Remember when the State Department, and the United Nations, had something to do with diplomacy and treaties and peaceful resolution of conflicts?
Susan Rice doesn’t.
On Der Twitter:
Rice has a Facebook page, so feel free to leave a bloody hand print or a comment there. She is a bubbly sort. Perky. Why here, on August 8, she Facebooked:
Tonight, less than a year after the end of Qadhafi’s brutal reign, Libya seats its newly elected Congress. Another step forward.
Luckily I was able to link her social media ejaculation to her own State Department’s travel advice on Libya:
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Libya.
Libya’s General National Congress replaced the Transitional National Council in August 2012 and will lead the country until elections are held on the basis of a new constitution. Despite this progress, violent crime continues to be a problem in Tripoli, Benghazi, and other parts of the country. In particular, armed carjacking and robbery are on the rise. In addition, political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
For older readers, that headline should bring back fond memories of the 1980′s: The Breakfast Club, synthpop music, asymmetrical haircuts, cheap cocaine and of course, the US in a semi-shadow war in Central America. Why, the Gipper’s terrier Jeanne Kilpatrick said in 1981 that “Central American is the most important place in the world today for the United States.”
So it seems like old times to learn that US Marines, obviously with free time on their hands given how nothing ever happens in Afghanistan anymore, are gettin’ ready to put them down some whoop ‘ass in Guatemala. Yes, that’s right, we’ll be a huntin’ down drug traffickers in Guatemala with some tropic thunder baby!
Wired.com reports that 200 Marines have entered Guatemala, on a mission to chase local operatives of the murderous Zeta drug cartel called Operation Martillo, or Hammer. That operation began earlier in January, and is much larger than just the Marine contingent and involves the Navy, Coast Guard, and federal agents working with the Guatemalans to block drug shipment routes. For years, the Pentagon has sent troops to Guatemala, but these missions have been pretty limited to exercising “soft power” — training local soldiers, building roads and schools. Operation Martillo is something quite different.
The Marines’ share of the operation involves chasing drug traffickers with UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Marine contingent has four of the choppers, and the Marines are carrying weapons. “It’s not every day that you have 200-some Marines going to a country in Central and South America aside from conducting training exercises,” Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes, the public affairs chief for Marine Corps Forces South, told Wired. It was not reported whether he concluded his statement with or without a lusty “rebel yell.”
All foreign policy problems are now resolved by the military. Please make a note of it.
So scorekeepers, please add Guatemala to your every-growing list of countries where the US is engaged in killing local folks (albeit non-Muslims), and stay tuned!
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Your State Department, always on the Edge (of something, perhaps collapse) is running what appears to be a real contest, with a $10,000 prize. The winner will suggest a way that “innovation” can be used to help in arms control. State says:
Can innovation bring about creative ways to prevent “loose nukes” from falling into the hands of terrorists? Can smart phone and tablet apps be created for the purpose of aiding on-site inspectors in verifying and monitoring treaty commitments? Are there new ways that we can use existing data, such as Twitter streams, to generate information that will be useful to arms control and nonproliferation verification and monitoring? This Challenge is an experiment in that thinking. It seeks creative ideas from across the general public, from garage tinkerers and technologists; to gadget entrepreneurs and students.
So Citizens, let’s all roll up our sleeves and create something for the State Department!
Apart from the overall ambiguity of what they are talking about, and leaving aside the creepy meme of enlisting citizens as crowd-sourced tattletales and snitches (“we have been working to elevate American ‘civilian power’ to advance our national security interests, making partners of the United States government and its citizens”), here are some ideas that I think might make good entries into the contest:
– A Tweet from President Assad telling inspectors exactly where to look for the WMDs. (sure winner)
– A smartphone app that randomly generates excuses for not finding any WMDs.
– A script that sends out a Tweet saying “Did you find any yet?” to weapons inspectors every ten minutes.
– Another Twitter gadget that sends out regular Tweets for other State Department people to instantly RT (to yet more State Department people) saying thing like “We are vital” or “State: Keen and Innovative.”
– A widget that searches eBay automatically for “surplus plutonium” and “dirty bombs done dirt cheap.”
– An undercover app that looks for the hashtags #WMD #Jihad #IamaTerrorist_and_hereisMyAddress
– An app that turns your cell phone camera flash into a flashlight so you can look for WMDs in dark places.
– An Instagram filter that auto-superimposes images of real WMDs into any photo to make it look like we found stuff.
– An app that uses your phone’s GPS to create a list of countries to invade when we can’t find any chemical weapons in the country where we are actually looking (set to auto-update to exclude America’s allies on that day).
– This real app, rejected by Apple, that tracks actual US drone strikes.
– New version of Angry Birds with hidden WMD icons to sharpen hunting skills.
– Something that plugs into phones like Square and beeps every time a young Muslim male comes within twenty feet. He probably doesn’t have any WMDs but you can arrest him, imprison him indefinitely and torture him until he admits to something, bastards.
– An app called “My WMDs” that auto-displays maps of Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, then, when you tap on one of the maps for more detail, the image is replaced with one of Syria and the app makes a “Hah Hah” sound before squirting tepid urine on you (iPhone only)
You know some idiot at State is getting promoted for this idea, tying one of the Secretary’s pet words (innovation) into something “online” with all the modern interweb buzz words the old people running Foggt Bottom don’t understand but want to drop in conversation to seem cool, like pretending to like “now” music from “hip” bands. All told, about as innovative as adding a light switch to the refrigerator light.
Jeez, this is about the stupidest freaking thing I have ever heard about.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
On August 20 I asked some serious questions of the Washington Post about what appeared to be a propaganda piece on the reconstruction of Haiti pimped to one of their “journalists” by the State Department. I sent the same questions to the Post’s Ombudsman via email and a phone message. I explained that I would publish his reply on this blog. I resent the email for good measure a day later.
There has been no reply.
There was however this comment posted to the original piece by “Lafcadio.” I don’t know Lafcadio or know who he is, but he has commented here about the State Department knowledgeably in the past. Here’s what he said:
Don’t blame the writer for this drivel. The editors at the Post are the ones responsible. They hold all the power, and big Public Affairs (PA) at State has been cutting deals with them.
After Mary Ryan got fired due to “unauthorized” leaks back in 2002, State started working the hometown paper. (They never had to work the NY Times, Times has almost always been in the bag for the Foreign Service). A lot of FS heavies (Black Dragons in Diplomatic Security [DS] speak) put pressure on the Post editors (and owners) to not run so many negative stories. As an incentive, big PA gives “exclusives” to the Post, in return for not running or downplaying the unauthorized leaks, and running a few puff pieces, like this one.
How would I know ths? Some of the young flacks in big PA have big mouths. They even boast about this in Foreign Service Institute (FSI; the State Department training facility) presentations.
Some of the writers at the Post chafe at the bit to run more of the unauthorized leaks. But their editors made a deal with the devil, or in this case, the Black Dragons.
This raises the question of whether the Washington Post has devolved from writing about all the president’s men to being them. Ombudsman, still waiting on you…
From CCTV, a “heated” discussion between Justin Danhof, General Council of the NCPPR, and Peter Van Buren, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, on the impact Julian Assange and Wikileaks will have in the world of international relations and national security.
(If the video is not embedded above, follow this link)
P.S. I think I won the debate.
With thanks to the Department of State, whose near-constant unconstitutional harassment of me over the past year has helped draw attention to my book, We Meant Well is now available in paperback (as well as Kindle, Nook and other e-formats).
The paperback edition has a slightly tweaked introduction to reflect the events of the past few months but otherwise is guaranteed to contain 100% of the snark, pathos and sarcasm of the original edition. In response to the almost seven emails from fans, all profanity has been preserved and reused in the new edition.
Some images remain like scars on my memory. One of the last things I saw in Iraq, where I spent a year with the Department of State helping squander some of the $44 billion American taxpayers put up to “reconstruct” that country, were horses living semi-wild among the muck and garbage of Baghdad. Those horses had once raced for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and seven years after their “liberation” by the American invasion of 2003, they were still wandering that unraveling, unreconstructed urban landscape looking, like many other Iraqis, for food.
I flew home that same day, a too-rapid change of worlds, to a country in which the schools of my hometown in Ohio could not afford to pay teachers a decent wage. Once great cities were rotting away as certainly as if they were in Iraq, where those horses were scrabbling to get by. To this day I’m left pondering these questions: Why has the United States spent so much money and time so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad, while allowing its own infrastructure to crumble untended? Why do we even think of that as “policy”?
The Good War(s)
With the success of the post-World War II Marshall Plan in Europe and the economic miracle in Japan, rebuilding other countries gained a certain imperial patina. Both took relatively little money and time. The reconstruction of Germany and Japan cost only $32 billion and $17 billion, respectively (in 2010 dollars), in large part because both had been highly educated, industrialized powerhouses before their wartime destruction.
In 2003, still tumescent with post-9/11 rage and dreams of global glory, anything seemed possible to the men and women of the Bush administration, who would cite the German and Japanese examples of just what the U.S. could do as they entered Iraq. Following what seemed like a swift military defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the plan had gotten big and gone long. It was nothing less than this: remake the entire Middle East in the American image.
The country’s mighty military was to sweep through Iraq, then Syria — Marines I knew told me personally that they were issued maps of Syria in March 2003 — then Iran, quickly set up military bases and garrisons (“enduring camps”), create Washington-friendly governments, pour in American technology and culture, bring in the crony corporations under the rubric of “reconstruction,” privatize everything, stand up new proxy militaries under the rubric of regime change, and forever transform the region.
Once upon a time, the defeated Japanese and Germans had become allies and, better yet, consumers. Now, almost six decades later, no one in the Bush administration had a doubt the same would happen in Iraq — and the Middle East would follow suit at minimal cost, creating the greatest leap forward for a Pax Americana since the Spanish-American War. Added bonus: a “sea of oil.”
By 2010, when I wrote We Meant Well, the possibility that some level of success might be close by still occupied some official minds. American boots remained on the ground in Mesopotamia and looked likely to stay on for years in at least a few of the massive permanent bases we had built there. A sort-of elected government was more or less in place, and in the press interviews I did in response to my book I was regularly required to defend its thesis that reconstruction in Iraq had failed almost totally, and that the same process was going down in Afghanistan as well. It was sometimes a tough sell. After all, how could we truly fail, being plucky Americans, historically equipped like no one else with plenty of bootstraps and know-how and gumption.
Failure Every Which Way
Now, it’s definitive. Reconstruction in Iraq has failed. Dismally. The U.S. couldn’t even restore the country’s electric system or give a majority of its people potable water. The accounts of that failure still pour out. Choose your favorites; here are just two recent ones of mine: a report that a $200 million year-long State Department police training program had shown no results (none, nada), in part because the Iraqis had been completely uninterested in it; and a long official list of major reconstruction projects uncompleted, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted, all carefully catalogued by the now-defunct Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction.
Failure, in fact, was the name of the game when it came to the American mission. Just tote up the score: the Iraqi government is moving ever closer to Iran; the U.S. occupation, which built 505 bases in the country with the thought that U.S. troops might remain garrisoned there for generations, ended without a single base in U.S. hands (none, nada); no gushers of cheap oil leapt USA-wards nor did profits from the above leap into the coffers of American oil companies; and there was a net loss of U.S. prestige and influence across the region. And that would just be the beginning of the list from hell.
Even former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush’s accomplice in the invasion of Iraq and the woman after whom Chevron Oil once named a double-hulled oil tanker, now admits that “we didn’t understand how broken Iraq was as a society and we tried to rebuild Iraq from Baghdad out. And we really should have rebuilt Iraq outside Baghdad in. We should have worked with the tribes. We should have worked with the provinces. We should have had smaller projects than the large ones that we had.”
Strange that when I do media interviews now, only two years later, nobody even thinks to ask “Did we succeed in Iraq?” or “Will reconstruction pay off?” The question du jour has finally shifted to: “Why did we fail?”
Corruption and Vanity Projects
Why exactly did we fail to reconstruct Iraq, and why are we failing in Afghanistan? (Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, is the Afghan version of We Meant Well in detailing the catastrophic outcomes of reconstruction in that never-ending war.) No doubt more books, and not a few theses, will be written, noting the massive corruption, the overkill of pouring billions of dollars into poor, occupied countries, the disorganization behind the effort, the pointlessly self-serving vanity projects — Internet classes in towns without electricity — and the abysmal quality of the greedy contractors, on-the-make corporations, and lame bureaucrats sent in to do the job. Serious lessons will be extracted, inevitable comparisons will be made to post-World War II Germany and Japan and think tanks will sprout like mushrooms on rotted wood to try to map out how to do it better next time.
For the near term a reluctant acknowledgment of our failing economy may keep the U.S. out of major reconstruction efforts abroad. Robert Gates, who succeeded Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, told a group of West Point cadets that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Still, the desire to remake other countries — could Syria be next? — hovers in the background of American foreign policy, just waiting for the chance to rise again.
The standard theme of counterinsurgency theory (COIN in the trade) is “terrorists take advantage of hunger and poverty.” Foreigners building stuff is, of course, the answer, if only we could get it right. Such is part of the justification for the onrushing militarization of Africa, which carries with it a reconstruction component (even if on a desperately reduced scale, thanks to the tightening finances of the moment). There are few historical examples of COIN ever really working and many in which failed, but the idea is too attractive and its support industry too well established for it to simply go away.
Why Reconstruction at All?
Then there’s that other why question: Why, in our zeal to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, we never considered spending a fraction as much to rebuild Detroit, New Orleans, or Cleveland (projects that, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq in their heyday, have never enjoyed widespread support)?
I use the term “reconstruction” for convenience, but it is important to understand what the U.S. means by it. Once corruption and pure greed are strained out (most projects in Iraq and Afghanistan were simply vehicles for contractors to suck money out of the government) and the vanity projects crossed off (building things and naming them after the sitting ambassador was a popular suck-up technique), what’s left is our desire for them to be like us.
While, dollar-for-dollar, corruption and contractor greed account for almost all the money wasted, the idea that, deep down, we want the people we conquer to become mini-versions of us accounts for the rest of the drive and motivation. We want them to consume things as a lifestyle, shit in nice sewer systems, and send everyone to schools where, thanks to the new textbooks we’ve sponsored, they’ll learn more about… us. This explains why we funded pastry-making classes to try to turn Iraqi women into small business owners, why an obsession with holding mediagenic elections in Iraq smothered nascent grassroots democracy (remember all those images of purple fingers?), why displacing family farms by introducing large-scale agribusiness seemed so important, and so forth.
By becoming versions of us, the people we conquer would, in our eyes, redeem themselves from being our enemies. Like a perverse view of rape, reconstruction, if it ever worked, would almost make it appear that they wanted to be violated by the American military so as to benefit from being rebuilt in the American fashion. From Washington’s point of view, there’s really no question here, no why at all. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be us? And that, in turn, justifies everything. Think of it as an up-to-date take on that classic line from Vietnam, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
Americans have always worn their imperialism uncomfortably, even when pursuing it robustly. The British were happy to carve out little green enclaves of home, and to tame — brutally, if necessary — the people they conquered. The United States is different, maybe because of the lip service politicians need to pay to our founding ideals of democracy and free choice.
We’re not content merely to tame people; we want to change them, too, and make them want it as well. Fundamentalist Muslims will send their girls to school, a society dominated by religion will embrace consumerism, and age-old tribal leaders will give way to (U.S.-friendly, media-savvy) politicians, even while we grow our archipelago of military bases and our corporations make out like bandits. It’s our way of reconciling Freedom and Empire, the American Way. Only problem: it doesn’t work. Not for a second. Not at all. Nothing. Nada.
From this point of view, of course, not spending “reconstruction” money at home makes perfect sense. Detroit, et al., already are us. Free choice is in play, as citizens of those cities “choose” not to get an education and choose to allow their infrastructure to fade. From an imperial point of view it makes perfectly good sense. Erecting a coed schoolhouse in Kandahar or a new sewer system in Fallujah offers so many more possibilities to enhance empire. The home front is old news, with growth limited only to reviving a status quo at huge cost.
Once it becomes clear that reconstruction is for us, not them, its purpose to enrich our contractors, fuel our bureaucrats’ vanity, and most importantly, justify our imperial actions, why it fails becomes a no-brainer. It has to fail (not that we really care). They don’t want to be us. They have been them for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They may welcome medicines that will save their children’s lives, but hate the culture that the U.S. slipstreams in like an inoculation with them.
Failure in the strict sense of the word is not necessarily a problem for Washington. Our purpose is served by the appearance of reconstructing. We need to tell ourselves we tried, and those (dark, dirty, uneducated, Muslim, terrorist, heathen) people we just ran over with a tank actually screwed this up. And OK, sure, if a few well-connected contractors profit along the way, more power to them.
Here’s the bottom line: a nation spends its resources on what’s important to it. Failed reconstruction elsewhere turns out to be more important to us than successful reconstruction here at home. Such is the American way of empire.
America’s Ambassador, Ryan Crocker, who midwifed America’s diplomatic wonderfulness in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as having this very blog named after him in honor of his superior dip-ness, was arrested for drunk driving, according to KXLY in Spokane, Washington.
KXLY reports that the Crock was seriously crocked, blowing a manly .16 BAC on one test, which is twice the legal limit in Washington State. Another test indicated a .152 BAC. The State Patrol believes he was intoxicated by alcohol, not prescription drugs, due to odor and the high blood alcohol count. Cooler yet, Crock was pinched drunk at 2:05pm, a helluva a way to spend an afternoon as a retiree. Crock spent a night in jail and pleaded not guilty. He shows his face again in court September 12.
We’ll just throw in that a serious drinking problem would be a pretty good explanation for Crocker’s often bizarre public statements. Crock, for example, said while ambassador in Kabul:
The greatest concern that Afghans with whom we have regular contact express about the US military presence isn’t that we’re here but that we may be leaving. So it’s simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone. It’s quite the contrary.
Now, the next thing we’ll keep an eye out for is State’s Diplomatic Security pulling Crock’s security clearance because of the DUI. I mean, they pulled mine for blogging sober, so driving drunk seems a no-brainer.
And if, as some more sympathetic commentators have speculated, Crocker is suffering from PTSD or alcoholism related to his years of service in America’s self-created shitholes, then the Crock should exercise some real leadership and speak openly of his challenges to enable others without his status and rank to also acknowledge their need for care. PTSD is a time bomb inside State (and of course, the military), with many sufferers afraid to see a doctor for fear of losing their medical or security clearance, or fear of the public stigma.
So, so long for now Crocker! We’ll call you for the next war, don’t worry!
A companion app for the book is now available on Google Play. Simply search for “we meant well” under Apps using your Android phone or Tablet, or hit the QR code below with your smartphone QR code reader app.
The app is a great way to enhance your experience with the book. Visit the author’s blog, Twitter and web links, and learn more about the book. Through the web site, see photos not included in the book of the people and places featured in We Meant Well. The app is free.
If you don’t have a phone, check out the app here.
The app is also Amazon Apps marketplace. No plans for an Apple version I am afraid. Apple has high developer hurdles and fees for a small operation like this. If anyone out there is an Apple person and would like to help, contact me at info(at)wemeantwell.com
In case you are curious, the app contains ads that do not benefit me; they are part of the third-party “free” building tool. That tool unfortunately also enables many permissions by default that are not used by the app, so don’t worry. Google added the rating of “low maturity,” which I assume is not a reflection of my writing.
In response to my recent article “How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan — or America,” originally published on TomDispatch.com and Huffington Post, the site CommonDreams featured this very interesting comment by Art Brennan:
I was the director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) at the US Embassy in Baghdad during the summer of 2007. That summer, I signed and OAT issued an 80 page report on the corruption within each of 33 Iraqi government ministries.
The report was retroactively classified by Condi Rice to keep Congress from discussing it and the people of the US from knowing about the evidence of 18 billion dollars stolen, lost and wasted.
Later in July of 2007, a group of US law enforcement officers asked to meet with me in my office at the palace (US Embassy Annex). They explained that the director of the Iraqi equivalent of the FBI (Judge Radhi al Radhi) was going to be murdered because he would not stop investigating the Iraqi Ministries. His house had been rocketed twice and 31 of his personnel had been murdered.
I confronted [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker about this. I sponsored Iraqis for asylum and they were granted asylum. And my chief of staff, James Mattil and I both testified to House and Senate Committees about the recklessness and negligence of our “preeminent statesman” Ryan Crocker and the Department of State in Iraq. Obama was subsequently elected and the same group of corrupt incompetents were nominated by Obama and confirmed by the Senate to preside over the similar corruption and murder in Afghanistan. The only consequence for the group of us who stood up and testified was that we were blacklisted by the US Embassy.
I am a US Army veteran and a retired New Hampshire Superior Court judge. Nancy and I have been active with Stop the Machine at Freedom Plaza in DC and both have been arrested there. We are members of Veterans for Peace and the Veterans Peace Team (VPT). Next week, I go on trial in NYC for VPT’s part in a peaceful demonstration by OWS at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Lower Manhattan. I write these words because I think we have to speak, even when no one in Congress or the White House is listening and most people in the US simply don’t care. I know people reading this do care.
…and nobody cares (link to news).
(Except people in Afghanistan of course.
Both candidates are going out of their way not to talk about America’s longest war and the media barely get out of their chairs for a story absent the semi-regular “Green on Blue” pieces that document just how pathetic the situation is after 12 years and so many deaths. Oh, America has another new ambassador to Afghanistan, the seventh since the war started. The US embassy helpfully has a video of his swearing in in Kabul, with a color guard, speeches and everything, so they’re not just sitting around (bet there was cake)!
Not that it is related [OK, it's related] but while the US remains stuck like an LA crackhead on more and more war, Brazil announced a nearly $66 billion investment package on Wednesday to beef up the nation’s ailing road and rail systems, part of efforts to solve serious transportation bottlenecks and spur a sputtering economy.
Fixing all of the US infrastructure would cost about $1 trillion, a third of the money that has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Go ahead, argue the numbers, but the point is valid nonetheless.
That’s all, thanks and sorry to have interrupted.)
The default media plan at State is to follow anything negative in the press with a planted puff piece. Rather than tackle the facts in a negative story (seeking to refute them with other information, or to make corrections), State’s modus is to seek ink that just says everything is actually wonderful, without mentioning the offending original articles.
Following a scathing Associated Press investigation into the failure of State to reconstruct Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery), State first tried an “Op-Ed” by the ambassador blithely mumbling that all was well. That was back in late July.
It took almost a month more, but State did finally select its author for what appears to be a real puff piece, in this case some hack named David Brown at the hometown Washington Post (slogan: still dining out on that Watergate thing). Brown’s work at the Post has been mostly on health issues, mainly HIV/AIDS, with the odd bit about Warren Buffet’s prostrate (not good) and Dick Cheney’s artificial heart (“doing exceedingly well”). As such, he was obviously the perfect guy to write authoritatively on reconstruction in Haiti.
Without too much surprise, Brown tells us of the wonderful work State, via its USAID arm, has done in one micro-neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. The short version is that in this one neighborhood, 500 people have new houses, lots of locals were employed to do the work, and civic improvements accompanied the new homes. It is a real success story. Read it yourself.
Here are the questions I sent to the Washington Post Ombudsman about the article. Should I receive a reply, I will feature it on this blog. Had the article addressed these points it might have floated above puff piece.
Did David Brown locate this rebuilt neighborhood on his own, or did State direct him to it? Did Brown fly to Haiti specifically to do this story? What role did State/USAID play in his access to the neighborhood? Was he accompianied by anyone from State/USAID at any time? Brown does not seem to cover Haiti, State or reconstruction issues. How did he end up with this story?
The story says $8.5 million US tax dollars were spent repairing or replacing 500 homes. That works out to a very rough figure of $17,000 per home. Haitian GDP is about $1300 a person a year, among the world’s impoverished. Is $17k per home expensive? Typical costs? What does the figure actually mean?
Why did reconstruction seem to succeed so well in this one micro-area while failing broadly? Are there lessons to be learned and applied elsewhere in Haiti or is this an anomaly?
The Associated Press piece focused in part on how little reconstruction money actually makes it to Haiti instead of being siphoned off by US contractors. Brown’s article claims all but four workers used on this project were Haitian. At the same time, he notes that the project sent only $1.4 million of the $8.5 million total into the local economy. That seems to suggest over $7 million bucks went somewhere else. Where did it go?
Brown’s article, which ran on the front page of the Post and continued inside, quoted only two people connected with the project by name, the project manager paid by USAID and one engineer paid by USAID. Why were there no quotes from any of the Haitian residents of the new dwellings? Why were there no quotes from any local Haitain officials? Did the WaPo editors cut out such quotes? Did they not ask Brown to obtain such quotes? How did Brown fact-check the details given to him by the USAID-paid people? DID Brown fact check those details?
As I learned in Iraq, building things is relatively easy given massive amounts of money. The real magic is sustainability. Brown tells us “Groups of houses share 23 septic tanks and 100 bucket-flush toilets, which can be locked for privacy. Twenty solar-powered lights illuminate streets.” What plans and whose money are in place to repair and maintain that technology? Who/how will the septic tanks be drained or pumped out? What happens when the first solar light needs replacing? Will any of this be there working a year from now? If so, under what plan? The article calls the work in Haiti a “renaissance,” a pretty dramatic word that is empty, meaningless and damned temporary unless there is a sustainability plan in place.
Almost all the details in the story are unsourced. Brown talks about the number of septic tanks, a kidnapping and decisions taken collectively by the neighborhood. He does not say where any of this information came from. Where did this information come from?
Another big problem was that wider paths and outdoor places to sit were neighborhood priorities but there was not any unoccupied land for them. As the project evolved, 201 households agreed to reduce the size of their plots, 171 agreed to reshape them, and 51 agreed to share their plots with another family by living in two-story houses.
This is a huge thing to have accomplished. In reconstruction work, the easiest thing to do is simply to redo what was destroyed, urban problems and all. Destroyed too-narrow streets are replaced with new too-narrow streets because it proves inexpedient to resolve the many disputes. How did this process actually work out in Haiti? Did it really happen? If it did, the method used should be a critical element toward replicating this success throughout Haiti. Did State/USAID lead negotiations? Was there some sort of local micro-government?
Since it is unlikely that such agreement spontaneously emerged, leaving out the process raises questions about whether Brown had any idea what he was writing about, or was simply a notetaker for USAID’s propaganda machine.
Over to you, Washington Post Ombudsman.
BONUS: The Haitian government has hired an ex-Bill Clinton administration guy to act as a lobbyist, seeking to influence US decision-makers on aid and rebuilding issues.
Please note that despite the extensive coverage of my article, including CBS, the article was not included in the daily State Department web summary. The primary site, TomDispatch.com, is still electronically blocked on all State Department computers for whatever the hell “Wikileaks Content” is. I am certain The Onion regrets the error.
Joshua Foust over at The Atlantic serves up a terrific article on how the US has used (poorly) “chicken diplomacy” in various ways. A very worthwhile read.
Foust quotes from We Meant Well:
The U.S. has engaged in its own odd chicken diplomacy as well. Peter Van Buren, a career Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, published a memoir last year of his time serving in Iraq. One of the the most memorable chapters in his book, appropriately titled “Chicken Sh*t,” is about efforts to revive the Iraqi chicken industry. Van Buren describes the lavish funding a nearby chicken factory received to get new equipment and to hire people.
The factory, it turned out, was worthless. Brazil dominated the the global market for frozen whole chickens and Iraq just couldn’t produce poultry cheaply enough to compete (Brazil defends this domination zealously). Worse still, van Buren recounted for NPR, the factory didn’t have refrigeration because it did not have electricity — which makes the idea of a frozen chicken factory rather moot. But rather than admitting failure, van Buren and his team actually created a false factory for when touring VIPs came by, hiring random people to sit on the production line while it processed worthless chickens they could never sell, all to impress a Congressional delegation or administration official into thinking the Iraqi economy was thriving under U.S. leadership.
Interested in reading the full chapter Chicken Sh*t from the Iraq Reconstruction?
Also, some photos of the chicken factory.
The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released one of the most scathing critiques of a sitting Ambassador most anyone has ever seen, damning Obama political appointee Scott Gration in his post as Ambassador to Kenya so completely that he resigned. After 14 months on the job.
Even skimming the report makes your eyes burn, but to pull just a quote or three:
The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission. Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador’s leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective.
The Ambassador’s efforts to develop and focus the mission’s work around what he calls “mission essential tasks” have consumed considerable staff time and produced documents of unclear status and almost no value to the Department in approving priorities and assigning resources. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) team agreed with embassy staff that the mission essential task process added no real value to the management of the embassy.
The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions. He made clear his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives… Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.
Failure No. 1
Perhaps not the State Department’s fault (they might push back a tad), many ambassadorships are handed out by the president as political patronage jobs, just like Boss Tweed did. Competence is not assessed nor does it matter; good posts go to loyal supporters who bundled big campaign contributions. Both parties do this, neither more or less than the other. No other, well, anything, is lead in such a way (over the last three decades, 85 percent of US ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and nearly 60 percent of appointments to a wider group of emerging global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been political.)
Failure No. 2
Sort of a big one here: this guy destroyed the embassy in Kenya over 14 months, and resigned only after the OIG accused him of crimes against humanity practically. Where was the State Department? The Department certainly heard reports from the field about this guy, right? Right? Even allowing for a period of sucking up where the embassy’s staff tried to hide this guy’s flaws, word no doubt made it to Washington. Where was Hillary? Why didn’t someone fire this clown?
Failure No. 3
If the embassy in Kenya was to serve any purpose (Kenya was one of the top ten recipients of US foreign aid in FY2012, $652 million of your tax dollars, so something must be expected), it clearly was not being accomplished in the 14 months this buffoon was ambassador. Didn’t anyone in State, the White House or anywhere care or notice?
Failure No. 4
Hidden in plain sight among the OIG’s criticisms of the ambassador to Kenya was the line that “Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members.”
So despite all this, the guy in Kenya is not the worst ambassador in terms of management skills and morale? And there are two other ambassadors who in fact ranked lower overall? Who are they? Where are they working? And for God’s sake what are they doing to earn those lower rankings, actually impaling staff at noon in the lobby? And why why why doesn’t someone just freaking fire them?
Failure No. 5
I just checked Wikipedia, and it turns out that the State Department is funded by us, the taxpayers. We also paid for the aid payola for Kenya, the internet connection the disgraced ambassador ordered installed in his toilet and everything else. And we the taxpayers got zilch in return, just this loser wasting everyone’s money while the leaders at State and the White House sat around and watched it happen for 14 months. Then we taxpayers paid for the OIG to go out there and declare it a disaster area. These leadership failures fail us.
Leadership means stepping up, doing the harder right over the easier wrong. Hillary, it is obvious you have a crisis in leadership at (at least) several embassies. Your State staff will whine “But oh, they are political appointees, we can’t touch them!”
You Hilary have the White House connections, the pull and the gravitas to act on behalf of your people and your organization. Plus, this is your freaking job, not just racking up frequent flyer miles and grinding on the dance floor. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Your employees know you can help, but when you don’t, that sends a very powerful message down the chain that no one cares. Apathy is contagious. So is leadership.
In the almost two years since I left Iraq, sadly little has challenged the thesis in We Meant Well that we failed in the reconstruction of Iraq and through that failure, finally and completely lost the war. The last US troops gratefully departed Iraq in 2011. The cost of the war is thus calculable, finite in its grimness: 4486 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis dead, tens of thousands wounded, thousands more whose minds were destroyed by what they saw and did as surely as any IED would shred their flesh.
The Iraq we created is a mean place, unsafe and unstable. Life goes on there, surely, but a careful reading of the news shows that the angry symphony of suicide bombers and targeted killings continues, just continues. That remains our legacy, and while the US public may have changed the channel to a new show in Syria, the Iraqis are held in amber, replaying the scenes I saw in 2009-2010 and which are recounted in this book. It remains beyond anyone to claim victory or even accomplishment.
If Iraq opened my eyes, what happened at home threw sand in them. After this book was first published in September 2011 some coworkers set up a pool to guess when I would be fired. The over/under was November, three months, and I put $20 down on the long end, feeling if I couldn’t be optimistic on keeping my job, nobody else would. Though I did keep it in a fashion, I was never able to collect on the bet. Most of the people in the betting pool now shun me, fearful for their own fragile careers at the US State Department. Well, I did not expect to be welcomed as a liberator. I also did not expect that in return for this completely true if absurd account of how the United States wasted over $44 billion in the reconstruction of Iraq, the Department of State would send me home to sit for months in faux telework exile before retirement. You learn a lot of things writing a book.
People ask the question in various ways, sometimes hesitantly, but my answer is always the same: I do not regret what I did. After some 24 years in government, I had seen my share of divergence between what the government said in public, and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the lies were just to hide some mistake or flaw, ugly, but with little real harm done in the bigger picture. What I saw in Iraq was different. There, the space between what we were doing, the waste and mismanagement, and what we were saying, the endless propagandized successes, was filled with numb and hurt soldiers. That was too much for even a seasoned cubicle warrior like me to ignore.
Nation-building—reconstruction—didn’t work in Iraq, and it is not working in Afghanistan. It is important to go over those things once in a while, because government fibbers are always lurking around with more false or exaggerated claims for Syria, Iran or Pakistan. Let’s agree to ask a few questions next time.
In the almost two years since I left Iraq, and left behind the stories in my book, sadly little has happened that challenges the thesis in We Meant Well, that we failed in the reconstruction of Iraq and through that failure, lost the war. The last US troops gratefully departed Iraq in 2011. The cost of the war is thus calculable, finite in its grimness, hard to look at like staring into that desert sun: 4484 Americans dead, over 100,000 Iraqis dead, tens of thousands wounded, thousands without limbs, thousands more whose minds were destroyed by what they saw and did as surely as any IED would shred their flesh.
The Iraq we created with our war is a mean place, unsafe and unstable. Life goes on there, as it does, surely, but a careful reading of the international news shows the ongoing angry symphony of suicide bombers and targeted killings continues, just continues.
Oh, but it was worth it (we got rid of an evil dictator, Iraq is free, oil, whatever). Proof that that is wrong: Iraqi maternity hospitals are seeing a new born trend: children given “neutral” names that don’t reveal their family’s religious or political affiliations. Because in Iraq, having the wrong name in the wrong place can still get you killed. The office at the entrance to the Salam Hospital in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul is full of people. This is the office where births are registered and it’s located next to the delivery and operating rooms, near the main entrance. A male clerk there is doing his routine work: he receives forms on which new born babies’ times of birth, sex, fathers and intended names are written. And this clerk has noticed a significant trend: parents are giving their newborns names that don’t give away which sect of Islam their family belongs to, Shiite or Sunni Muslim. They’re calling their children names that are either neutral – so it’s impossible to say whether the child’s family is Shiite or Sunni – or they’re being christened with totally new monikers that have no such history, the clerk says.
“The people are using these new names to protect the next generation from a civil war,” a local writer says. “Many murders have been motivated by sectarian motives and, according to police records, a lot of people died because their names revealed their sectarian allegiances.”
There remains our legacy, and while the US public may have changed the channel to a more exciting show in Syria or Iran, the Iraqis are held in amber.
The nice people at Washington Diplomat magazine are running a nice piece on We Meant Well.
The article is mostly in Q&A format and the author, himself a former Foreign Service Officer, asked some good questions:
Q: But surely you can understand that if lots of FSOs decided to write critical books like yours while still on active duty it would create chaos?
A: I can understand that argument. But this is part of living in a free society. As Donald Rumsfeld said, “Democracy is messy.” The State Department promotes the rights of people to speak back to their governments. The Arab Spring — we want people in Syria to shout back at their government, but we won’t let our own employees do that.
Q: Did you consider resigning after or during your experience in Iraq?
A: People ask me why haven’t you resigned or if I’m a whistleblower — a Bradley Manning with a better haircut — and I don’t buy any of that stuff. I have no interest in resigning. What I did was write down what happened to me. If you came to Iraq with me, that’s what you would have seen.
You don’t have to be Bradley Manning. I think it’s reasonable for people to believe that they can write about and talk about what goes on in government. The vast majority of people in government who make the vast majority of decisions which impact us aren’t elected. They’re just people like me, and so there is an obligation for people inside the government to tell people outside the government what goes on in there.
Q: Do you have regrets?
A: Not really, my career was essentially over. I’m leaving something else behind and I’m not done yet. I told the PRT story to the world. I left something so my family knows what I did in Iraq and I sent a message for my kids that some things in life are worth standing up and getting kicked in the ass for, and the State Department may yet have to change the way it looks at the writing of its employees — that part is still yet to be written.
One of the problems with the Foreign Service is we’ve never recovered from the McCarthy era. We gave up being an aggressive advocate in the foreign affairs arena during those years and we’ve never come back. It’s all about going along and play along and it rewards people who do.
A lot of things the military does have finite, measurable results. With State, the goals are amorphous — to secure friendly relations, to empower women, etc. — it’s stuff that isn’t measurable, and so it’s easy to just kind of float around.
The people who get promoted don’t have opinions; they’re the people who just do whatever they’re told. I don’t think that’s good for America.
Read the whole article online now at Washington Diplomat Magazine!
Of the many (many) issues that debilitate the effectiveness of the Department of State, none should concern us all more than the ongoing militarization of America’s foreign affairs. I have written about the chilling effects of this, others have written whole books on the subject, and columnists have focused on specific areas of concern, such as Africa.
The State Department risks almost complete irrelevance, sinking into the role of America’s concierge abroad even as the ever-ironically named Department of Defense grows and grows.
So it is with more than a little concern that we all listened recently to Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington try way too hard to make it sound different. As the people say, you usually don’t need a lot of words to prove something that is just true. It’s when the salesperson won’t stop talking that you better watch your wallet.
“The State Department is a national security agency, too,” Shapiro said. “We are helping to save lives every day” (No specifics; really, lives? Everyday? Like at a hospital?)
State has, in recent years, increased its efforts to become directly involved in security assurance, even during military operations. It had diplomatic staff members on the ground in Libya during intense fighting there last year, Shapiro said. (Doing exactly what? Accomplishing what, other than fulfilling DOD’s “Bring Your Diplomat to Work Day”)
OK, I wanted specifics and Shapiro gave up what he had to offer:
• The creation of the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), a joint pool of money funded by upwards of $200 million from DOD and $50 million from the State Department to be used for rapid responses to security situations. (If DOD is funding it 4:1, guess who has the biggest say in things?)
• A January memorandum of understanding signed by the two departments that nearly doubled the size of a personnel swap program, meaning that roughly 100 DOD staff members will be working at the State Department, and 95 State staff members will be working at DOD. (OK I guess, but more uniforms at State is not likely to lessen the effects of militarization, while 95 diplomats will soak into the DOD carpet and hardly be noticed)
• The creation of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), modeled on the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that DoD employs for long-term planning. (Seriously Shapiro? BFD, another paper another planning document. Where’s the action?)
In short, Shapiro offered little but some happy talk, and of course the tried-and-true sucking up that State does lead in:
The cooperation between the State Department and the Pentagon is truly unprecedented, and I think this will be remembered as one of Secretary Clinton’s lasting legacies.
Sorry to say, but if this is all an Assistant Secretary of State can cite to justify his lead-off assertion that “The U.S. State Department has earned a greater say in international security policy, aided by years of joint nation-building in the Middle East that has improved cooperation with the Pentagon,” there is little there to say that militarization of our foreign affairs is not a done deal. Maybe you need to try even harder next time Shapiro.
For the occasional few who write in asking how they can help support this blog, please please please buy me this Operation Iraqi Freedom train set! I know it is out of production, but maybe on eBay or at some yard sale!
If you buy me this, I promise you can come over. We’ll pretend there are weapons of mass destruction in my back yard, and drive the train to look for them under the bushes. We’ll drink beer, and fib to each other about finding the massive weapons. Then, when we’re bored, we’ll bust up the train set and invade somewhere else. It’ll be so cool!
Bonus: If you’re Colin Powell and you buy me this train set, I’ll let you pretend you didn’t do it a year from now.
Nick Turse’s changing face of empire series has been especially popular at TomDispatch. His most recent piece on how the U.S. military presence is spreading in Africa was publicly disputed by U.S. Africa Command, leading to a debate between AFRICOM and Turse about American actions. Now, his latest on proxy wars fills us in on where the American way of war is going: Washington Puts Its Money on Proxy War, The Election Year Outsourcing That No One Is Talking About.
The U.S. fought a proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, arming the mujahedeen against the Soviets and look where that got us: to 9/11 and into an Afghan War all our own. Nonetheless, tired of vast numbers of American combat boots on the Eurasian mainland, Washington has looked over history and decided to try again, writes TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse in the latest piece in his “changing face of empire” series.
Proxy war, he tells us, is going to be a major component of the American way in the decades to come. While it may sound like a formula for success on the cheap, it is, he writes, a potential danger of the first order. “Right now, the U.S. is once again training, advising, and conducting joint exercises all over the world with proxy war on its mind and the concept of ‘unintended consequences’ nowhere in sight in Washington. Whether today’s proxies end up working for or against Washington’s interests or even become tomorrow’s enemies remains to be seen. But with so much training going on in so many destabilized regions, and so many proxy forces being armed in so many places, the chances of blowback grow greater by the day.”
From Afghanistan to Honduras, Asia to Africa, Turse explores the stunning myriad of training missions the U.S. military has undertaken, something most Americans know nothing about. He explores our present proxy war in Somalia and other potential proxy battles to come. He considers how Washington is planning to outsource fighting duties to local proxies around the world, and just how it’s laying the groundwork for the extensive use of surrogate forces in the future, training “native” troops to carry out missions — up to and including outright warfare.
Jess Radack wrote this, with some added info in italics by me for ya’:
The Washington Post has an article on how Daniel Carter Jr. was fired for “liking” a page on Facebook. This was not a pornographic, racist, or other prohibited website – it was a Facebook page for a candidate who was challenging his boss.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of workplace free speech rights. I represent a client, State Department whsitleblower Peter Van Buren, who was not only prohibited from using any social media – on his own time, on his personal computer – but the State was actively monitoring anything he did: blog, Tweet, update his status of Facebook, etc. (here’s the letter the State Department compelled me to sign acknowledging they would be violating my First Amendment rights)
Both Carter and Van Buren’s behavior is protected free speech (the ACLU aggressively defended my First Amendment rights in front of the State Department).
Carter filed a lawsuit claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated, which is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Both Mr. Carter and Mr. Van Buren’s “speech” raise substantial constitutional questions and create the appearance of impermissible retaliation for their criticism – Carter’s so tacit that you can’t even call it “criticism,” and Van Buren’s more open – of the head of the sheriff’s department and the State Department, respectively.
The Supreme Court has made clear (Pickering v. Bd. or Educ., 1960 and its progeny) that public employees are protected by the First Amendment when they engage in speech about matters of public concern. These rights can be overcome only if the employee’s interest in the speech is outweighed by the government’s interest in the orderly operation of the public workplace and the efficient delivery of public services by public employees.
The Supreme Court has also held that public employees retain their First Amendment rights when speaking about issues directly related to their employment, as long as they are speaking as private citizens (Garcetti v. Ceballos, 2006). It is clear in both these cases that both Mr. Carter and Mr. Van Buren were “speaking” in their own voice and not on behalf of the local Police Department or the federal State Department.
If the lower court’s ruling that “liking” a page does not warrant protection because it does not involve “actual statements” is upheld, a plethora of Web-based actions – from clicking ‘like” on Facebook to re-tweeting something – won’t be protected as free speech.
The Hampton, Virginia sheriff’s actions and the State Department’s actions are unconstitutional. Carter and Van Buren used various computer technologies to communicate matters of public concern – in Carter’s case, who is to be elected Sheriff, and in Van Buren’s case, the reconstruction effort in Iraq.
As new technologies emerge daily, the law struggles to keep apace, but the First Amendment must be interpreted to protect these new modalities of communicating. As the ACLU points out:
Pressing a ‘like’ button is analogous to other forms of speech, such as putting a button on your shirt with a candidate’s name on it.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
When State Department people get together among themselves, one of the topics that always comes up is “being taken seriously.” State is always looking over its shoulder, worried that the military, or the NSC, or the CIA or somebody will be taken more seriously by policymakers on some important issue. State is always worried it will be sent back to the kids’ table while the grownups have dinner.
Folks, here’s why. There is no video of the Director of the NSA grinding on any dance floor. No animated gifs of the Joint Chief of Staff grinding on any dance floor. No blog posts of the CIA Director’s underlings doing sad adult wedding dance dancing behind their boss while she grinds on the dance floor.
God help you, if the animated gif above does not cause you to press your eyes out, you can see the entire video of America’s Secretary of State grinding with some anonymous woman on a South African dance floor here.
BONUS: For State Department colleagues, typically watching videos of two women grinding on a dance floor is considered improper at work. The staff at We Meant Well would like you to know this one is OK, because it is the Secretary.
BONUS BONUS: For the inevitable idiot who will write in to tell me that it is great to have a youthful, fun loving Secretary of State who represents America’s vitality so well, please understand her job is indeed to represent America but to be effective she must have the respect of those with whom she interacts.
Such people include Muslims, sober diplomats and some very old school people America needs to influence regardless of whether we like them or not. This is diplomacy. If Hillary insists on acting like she is still on the campaign trail, then the results for her as Secretary will likely work out about as well as that campaign-thingee did.
In the fight for freedom post-9/11, every part of the US government must play a part. Our mighty military remains at war in 325 countries to end the violence, while DHS, CIA, FBI and the NSA spy on all Americans to uncover terrorism except insane white men who purchase 6000 rounds of ammo on the internet (exempt category).
And your Department of State is also in the fight. Today, after only ten years of careful memo writing, the Department officially struck its blow: it designated Azzam Abdullah Zureik Al-Maulid Al-Subhi (better known as Mansur al-Harbi) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
What does it mean to now be a Specially Designated Global Terrorist? Can you be shot on sight? Beaten to within an inch of your life by Hillary Clinton in dominatrix thigh boots (“Bill, Hils. I need those back. Yeah, yeah, I’ll get them cleaned first.”)?
The actual meaning, according to the State Department itself, is “The designation blocks all of Mansur al-Harbi’s property interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of al-Harbi. The action taken against this individual demonstrates the United States’ resolve in eliminating al-Qa’ida’s ability to execute violent attacks.”
–al-Harbi must immediately surrender his previous “Average Global Terrorist” membership card and commemorative coin to State Department officials. The branded T-shirt, which he purposed with his own funds, is his to keep, however;
–al-Harbi’s condo in The Villages is up for sale;
–He will be required to keep his timeshare on Hilton Head and pay the upkeep fees until he has no money left for terrorism;
–the title “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” cannot be used in an Austin Powers movie;
–al-Harbi’s eBay account will be shut down (his Paypal was already hacked and in possession of a 14 year old using it to purchase mail-order Spice);
–the al-Qaeda franchise office al-Harbi maintained in New York will be turned over to a white supremacist group providing they will sign a release acknowledging that Sikhs are not Muslims and any future violence directed against Sikhs be of an informed nature. The hate group, for example, must be able to utter at least three anti-Sikh slurs specific to the religion to qualify;
–al-Harbi’s frequent flyer miles will be confiscated and on any future air travel he will be allowed only two bottles of liquid instead of the normal freedom-quota of three;
–al-Harbi’s “tab” at the State Department cafeteria must be paid off immediately;
–the terrorist must return all of his Olympic Gold Medals;
–al-Harbi can no longer take out pay day loans in the U.S., even with his original car title;
–any State Department official to encounter al-Harabi is allowed to tease him, poke him with a stick or cut in line in front of him;
–the poor guy who has an actual Facebook account under the same name will never get upgraded to the new Timeline.
Next: State Department moves to cancel Iran’s Costco membership.
I’m talking history. August 6 was a big day for all the things that really seem to matter for America. Of course, the biggest news was first, as August 6 was the 67th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. We killed 140,000 non-Whites that day my friends, still something of a record. The Good War. Suck on yer lazy Second Amendment peashooters and pop guns, Daddy uses nukes for Daddy stuff.
Closer to home yesterday, we celebrated our First Amendment Freedom of Religion through the burning down of a mosque in southwest Missouri, the second Islamic center to go to the torch in little more than a month. Get some!
Moving on to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, a mostly white church in Mississippi that sparked outrage for refusing to marry a black couple in its chapel has issued an apology. In a statement, First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs said it never should have asked the couple (they weren’t gay ya’all, just black, which used to be just as bad) to relocate their ceremony. The couple had been told their wedding plans made some congregants “uncomfortable” at the church. Just like Jesus FTW!
And of course, how can we leave the day undone without mentioning the latest (at least as I write this; check the news in case there is another one) mass shooting in the US (whatever, another First Amendment one), the killing of six Sikhs in Wisconsin by yet another disaffected angry White guy with weapons. Sikhs have been whacked around in the US pretty frequently, but mostly by idiotic racist Americans who thought they were Arabs. Focus racists, focus!
The current Sikh killing incident involved some foreigners getting gunned down, so the State Department had to explain to the Indian government what a hopelessly messed up and egregiously violent place America is.
“That this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,” one Indian official said. “The U.S. government will have to take a comprehensive look at this kind of tendency which certainly is not going to bring credit to the United States of America,” said another in what was likely that cute accent like the guy on The Simpsons.
In reply, State Department spokesdrone Patrick Ventrell said at Monday’s press briefing, “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and the Sikh community. Religious freedom and religious tolerance are fundamental pillars of American society,” before throwing up a little in his mouth.
(An aide was summoned to wipe away the vomitus)
Manhattan Federal Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in late July ruled in favor of the 110 survivors and 47 victims’ estates that are parties to the lawsuit. The ruling orders not just the Taliban and al Qaeda, but also the current Iranian regime, to pay $6 billion to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. In December, Federal Judge George Daniels concluded that the heinous acts of Sept. 11, 2001 were also aided by Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei and, why not throw them in, Hezbollah.
Readers are forgiven any confusion. Many may remember that George W. Bush tried very, very hard to convince people that it was actually Saddam of Iraq that committed 9/11. Clever citizens noted that most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Yet despite all this, apparently it was Iran all along. Sneaks! And this information is finally coming to light only coincidentally now that the US is preparing for some sort of October surprise Persian Gulf War-a-Polooza.
The so-called evidence of Iranian 9/11-ism is that Federal Judge George Daniels found that Iran, its Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and Hezbollah aided the attacks. According to the unimpeachable New York Daily News, Iran concealed hijackers’ travel through the country and “could have prevented them from entering the U.S.,” while an Iranian government memo not actually cited suggested Khamenei knew of the plot in May 2001. Investigators also believe that Iran helped Al Qaeda members escape Afghanistan after 9/11.
Collecting One’s Winnings
Now about that $6 billion al Qaeda, the Taliban and Iran now owe the 9/11 victims’ families. There is actually a long history of victims seeking cash compensation from despots. Families of victims of Iraqi, Iranian, and Libyan terrorism spent much of the ’80s and ’90s in pursuit of justice, until Congress finally opened the courtroom door by waiving sovereign immunity for countries that sponsor terrorism (list courtesy of the State Department). The victims’ families–because of Congress’ help–started winning default judgments against the likes of Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein back in 1997. But when they went to collect on their judgments–by tapping the frozen US assets of dictators– the State Department turned around and fought the families.
Since sponsors of terrorism tend not to respect the findings of American courts, their frozen national assets held by the U.S. government are only chance the families have to collect on the court judgments. The “compromise” position offered by State is that the families be compensated by the U.S. government, not by the regimes responsible for the terrorist attacks. Why is State so desperate to hoard the frozen assets all for itself? In a letter to the Senate, then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (the same guy who leaked the identity of CIA NOC officer Valerie Plame and was never punished for it) wrote, “There is no better example [of protecting national security] than the critical role blocked assets played in obtaining the release of the U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1981.” In other words, bribe money.
The State Department also is always atwitter of the possible affect of actually helping Americans get compensation on bilateral relations. While demanding 9/11 blood money sound good when the sap is current bad guy Iran, the 9/11 families should not expect to get any money out of a Foggy Bottom ATM.
State Department Also Blocked Victims’ Compensation to Aid Iraq Reconstruction
State has a long, sordid history of protecting bad guys over American victims. By mid-2002, 180 persons who had been used as “human shields” by Saddam during the first Gulf War had obtained judgments totaling $94 million. On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, George W. authorized their payment from blocked Iraqi accounts. But the administration then transferred all remaining Iraqi funds to the Coalition Authority in Iraq instead. The Bush administration promised to “make sure that people who secure judgments find some satisfaction,” and Secretary of State Colin Powell assured Congress that his State Department would lead that effort. But for four years, the Department did nothing. Powell left office under the shame of yet another lie.
In December 2007 Congress stepped up, passing a defense bill which contained a provision that would have enabled American victims of Saddam to obtain compensation from Iraqi money still in U.S. banks. Bush vetoed that mammoth defense bill just before the New Year and demanded that Congress re-enact it without the offending compensation language, all based on advice from the State Department that granting the compensation would hold back the reconstruction effort by draining Iraqi money.
Bush Administration Blocked American POW’s Saddam Compensation
Not the State Department this time, but in 2005 the Bush administration fought former U.S. prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The case — Acree v. Iraq and the United States, named after then-Marine Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, happily pitted the U.S. government against its own war heroes.
“No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of this very brutal regime and at the hands of Saddam Hussein,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters when he was asked about the case in November 2003. Government lawyers insisted, literally, on “no amount of money” going to the Gulf War POWs. “These resources are required for the urgent national-security needs of rebuilding Iraq,” McClellan said.
And thanks for your service, suckers!
I’m a big fan of historical irony, actually of the idea that history does indeed hold lessons for us. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment as a brand new war presents itself in the Gulf, or the glee the White House expresses when Syrian government officials get blown up by a suicide bomb. But as we rush into the next war with all the enthusiasm of a hot date, it is useful to look back over our shoulders.
Let’s try Senator George McGovern, speaking as the McGovern–Hatfield Amendment, which required via funding cutoff a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Indochina by the end of 1970, failed:
Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land – young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
So if you haven’t gotten it yet, I’ll do it for you. Here’s the Iraq version:
Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 4,486 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land – young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Iraq, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
And for Afghanistan, now America’s longest war:
Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 2.050 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land – young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Afghanistan, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
And a generic version for you to use as needed:
Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending ????? young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land – young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in ?????, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
Bonus: The kids who will serve in our military into the “commitment” to Afghanistan that extends into 2024 are just starting elementary school now. They are playing on the lawn at being ghosts.
Foreign Policy has an excellent photo essay on how images of children are exploited by the US military and others for propaganda purposes.
The image shown here, by the way, is from the Doura Art Show, chronicled in my book. The US spent over $20,000 of your tax money (thanks 99%!) to hold an art show in the beleaguered city of Doura, in southern Baghdad.
In addition to exploiting kids, your tax money also paid for this piece of sculpture:
Since we US taxpayers more than likely paid for the Afghan Olympic team, we might as well cheer for them. And, oh yes, “like” the Facebook page so as to inspire Afghan girls who no doubt are viewing Facebook in between drone strikes on their non-existent computers in their without-Internet homes without electricity.
Since we do have computers and Internet and electricity for now, Americans, let’s see some of those Facebook comments that are meant to encourage the Afghan girls:
Qais Esmaty starts us off by saying “Good luck Afghan loin, Good luck Afghan Girl.”
Bahman Behroz says “No result will have this chicken.”
Najia Shehidi responds with “Iranian Dog Bahman Behroz you better stop barking bloody jowish, you must know by now that Afghans are unbeatable.”
Mansoor Zazai misses his chance for some American reconstruction money with “No need for afghani girl to compete they should stay in their culture limit.”
Sawelai Batoor kinda sees through the crude US propaganda by asking “Btw which sport is she participating in and what time will it start?” as if any of that matters to the US tools.
Ghulam Abbas echoes “Which time tomorrow, she is going to be on the screen of TV?”
Bahman Behroz, a second time, with “No result will have this chicken.”
Everybody else just says good luck, which is nice.
Important Note: These important Facebook diplomatic interactions are what your State Department is actually doing. This is someone’s job. Someone is being paid with your tax dollars to do this in some frakish, twisted belief that it must be somehow helping the United States. Now, who again was saying the State Department is slouching into irrelevancy?
The mighty men and women of TSA have a trust issue. Perhaps many were unloved as children, but they as a group simply are not people persons. Until very recently, a soldier in uniform, the pilot who is going to fly the actual plane, and a guy on a camel with a T-shirt reading “I am a Terrorist” holding an AK-74 were all treated the same at airport security checkpoints. Under some bizarre, irrational interpretation of fairness, limited security resources were not focused on the most likely threats but instead spread thin. A little old grandma’s wrapped birthday gift would set off the same level of scrutiny as a leaking box with wires hanging out the sides.
No more. A tiny ray of reality seems to have entered the TSA world with the announcement that certain groups of low-risk travelers will be moved into a category called “TSA Pre-check.” No application needed or allowed as with previous attempts to sort out folks. Now, based on where you work and especially on whether or not you hold a US Government security clearance, you will face lighter screening.
Then we learned in a round-about-way that TSA is also including to exclude from full screening many CIA officers. Wired.com reports that TSA signed an agreement with the Director of National Intelligence in February to include members of the intelligence community in “pre check.” Again, kind of a no brainer.
A Bit of Black Ops in Passports?
Quite intriguingly, TSA chief John Pistole explained that membership in the special pre-check program is acknowledged when one uses his/her passport as ID. “The beauty of it from my perspective is that the information that the person is a known and trusted traveler is embedded in a bar code in the passport. And it doesn’t distinguish between a member of the intel community or a frequent flier. So the security officer at the checkpoint doesn’t know whoever you are.”
Passport barcodes are in the back of the booklet and are tied to the physical booklet itself, not the traveler who is issued that booklet. US passports issued after 2007 contain an RFID chip which holds information about the traveler, including all the bio info from the passport and the photo. TSA does not scan or read the passport barcodes when you pass through the airport. They do scan the passport info encoded in plain letters and numbers, and can/do read the RFID chip. It would be interesting to know exactly what database TSA refers this info to to determine who is and who is not a pre-check qualified traveler. That database would have to be largely unclassified, as it would not do to have a handy list of all CIA officers (we hope), just a list of passport numbers and a go/no go code.
The justification for including CIA officers as a group in the pre-check program makes sense. As a group they all hold at least Top Secret clearances and are well-known to the government. If you are not ready to trust them to leave their shoes on going through the airport you probably should not trust them to hunt terrorists, operate killer drones and all that. Kind of a no brainer.
But what about State Department Foreign Service Officers as a group? They are not in the pre-check program. As a group they all hold at least Top Secret clearances and are well-known to the government. If you are not ready to trust them to meet with foreign governments, reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti, why trust them to leave their shoes on going through the airport?
Ironically, it is the State Department who issues the passports others can use as tickets to faster security processing. Maybe there’s a way State can spoof the passports to get their people included?
Permission to ease through TSA security has been under discussion inside State for a long time. State’s internal “ideas marketplace,” the Sounding Board, has had a thread on this topic since 2010, with over 140 entries. Yet not a word there or anywhere else on why State’s diplomats are not trusted by TSA. State Department employees coming from overseas were initially excluded from airline discount programs for pets, originally offered only to the military. State had to fight its way into that program, largely through its employee association, AFSA’s, efforts. It is always “People First” at State.
Bonus for State Department people: It appears State has been part of some inter-agency working group “looking into this” since at least March 2012, with the boffo results above. I contacted AFSA, who tells me they have raised and continue to pursue this very issue with management.
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