• Archive for January, 2012

    AntiWar.com: Meet John Kiriakou

    January 31, 2012 // Comments Off

    Antiwar.com tells the story of CIA officer John Kiriakou, indicted for leaking details of the Agency’s torture programs to the press.

    The bitter irony, the article points out, is that while Obama appears totally committed to stamping out government leaks about torture policy, he’s declined to pursue a similar course against those responsible for torturing prisoners in the first place. According to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake:

    The Obama Administration is further criminalizing the exposure of the US’s own state sponsored and supported criminal behavior and activity — namely torture and in my case warrantless surveillance — while protecting and hiding from accountability those who authorized, approved, conducted and implemented the criminal behavior and activity under the cover and guile and guise of secrecy.

    The article quotes me:

    What is happening during the Obama administration— which has sought more prosecutions of it sown employees for “leaks” under the espionage act than any other— is a simultaneous classification of everything, coupled with a wicked hand to slap down anyone who “divulges” that info. If everything is classified than everyone in the government who speaks out is a spy.

    The hypocrisy of the government’s actions is made clear by attorney Jesselyn Radack:

    The fetid odor, the thing that really stinks about this case is that CIA officers had been immunized for committing waterboarding, for committing torture. Now, the only person being prosecuted in connection with torture is John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on waterboarding being torture. And the only person to be prosecuted in connection with warrantless electronic surveillance is Tom Drake, a whistle-blower who blew the whistle on warrantless surveillance.

    An important article from Antiwar.com that gives a dark glimpse of America’s future. It deserves a wider audience. Better read it now, while you still can.



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    Posted in * Most Popular, Democracy

    This Should Really Help Bring Tourists to the US

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    Standing before a sun-splashed Cinderella’s castle, President Barack Obama recently called for America to become the world’s top travel destination. “America is open for business,” Obama announced at Walt Disney World near Orlando. “We want to welcome you.” Obama previously signed a long-pushed bill to establish a national tourism promotion agency that would market the United States to visitors from abroad.

    Of course, funding for a $200 million campaign slated for launch later this year comes from a $14 per person fee charged to visitors from visa-waiver countries, so the foreigns are paying for us to advertise to them, but hey, they’re on vacation, am I right?

    Anyway, this act by Homeland Security out in LA should really help:

    Two British tourists were barred from entering America after joking on Twitter that they were going to “destroy America” and “dig up Marilyn Monroe.” Leigh Van Bryan, 26, was handcuffed and kept under armed guard in a cell with Mexican drug dealers for 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles with pal Emily Bunting. The Department of Homeland Security flagged him as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?”

    So, to recap:

    –Homeland Security has nothing better to do than read British tourists’ Tweets.

    –Homeland Security is unaware of sarcasm, the possibility that by Tweeting “destroy America” the British guy was unlikely to do much more than drink too much crappy beer, of course spending mucho Amero$ along the way.

    –Adding $14 to the cost of a US vacation so the US can promote tourism seems– somehow– counterproductive.

    –Our country is now run by complete idiots.

    –Some kind of Mickey Mouse joke I can’t come up with just now, ’cause see Obama was at Disney World when he made the speech.

    Thanks, and we’ll return you now to your regular blog programming as a Homeland Security Predator drone swoops into my backyard. Viva!



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    Started They Have, the State Department Drone Wars

    January 30, 2012 // 12 Comments »

    Alert readers of this blog already knew that the State Department maintains its own air force at the World’s Most Expensive Embassy in Iraq, fixed wing, rotary wing and drones. The aircraft are flown by security contractors, mercenaries to the trade, and have been such an open secret that State’s own Diplomatic Security brags about them in its slick, expensive US Government-paid for propaganda, hidden away under the deceptive title “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” next to a photo of a DS thug launching one of the little drones.

    Why, US Ambassador Jeffrey even said the other day “Iraq is a sovereign democratic country. We have no role as outsiders in the democratic process other than to observe.”



    Apparently the rest of the Internet, and Iraq, missed all of this playing Angry Birds or something because a New York Times story set off a flurry of copy-cat articles.

    The Times reports “A senior American official said that negotiations were under way to obtain authorization for the current drone operations, but Ali al-Mosawi, a top adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih al-Fayadh; and the acting minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, all said in interviews that they had not been consulted by the Americans.”

    Nice diplomatic touch: trying to obtain authorization from the Iraqis for a program already underway anyway. Nothing says f*ck you better than asking for permission after the fact. Honest, honey, I thought you were OK with that…

    The Times emphasizes the Iraqis are in fact ever so upset that the US is flying drones over its “sovereign democratic country,” and rightly so. For the average Iraqi, a peace-loving State Department drone looks and sounds a lot like an Army or CIA Death from Above killer drone. The Iraqis remember that as long ago as one month, even unarmed observation drones overhead could mean an airstrike was imminent. For State to keep up the image of death from above happening at any moment = Worst Public Relations Fail Ever. In most other places, State tries hard to differentiate its diplomats from the military or the spooks, if for nothing more than their own safety. But, as we know, Iraq is complicated. Who knows, with the drones in Iraq, the US might end up as popular there as in Pakistan (“Drone Country“), where 100,000 people turned out Friday in protest.

    The other issue is State trying to maintain the illusion, at least inside Foggy Bottom because I doubt anyone outside buys it, that its mission in Iraq is just another ‘ole Embassy. One wonders how the US might react if the Chinese Embassy in Washington began flying drone missions over DC, citing the high rate of homicide and street violence in our nation’s capitol.

    We now also have four acknowledged agencies flying their own drones: Military, CIA, Homeland Security and the freaking State Department.

    If the Chinese, or perhaps the Iranian delegation to the UN which lives in New York, do however wish to kick off their own drone program, it is easy. The helpful folks at DIY Drones can get you started. Dronepedia is also helpful for beginners.

    Be sure not to leave rude remarks for the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus on Facebook about all this stuff.




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    Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq

    // 2 Comments »


    Memorandum

    To: All Media, Commentators and Pundits

    From: The Secretary

    Subject: Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq

    Thank you all for your patience since January 1, when PM Maliki turned 180 degrees from us/US and began unraveling Iraq. We were of course caught by surprise over these events, most of my staff being detailed away to host holiday parties, then Bill took my Blackberry to Davos by accident, and we switched to Chrome in the office and the printer wouldn’t work at first, but we now have your talking points formulated.

    I want also to thank Ambassador Chris Hill, who was in Baghdad 2009-2010 and oversaw our standing by dumb-founded while the Iranians put together the coalition we couldn’t that finally concluded the March 2010 elections in December. Chris was kind enough to give these new talking points a trial run a week ago in his barely published Op-Ed. Chris, thank you for your service.

    So here is the meme I expect all of you (bloggers too, not just MSM, we know who you are) to follow:

    The US did a great job under the Occupation, thanks to our troops, who cannot be criticized, but basically everything that happens after January 1 is the Iraqis’ own damn fault and most certainly not connected in any way with what the US did or failed to do in the preceding nine years.

    If you need the elevator speech version (I’m calling you out Fox!), just say: It is all the Iraqis’ fault.

    This line of reasoning has worked for us in the past, so it should be smooth sailing. For example, throughout the somnolent reconstruction period, whenever someone complained about how we did not restore the electrical grid, we showed some slides saying power generation was good, it was just that demand was up, blaming the Iraqis for the whole thing because they wanted to use refrigerators and lights.

    In addition to Chris’ effort, I have already started the ball rolling. On January 26, I noted that US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has taken the lead in urging Iraqi politicians to settle their differences peacefully. I said “He is constantly… reaching out, meeting with, cajoling, pushing the players, starting with Prime Minister Maliki, not to blow this opportunity.”

    I told everyone that despite the downfall of Saddam Hussein which we freaking nailed, Iraqis’ “minds are not yet fully open to the potential for what this new opportunity can mean to them. At the end of the day, Iraq is now a democracy but they need to act like one.”

    Speaking of Ambassador Jeffrey, he also has this memo. Just the other day he told Gulf News “Iraq is a sovereign democratic country. We have no role as outsiders in the democratic process other than to observe and, if asked our opinion, we provide our opinion… We believe that Iraq remains the most democratic country in the Middle East.”

    Good, right? And you all need to be sure to work this line from Amb. Jeffrey into your pieces: “The attacks [in Iraq] are not a result of the political crisis as they are planned months in advance; they are very carefully put together by al Qaeda.”

    That’s pretty clear, yes? Despite 10 years, despite killing bin Laden and 74 al Qaeda No. 3’s, all violence is due to al Qaeda. As for the rest, we did our part by getting rid of Saddam, fast-forward past nine years of failed Occupation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction and then BANG! Iraq has to do it, not our problem. Like it never even happened, babies.

    I simply do not care to see any articles such as this. I specifically request that none of the following ever be spoken of again:

    –The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.

    –The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering fuels insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.

    –The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. The US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.



    My thanks in advance to all of you for your work promoting this meme over the coming months. It would be especially helpful if your blogs and Op-Eds could be timed to publish right after massive suicide bombings in Iraq. Don’t worry if you miss one; like buses, there is always another one coming soon.

    Oh, and my staff promises we’ll have your talking points about how all world evil is caused by Iran out soon. Until then, either hold your stories or just blame things on Somali pirates.



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    State Dept Ducks Oversight on Iraq Reconstruction Projects

    January 29, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The Washington Post has an important article online and in print criticizing the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) for choosing to not provide a complete list of all the projects undertaken as part of the reconstruction of Iraq.

    “After eight years, we still don’t have a full account of what it was we provided the Iraqis,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in the article. “There was no unity of command, no unity of effort.” The inventory listed 5,289 projects valued at about $15 billion as of June 30, 2011, according to auditors. Bowen said there were actually tens of thousands of projects valued at approximately $40 billion.

    In response, the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) in Baghdad said they had negotiated an agreement with Iraq so its government could “focus its limited resources” on large capital projects. Embassy officials also cited bookkeeping of previous agencies and said the auditors’ criticisms failed to recognize that Iraq already has assumed more control over projects.

    Of course this is all, respectfully of course, bullshit.

    Everything funded via CERP (Commanders Emergency Response Program, Army money) is fully documented in a database. Same for everything paid for by State via their QRF (Quick Response Funds), it is all documented in an online database. Every State project carried a unique number (most projects referenced in my book We Meant Well include these unique numbers as references). I am not sure what the other two sources mentioned in the Post refer to, but one of them is likely USAID and they also maintained a database. If the fourth source is US Department of Agriculture, who spent a lot of money in Iraq, those are also well-documented. Any subcontractors hired were required to report on their projects.

    So if this information is available for all of the effort of hitting the “print” button, why conceal it?

    State most likely wants to hide a lot of its waste and mismanagement, as well as bury the many smaller projects that “walked away” as the Iraqis simply sold them off, dismantled them or noticed that what the US claimed was built or bought never really existed. State has no interest in having some of its more comical, stupid and pointless efforts exposed, as hinted at on Foreign Policy.com.

    State continues to insist no independent agency, such as SIGIR, has jurisdiction to oversee its work in Iraq. Does anyone still wonder why State insists no oversight applies?



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    Here you go America, another snapshot of your legacy in Iraq…

    // 6 Comments »

    I received this comment to an earlier posting about the problems Iraqis who had worked for the US Military and State Department were facing obtaining Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) to flee Iraq:


    Since I started working as a TERP for US Army back in 2003, I never had a normal day of life, specially I got married in 2004. I’m always having problems with my wife and relatives. I quit in 2004 before I got married as a condition to get a wife. But since I did, I could not get a job or look for a one, because I had to keep home to be safer and my family. I could not take any more, so I decided to get back to my TERP job in 2009. I moved my family to a village outside Mosul where I’m from, which is the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The people in this village are very savage and they are ignorant that they comment on haircut most of times. The funny thing that they do not know about my job yet. I wonder what are they gonna say and do if they did?.

    Any way I’m unemployed now as the last unit I have worked with left, and the base closed last November 2011 and I’m bleeding money on the SIV application and hard life requirements in the semi safe village I live (no power-no safe water-far school-far markets-high prices for everything as a safe zone in Mosul-no JOB). I started working on my SIV application on January 2011. Scheduled to have US Embassy in Baghdad interview January 2012 this is one year and probably I’m gonna wait another year to get the visa this is if they issued one due to million rumors we hear about delaying and cancelling visas every day. I wonder what is going to happen to me and my family the comming time?

    I think everyone understands the fear from future and unknown and the stress outcomming from it. I will leave the comment to you. Thank you very much.


    So there you go America, another snapshot of your legacy in Iraq.



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    New Review: We Meant Well (It Isn’t Just the War, It’s Us)

    January 28, 2012 // Comments Off

    Dan White over at Dandelion Salad offers up a thoughtful review of We Meant Well. Among Dan’s points is reminding readers that many of the failures of reconstruction and occupation in Iraq were simply repeats of the failures of reconstruction and occupation in Vietnam 40 year earlier. With a big sigh, Dan reminds us we never seem to learn from history:


    We made as amateurish a mistake as possible at the highest levels of government–starting a war with no coherent objective–and Van Buren’s account of his days in the field attempting to alleviate that error and its consequences shows an even worse if possible amateurism and incompetence at the working level in our postwar efforts.

    Dan also writes one of the best summaries of the failure of reconstruction I’ve seen:


    The entire of the reconstruction effort was some armed bureaucratic functionary money wasting process wherein US civilian personnel who knew nothing of the country or language, who had just parachuted in-country for a one-year spell, who had no expertise in any of the important aid areas, and who largely lacked expertise in anything other than office skills, picked up various aid projects, most all of which had the stink of the trendy and fashionable stupidities that only college educated people who read lots of glossy magazine articles are capable of, carelessly disbursed to shady Iraqi characters relatively and absolutely large sums of money with no proper accounting of its disbursement, on projects that almost always failed at accomplishing their stated objectives, most all of which were sociologically inappropriate for that country in the first place anyway, and none of which addressed the critical issues of water, power, and sewerage.

    Be sure to read the entire review, online now at Dandelion Salad.



    P.S. Dan also reviews My Nuclear Family: A Coming-of-Age in America’s Twenty-first-Century Military, by Christopher Brownfield, saying that the “what is important in it is that it is an astoundingly good inside the beast account of the US’ governing and reconstruction efforts in Iraq [during the CPA days], written by the right person, with the right qualifications, for the job at hand.”



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    US Embassy Helo Hella Fail in Baghdad

    January 27, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The World’s Largest Most Expensive Embassy (c) maintains its own air force, several dozen helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The aircraft ferry personnel in and out of Iraq (commercial air transport is considered unsafe so State Department personnel roll private from Amman or Kuwait into Baghdad), and move people around inside the country.

    The helicopters are also used by some of the 5,500 mercenaries hired to protect the Embassy, for observation and armed search and rescue missions when a diplo convoy gets ambushed along some freedom highway in Iraq.

    So it is a developing story that one of State’s merc helos went down inside Baghdad today and had to be rescued itself, eventually hauled back in shame into the Green Zone on a flatbed trailer with the Iraqi Army in support. Agence France-Presse on Twitter is the only outlet that even seems vaguely interested in a story that would represent a major diplomatic incident had it occurred in any other country.

    The Embassy states it was an “emergency landing” with no one hurt, but refuses further comment. Oh well, Iraq is a special place.

    For me, I tried as hard as possible to always fly Army while I was in Iraq. As recounted in We Meant Well, the closest I came to getting killed was when a State Department helicopter idiotically took off with me still standing next to it, the tail rotor swishing just over my head and the head of the bewildered crew chief the pilot accidentally left on the ground with me. The door was wasn’t closed and so the pilot also lost an unsecured weapon and some other items in his haste to depart. Army radios couldn’t contact the State helo radio, so we had to make a phone call to the Embassy to call the mercs to radio the helicopter to recall the helicopter.

    Until we know more about the downed helicopter, Embassy staffers are advised to buckle their seatbelts when in flight– it may be a bumpy ride.



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    Freedom of the Press Fail in Iraq

    // 1 Comment »

    The goal of a democratic Iraq propelled the US through almost nine years of occupation, and still serves as part of the hilarious justification for maintaining the World’s Largest Most Expensive Embassy (c) there. Thank you, soldiers, for your service.

    Democracy has many moving parts; an earlier blog post showed that implementing the rule of law in Iraq has fallen apart faster than a Chinese-made Rolex. Bought in West Africa. In the rain. And the guy selling it gives you a special friendship price. And you drop it. In that rain, so it gets rusty.

    Family Guy asides aside, a key pillar of democracy is freedom of the press, the right to air different opinions, criticize the government, even say rude shit about Thomas Jefferson if you want, that kind of thing. As it is said, “The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”

    The nice people at Reporters Without Borders track the way different countries implement this freedom, or not, and produce yearly rankings.

    Sadly, the US comes in at number 47. Iraq, however, trolls the pathetic mid-ranks at 152, having fallen 22 places as the US war of terror packed up and left the country. That places freedom of the press in Iraq below that of such inviting democratic hot spots as Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Venezuela. Quite an accomplishment given the resources the US poured into establishing new media as part of the reconstruction of Iraq.

    Here’s some specifics on press freedom in Iraq from Reporters Without Borders:


    The threat to Iraqi media staff today comes above all from the authorities or political figures that block them from gaining access to certain areas. Abusive measures and legal proceedings against newspapers for “defamation” have become commonplace. Even media that are considered to be pro-government cannot escape this pressure.

    Alongside court proceedings and the resulting heaving fines, there has been an upsurge in threats to the safety and physical wellbeing of some independent journalists. Armed groups, but also Iraqi police and the authorities responsible for law and order have all threatened or committed acts of violence against them.

    Though possessing only at best a tenuous grasp of the concept of irony, I could not find any comments from the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) on Reporters Without Borders’ announcement.



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    New Interview: Project on Government Oversight

    January 25, 2012 // Comments Off




    With I am sure must be an under-the-table nod to Walt Kelley’s seminal comic Pogo (Kelley coined the phrase “We have met the enemy and he is us”), the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that has been championing good government reforms since 1981. POGO says its “investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.” Nothing wrong with that.

    Given that my book We Meant Well does little but chronicle a year’s worth of corruption, misconduct and conflicts of interest, plus stupidity, bad management and simple laziness in the reconstruction of Iraq, the nice folks at POGO were interested in learning more. We had a chance to chat, and they turned that into an interesting interview now posted on their website.


    POGO: The Commission on Wartime Contracting found that the U.S. has wasted $31 to $60 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan on contracting. Do you think we’ve learned any lessons here?

    Peter Van Buren: The mistakes certainly aren’t over—we continue to make the same ones in Afghanistan. Two presidents have now told us that our role in Iraq and Afghanistan was to create stability in the Middle East. If that is the definition of success, we’ve failed with enormous cost, and over an enormous period of time. I don’t think any lessons have been learned. We continue to repeat the same errors because we don’t know what else to do. For example, when the PRT program in Iraq was shut down—not because it was successful—those very same contractors who failed in Iraq, were picked up in Afghanistan.

    Read the whole piece on POGO’s website.



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    Better ‘n Texas: Rule of Law in Iraq Executes 34 Prisoners in One Day

    // 1 Comment »

    One of the goals of the US in Iraq was to institute the “rule of law.” Under Saddam, people could be arrested for any reason, convicted without trial and executed on a whim. The US military sacrificed 4479 soldiers’ lives to fix this, though the task was largely handed to the State Department to carry out with the assistance of the Department of Justice.

    At the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) like the two I lead, implementing the Rule of Law was a standing priority– the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad (c) even has left the old cheery web pages online from those days, so have a look for yourself. In our area of operations, the law was pretty much either the tribal vengeance of our local Sheikhs, dispensing rudimentary justice like Tony Soprano might, or the heavy-handed actions of the local Iraqi Army commander. The police were scared of both sides, and usually stayed in the back room sleeping off the day’s heat, emerging to shake down merchants in the marketplace when business was good, or collect bribes at checkpoints for expedited service.

    Apparently such a cynical view of our work enhancing the rule of law in Iraq was not limited to the PRTs outside Baghdad. In fact, in 2008, Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s departing US advisor on these matters slammed the “rule of law” effort in Iraq, telling the cowlicked diplomat that “US officials in the country had mostly ignored legal culture institutions that address underlying requirements for the very success of the rule of law, such as the confidence of citizens, a preventive rather than punitive program against corruption, and the qualifications of the legal profession.”

    The advisor then quoted the President of the Iraqi Bar:


    America’s Rule of Law effort in Iraq has focused almost entirely on training police, building prisons, and supporting prosecutions. This is understandable. These areas are important to security but they represent a policeman’s and a prosecutor’s definition of what Rule of Law means. This definition is limited to law enforcement… [O]ur legal culture is in need of assistance and America’s millions of dollars have done little to assist our institutions…If you think that “implanting” the Rule of Law in Iraq is limited to your current Rule of Law efforts, then you are receiving poor advice.

    History does not record Ambassador Crocker’s reaction, likely because he had been scientifically trained to simply not hear things that disagree with State Department guidance. This physical trait, once rare, is now trained into most senior diplomats. Crocker was just ahead of his time ignoring the obvious, as was the State Department in general, which continues to “train Iraqi police” to the tune of some $3-5 billion dollars even as we speak.

    Instead, the World’s Largest Embassy (c) now has a permanent Rule of Law Coordinator, staffed by 200 personnel in eleven operational units of U.S. Embassy Baghdad. 200 people are working on this issue full time.

    Here is what they have achieved so far:

    The United Nations human rights chief said on January 24 that she was shocked at reports that 34 people were executed in Iraq in a single day last week. “Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated in a news release.

    “Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure,” she added. The death penalty can be imposed in Iraq for around 48 crimes, including a number of non-fatal crimes such as – under certain circumstances – damage to public property.

    “Most disturbingly,” said Ms. Pillay, “we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress.”

    …And thus the United States, at first under George Bush and now under Barack Obama, set out to create an Iraq in its own image. Sadly, tragically, it looks like we succeeded, Texas-style.



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    Two Iraq War Movies Not to Miss

    January 24, 2012 // 1 Comment »



    Incident in New Baghdad
    , reviewed below, was just nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Short!

    Congratulations to filmmaker James Spione and Army Specialist Ethan McCord. Be sure to read our previous coverage of this essential documentary.



    The task of bringing home the realities of what our soldiers brought home falls to filmmakers


    Too soon?

    It took years of bad movies (The Green Berets) and vague-enough-for-prime-time allusional references (M*A*S*H) before the semi-metaphorical Deer Hunter gave way to trippy Apocalypse Now (and even then it had to feature one of the most testosterone-laden war scenes ever put on film) before we could confront stories like Platoon and start talking about Vietnam. So it is not surprising that the most recent Iraq War is still looking for its movie.

    The Hurt Locker was both awful as a film (plot? beginning, middle and ending?) and had nothing to do with Iraq besides using it as a marketing tool, as well as being beyond even Hollywood standards of inaccurate. The British film Battle for Haditha is much better, but a bit too preachy at the end. Its Rashomon-like approach, telling the story of a roadside bomb attack and the massacre that followed from three perspectives (Marines, insurgents and local family) was cool, however. All the Gen X/Gen Kill TV shows focus too much on the first weeks of the war when everything was fireworks. Those first ten weeks belong almost in a different part of the store.

    There is also a Turkish film called Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves: Iraq) which posits the US turned its mighty invasion force to attack Turkey. The plucky Turks win of course, but not before cameos by American crazy men Billy Zane and Gary Busey, the latter of whom plays an smuggler harvesting kidneys from the dead to resell in Israel.



    Two Iraq War Movies You Need to See

    The reality of our Iraq War is far away from helibourne assaults set to Ride of the Valkyries. Soldiers who sustained themselves over multiple tours talk about nine one-year wars, each distinct and horrible in its own way. The common denominator is that there isn’t one: an early tour as a stay-on-base Fobbit might focus on being mortared while swimming in one of Saddam’s palace pools, while a later war mission to conduct patrols without purpose is remembered in nightmares and flashbacks. Scary, horrifying, terror as much over what you saw as what you did, terror over what was done to you rather than what you did. A passive-aggressive war that wrecked minds as well as limbs.

    Two Iraq War movies you need to see focus us on those minds with grace and subtlety as far beyond the crazed Vietnam Vet of Taxi Driver as the passing decades will allow.

    Before he became famous for (allegedly) leaking the WikiLeaks Iraq War documents, Bradley Manning (allegedly) leaked unedited gun camera footage that showed Apache helicopter gunship crews almost gleefully killing innocent Iraqi civilians in July 2007. James Spione’s Incident in New Baghdad, nominated for an Academy Award as best short documentary, tells the story of Army Specialist Ethan McCord’s dramatic first-hand experiences on the scene. Specialist McCord was an infantryman sent to the site of the massacre, where he encountered two Iraqi children, horribly wounded but still alive. McCord killed no one, never even fired his weapon that day, but found himself forever changed by what he saw among the dead and dying. Anger, confusion and guilt combined; call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).

    The film tells his story by juxtaposing images from the ground with McCord back home in Kansas recounting his experiences and reflecting on them. Told sympathetically but without sympathy, the film forces the viewer into McCord’s world, unblinkingly jumbling images of McCord holding a wounded Iraqi child as he thinks of his own son back home with sticky war porn shots of the street dead and GI Joe gun cam footage. McCord speaks of his anger and rage, how he threw a bowl of ice cream against the wall when his daughter asked for more chocolate, how he finally sought relief by speaking out after realizing his own family had become afraid of him. The story does not end when the film does; McCord still wrestles with a life. The images from the film are instead left around the viewer, as they are for McCord, like accumulated dirty snow.





    Nick Brennan’s A Marines Guide to Fishing is a second important Iraq War film to see. Fictional as opposed to Incident’s documentary format, Brennan told me in an interview that “I do think this story is stronger and unique as a work of fiction because it provides for a certain level of separation and dramatization that you don’t get in documentary work, as well as allowing me to incorporate the stories of dozens of vets I met with during research.” The film stars Matthew Pennington, an Iraq vet himself in a first acting role. Pennington is a victim of PTSD, seeking understanding by re-experiencing as an actor his own trauma.

    Derived from its main character’s failed search for solace through fishing, A Marine’s Guide tells the story of a young veteran’s return to his old job in a New England dockyard on his first “Alive Day” — the one year anniversary of the day he was almost killed overseas. Cool in its colors, Fishing focuses first on the vet’s relationship with his children over an ironic image of toy soldiers, before moving on to its subject’s first attempts to reintegrate into the workplace. With a Vietnam veteran as his boss, it seems like an easy transition until a young co-worker, standing in for ignorant Americans everywhere, starts asking questions about kill counts and seeking war stories “just like in the video games.” Struck by a flashback to the day he lost his leg in an IED attack, the film ends with Pennington (himself forever tied to a prosthetic leg after a real roadside bombing in Iraq) on a pier at sunset, his prosthetic by his side, decompressing. His sympathetic boss tells him to take all the time he needs to bounce back, but ends the film with the warning “You stay out here too long, you’ll never get back.”

    A Marine’s Guide to Fishing – Trailer from Nicholas Brennan on Vimeo.



    Bringing It Home

    The Iraq War was unlike Vietnam in ways no doubt PhD candidates are even presently dissertating on, as Vietnam was from the earlier Good War. Yet despite each conflict’s story, we understand now the constant is the men (and women) coming home. In that sense, perhaps the film most analogous to Incident in New Baghdad and A Marine’s Guide to Fishing is not Apocalypse Now or Taxi Driver or Platoon but WWII’s The Best Years of Our Lives.

    That movie asked a weary nation, layered in deep-rooted ambivalence toward its veterans’ real emotional demands, the question our modern filmmakers now put to their viewers: you sent them over there, America, to do what you said needed to be done. They did it, and now they are home. How will you care for them, how will you help heal them, now that you think you’re done with them?

    Neither Iraq War film is complete; both do more to simply introduce the problem without sticking around to see how a solution plays out. But not every vet suffering is as articulate, and not every vet is as ready to discuss how he feels as the men in these films are, and so that they might raise questions and start conversations across kitchen tables in America, these are important movies, and ones you should not miss.

    Incident in New Baghdad is currently only available at film festivals; it will be screening in Wichita, Kansas on February 10th, and at the Boulder International Film Festival in Colorado later that month. See this site for a current list. A Marines Guide to Fishing is for sale as a DVD .



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    Do We Have to Wait for “History” to Judge US Era in Iraq?

    // 2 Comments »

    Emma Sky is a British academic who had the somewhat odd role of advising General Odierno when he commanded US forces in Iraq. I met the two of them several times in Iraq, and of course the standing joke was that they could not have been more different people. Odierno is a huge man, well over six feet tall, with a shaved head, a gruff manner and as military a bearing and outlook as is possible to have without creating a singularity in space-time. Ms. Sky is perhaps four foot something in height, polite, soft-spoken and very much the academic. It is inconceivable that she ever served in any military. Yet the two worked well together, as chronicled in Tom Ricks’ second great book about the Iraq War, The Gamble.

    Ms. Sky, who speaks Arabic and counts many friends, colleagues and contacts in Iraq, recently returned from a pleasure trip to that country, writing an evocative portrait of her travels over on Foreign Policy.com.

    The article is good, but one point bothered me: Sky wonders how history will judge the American era in Iraq. I disagree that we need to wait for history. While of course the perspective of 50 or 100 years is always useful, America’s era is over in Iraq, and we can say this about it, unlikely to be changed by the passage of time:

    –The US invasion and occupation killed over 100,000 Iraqis, either directly or via the chaos unleashed.

    –The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.

    –The government we left behind is falling apart like a cardboard box in the rain. The US vision for Iraq– a kind of Middle East Disney World under martial law– fades just as quickly.

    –The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering can likely fuel additional insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.

    –The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. Whatever comes of that in Iraq’s future is up to the Iraqis, but the US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.

    We left Iraq with blood on our hands. We created or enabled problems we did not solve, and then we left. None of that will change when history judges the American era.



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    Choosing Expediency over Morality, Again

    January 23, 2012 // Comments Off

    In late December I ran a blog post wondering if US foreign policy had been taken over by the cast of Jersey Shore, Snooki, et al, as the US seemed on the verge of granting the current dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, permission to enter the US for “medical treatment.”

    Now we know Snooki must be in charge, as the US has apparently once again chosen expediency as the cornerstone of its Middle East policy. Saleh is enroute to the US as you read this.

    Iran once was America’s 51st state in the Middle East. The CIA helped overthrow one government there in 1953 and installed a monarch who bought American weapons, sold America oil and sucked up to the US. That 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. 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.”) 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 now but in America.

    The Shah came to the US, Iran went 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. Memories are long in the desert, and people have a tendency to hang around in new roles. What you do today affects a lot of tomorrows, even if memories in the United States are sitcom-short.

    “It’s not over for Saleh,” said Hussein Mansoor, a protester in Sanaa. “We want him to come back to Yemen so that he is tried for his crimes.” On Saturday, lawmakers in Yemen approved a controversial law giving Saleh immunity from prosecution.

    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. The US has the chance to stand up 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.



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    4479 Reasons the Iraq War was a Waste

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    In December 2011, President Obama paid tribute to the more than one million Americans who served in Iraq, the 4,479 fallen Americans and thousands wounded, as well as Iraqis who gave their lives. “They are the reason that we can stand here today and we owe it to every single one of them, we have a moral obligation to all of them, to build a future worthy of their sacrifice,” he said.

    He lied.

    As the war drums beat again (Iran this time), we must remember how little politicians actually value our lives. Let us start making a list in relation to what Iraq has become:

    4479: General Qassim Sulaimani, head of the Iranian Qods force for Iraq and scenic Lebanon, saying “Iraq is under the will of Tehran.”

    David Hickman, 23, of Greensboro was the last of the 4479 Americans killed during the Iraq War and Occupation. According to an Associated Press analysis of casualty data, the average age of Americans who died in Iraq was 26. Nearly 1,300 were 22 or younger, but middle-aged people fought and died as well: some 511 were older than 35.

    “I used to watch all the war stories on TV, you know,” said Needham, Hickman’s old coach. “But since this happened to David, I can’t watch that stuff anymore. I just think: That’s how he died.”



    4478: 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent, 25, of Mesquite, Texas, died November 3, 2011.
    No statement denying the Qods statement from the Iraqi Government.


    4477: Sgt. 1st Class David G. Robinson, 28, of Winthrop Harbor, Ill., died October 25.
    Iraq is falling back into authoritarianism and headed towards becoming a police state, despite US claims that it has helped establish democracy in the country, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.


    4476: Capt. Shawn P. T. Charles, 40, of Hickory, N.C., died October 23.
    Iraq cracked down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating and detaining activists, demonstrators and journalists.


    4475: Pfc. Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., died October 21. Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, that women’s rights remain poor and civilians have paid a heavy toll in bomb attacks.


    4474: Staff Sgt. James R. Leep Jr., 44, of Richmond, Va., died October 17.
    Human Rights Watch discovered a secret prison run by forces controlled by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office, the same troops who ran Camp Honour, another facility where detainees were tortured.


    4473: Spc. Adrian G. Mills, 23, of Newnan, Ga., died September 29.
    Prime Minister Maliki’s security services have locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties over the past several months, detaining many of them in secret locations with no access to legal counsel and using “brutal torture” to extract confessions, his chief political rival, Ayad Allawi, has charged.


    4472: Sgt. Andy C. Morales, 32, of Longwood, Fla., died September 22.
    Iraq remains consumed by violence.


    4471: Staff Sgt. Estevan Altamirano, 30, of Edcouch, Texas, died September 18.
    Even the State Department thinks “violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist [in Iraq] and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions.”


    4470: Cmdr. James K. Crawford, 50, of East Concord, N.Y., died September 7.
    Security remains a primary concern nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion, with bombings a daily occurrence, and most foreign companies hire personal security teams. Bank HSBC spends around $3,000-$6,000 a day on security. Ground Works Inc, an engineering, construction and logistics firm, said security for housing and business compounds can run at $14,000-$18,000 a month, while a local bodyguard costs $1,500 a month and a foreign guard $4,000 per month. Electricity is intermittent and having a generator is a necessity. Businessmen say fuel for generators can cost around $3,000-$8,000 a month.


    4469: Sgt. Mark A. Cofield, 25, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died July 17.
    A scandal unfolding in Denmark over the transfer of Iraqi prisoners by Danish forces to Iraq authorities, even as they knew they would be tortured, threatens to implicate the current Secretary General of NATO.


    4468: Spc. Daniel L. Elliott, 21, of Youngsville, N.C., died July 15.
    On the day the last US combat troops left the country, Maliki turned against his vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, accusing him of what he has himself long been suspected of – ordering the bombings and assassinations of his political opponents. Mr Hashimi was not just a leading Sunni Muslim in a Shia-dominated government. He was the linchpin of the political deal stitched together by the US last year, under which the Iraqiya coalition, which won the largest number of votes in the last election, agreed to participate in government. Hashimi fled to the relative safety of Kurdistan, before denouncing the charges as a coup, but he joins a growing list of internal exiles – all of them Sunni.


    4467: pc. Marcos A. Cintron, 32, of Orlando, Fla., died June 16.
    At least 30 people connected to the leader of Iraqiya, Ayad Allawi, had been arrested in recent weeks by security forces under Mr Maliki’s personal control.


    4466: Sgt. Steven L. Talamantez, 34, of Laredo, Texas, died July 10.
    For five years Iraq was the most important item on policy-makers’ agenda. That meant we allowed China to steal a march on the United States. It gained economically, militarily and perhaps even diplomatically as the United States demonstrated it was not the unquestionable superpower that many believed it was at the start of 2000s.


    4465: Spc. Nathan R. Beyers, 24, of Littleton, Colo. died July 7.
    Iraq likely played a role in the export of banned US-made internet surveillance equipment to Syria.


    4464: Spc. Nicholas W. Newby, 20, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, also died July 7.
    The State Department continues to refuse to cooperate in an audit of its multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.


    4463: Capt. David E. Van Camp, 29, of Wheeling, W.Va. died June 29.
    Even though they often are housed on-base at Department of Defense facilities and within secure perimeters for embassies operated by the State Department, many of these [third country national] TCN workers live in sub-human conditions, are subjected to sexual abuse and even prostitution, have wages stolen by subcontractors, and have passports stolen in order to prevent them from leaving,” said Gerry Connolly (D-VA) referring to widespread human trafficking committed by US government contractors in Iraq.


    4462: Capt. Matthew G. Nielson, 27, of Jefferson, Iowa also died June 29.
    Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17%; in 2011: 50%


    4461: Spc. Robert G. Tenney Jr., 29, Warner Robins, Ga. also died June 29.
    Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175.




    To be continued, and repeated…


    (All names of the deceased and the dates of their deaths are from Antiwar.com)



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    Financial Times: US Seeks to Keep Influence in Iraq

    January 22, 2012 // Comments Off

    The Financial Times interviewed me and others on the future of Iraq, based around the premise that “the political tensions in Baghdad have quickly raised questions about how much sway the US will retain in Iraq.” In other words, what were almost nine years, a trillion dollars and 4478 American lives worth?

    The article also focuses on the role of the World’s Largest Embassy (c):


    Some Iraqi political factions have already voiced alarm about the size of the embassy. Jawad al-Shahyli, a lawmaker who is close to Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iranian-backed Shia cleric, said the embassy “constitutes a major threat to the Iraqi political situation,” according to the country’s official news agency. “We have no doubt about that. The nature of task of the US embassy in Baghdad is an intelligence one.”

    Read the full piece at the Financial Times site.



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    Am I Missing Something?

    January 21, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    We all know that social media is the key to victory in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, at least according to the State Department, but a recent Tweet from the US Embassy in Kabul (slogan: “One day We’ll Be as Big as Baghdad”) has left me in a gobsmacked state:



    What?

    Correct me if I am wrong, but does it not seem that Embassy Kabul is gloating over the deaths of some of the “bad guys”? The US side repeated/reTweeted a message from the ISAF US-funded propaganda team to two pro-Taliban Tweeters appearing to gloat over the deaths of some Taliban.

    Bad enough as it is, gloating over death (though SecState Clinton also did so with Qaddafi’s death) but doing it a day after at least ten NATO soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan, when a transport helicopter carrying six US Marines crashed in Helmand province, and an Afghan army soldier killed four French soldiers at the Gwam training base in Kapisa province. Fifteen French soldiers were wounded in the attack, eight seriously? The French are considering withdrawal from the Afghan playground due to their deaths.

    C’mon US Embassy Kabul, this is just sad.



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    Diplopundit on We Meant Well: “This Seemed Important”

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    Foreign Service uber blog Diplopundit, in summing up significant events in the world of the State Department, had this to say about We Meant Well:


    Foreign Service Officer, Peter Van Buren pens a book of his PRT Iraq experience. The first live FSO to do so. The new author courted controversy by not resigning prior to the books hitting the stores and ostracization for well, writing the book that makes everyone looks bad. The State Department’s response was definitely without a doubt a “don’t like” — so of course, they took away his badge and threw away the key. Subject currently considered untrustworthy even to handle paper clips. Falls under the “more” category for 2011. As my blog pal, @elsnarkistani would say, this seemed important.

    In a separate blog post, Diplopundit also pointed out the, um, incongruity, of State’s lofty pronouncements of the value of dissent and differing opinions and of speaking truth to power with the reality of how it treats its bloggers:


    The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) recently announced its new leadership theme for 2012 which is “Follow Courageously.” CA, of course, is the home bureau of some of our consular officers who offended the tigers with their blogs — MLC, Peter Van Buren, to name a couple.

    Nice words but really, in which State Department sector is this real? And when you are not working in a “successful office” what then? What happens when you report certain problems and the tigers bite your head off? Is there anyone in CA who would be willing to loan the courageous follower a Scottish targe or shield for protection from incoming projectiles?

    Folks, the migraine line starts over there. Follow courageously and stay quiet.


    Read it all now at Diplopundit.



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    Ambassador Chris Hill: It Wasn’t Me

    January 20, 2012 // Comments Off

    Chris Hill was America’s Ambassador in Iraq for a year or so, 2009-2010, following his amazing success as chief negotiator to North Korea while they developed their nuclear arsenal. Chris oversaw the US actions in Iraq following the March 2010 elections, directing a robust US response that ended up as “Jesus H. Christ you guys, just form some sort of government so we can call it a democracy and get out of here!”

    That government-forming process, which ultimately required the Iranians to step in and broker a deal that led to a declared government only some seven months after the voting ceased, pasted together the lame coalition that Prime Minister Maliki has been furiously tearing back apart since the minute the US military departed Iraq (Note that Maliki was afraid enough of the US military to wait for their departure, but did not give a hoot that the World’s Largest Embassy (c) was squatting in town.)

    The New York Times noted that on his departure from Iraq, Chris “rejected criticism that the [election] deadlock reflected his own ineffectiveness or waning American influence.” Other media also laid blame on Chris for failing to represent America’s interests well in Iraq.

    But that’s all just water under the bridge, as Chris asserts in his new Op-Ed.

    About the nicest thing one can say about that Op-Ed is that it sounds like it was written by a grad student coming down off a Red Bull sprint (Chris is Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver; founder Josef Korbel is the father of Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and Chris’ old chum. Small world among the 1%.) In case you don’t care to read the whole Op-Ed thing, it can be summed up as follows: everything bad happening in Iraq is their own damn fault and America’s almost nine year occupation in general, and Chris’ tenure as Ambassador in the specific, had nothing to do with it. Now get off my lawn!

    But if you insist, we’ll poke a bit further.

    Chris tries to show off his intimate knowledge of Iraq. He says “spending time in Baghdad reveals that Sunni and Shia Iraqis have learned to live together, that intermarriage is common, and that the issues that concern people are more secular than sectarian.” R-i-g-h-t. Many Sunnis living in Sadr City? Any Sunni-Shia tensions in al-Doura? Duh.

    But it is OK because Chris knows that “the reality of Iraq is that most people, especially outside of cosmopolitan Baghdad, see themselves as Sunni or Shia. And that reality is further shaped by the following fact: for decades, Iraq was brutally and not very effectively ruled by the minority Sunnis, whose last leader was Saddam Hussein. The Shia, understandably, don’t want them back.” Now let’s check Wikipedia, just who disposed of Saddam and unleashed all those sectarian tensions without a plan on containing them?

    Chris just rambles on about how the two sides should just get along, reiterating the basic premise of US-Iraq policy, hoping that somehow things will just work out.

    Man up Chris:

    –The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.

    –The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering fuels insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.

    –The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. The US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.

    I’m not the only one who thinks Chris’ Op-Ed is a bad joke. Read what Reider Visser has to say.


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    Open Government? Not in this Lifetime

    // 10 Comments »

    Once upon a time, our government did one of the coolest things ever, creating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In simple terms, the Act said that absent one of nine specific reasons not to, most parts of the US Government had to release records and documents requested by the public. This opened the door for journalists, scholars and everyone else to see what the government was up to, and to expose government lies, corruption and other naughty stuff.

    Over time, the government has gotten clever about applying those limited exceptions (which can be appealed). The government has also figured out that simply d-e-l-a-y-i-n-g processing of requests is an even better way to make them go away.

    As readers of this blog know, the State Department has used a number of bureaucratic tools to retaliate against me for speaking out on their crap-fest in Iraq.

    So, to try and defend myself, I filed a FOIA request in June 2011. The request was very specific, asking for records kept in the Director General’s office (head of HR for State), and for any emails between that office and my then-supervisor. Nothing too involved: everything was either electronic or in a domestic office. The time period was short, and the records all pertained to just me, my book and this blog. No third party agencies involved. Nothing should have been classified. And it is not like they did not know my name in that office.

    After not hearing back from anyone since I filed the request seven months ago, I inquired. Here is the emailed response:


    I am responding to your e-mail dated January 18, 2011 inquiring about the status of your Freedom of Information Act request. We have assigned case number 201105098. Please make reference to this case number in the future. We are awaiting response from the pending searches. The estimated completion date for your case is January 2013.



    January 2013

    I wrote back to the nice emailer person, double-checking the date was 2013, a year from now. She quickly responded, even adding it would be January 31, 2013.

    So that means it will take State some 18 months, 540 days, to respond, and that the delay is caused by the Director General’s office not responding to the FOIA folks.

    OK, bureaucracies are slow, so maybe somehow 540 days isn’t that uncommon, right? No.

    The State Department’s own FOIA accounting (they are required to produce an annual report; 2010 is the latest one online) shows that for “simple” FOIA requests, the average number of days for a response is 144. For complex ones, the average number of days is 284 (there are a couple of cases in there pending now into their eleventh year, wonder what those are asking for, the nuclear launch codes?).

    For simple requests like mine, out of 10,308 requests processed, only 50 took more than 401 days.

    Something is Wrong

    Without a doubt there exists a file with my name on it in the Director General’s office. It will not require a spelunking expedition to locate it– it is probably on his desk as we speak. Of course mine is not the only request received, and judging by my case number might even have been the 5098th taken in last year, although those were spread among the entire Department.

    Still, why will it take 18 months to conduct that search? Hard to defend yourself under these circumstances, or… is that the plan? And these are the people America pays to export democracy?

    Look, I’ll help, it is in the bottom drawer marked “V.” I’ll even drop by anytime with Krispy Kremes for the office and make my own copies, ‘K?



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    American Embassy Kabul Uses The Twitter

    January 19, 2012 // Comments Off

    Social media is all the rage now at the State Department (for some old timers, this is all hilariously reminiscent of the late 1990’s when State suddenly discovered that the internet existed and set out to conquer what was then called e-Diplomacy by created some new-fangled “home pages”).

    But Geocities this ain’t Tweeps. Here, as an example of how “with it” the social media boffins at the American Embassy in Kabul are, is one of today’s Tweets:



    So that’s it– we just needed to clarify that for the Taliban, with the RT from the American Embassy Finland because, well, nothing says bureaucratic safety like following someone else, courageously.

    What do you think? Maybe needs more animated gifs? :)





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    South Park: Iraq to Control Which Armed Mercs are Allowed In

    // 4 Comments »

    Cartman: Those bastards! Those damn Iraqis are now trying to control which armed thugs the World’s Largest Embassy (c) and other foreigners are allowed to bring in to Iraq!

    Kyle: No way dude!

    Cartman: Way. See, like any other sovereign nation, Iraq is gonna start demanding that dudes who want to come live, work and carry weapons to potentially shoot Iraqis down dead have permission to enter Iraq– that’s called a visa, dumbass.

    Kyle:Your mother’s a dumbass Cartman.

    Cartman: Perhaps, perhaps, but she’s doesn’t wipe Iraqi refugee ass like your Mom, Kyle.

    Kyle: That’s her volunteer work, goddammit.

    Kenny: Mmm, mmm.

    Kyle: No Kenny, you can’t help her.

    Cartman: Anyway, as I was saying, before this the US could bring any thug they wanted in to Iraq, like in the Dirty Dozen movie.

    Kyle: That was awesome! Lee Marvin kicked Nazi ass dude!

    Cartman: My friends at the State Department– I’m an important person there– just announced everyone now needs a visa to enter Iraq. No more free passes, even if you fly in on the State Department’s own private airplanes. They don’t roll commercial, you see. Like Snoop sez, it’s not a luxury when you really want it.

    Kyle: No way, they have their own planes? Like helicopters and shit?

    Cartman: Yes, Kyle, they do. They have armed helicopters. My Mom told me because the day it was announced inside State it appeared hours later in Al Kamen’s column in the Washington Post.

    Stan: So wait a minute guys–

    Cartman: Shut up Stan, I’m talking about super cool armed helicopters–

    Stan: No Cartman, you ass, you wait. So if the Iraqis insist on visas, then… the Iraqis can control who enters their country. That means if they don’t want 5,500 armed mercs driving around Baghdad as “diplomats,” they can just say no? Like Japan, or Brazil or Kenya, or everywhere else on earth where the US doesn’t have its own private Embassy army operating outside of any law?

    (A loud crash is heard, the boys are engulfed in flames)

    Kyle: Oh no, a State Department airplane just crashed!

    Cartman: You bastards! You killed Kenny!



    Next: Beavis and Butthead visit Baghdad…




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    In Iraq, war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means…

    January 18, 2012 // Comments Off

    Only a day after Iraqi government officials summoned Turkey’s ambassador, complaining that comments made by Turkish officials amounted to meddling in its internal affairs, and warning that Turkey will “suffer,” a rocket hit the Turkish embassy compound in Baghdad.

    Indeed, at least two rockets were fired from a vehicle at the embassy in northern Baghdad, outside the heavily fortified Green Zone complex. “There were two Katyusha rockets. The first one hit the embassy blast wall, and the second one hit the second floor of an adjacent bank,” the official said.

    Maliki’s verbal attack on Turkey came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged him to reduce tensions in the war-torn country, regarding a series of bombings in Baghdad. Erdoğan spoke to Maliki on the phone and said his actions are moving Iraq away from democracy, referring to an arrest warrant last month for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Turkey has been trying to play a mediator role in Iraq between the rival Shiite and Sunni sects in the government.

    The rocket attacks on the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad are the equivalent of the Mafia leaving a bloody horse’s head in your bed, capice?



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    Connect the Dots in Iraq: Mercs’ ‘R Us

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    Oh the places you’ll go as a contractor! Here are three items from post-American Era Iraq involving security contractors:

    – On January 11 or 12, four American security contractors, working for the US Embassy, were caught and detained in a Baghdad neighborhood. The four were armed, wearing body armor, and were traveling in a plain car without diplomatic plates or markings. The group included two men and two women. See their photo on al-Jazeera. Note the goatee, which just screams “merc.”

    — On January 11, the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad issued a public notice on its website saying “that the Government of Iraq is strictly enforcing immigration and customs procedures, to include visas and stamps for entry and exit, vehicle registration, and authorizations for weapons, convoys, logistics, and other matters. Rules and procedures may be subject to frequent revisions, and previous permissions may be deemed invalid… The U.S. Embassy is aware of cases where discrepancies in permits or paperwork have resulted in legal action, including detention, by Iraqi police and other entities. Detentions often last 24-96 hours or more. The Embassy’s ability to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens are arrested or otherwise detained throughout Iraq is limited, including in and around Baghdad.”

    — Back in late December, three US Triple Canopy “security contractors” were arrested by the Iraqi Army, held for 18 days without charges and then released after reported efforts by the World’s Largest Embassy (c). The men were detained in a rural area south of Baghdad because the Iraqi military “did not like the ‘mission request authorization’ paperwork that had been issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.”


    So, let’s connect the dots:

    It sounds like they are having a few bumps in the old road sorting out exactly how diplomacy is going to be practiced with a private army of some 5,500 mercenary security contractors in the mix. It seems those bad boys (and girls!) are not confining themselves to guarding diplomats on social calls to Iraqi ministries either, and are instead covering some ground and attempting some not-so-covert observation work. And getting caught.

    Of course everyone is hoping for no Raymond Davis-like incidents that can happen when armed Americans motor around societies where they are not altogether welcome.

    The New York Times, America’s steno pool of record these days, is there to soothe worried patriots. Turns out this is all just Iraqi growing pains, NYT sez. Since being allowed to take over its own immigration and internal security from Daddy America, Iraq is still learnin’ how to do it right. The Times quoted a senior American military official said that the current disconnect between the Iraqis and the contractors was “primarily an adjustment of our standard operating procedures as we adapt our people and they adapt their security forces to the new situation.”

    Others have described it as a power play, with PM Maliki’s son, in some form of private capacity, leading the charge by throwing foreign contractor squatters out of the primo real estate inside the Green Zone.

    One possible solution comes from Senator Ben Nelson (R-Absolute Knucklehead), who wants the Iraqis to pay all security costs for the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Iraq, thus making all the mercs Iraqi government employees.

    In our universe, however, the big money question is… what do these incidents 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?



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    Review: Ranger Against War – “We wiped Iraqi *sses with newly-minted Benjamins”

    January 17, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    With a blog name like Ranger Against War, you can expect a book review of We Meant Well to cut right to it:


    Ranger is torqued that his country busts him for a paltry sum, while his Army and State Department wiped Iraqi asses with newly-minted benjamins. Why embark on a foreign policy dependent upon gaining the hearts and minds of Iraqis? We don’t care if they love or hate us — no American soldier’s life should be spent on such a meaningless goal.

    Our government should focus primarily on its own citizen’s hearts, minds and bodily welfare. When one buys love from unwilling participants, one is pimping or whoring. WOT also means “War on Truth”, and a war on truth equates well with a reign of terror.



    Ranger also found the quote that should have opened my book, from Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government, by P. J. O’Rourke:


    It is a popular delusion that the government wastes vast amounts of money through inefficiency and sloth. Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money



    I say: Rangers Lead the Way. Read the whole review at Ranger Against War.



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    Enemy of (the) State

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    (This article originally appeared on the Daily Kos, written by Jesselyn Radack, an attorney at the Government Accountability Project who protects my First Amendment right to publish this blog)

    The Washington Post has an article this morning on DHS Monitoring of Social Media Concerns Civil Liberties Advocates, which discusses the Department of Homeland Security’s 3-year-old practice of monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

    Predictably, [a] senior DHS official said the department does not monitor dissent or gather reports tracking citizens’ views.

    Maybe DHS doesn’t, but the State Department does.

    I represent a State Department 23-year-veteran of the Foreign Service, Peter Van Buren, where the State Department admits that it does precisely that: monitor his personal Internet activity on his home computer during his private time.

    Peter Van Buren wrote a book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Metropolitan Books 2011), which is highly critical of our gross reconstruction fraud in Iraq. It went through pre-publication review and the State Department approved it by default by letting its own 30-day review period expire.

    A month before the publication of his book, Mr. Van Buren began to experience a series of adverse personnel actions, which are ongoing today.

    The State Department tried a variety of different tactics to censor Mr. Van Buren’s book and prevent him from promoting it. After vague references to ethics rules failed, it tried threats of criminal action. After those failed, it started coming down on his blogs (which had been posted since April 2011 without criticism) and live media appearances, [saying the contents of which] needed to be pre-cleared.

    There are many incarnations of the State Department’s increasingly-restrictive policies regarding linking–not leaking–to WikiLeaks documents, with which they tried to jack up Van Buren. But now he is getting his own personal “compliance letters” that say things like:


    You must comply fully with applicable policies and regulations regarding official clearance of public speeches, writings and teaching materials, including blogs, tweets and other communications via social media, on matters of official concern, whether prepared in an official or private capacity (Emphasis added).

    Although hundreds of State Department employees write blogs (the State Department even links to the ones it likes), and thousands have Facebook accounts, Mr. Van Buren has been told (the government usually doesn’t admit this) that all his Internet activity on his personal computer in his private capacity is being monitored.

    This is outrageous. I recommend that the democracy-loving, Internet-freedom-promoting State Department read the First Amendment.



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    Sunni v. Shia in Police Station Gunbattle

    January 16, 2012 // Comments Off

    Finally, an Iraq narrative in simple enough terms for the average American (Rick Perry) to grasp, Cowboys versus Indians style!

    As part of the democratic process still unfolding in Iraq, Sunni insurgents have attacked an Iraqi police station manned by Shia cops, in Sunni Ramadi. The cops work for the Iraqi government, widely seen as being dominated by Shia and used as a tool of control over the Sunni’s in Ramadi. Cowboys and Indians.

    In Ramadi, two initial car bombs exploded at around 11:30 am near Dawlah Kabir Mosque in the center of the city, before a third car bomb went off in the same area. A short time later, a fourth car bomb detonated near a police compound in Ramadi, followed quickly thereafter by two suicide bombers blowing themselves up inside. Then, about 10 insurgents stormed the compound, which houses the police’s investigations and intelligence directorate and a building under construction that is to be the new office of the mayor of Ramadi. The gunmen, who apparently did not take hostages, were holed up in the latter facility and clashes were ongoing as of 1:30 pm.

    The violence was reminiscent of a siege at a police station in the nearby town of Al-Baghdadi, also in Anbar province, three months ago, in which the local police chief and four others were killed when gunmen disguised in police uniforms set off explosions, clearing the way for them to overrun the building.

    In June, at least three explosions near provincial government offices in Ramadi killed 10 people and wounded 15 others.

    In January 2011, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car carrying Anbar governor Qassim Mohammed Abid, but he was unhurt.

    Anbar Provincial government offices were also targeted by attackers three times in 2010, and, on December 30, 2009,

    Of course, Sunday’s violence in Ramadi came a day after a suicide attacker targeting Shiites killed 53 people on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra, the latest in a series of attacks that have killed nearly 200 people.



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    Book Review: State Versus Defense

    January 15, 2012 // 8 Comments »




    Stephen Glain’s new book, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire, is a brilliant, sober, sad and important biography of the Department of State since World War II. The choice of word here–biography–is significant, in that instead of a simple history of State, Glain traces its decline in old age as America’s foreign policy is increasingly made and carried out by the Pentagon. This does not bode well for America. Mini review: Be afraid.

    McCarthy: Beginning of the End

    Though not casual reading, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire‘s detailed text will gift the reader with a thorough history of America’s overseas activities since the end of the Second World War. Told largely through tales of bureaucratic infighting between State and Defense, with Congress often coming on stage at critical moments to drive a dagger into State’s corps(e), it is not a pretty story. Author Glain, for example, chronicles the rise of the national security state post-war, but leaves it to McCarthy to devastate the State Department at a time when its prescience might have altered relations in East Asia forever, possibly preventing the Korean War:

    The damage done to the State Department by McCarthy’s attacks [and the destruction of State’s China hands like Service, Davis and Vincent] was irreparable. Those who did pursue diplomatic careers would find a culture of caution that impaired lateral thinking. (McCarthy’s) real legacy is the diminution of the Department of State into the intellectually inert and politically impotent agency that it is today. p.76

    Limping into Vietnam, Glain shows how State never reached Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and instead allowed itself to be a forgotten extension of the military because it could never break free from its own bureaucratic in-the-box conception of international relations:

    A 1972 RAND study scolded US diplomats for not doing enough to prevent the militarization of Washington’s pacification efforts in Vietnam. “The State Department,” the study said, “did not often deviate from its concept of normal diplomatic dealings with Saigon, not even when the government was falling apart. Similarly, State… made little effort to assert control over our military on political grounds… State’s concept of institution building in Vietnam turned largely on encouragement of American democratic forms, a kind of mirror-imagining which proved hard to apply to the conditions of Vietnam. p. 233


    Jesse Helms and George W. Finish the Job

    Despite the sparring between State and Defense over what to do in the Balkans in the 1990’s, which showed some hope for diplomacy, it was the one-two punch of Jesse Helms’ decimating State’s budget from his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, followed by the almost complete militarization of everything after 9/11, that effectively ended State as a significant Washington player.

    No one outside of official Washington can appreciate how much 9/11 altered the way the US Government thinks about itself. The shock of an attack on the US changed the posture of the government from one of at times satisfied with passivity in its more distant foreign affairs to one demanding constant action.

    The shock was because 9/11 was not supposed to happen, again. Everything about the US government was as of 9/10 still configured around the mistakes made concerning Pearl Harbor. My favorite CIA Station Chief kept, framed, in his guest toilet, a copy of a cable sent by the US Embassy in Tokyo on December 7, 1941 (the attack took place December 8 Japan time) claiming war was far off. He maintained that from that December morning forward the purpose of the U.S. government was to make sure Pearl Harbor never happened again. Then it did.

    On 9/12, every part of the U.S. government, with a special emphasis on those who worked abroad (State, CIA, DOD, et al), was to shift was a passive mode of listening and reporting to an action mode. The President would probably have preferred that each Federal worker go out and strangle a terrorist personally, but if that was not possible everyone was to find a way to go to war. The intelligence agencies, whose 1960s and 70s comical attempts at assassinations and dirty tricks were so well documented in the Church Hearings, suddenly saw the sharp, sudden end of the debate on whether they were to conduct clandestine or sort of clandestine ops or not. State froze like a deer in the headlights, and almost lost the one action-oriented bureau in the agency, the visa office, to the new Department of Homeland Security.

    George W. Bush administration is particularly singled out by Glain as having forced the air out of State. Reminding readers how the early days of Iraq occupation were run not by skilled Arabists from the State Department, but by recent college grads from the Bush campaigns, Glain writes:

    American militarism came about the same way that free societies succumb to authoritarian rule: with a leadership that rewards sycophants and the like-minded, co-opts the ambitious and punishes those in dissent. p. 381

    In 1950 State had 7710 diplomats abroad. In 2001, they had only 7158. The world had changed around the Department (personnel figures from Career Diplomacy, by Harry Kopp and Charles Gillespie, Second Edition).

    Rise of the Combatant Commands

    Roughly the last quarter of Glain’s book covers the post-9/11 period. His key contention is that the vacuum in foreign relations has been largely filled by the military combatant commanders, the men who head CENTCOM, SOCOM and the rest:

    The combatant commands are already the putative epicenters for security, diplomatic, humanitarian and commercial affairs in their regions. Local leaders receive them as powerful heads of state, with motorcades, honor guards and ceremonial feats. Their radiance obscures everything in its midst, including the authority of US ambassadors. p. 350


    Glain’s point is worth quoting at length:

    This yawning asymmetry is fueled by more than budgets and resources [though the Pentagon-State spending ration is 12:1, p. 405], however. Unlike ambassadors, whose responsibility is confined to a single country or city-state, the writ of a combatant commander is hemispheric in scope. His authority covers some of the world’s most strategic resources and waterways and he has some of the most talented people in the federal government working for him.

    While his civilian counterpart is mired in such parochial concerns as bilateral trade disputes and visa matters, a combatant commander’s horizon is unlimited. “When we spoke, we had more clout,” according to Anthony Zinni. “There’s a mismatch in our stature. Ambassadors don’t have regional perspectives. You see the interdependence and interaction in the region when you have regional responsibility. If you’re in a given country, you don’t see beyond its borders because that is not your mission.” p. 351


    With stature as defacto leaders abroad, the combatant commanders also stripped State of its already meager resources. In particular, Glain focuses on the non-battle to move foreign military assistance money out of State’s hands, and dump it into the Pentagon’s coffers:

    Section 1206 funding: for the first time since president Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the US military would fund such activity directly from its own accounts, bypassing the State Department. Conspicuously absent from the debate over Section 1206 was Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state. To no avail, Senator Patrick Leahy, implored Rice not to relinquish such vital funding authority as requested by the Pentagon… Legislative aides involved in the debate were staggered by Rice’s passivity. p. 399

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mantric utterance of the “3Ds”–defense, diplomacy and development–suggests at least passive acceptance of such a lopsided collusion. p. 404


    The End

    In 1940, the U.S. place in the world was simple. Diplomacy was Euro-centric, and the State Department was a collection of gentlemen committed to proper discourse. As World War II broke out, State had just 840 diplomats stationed abroad. The world that emerged from that war still played the old game, albeit with some different players. State participated in the overall mad growth of the U.S. government, and by 1950 had 7710 diplomats assigned outside the U.S. New countries emerged, power shifted, colonies disappeared, and State blithely sat back and reported on it all. Millions of pages of reports on everything under the sun were written, likely billions of pages. You can see contemporary reports on WikiLeaks, or delve into the historical pile, where State is currently declassifying and publishing things from the Carter administration.

    Glain offers no prescription for a Department of State resurgence, ending his biography with the institution at near death. State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire concludes with a depressing coda, warning America what the almost complete militarization of its foreign affairs really means:

    US relations with the world, and increasingly America’s security policy at home, have become thoroughly and all but irreparably militarized. The culprits are not the nation’s military leaders… but civilian elites who have seen to it that the nation is engaged in a self-perpetuating cycle of low grade conflict… They have convinced a plurality of citizens that their best guarantee of security is not peace but war. p. 407

    Despite the fanatic growth in size of government under the Bush administration, State remained a sidelined player. With 7158 employees stationed abroad in 2001, by 2010 the number had only grown to 8199, diplomats supplemented by civil servants and others on “excursion” tours abroad.

    History can be quite naughty, and State may yet be handed another chance at transformation before slipping away to become not much more than America’s concierge abroad, arranging hotel rooms for Congressional delegations and aiding tourists with lost passports. But that is unlikely, leaving the military as America’s representative abroad. Be afraid.

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    MG Edwards: I Am No Longer A Foreign Service Officer

    January 14, 2012 // 1 Comment »




    Foreign Service Officer MG Edwards just resigned after seven years, and wrote down some cold truths about life at State that are now required reading for all, especially you young ‘uns thinking about a career as a diplomat. To lure in those Paduwans, let’s throw in some key words for Google to snag: FSOT, FSOA, Orals, Intern, Pickering Fellow, Exotic Lifestyle.

    Please do read everything MG had to say. I agree completely with his remarks, and would like to add a few more:

    — To be fair, a lot of MG’s points (hardship, separation, worldwide service, etc.) are also in State’s promotional materials. It is just that too many folks skip over them to focus on the cool photos of someone Who Looks Just Like You (look, even a piercing, kewl!) experiencing their life trip standing in front of the Taj Mahal. Like that software license you errantly clicked through, it was all there when you said “OK.” Re-read the fine print.

    — MG’s point about representing the current Administration, not the Constitution you swear the oath to, is very important. State is a Cabinet agency, with its leader appointed by the current President. You advocate for whatever he/she wants, even if it is the policy opposite of what you advocated for on a previous tour due to a change at the White House. This must make sense to you, and if not, better just stop here, now.

    — If you are 25, single and can fit everything you own into your Kia as you read this, re-read everything MG said imagining yourself at 45 with a spouse/partner/kids/dogs/piano/special needs child/allergy to dust/ill parent to care for/etc. Much of what seems tolerable or even exotically challenging at an early point in one’s career wears thin later on, when it is much harder just to resign and move on. Do some thought experiments.

    — Because much of what State does is not quantifiable (“Improve relations with Country Z” is way different than “Increase sales by 25%”), what is “right” can be determined arbitrarily by a boss that is out for him/herself and her own advancement, a little crazy, vindictive, or all of the above. You can get caught up in that and hurt by it.

    — The FS is high school. Everybody knows everybody, and what people think of you matters more than anything you actually do. Be a popular kid, or do what the popular kids say, or suffer. Kids who “don’t get along” end up dying of old age as an FS-02 assigned to the worst jobs.

    — An organization often with unclear goals and arbitrary systems to determine promotions, assignments and discipline is sweet, sweet agar for bullies to thrive in. Expect to deal with many of them in positions of authority. Also, they either usually win, or the cost of standing up to them is typically not worth the spit it requires.



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    Counterinsurgency is not peeing on people…

    January 13, 2012 // Comments Off

    The world is awash in urine-soaked statements by various idiots defending the Marines who peed on the bodies of dead Taliban. The defense is either a) the Taliban deserved it because they are our enemies or b) well, the Taliban have done worse things to us.

    Here’s some bonehead pundit saying she’d join in on the peeing. Here’s someone else saying it is OK.


    Here is why those statements are so wrong (beyond the obvious):

    The Taliban aren’t fighting a counterinsurgency war.

    We are.

    We are the invading foreigners trying to win the support of the people. Pissing on them is not a good way to do that.

    This is part of the whole losing proposition of such war– we have to get it right (almost) all the time to have a shot at winning.

    They can pee on us all that they want, because their task is to make us give up and go home.




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