is what dictators say when they need to blow town; for domestic US politicians, the correct phrase is “spend more time with my family.”

    The Shah came to the US, Iran went spunky wild and stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking US diplomats hostage. That crisis lasted 444 days, brought down the Carter Administration and messed relations in the Middle East up for pretty much forever.

    So…

    The current dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, aka “The Predicament,” (last Jersey reference, this is where the article turns serious) is unpopular and needs to blow town before his own people shred him in the village square. So he now needs “medical treatment” and it appears the Obama administration may issue him a visa to enter the US. Saleh had previously sought medical care in Saudi Arabia, but must have not had insurance because he left to go right back to Yemen. Apparently there are no other doctors available anywhere in the entire world, must be some sort of strike or big convention or something.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Hey, Obama, did you sleep through 2011? Remember the Arab Spring Break? By accepting another non-democratic dictator formerly pals with the US for “medical care,” the US denies the events of 2011 and essentially blows party chunks in the face of the ideals it publicly supported during the Spring. Hillary, this is not about Twitter or social media saving democracy– the US has the chance to stand up, for once, for its long-term goals of supporting people who wish to throw off a dictator. Instead, it looks like we’ll let him into the US for safe haven, once again choosing expediency over morality. The image of the US among Yemenis will be nothing more than the country that gave shelter to their former dictator. US policy in the Middle East will again be clearly little more than oil and back slapping dictators who feed our counterterrorism fetish.

    Welcome to 1979, President Obama Carter.

    (No gratuitous Jersey Shoe concluding reference. This is like serious!)



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Biden to Iraq, MEK to Burger King

    December 27, 2011 // Comments Off

    Iraqiya bloc MP Mudhir al-Janabi told Aswat al-Iraq that Joe Biden will soon visit Iraq to try and bring the warring political parties to the table. It will be a tough sell, as Maliki has pretty much blown Biden off in recent days.

    Biden is the latest in a parade of “best hits of the Iraq War” celebs to go to Iraq, following Odierno and Petraeus. It is also rumored that the World’s Largest Embassy (c) still exists and thus must be playing some role in all this negotiating.

    Thanks to the UN (also not the State Department), residents of the anti-Tehran Mujahedin E-Khalq (MEK) Organization Asrah Camp in northeast Iraq shall move to what used to be Camp Liberty in Baghdad, in response to a Memo of Understanding, signed between Iraq and the United Nations. Once there, the UN will begin processing the MEKs for resettlement outside Iraq. Liberty was known during the American Occupation has having the largest PX in Iraq, a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a KFC, plus a large “mall” with over seventy Iraqi national vendors. Perhaps the MEK people will inherit the franchise rights to tide them over while waiting to be processed out as refugees?

    Oh wait, here’s something State can do: “US Embassy officials in Baghdad shall carry out organized and repeated visits to the new MEK location, whilst we support the Iraqi government’s readiness to postpone the final closure of Ashraf Camp, in order to give enough time to implement this plan,” SecState Clinton said. At least she did not say “robust.” Seems reasonable in that the World’s Largest Embassy (c) comes with the World’s Largest price tag, some $3.8 billion (about $2.5 billion of that is for security) a year in operating costs, about a fourth of all State’s yearly costs.

    The idea of US diplomats visiting MEK completes the circle: the US Dips will be surrounded by massive security to protect them from the Iraqis the US liberated while at the same time using their own presence to protect the MEKs from the liberated Iraqis. It all adds up to freedom somehow.

    And as usual, Musings on Iraq has the final word on political events in Mesopotamia:


    Whether the confessions were true or not, they point to Iraq’s dysfunctional government. Since Hashemi and the Iraqi Islamic Party have been implicated in using violence in the past, the arrest warrant could be based upon fact. That would just be the latest indictment against the country’s major parties almost all of which have relied upon militias at one time or another. At the same time, the prime minister could be manipulating the security forces and justice system to carry out his latest vendetta against his rivals. He has done similar things before, using the state apparatus to further his own political agenda. The truth of this story is likely never to be revealed, but it shows why Baghdad doesn’t work.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Head-Turning Quotes From 2011: Project on Government Oversight Chooses We Meant Well

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    The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) chose ten memorable quotes for 2011, saying “From the outrageous to the sublime to the profound, newsmakers had a lot to say in 2011. Here’s some of the things said in 2011 that are worth a second take.”

    The POGO folks liked this line from We Meant Well:


    In Iraq, we had money everywhere. It was literally in boxes you had to step over. At one point in time, I had $100,000 in a safe in my office…There was so much money that the Iraqis invented a new slang term in Arabic that means ‘a large pile of hundred dollar bills.’

    See who else’s quotes made the list (my boss Hillary beat me by coming in at No. 8, with me in tenth place) at The Project on Government Oversight website. Psst… Anthony Weiner “shows” us all how to land in first place.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    What Next in Iraq? Listen in on RT.com

    December 26, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    I discuss the current political moves in Iraq, and look ahead at the next likely steps, on RT.com.



    See the full story, now at RT.com.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Cartoon: Sectarianism is Iraq’s Future

    December 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    A cartoon from Baghdad’s Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper on how sectarianism (the big man) is grabbing Iraq’s future (the little boy).



    (Cartoon courtesy of Twitter’s @Kassakhoon, a guy worth following for up-to-date info on Iraq)



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Everything Is Broken: My Two Years at State

    December 24, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    One of the wonders of the Christmas season is sitting back and watching the young ones rediscover those same joys we all did when we were kids. Ho ho ho.

    I had similar thoughts when I read Brendan O’Connor’s article, Everything is Broken: My Two Years at the US Department of State, which originally appeared in the The Nashville Scene. Brendan is a master’s student at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. He worked in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations from July 2008 to July 2010.

    Brendan discovered that State’s travel planning software doesn’t really work, which of course is a well-known reality inside Foggy Bottom, accepted as part of the environment, like dealing with the weather. Brendan wanted to help:


    I tried a few different avenues to press this and various other travel issues, including asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about it at an employee town hall in January 2010. My comments were well-supported by the flood of comments and specific travel-related ideas on an internal State Department blog called the Sounding Board. At the town hall, the secretary of state responded graciously, but unfortunately I saw no meaningful action on her promise to “follow up with [me] to see what additional ideas need to be explored.” Later, I wrote an in-depth memorandum listing issues and recommendations for State travel processes. That memo came out of a collaborative meeting with 17 different travel processors in OBO, and was later submitted by the director of my office to his superior. But I’ve been told that none of the recommendations have been acted on.

    Oh Brendan, of course when the Secretary or some other important person says they’ll “follow up” that means “go away,” not that they’ll do anything. It’s like when Mommy says “we’ll see” at the toy store, redirecting you from the X-Box over to the jigsaw puzzles.

    Brendan also uncovered the dark secret behind the State Department’s internal online suggestion box, The Sounding Board.


    I had the chance to meet one-on-one with a high-level manager (and now ambassador) involved in oversight of the Sounding Board. He stated that the Sounding Board, which had been sold to us as a bottom-up tool for employee ideas in early 2009, was primarily a “cathartic” outlet for employees. Someone might want to explain that to the mass of State employees who cropped up to suggest specific, often in-depth ideas online — over 1,500 by the summer of last year. Indeed, when I left there was no meaningful process in place to review and take appropriate action to either reject or on some level adopt these employee suggestions.

    In Brendan’s case, there was a happy ending this Christmas. He smartly bailed out of the State Department and went back to grad school. His article concludes:


    The list could go on with issues ranging from allegedly unnecessary trips to far-off locations, to reckless hiring practices, to a striking lack of leadership on too many levels. I was able to stay in the job for two years, but it was stressful, demoralizing, and enough to drive off some of the young blood the government needs.



    What to take away from this story? Yes, Brendan, there is a Santa Claus. No, not that.

    Instead, as the State Department faces yet another round of budget cuts and will again have no strategy in hand other than to dust off the slogan “do more with less” again, perhaps there is a place for listening to its employees, and occasionally, answering their concerns as a way of improving things. Couldn’t Hillary have told Brendan the horrible travel software is a government-wide disaster, and State is just forced along? No, because she does not use that software, or any other of the crappy tools foisted on employees. Why not listen to the good ideas on the Sounding Board? Why not recruit smart people like Brendan based on the positive realities of working at State instead of the fading myths of an exciting life abroad?

    What a Christmas present that would be.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    New Kidnap Threat in Baghdad

    December 23, 2011 // Comments Off

    While the World’s Largest Embassy (c) has 5500 armed mercenaries to protect it from the people the US liberated in Iraq, private citizens in Baghdad do not. The World’s Largest Embassy (c) issued today a very specific warning about kidnap threats in a particular Baghdad neighborhood:


    The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has received information that as of late December 2011, militants were possibly planning to kidnap a U.S. person traveling through the Karada District of Baghdad, Iraq, using individuals posing as security personnel. U.S. citizens in all areas of Iraq should continue to maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security. We request that all employers of U.S. citizens please repeat this warning to your U.S. employees and urge them to continue to limit their travel to only that which is most essential.

    Compare that to the more typical “watch out for something bad to happen somewhere sometime in Iraq” wording that these security warnings usually carry and it should stand out. Something’s up.

    Karada is commonly thought of as the “Beverly Hills” of Baghdad. That’s actually about as true as saying Lady Gaga is a Muslim, but by Baghdad standards Karada isn’t too bad. Many politicians and rich people do live there, and the neighborhood by virtue of its politician residents tends to get more hours of electric and water service than its run down neighbors.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    How the Grinch Stole Iraq

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    As holiday carols ring in little Who ears, the Grinches in DC still play to our fears. The US continues to downplay events in Iraq, but it is a hard meme to maintain even given much holiday slack.

    Following some of the worst car bombings in some time in Baghdad, the Grinches high atop Mount Crumpit at the White House and State Department mumbled:


    Vice President Biden has spoken to several senior Iraqi leaders over the past week. Today he called Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to offer our full support for his efforts, and those of other Iraqi leaders, to foster dialogue that will allow all Iraqi blocs to work through their differences together. The Vice President also reiterated the need for actions to be guided by the rule of law and Iraq’s Constitution. At this difficult time, the United States stands with Iraq as a strategic partner and a close friend.

    Happy messaging from Washington, but they are fooling no one except perhaps the American people, and of course the easily distracted American media. Most US outlets perked up momentarily to report on the Baghdad bombings, but otherwise events in Iraq lost in their competition with Rudolph, Lingerie Football and “It’s a Good Life” marathons.

    Meanwhile in Whoville, it was like a Greatest Hits of the Iraq War show, with both Generals Odierno and Petraeus (now CIA head for some reason) dropping by the old neighborhood to chat with Maliki while Biden worked the phones. US Ambassador James Jeffrey, who had read too many of his own press releases and left Baghdad early for the Christmas holidays, was also back and went straight to Duhok in Kurdistan to meet with Kurdish President Barzani. They would try to stop the Grinch from stealing Christmas they would.

    The New Yorker shares that “For those who may have briefly, vainly wished for a “decent interval” following the American departure from Iraq, the moment of illusion is over” and notes that while American voices talk of standing together and all that Rainbow Connection stuff, Maliki’s “public statements regarding the future of the Iraqi-American relationship have been unsettlingly parsimonious, along the lines of ‘one chapter ends, a new one begins; we look forward to the future.’”

    The Sunnis continue to vote with their feet. Several thousand Iraqis protested on Friday against Maliki in Samarra and other Sunni strongholds after he moved to sideline Sunni leaders from his power-sharing government. After Friday prayers, with Sunni imams warning Maliki was seeking to foment sectarian divisions, protesters took to the streets of Samarra, Ramadi, Baiji and Qaim, many waving banners in support of Hashemi, and criticising the government.

    Baghdad is once again under guard, much as it was during the American occupation. Media reports the movement of the vehicles is limited, and the streets are semi-empty, in addition to strict security precautions. “The BOC has banned press photographers to shoot photos of the explosion site in Karrada, targeted against the office of the Integrity Commission, killing and wounding dozens of civilians and completely destroying the building,” an Iraqi press photographer told Aswat al-Iraq news agency. Parliament speaker Nujaifi’s spokesperson told Agence France-Presse News that crisis talks have been postponed indefinitely because Iraq MPs can’t visit Baghdad due to the security situation.

    The US Consulate in Kirkuk was again hit by rockets.

    So, this holiday season, please do take efforts from the White House and the State Department to downplay the events in Iraq with a grain of salt dear Cindy Lou Who. Or two. Pass the roast beast, please.

    Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mount Crumpit,
    He rode to the tiptop to dump it!
    “Pooh-pooh to the Whos!” he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
    “They’re finding out now that no Christmas Democracy is coming!
    “They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
    “Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
    “The all the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!”


    (If it is stuck in your head now like it is in mine, read the whole of How the Grinch Stole Christmas online)






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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Another Voice from the Diaspora: Laughable, Contemptible, Horrific

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    Here is an excerpt from an email I received:

    I served (for lack of a better word) as a 3161 in PRT Kirkuk. From a corporate environment (which isn’t much more productive or innovative these days) the impotence, fraud and waste exhibited by both DoS and DoD was astounding, laughable, contemptible, and horrific. I too watched the USDA fumble about with fresh chicken ideas, micro dairies and hog-traps among other absurdities, when I wasn’t saying “NO” to countless Video TeleConferencing and computer projects that were exigent to reconstruction though the Kirkukees had only two hours of power a day.

    That being written, I met a few good souls who wanted to do more, had believed the brochure, even some of your peers in the FS that aspired to finding value beyond their career DoS rap-sheet, but were hampered and hamstrung at every turn. I went to Iraq to see it for my own eyes, and to make a difference. I achieved both, though both those tasks were left unfinished. As for disillusionment, that was nothing short of complete.

    But though this may come across as negative, I am not. I do however believe you cannot solve a problem until you’ve identified both it and it’s cause, and I’m not afraid of accountability. I want to thank you for speaking out and risking your career. As you’ve noted, the federal government environment is not conducive to truth, let alone reality, and apparently pluralism and opinion are supposed to die upon taking the Federal Oath.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Iraq Heading Downhill Faster than a Tumbling Drunk

    December 22, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Hear that? That’s the sound of nine years worth of American bullshit about Iraq falling apart. It smells… like… victory!

    For those who were napping, literally a freaking day (this war’s “decent interval”) after the last US troops left Iraq, PM Maliki drops an arrest warrant on his Sunni VP, pops three of the guy’s bodyguards into jail, and then rolls them out on the TV to announce their boss, VP Hashemi, is a terrorist. Tanks appear in the Green Zone, with their tubes pointed inward at various Sunni leaders’ homes. Hashemi runs for the protection of Kurdistan, nominally part of Iraq but pretty much autonomous, at least as declared so by Exxon, who signed oil contracts up there without the seal of approval of PM Maliki.

    To make things more intense, Maliki threatened on Wednesday to abandon the American-backed power sharing government created a year ago.

    Hashemi remains in exile with the Kurds. “Unfortunately I cannot go to Baghdad right now, my office is occupied, all of my computers have been seized by authorities loyal to Maliki,” he told the Daily Beast. “My house is being investigated and all my computers and papers have been seized there. My office staff has been asked to leave.”

    Maliki also issued a warning to his rivals from Iraqiya, the largely Sunni bloc of lawmakers that includes Hashemi: if it does not end its boycott of Parliament and the Council of Ministers, he would move to form a majority government that would, in essence, exclude Sunnis from power. If Iraqiya’s ministers do not show up at future sessions, he said, “we will appoint replacements.”

    And as a final punctuation point, a wave of at least 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad Thursday morning, killing at least 60 people in the worst violence Iraq has seen for months.


    Oh, now don’t go acting all surprised at this.

    The US has signaled several times to the Shia majority that it was willing to trade Sunni lives for the appearance of democracy, and then to trade that appearance of democracy for anything in Iraq that is not overtly seen as an Iranian win.

    The key to the lessening of violence during the Surge in 2007 was the US buying off the Sunnis, the so-called Anbar Awakening. The US paid Sunnis not to kill us, helped them eliminate rivals (all labeled “al Qaeda” to make it nice and legal looking) and claimed publicly that this was all to buy time for some sort of Sunni-Shia reconciliation. Instead, even as early as 2009 when I was involved with such Sunnis, the US made little more than happy sounds to try and get the Shias to uphold their promises to take over the payoffs and provide real jobs for the Sunnis. The US sat idle in the face of obvious fraud in the payoffs and sat idle when Sunnis were never offered meaningful jobs in the new Shia government. That bought-and-paid-for lapse in violence was good enough to start the troop pullouts that ended a few days ago. With honor.

    The real sign that the appearance of a democracy alone was good enough for the US took place after the contested March 2010 elections. Though it appeared Sunni-backed elements won the majority of votes, without the support of the Iranian-backed Shias, especially the Sadrists, they could not form a government. The Iranians brokered a deal that created a Shia majority government with the Sadrists, throwing a few bones to the Sunnis and leaving the Kurds alone as they wished to be. The US, desperate to see some government, any government, be formed to allow us to finally leave Iraq, fluttered around Baghdad frantically, advising this and suggesting that, until nine lousy months later the Iranians proclaimed it finished and a government was formed, December 2010.

    With one eye on the exit, the US then sat quietly while Maliki failed to fill the critical government posts of Defense and Interior, the later controlling internal security. Maliki instead put himself into both jobs. Meanwhile, the daily news in Iraq was filled with stories of assassinations of Sunni government officials, with the regular whacking of Sunni Sons of Iraq leaders. Any violence directed at Shias was quickly labeled, again, “al Qaeda,” which enabled the US to look the other way as Maliki spent a year arranging the chess board for this week’s moves.

    Of course a coincidence, but Maliki announced today that instead of the number zero previously trumpeted in two capitals, the US is leaving behind 700 US soldiers as “trainers.” He also extended the MEK grace period another few months. Thus the US is handed a Scooby treat or two to ensure it keeps shut up about Maliki’s political moves.

    The World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad returned the favor. The Embassy web site features a puff piece on Maliki’s visit with Obama and an article on “Using Sports as a Means to Empower Women and Girls.” No mention of the current dramatic events in Iraq among the “emergency messages” for American Citizens either. Nothing to see here folks, move along now.


    So, stop acting so surprised that 24 and a quarter hours after the US pulled out Maliki pulled off his rubber George Washington face mask to reveal himself instead to be just another crappy Middle East dictator running roughshod over his own country.

    America made it very, very clear it would sacrifice democracy in Iraq for pretty much whatever it could get in order to pull the troops out, and America got exactly what it said it wanted, not much more than 24 hours later.

    There’s yer legacy, boys, there’s what ya’ll died for. Photo above of PM Maliki and Obama laying a memorial wreath at Arlington National Cemetery last week.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Editorial Cartoon from Today’s Baghdad Newspaper

    December 21, 2011 // Comments Off

    In the caption the American soldiers are saying “We left them in peace and harmony…”




    Cartoon courtesy of @Kassakhoon, from Twitter. Follow him on Twitter for always interesting news and comment from Baghdad, especially now that the Western media is walking away from Iraq.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    (Sunni) Anbar Gives Notice to (Shia) Central Government

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    Sunni Anbar province sent twenty demands to the central government to be implemented within 14 days, otherwise, the province will be declared as independent region, according to a decision taken by the Provincial Council.

    The demands concentrated on allocating enough funds, withdrawal of the Iraqi army , stopping random arrests and raids and transforming Habbaniyah military airport to a civilian.

    Meanwhile, with Sunni VP Hashimi still “visiting” Kurdistan, a Kurdish Alliance MP described the charges leveled against Hashimi by the Shia-dominated central government as “political, not criminal”. MP Shwan Mohammed told Aswat al-Iraq that though the arrest warrant is judicial, the case is “political.”

    In Mosul, the (Shia) Iraqi military force arrested a leader from Hadba’ List, an advisor to Ninewa governor for sports affairs. Hadba’ List is an affiliate within the Iraqiya bloc.

    This represents another round fired in the current Sunni-Shia battle now unfolding throughout Iraq.

    As Western media outlets close up shop in Iraq, following the blog Musings on Iraq remains a good way to keep up with events.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Interview with WGN Radio, Chicago

    December 20, 2011 // Comments Off

    I had a great interview with host Mike McConnell of WGN Radio in Chicago. You can listen to the whole thing online now, at their site.

    Mike starts off the hour by chatting with Peter Van Buren, Author of “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” which offers an infuriating look at the Iraq War.





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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Four Rockets fired on US Consulate in Kirkuk

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    Four Katyousha rockets were fired against “Freedom Base,” which contains the US consulate in Kirkuk, security forces said.

    No additional details at present. No comment on the continued tradition of ironically naming US installations in Iraq.




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    Afghanistan Quotable Quotes for $500, Alex…

    // 2 Comments »

    I had the pleasure to read an early version of a book due out in March 2012 called Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, by journalist Douglas Wissing.

    The book is a neat history of US engagement in Afghanistan, with abbreviated coverage of Afghan history from Alexander’s time through the Soviet invasion, followed by much more detailed chapters on the post-9/11 struggle. Wissing spent considerable time in Afghanistan and includes many personal anecdotes alongside the more formal presentation. His conclusion is sad: US money is funding the Taliban, via:

    – Dollars intended for reconstruction and rebuilding being siphoned off by corrupt officials;

    — Ignorance and naivete in the contracting process that sends money to Taliban-affiliated subcontractors;

    — USG/CIA collusion to allow farmers to continue to grow poppies;

    — Direct payoffs to warlords and others known to work with the Taliban, seeking short-term gains whilst sacrificing any hopes for long-term success.


    But never mind all that. The book is also chock full of interesting quotes about Afghanistan, so we’ll cheer ourselves up by playing “Afghanistan Quotable Quotes.” I’ll list the quotation, you guess who said it. Answers below.

    A) “It’s the perfect war, everyone is making money.”

    B) “This is a noble cause, and you will always be honored for seeing it through to the end.”

    C) “Easy to march into, hard to march out of.”

    D) “A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity,brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached.”

    E) “The less the Afghans see of us, the less they dislike us.”

    F) “It will be over in three to four weeks.”

    G) “I took my revenge after a hundred years, and I only regret that I acted in haste.”

    H) “We were going to have to bomb them up to the stone age”

    I) “When I take action, it’s going to be decisive.”





    The Answers

    A) US intelligence official, sometime after 9/11

    B) Alexander the Great, on starting his invasion of Afghanistan, 329 BC.

    C) Alexander the Great, later in his invasion of Afghanistan.

    D) Chaplain, after the defeat of the British Army in Afghanistan, 1843.

    E) British Major General Fredrick Roberts, after the second British incursion into Afghanistan

    F) Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, as the Russians took a shot at conquering Afghanistan, 1979.

    G) Pashtun proverb.

    H) Unnamed Clinton administration official.

    I) George W. Bush




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Well, That Didn’t Take Long

    December 19, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    As all the false statements by Obama, Panetta and the neocon stenographers who tried to justify the war by claiming Iraq is a democratic, stable society drifted off into space, a day later Iraq’s Sunni-backed bloc suspended its participation in parliament accusing Prime Minister Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government of concentrating power. The move by the Iraqiya parliamentary bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, intensifies political jostling among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs who form Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government.

    Iraqiya said in a statement it was “suspending its participation in parliament … until further notice,” accusing Maliki of stalling on promises to form a partnership government.

    The bloc complained Maliki is delaying filling key positions such as the ministries of defense and security, posts which have been empty for a year because of political squabbling. Supported strongly by minority Sunnis, Iraqiya won the largest number of seats in the March 2010 national election but failed to muster a governing majority. Maliki put together a coalition with Iranian help that included the Sadrists.

    “We think there are new indications of a new attempt to create a dictatorship,” said Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. “We are really worried that the country is being led into chaos and division and the possibility of civil war is there.”


    It gets better, or maybe worse.

    A brewing confrontation in the province of Diyala underscored the risk that violence could erupt. After the mostly Sunni leadership of the province declared last week that it intends to seek regional autonomy under the terms of Iraq’s constitution, Shiite militiamen surrounded the provincial council headquarters and set fire to the Sunni governor’s home.

    The governor and most members of the provincial council have fled to northern Kurdistan, and on Saturday, the main highway linking Baghdad to the northern city of Kirkuk was blocked for a third day by Shiite militiamen who, residents said, belong to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

    And finally….

    An arrest warrant was issued for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi for being the mastermind behind the recent bombing targeting the parliament. He has been banned from leaving the country, and three of his body guards have been arrested on terror charges related to the car bombing which took place on November 28.

    According to the Iraqi government, evidence pointed at al-Hashimi’s embroilment in the parliament blast incident after deriving confessions from four arrested Islamic Party members.

    So…

    “As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” said Leon Panetta.

    But wait…

    There are new stories from Iraq that the Maliki government is no longer issuing passes for journalists to enter the Green Zone. If true, that, plus the general withdrawal of Western media from Iraq now that the “big story” of the troop withdrawal is over, will limit what the world knows about events. Sorry.

    And thus…

    Gonna be an interesting 2012 in Iraq. What is most significant here is not the events– though they are shattering in scope and negative potential– but the timing. Both sides barely waited for the last US soldier to cross the border before beginning the unraveling. No decent interval here, just a contemptuous display of how little the US accomplished.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    Candid Soldier Photos from Iraq

    December 18, 2011 // Comments Off

    Simon Klingert posted some of his candid soldier photos from his tour in Iraq on Flickr. Unlike a lot of other photo sets, these are beautiful images that reveal a bit more than most. Worth a look.

    You can see even more of Simon’s work online.

    Photos left behind




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    So You Want To Be A Diplomat

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    Though I had nothing to do with making this video, it is hilarious. Future diplomats, Foreign Service Officers and those who love them, enjoy!

    Getting Away with Diplomatic Murder

    December 17, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    (This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)

    New records released after a four year FOIA fight between the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the web site Gawker show that mercenaries, primarily from Blackwater, shot and sometimes killed a lot of Iraqis in the name of protecting America’s diplomats. The mercs, er, the private security companies, were supposed to be operating under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s command and control but instead shot up Iraq like outcasts from the Road Warrior.

    History, right? No, because those same administrators in Diplomatic Security that allowed Blackwater to run wild are in charge of 5,500 new private security contractors hired to protect the World’s Largest Embassy now that the US Army has bugged out of Iraq. Here’s what can go wrong.

    The 4500 pages just released are filled with contact/incident reports from 2004-2007. Every time a Blackwater shooter cranked off a few rounds at some Iraqi, he was supposed to file a report. Diplomatic Security would validate the shoot as having taken place under its own rules and that would be that. No attempts were made to seriously investigate anything, no attempts were made to find out what happened to any of the Iraqis popped by American hired guns and certainly no attempts to rein in Blackwater are documented. You can read the full trove, or feast on some highlights Gawker has pulled out.

    Here’s one example:


    In February 2005, a Blackwater team fired hundreds of rounds at two different “aggressive” cars during an operation in Baghdad. Team members subsequently told State Department investigators that 1) one of the cars’ occupants fired on them, striking a vehicle in the motorcade, and 2) one of the cars was on a Be on the Lookout list as a suspected insurgent vehicle. Both were lies.

    State Department investigators came to the conclusion that the Blackwater team was unjustified in firing on the cars, coordinated their stories to avoid suspicion, and lied about it later.

    When investigators briefed [the State Department Regional Security Officer, RSO] on their findings and inquired about what disciplinary actions were to occur, RSO informed the investigators that any disciplinary actions would be deemed as lowering the morale of the entire [personal security detail] entity.” No one knows if the occupants of the targeted cars were injured of killed.



    Or this email from an Embassy staffer:


    When was the last time we looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq? I’m hearing stories of quite a few PSD elements moving from Mosul to Irbil firing up to 50 rounds per move and using bullets like we use hand and arm signals, flashers, or a water bottle. [PSD = Personal Security Detachment. PSD Security teams would often toss plastic water bottles at the windshield of a suspicious car to get the driver’s attention—Ed.]



    Nisoor Square

    The public reason for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq is that Iraq refused to grant them immunity from local law, particularly immunity should they kill any Iraqi. But despite the long legacy of bloodshed which became frighteningly common place for many Iraqis, the refusal of immunity is more likely tied to one horrible, bad day in Nisour Square, where in 2007 Blackwater mercenaries hired by the State Department gunned down 14-17 Iraqis and wounded 20 more. Such killings occurred almost daily in Iraq, but what made this one tragically memorable is that despite almost overwhelming evidence that the victims were innocent, technicalities in U.S. law were used to prevent the shooters from being prosecuted.

    Good news: State’s current 5,500 mercs in Iraq have been granted immunity from local law, under existing diplomatic agreements. They’ll be free to do what the US military could not, kill Iraqis as needed by America.

    Hasn’t State cleaned up its command and control act since 2007?

    A now-defunct watchdog panel, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, has questioned whether the State Department is prepared to continue its work in Iraq once the US military withdraws. “Our concerns remain very much alive,” the commission’s co-chairman, Christopher Shays, said in his opening statement back in June 2011.

    Shays also focused on what he said was State Department refusal to document its rationale for not taking action against contractors officially recommended for suspension or disbarment. “That response approaches the borderline of government negligence,” Shays said.

    The sole witness appearing before the panel was Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. He described how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer these contracts.

    In Iraq, basically the already over-worked Regional Security Officer (RSO) will oversee any whacky hijinks of the merc army. In fact, they might even do bed checks: Kennedy stated “Collocation of contractor life-support areas on Embassy, Consulate, or Embassy Branch Office compounds will enhance after-hours oversight of contractor personnel,” so it’s lights out on time guys and no doing vodka shots off each others’ butts like in Afghanistan.

    But what will cause an already busy RSO to really focus on stopping State Department-sponsored murder in Iraq? Kennedy explained “As initial steps, this summer we plan to create a Contracting Officer Representative (COR) Award to highlight contract administration achievements, and publish an article in State Magazine highlighting the importance of contract administration and the valuable role of the COR.” Magazine article, got it, feelin’ safer already.

    But what about stuff like in 2007 when State’s Blackwater mercs gunned down unarmed Iraqis in Nisour Square? Kennedy again: “Improving the image of the security footprint through enhanced cultural sensitivity: Mandatory country-specific cultural awareness training for all security contractors prior to deployment to Iraq; Revised standards of conduct, including a ban on alcohol.”

    Of course allowing the mercs to drink in Iraq (And Christ do they drink. I saw it myself. The wildest, most debauched parties, including public nudity, cross-dressing and group vomiting ever were on the security contractor compounds and I say that having gone to a football-heavy state school) from 2003 until today has worked out, so wonder why the change now Pat?

    “We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting,”

    Bottom Line

    Perhaps none of this will matter. American Ambassador James Jeffrey, in Baghdad, said that “If we move out into the Iraqi economy, out into the Iraqi society in any significant way, it will be much harder to protect our people.” Perhaps America’s diplomats will remain inside their compound and have little need to call out their guards.

    Absolutely nothing in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s public history of exercising command and control over its large mercenary army would allow one to conclude that the future looks good. Instead, the likelihood of large groups of armed men, hired to kill if necessary on behalf of America’s diplomats, will write the more significant chapters of our continued engagement with Iraq. In Iraq, 2012, God save the Iraqis who cross them.




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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    CNN Radio: “American Sauce” Includes My Comments on Iraq’s Future

    December 16, 2011 // Comments Off



    I had the pleasure of speaking with CNN’s Lisa Desjardins about reconstruction in Iraq, and what might the future hold for our favorite party spot in the Middle East. The show features a number of commentators, not just me, so no need for drinking games to accompany the show.

    Have a listen at CNN Radio or find the podcast version on iTunes.




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    We Meant Well Excerpt Listed by FP as “Defining the Conflict”

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    Foreign Policy listed their excerpt from We Meant Well as one of the articles “that defined the conflict.”

    The list is in chronological order, so my piece is at the very end.

    The end… or is it?



    Here is a list of top stories now on an English-language Iraqi news site:

    2 Two wounded in Falluja
    12/16/2011 7:53 PM

    2 Qaeda leaders arrested in Wassit
    12/16/2011 7:51 PM

    Organized Mafia are in prisoners’ fleeing operations
    12/16/2011 5:01 PM

    Imam Ali military base handed over to Iraq
    12/16/2011 3:09 PM

    Iraq’s Prime Minister back from visit to United States
    12/15/2011 1:52 PM

    Cop killed in sticky bomb explosion in Falluja
    12/4/2011 10:30 PM

    Duhuk events are negative indications for Christians, Assyrian Movement
    12/5/2011 12:48 AM

    11 civilians, 3 Anti-Revolt elements, injured in Zakhu, north Iraq in attack alcohol shop
    12/3/2011 12:03 PM

    US forces hand over Victory Base to Iraqi forces
    12/3/2011 1:31 PM

    1 killed, 12 injured in 3 Kirkuk blasts
    12/3/2011 1:30 PM

    3 armed men arrested while attacked Sahwa forces
    12/3/2011 1:56 PM

    2 killed in south Mosul
    12/3/2011 6:43 PM

    Civilian and armed gunman killed inMosul
    12/4/2011 10:55 PM

    Second explosion rocks Hilla, security sources
    12/5/2011 8:44 PM

    2 kidnapped university professors freed
    12/6/2011 1:06 PM

    Kurdistan Asayish (security) element injured in Mosul attack
    12/6/2011 1:07 PM

    Partial curfew in Ninewa province
    12/6/2011 6:03 PM

    Civilian killed, 8 injured in Kirkuk
    12/6/2011 6:30 PM

    Yep, nothing to see here folks. Onward to Iran!




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    Iraq: Bomb attacks force drop in oil production

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    The Iraqi Oil Ministry says production at the country’s largest oil field has been cut in half by bomb attacks on domestic oil pipelines.

    Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said Wednesday that pumping from southern Iraq’s Rumaila field fell after Tuesday night’s two explosions to 700,000 barrels per day, down from 1.4 million barrels.

    He says that Iraq’s oil exports were not affected, and that the pipelines should be repaired in about a week. The 17.8 billion-barrel Rumaila field is being developed by Britain’s BP and China’s CNPC.

    Meanwhile, in an address to American executives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his country offers “limitless” opportunities for American companies. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said the “robust diplomatic staff” still based in Iraq after the military withdrawal will include large economic and legal teams to work with U.S. companies operating in Iraq.

    Leon Panetta, in Baghdad today to high-five himself, without irony thanked the American soldiers present for “the remarkable progress we have seen here in Baghdad and across this country.”

    John Nagl, again apparently without irony, claimed this same day that one outcome of the Iraq War is that “We have become the most capable counter-insurgency force in history.”

    Also, was China on our side in this war? Can you trust anyone in government who uses the word “robust”? I really hope it wasn’t all about the oil, ’cause then we’ve lost twice. These people would drown in their own bs if left alone to do so.



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    Book Reviews for We Meant Well

    December 15, 2011 // Comments Off





    Not an exercise in humility by any means, but as we look into new printings of the book, it was time to collect some of the nice things people have said about We Meant Well.

    Take a look at some of the comments over on the Reviews page.





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    Obama to Iran: Give Us Our Drone Back

    // 1 Comment »

    Obama revealed the request for the return of the drone–which fell to earth in Iran recently, and has since been flaunted in video footage by the Iranian government–during a Monday White House news conference. “We’ve asked for it back,” President Obama said. “We’ll see how the Iranians respond. With respect to the drone inside of Iran, I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified.”

    Other statements made today by Obama include:

    –Iran cannot ask us to return any intelligence info our drones gathered.

    –Iraq should return all the bullets (and depleted uranium) fired at it since 2003.

    –Iran should not ask the US to return any hostages previously returned.

    –Iran can’t fly any drones over the US until they return our broken one.

    –Joe Biden should return his Netflix movies.

    –Return of the Drone would be a good movie title.

    How do you say “when pig-shaped drones fly?” in Farsi anyway?



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    Victory in Iraq!

    December 14, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    A good read out of the many, many newsfeedpellets that are popping up everywhere now that the mass media has learned that the US troops are departing Iraq. Kori Schake writes:

    Maliki has even claimed that the U.S. is to blame for Iranian influence in Iraq, explaining that Iran had justification for its actions — the “excuse was that the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil…with it ends all thinking, calculations and possibilities for interference in Iraqi affairs under any other banner.” If Maliki actually believes that, it is both offensive and dangerously self-deceptive.

    The Obama administration felt no need to counter the Iraqi prime minister’s statement; indeed, that would make news, and the only news the Obama administration wants about Iraq is “It’s Over!” The president’s consistent emphasis in talking about Iraq is that finally, the last American troops are coming home.


    And concludes with this:

    If no troops in Iraq is the metric for success, then President Obama has led us to success in the Iraq war. But if capitalizing on the gains won by our military to nurture an Iraq that is more than a Shiia autocracy leaning toward Iran, President Obama has merely conceded our political aims in order to get our troops out.


    Read the entire article on Foreign Policy.com



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    Kirkus Reviews: We Meant Well Among Top Non-Fiction for 2011

    // 1 Comment »



    Kirkus Reviews was nice enough to call out We Meant Well as one of the top non-fiction titles of 2011. You can read their earlier full review as well.

    The Boston Globe also included We Meant Well in an end of the year/war Iraq-book roundup.

    And the Kansas City Star featured the book in its own Best of 2011.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq