• Archive for September, 2012

    New Dress Code for Women in Iraq

    September 30, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    When I did time as a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) leader in Iraq, “womens’ empowerment” was a major theme for us. As part of rebuilding Iraq, we were supposed to encourage women to throw off their hijabs and/or shackles and vote, own businesses, that sort of thing. The Iraqi women (never mind the men) never seemed too engaged on the issue, but that did not stop us in our efforts. I’ve got a couple of chapters in We Meant Well on the topic, highlighting the disastrous final “Chick Event” held, as well as the equally unsuccessful “Sheep for Widows” and “Bees for Widows” projects.

    Despite our efforts at liberation (womens’ and otherwise), Iraq seems to be slipping at least sideways if not backwards on these fronts.

    As reported by Iraqi blogger Kassakhoon, and according to the Al-Mada newspaper, a state-run woman-related body has issued dictations on what is not allowed to be worn by female employees in government ministries and institutions. The daily posted a document issued by the Supreme National Committee to Develop the Iraqi Woman in which it refers to previous documents from the Cabinet’s Secretariat General and the Oil Ministry dated back to last October. Banned clothing now includes tight body shirts, tight pants, colorful and showy shirts, short skirts and slipper-like flat shoes.

    Freedom!



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    War in Iraq Wasn’t Worth the Price America Paid

    // 3 Comments »

    The Sioux City Iowa Journal, not a typical liberal left outlet, sadly concludes that the war in Iraq was not worth it:

    Ending with little fanfare or celebration and no longer a front page story, it is now fair to ask the question, “Was it worth it?” Unless you can check reasoning and logic at the door, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.”

    The article goes on to ask:

    Who paid the price for this war? Many. The numbers are staggering: 4,487 U.S. soldiers gave their lives in Iraq, 32,753 were wounded, 103,160 – 113,728 Iraqi deaths have been documented (other estimates are as high as 654,965 – Iraqi record-keeping is ad hoc at best), five million Iraqi children were orphaned as of 2007 and sadly, the number of casualties will continue to increase as post-combat-related suicides continue at an alarming rate and families cope with the difficulties of post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Finally, the article references We Meant Well on the failure of reconstruction:

    The attempted reconstruction of Iraq was the largest nation-building program in history, even exceeding the cost of the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II. At a cost to taxpayers of more than $63 billion, the plan was lavishly funded, yet fraught with pervasive waste, inefficiency, mistaken judgments, and flawed policies. It spent money indiscriminately in the hopes that some good might come from it. (For a detailed account, read “We Meant Well” by Peter Van Buren.)

    So how has all this war and “rebuilding” worked for the country of Iraq? Not so well. Sectarian violence and random killings are pervasive. The government appears largely dysfunctional and is the 10th most “failed” country in the world. Sixty to 70 percent of Iraqi children suffer psychological problems. Malnutrition rates are high, safe drinking water is rare and electricity sporadic. And, they hate us.


    A very sad legacy. Read the entire article online now at The Sioux City Iowa Journal.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Iraq all Obama’s Fault

    September 29, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    This article is hilarious, just LOL funny. I gotta catch my breath. OK, The piece is from the ultra-conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford (Motto: Opposing Whatever You Like), people who still think Condi Rice was a great leader and that George Bush had nothing at all– nothing– to do with the mess in Iraq.

    Ok, spoiler alert: It is all the black guy’s fault.

    Where to begin? The Hooverite says:

    Little more than two years ago, Iraq seemed headed on a sure path to stability. A new Iraqi state seemed to be emerging in which enduring U.S. interests—ensuring the stable flow of Iraq’s oil, denying Iraq as a base for terrorist groups, and preventing Iraq from destabilizing the broader region—would be secure.

    All true, as long as you also don’t believe in gravity (“just a theory”) and ignore the constant sectarian violence that has eaten Iraq alive since unleashed by the US invasion of 2003.

    Hooverville continues:

    The political pact among Iraq’s main parties—the accommodation that has guaranteed the dramatic reduction in violence since mid-2008—is unraveling. Whether driven by fear, or tempted by an opportunity not to be missed, or both, Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s Da’wa party sparked a crisis on December 15 by moving to purge its top political rivals within hours of the ceremony marking the departure of the last U.S. forces.

    What political pact? The half-assed efforts wrought by the US, or the Shiite-dominated power structure put in place by the Iranians eight months after the last US-led election failures.

    More:

    Our troops have left Iraq because Prime Minister Maliki and his Da’wa party saw no compelling interest in our staying. Nor do Maliki and Da’wa see a compelling interest, at present, in securing the country against Iranian influence. This is because he and Da’wa are embarked on a project to consolidate power and permanently eliminate Baathism and former Baathists from public life, aims that our military presence tends to impede but that the Iranian regime and its Iraqi militant proxies often support.

    Where to begin. Removing the Baathists was America’s goal in 2003, dumbass. Maliki spent his Saddam years in exile in Iran, and came to power in 2010 through Iranian influence. Of course he will seek closer ties with Iran. Why could anyone possibly be surprised by this?

    Finally:

    Historians will puzzle over how a nine-year American military campaign resulted not in democracy, but in an Iraq led by a would-be strongman, riven by sectarianism and separatism, and increasingly aligned with America’s regional adversaries… Perhaps, in the end, this is what comes of having declared an end to a war that is not over.


    I am speechless. Hooverman, read my book if you want answers. If you don’t like my version, try Tom Rick’s Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. America got exactly the Iraq we created. The problems began in 2003, because of 2003. Don’t try now to blame it on Obama.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Social Media Uber Alles: Embassy Baghdad Gets Its Head Around Twitter

    September 28, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    Taxpayers, a robust group huzzah please! The US Embassy in Baghdad has taken a bold, innovative step towards resolving all problems in Iraq, large and small: The Embassy is now paying someone with your tax dollars to Tweet!

    Sorry neigh sayers, it is true. We all know that social media is the key to public diplomacy at the State Department and now the machine is alive in Iraq.

    Because of the obvious crazy high start up costs and the complexity of using Twitter, the one mission that just couldn’t seem to get Tweeting was the World’s Largest Embassy (c), Baghdad, still without a first Tweet until just August 27. They have been prioritized for a robust MySpace and used up all the electrons in Iraq there, though Baghdad does have a nice Facebook page for study in the US (a lot of Iraqis would like to get on that train; almost all of the postings are asking for visas, scholarships or for someone to answer their emailed requests for visas and scholarships) and a YouTube channel. This blog even did its patriotic duty by suggesting some Tweets for the diplowarriors to begin with, but never mind, here is the real thing:



    Of the 3,000 some employees the State Department has in Iraq, one (maybe more; no one at State can write anything without two other people to supervise and clear it) is now staffing the Tweets. And look at the things you’ll see there:

    First Tweet (8/27): Generic repeat of State worldwide Tweet on absentee voting

    8/29 Generic repeats of State worldwide Tweets on para-Olympics (NOTE: Relevant, given how many people lost limbs in the US invasion! FTW)

    9/5 (Took a few days off) First Tweet in Arabic, which many speak in Iraq, and it is… it is… a link to a CNN article about Facebook.


    And so on. See for yourself.

    May Allah please help these people. They are pathetic. No doubt some State Department person will be promoted for resuscitating the Twitter account, written up as “Robustly enhancing the social media outreach of Embassy Baghdad, dramatically increasing interactive outflow metrics with the Iraqi people. And world peace.”

    But really, this is just sad. With State Department Director of PT Barnum Affairs Alec Ross popping up worldwide to announce how innovative the State Department is, you’d think the world’s largest embassy staff could come up with something, anything better than generic propaganda Tweets and links to CNN articles. Maybe something unique to Iraq? Of interest to Iraqis?

    Your tax dollars at work Americans!



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Things are Messed Up When Putin Makes More Sense than Obama

    September 27, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    While Barack “Blood on My Hands Ya’ll” Obama bullied his way through the United Nations, basically saying he was too busy ordering drone strikes with his new NSA-supplied iPhone app to meet with any world leaders, and making a speech demanding regime change Armageddon style in Syria, Russia’s bare chested leader… made… sense.

    Putin said things like: “Violence only begets violence,” and that the international community should operate as a united front to soothe the tensions in the Mideast. Looking at how well things have worked out in Iraq, Libya and in Syria, Putin claimed that bloody regime change only fuels further unrest.

    Putin also said that attempts to circumvent U.N.-led diplomatic efforts would prove destructive. “Such action is fraught with potential for destabilization and chaos. Life has recently given us proof that this is correct. It is time for us to draw lessons from what is happening.”

    FYI: Estimate are that at least 30,000 people have been killed since the Syrian revolt began and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, many fleeing to neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan. Iraq took some 100,000 lives in its US-sponsored regime-change-a-poolza, and they still aren’t done counting heads (when they can be located) in Libya.

    It is way whack ya’ll when Bond-villain in waiting Putin makes more sense than our Nobel Peace Prize winning president.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Ambassador Stevens in Libya: Just Wrong (CIA) Place, Wrong Time?

    September 26, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    A blind man in the dark with ear muffs on knows that something happened in Benghazi, Libya more than a spontaneous angry mob pissed off over a Grade Z video attacked an American Consulate and killed the US Ambassador to Libya.

    I hate internet conspiracy theories, and loathe slinging a new one into the mix, but the evidence available adds up one way: the attack, well-planned, was surgical payback for CIA activity in the area. Stevens wasn’t the target at all, he was just a celebrity in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guff about the dumb Prophet movie was the first cover story for the US Government and when that fell apart like cardboard in the rain, the State Department shifted the meme to flag waving over Stevens’ death.

    Let’s see what we know:

    — The attack was not spontaneous. It involved a large number of men, perhaps as many as 125, fighting in a coordinated fashion, using weapons such as RPGs and mortars on multiple targets. Yes, yes, lots of people carry guns around Libya, but not RPGs and certainly not crew served weapons like mortars. It appears also that the so-called Libyan security forces assigned to protect the Consulate either conveniently disappeared on cue or saw the smack coming down and ran to save themselves. This information is widely available from media outside the US, but scare in US media sources for some reason.

    — The attack did not target Stevens. Indeed, famously, his body was only pulled from the ruins of the Consulate by a secondary crowd. Whether the crowd abused the body or dragged it to a hospital, it clearly had no idea or concern for who it held. The Consulate attackers went for documents, and ignored the Ambassador. Stevens just happened to be there, wrong place, wrong time.

    Half the US personnel evacuated out of Benghazi were CIA. While it is common knowledge that the CIA stations personnel abroad, it seems very unusual to have half a mission’s complement to be Agency. The New York Times reports that though the Agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the CIA’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.

    — In its reporting on the large number of CIA personnel in Benghazi, the New York Times agreed to withhold locations and details of Agency operations at the request of Obama administration officials, who said that disclosing such information could jeopardize future sensitive government activities and put at risk American personnel working in dangerous settings.

    — The UK’s Independent noted that the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who were working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts. This strongly suggests the attack itself may have been a diversion to steal these documents and the Ambassador’s death, in U.S. terms, merely collateral damage. The organized attacking mob did not seem to be primarily interested in looting or stealing computer stuff.

    — Many wondered why the media was reporting from early on the deaths of four Americans at the Benghazi Consulate, while Clinton continuously only mentioned two (Ambassador Stevens and computer person Sean Smith). Well, that’s because she did not want to tell us that the other two who lost their lives were “former” Navy SEALS now acting as State Department “contractors.” Even when Clinton finally acknowledged the SEALS’ deaths following widespread press reports, she only mentioned that one’s role was as security for the Ambassador.

    Clinton pointedly did not mention what the other SEAL was doing in Libya. That is because the other deceased man was in Libya on an intel mission. The SEAL told ABC News that he was in Libya in the field tracking down and blowing up MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. The US saw its way to allowing those weapons to be used against Qaddafi and now wants to take them back so they are not used against us. Such ops are not State Department work and fall cleanly into CIA territory.

    — The State Department’s curious mix up over who was providing security at the Benghazi Consulate also may point toward other US government Agencies. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland initially said “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,” while federal procurement records easily Googleable showed a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient. Was typically fastidious Nuland’s wrong answer simply because she was misbriefed, or was it in fact an honest answer, that the guards were not State Department contractors at all?

    According to Danger Room, the State Department frequently hires security companies to protect diplomats in conflict zones. It usually is done through what’s known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract, in which a handful of approved firms compete to safeguard specific diplomatic installations.

    In 2010, State selected eight firms for the most recent contract. Blue Mountain wasn’t among them, and the State Department did not explain why the Benghazi consulate contract did not go to one of those eight firms. How the State Department could have even hired a foreign firm outside that blanket contract is unclear. State’s Inspector General had criticized State’s management of personnel security firms, so unilaterally expanding the pool just for one Libyan Consulate seems off base.

    — The US government has had a heck of a time getting its story straight over what happened in Benghazi, most famously in sending UN ambassador and attack dog Susan Rice around to claim the attack was purely spontaneous even as the White House backed away from the idea. We’ve already mentioned Clinton’s duplicity over the identities and roles of the two deceased American “ex-” SEALS. Even long-time State drone Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said at one point he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.

    BuzzFeed sums up by saying:

    The election-year focus on President Barack Obama meant that the White House had at first been catching most of the heat for the tragedy in Benghazi. It’s certainly true the explanations from White House spokesman Jay Carney and UN Ambassador Susan Rice have strained common sense — mainly, the idea that the attack could be blamed solely on an anti-Islamic video, and that there was a protest outside the consulate at 10 p.m. (there reportedly wasn’t,) among other misleading details. That initial story has crumbled, and it took Robert Gibbs to get the Obama administration back on message on the Sunday shows.


    State’s later calling reporter Michael Hastings an “asshole” and telling him to “fuck off” in relation to CNN’s use of Ambassador Steven’s found diary just adds fuel to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along nature of all this.


    — Of course, there is a sort of precedent for this, most famously in 1991 when the KGB used a fire in the US Embassy in Moscow as a cover to roam around the building collecting documents,


    Look, if all you have to do is tell the truth, it is pretty easy. Making up a cover story on the fly requires revisions. It may not be in our lifetimes that we learn what really happened in Libya, but something more than just a protest gone wild did happen.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Louisville Idea Festival and the Anti-Me

    September 25, 2012 // 2 Comments »




    My thanks to everyone at the Louisville Idea Festival for hosting me this week. A nice review of my talk appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, and sums up well the audience’s fine reaction to both my story of waste and mismanagement in Iraq, and the sad, pathetic attempts by the Department of State to silence me.

    Not a pretty picture, but the article is good:

    Ranging from humorous to poignant, Van Buren, a 24-year veteran of the State Department, was far from diplomatic with his views of the United States’ handling of Iraq, where he spent a year leading two provincial reconstruction teams.

    “I didn’t doubt it (Van Buren’s telling) because he has that firsthand account,” said Jody McKee. “It was scary to think he had so much push-back from the government.”

    “That guy has gone through hell … because he spoke up,” said Bruce Cohen, of Old Louisville. “He’s a hero.”


    And as if to rub sand in the State Department’s face over its own horrific failure to improve the lives of Iraqis, the Idea Festival paired my own stories of stupidity and mismanagement with those of Jodie Wu, who has succeeded in disseminating affordable, quality technology in Tanzania on what was our budget for office supplies in Iraq. Jodie spoke to the Festival crowd about the range of cheap, appropriate-technology products she is bringing to Tanzania. Her emphasis on sustainability, local involvement and low-cost makes her the anti-We Meant Well and drove home to the Louisville crowd how much we could have accomplished in Iraq. All with not a contractor in site. The festival was full of smart young people like this, and not the annoying hipster kind you want to beat the shit out of for wearing the same glasses as your dad did in 1968. Some nice hope for the future.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Want to See a USG Plan for Infrastructure Development? (Not in the US)

    September 24, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    One of the issues in the current presidential election is the role of government in creating infrastructure as a path to economic prosperity and job creation. One side argues it requires government to build roads and dams, and another claims government should get out of the way and allow the free market to do what is needed.

    Yet despite the robust debate, once you move the issue abroad both the Republicans and the Democratics are of one mind: use US tax dollars to build infrastructure, build it big, in Afghanistan, as a way to create jobs and grow that economy.

    We’ll leave the discussion of whether developing the Afghan economy will actually address the problems driving the insurgency (OK, OK, it won’t: a US occupying army and a corrupt Karzai government are much larger drivers of instability than poverty) for later. What is clear is two-fold: the US believes spending big on infrastructure is the way to go, and USAID and its universe of contractors live on a fantasy planet of unicorns and fairy dust when they make their plans.

    We (Heart) Nangarhar

    Have a look at the USAID-sponsored NANGARHAR INC BUSINESS PLAN – MAR 08, outlining plans to spend billions of US taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The whole thing is worth your time to browse through, if only to give you an idea of how far out in space these people are. They are not only out of touch with reality, they are not even in cell phone range; no bars, baby.

    Right in the intro we learn that Nangarhar seems to be different than the Afghan places we otherwise hear about. It has “A progress oriented Provincial Government,” and is “One of the most secure provinces in all of Afghanistan” and sets “The national standard for successful counter-narcotics efforts.” Sounds like a real estate agent selling swamp land in central Florida.

    The real estate agent forgot to tell you about the September 4 suicide bomber in Nangarhar who killed 25 civilians and wounded another 30 at a funeral for a village elder. Or how in July insurgents put mines in a school and destroyed six classrooms. The provincial governor is sort of pro-American, even as he is described as corrupt and vindictive by his own people. His predecessor was a warlord and poppy grower, and is now a Kabul politician.

    A more sober description of Nangarhar states that following the “ban on poppy cultivation farmers were promised alternative livelihoods. But these promises were not fulfilled… (a less authoritative source claimed “the eradication program has often left peasant farmers destitute and, in 2006, farmers were reported to have surrendered their children to opium dealers in payment on their debts.”) there is a lack of coordination between different NGOs working in the province and between NGOs and government departments… a lack of human and financial resources in government departments due to low salary and incentives compared to the NGO sector… security issues hinder development activities… a lack of trust between government departments and the public and misconceptions about NGOs and their work… corruption, nepotism and favoritism in government departments.”

    Wasted Away Again in Wonkaville

    And so it is not surprising that the goals for this USG business plan are equally stuck in Wonkaville: Nangarhar will become “One of Central and South Central Asia’s premier commercial and logistics centers… most technologically advanced center for value-added production, processing, and distribution… Afghanistan’s leading development environment, fostering both public and private investment returns… with Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s highest rate of region-wide investment recapitalization, with Central and South Central Asia’s most highly skilled labor force measured by productivity per capita… Central Asia’s benchmark for socially responsible economic development, harmonizing public and private capital ventures within the overarching framework of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.”

    All it was going to take in the 2008 acid-riddled minds of the report’s writers was money.

    Lots of money.

    Billions and billions of US tax dollars.

    The report advocated that USAID provide Nangarhar with $35 million worth of generators to hold them over until the $290 million hydroelectric plants and the $10 million worth of solar panels came on line (while the solar debate rages in America, it is concluded overseas for the USG). Some of that electrical power will be needed for a $21 million cold storage network that will wipe out the inefficiencies of small family farms in favor of US-scale mega-agribusiness. $82 million is requested for an airport. Check out the “culturally aware” airport terminal design on page 42 of the report, with its Islamic crescent and Afghan-kite themed architecture. Despite the reality that Afghanistan at the time had no operating rail infrastructure, $650 million was planned to build railroads. $182 for roads and bridges for the cars Afghans don’t own.

    It goes on and on, 62 pages of spending, with many projects marked as already underway.

    So What Happened?

    It can be pretty hard to tell what has and has not been accomplished in Nangarhar, or anywhere else in Afghanistan for all the cash dropped. USAID has an eleven page summary of accomplishments that reads like a freshman’s desperate effort at resume writing. Have a look; the “fact sheet” is full of words like “enabled” and “upgraded” and “supported” but never actually gives you much of a picture of things. Exhibits have been held, women empowered and elders met, but it remains very unclear if any of 2008’s lofty goals have even been approached, never mind met. Maybe USAID intended the document to read that way.

    The bottom line is that reconstruction spending in Afghanistan continues to happen. While America’s politicians debate whether or not our government has a role to play in rebuilding America’s own infrastructure even as it corrodes around them, they seem to have no issues with spending billions and billions of US taxpayer dollars on fool’s gold abroad.

    So Here’s an Idea

    I think we should reconstruct America. Please say this to every politician and political candidate you run across:

    For me to give you my vote, do this: for every school, home and road we build in Afghanistan, build two here in America.

    When the politician says we can’t pay for that, tell’em to pay for it exactly the same way they pay for it overseas. When they say we can’t do that because it’s unfair, or unequal or socialism, tell’em to do it here for whatever the heck reason justified it over there. When they say we had to spend the money abroad to defend America, just smile at ‘em and say that building jobs in America defends America better than anything abroad. Make them respond to all that.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Torture and the Myth of Never Again

    September 23, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    This article originally appeared on TomDispatch, HuffPo, Salon, the Nation and other sites on 9/11/12.

    Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.


    In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

    A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to obtain it is through torture. What do you do?

    At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself, never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation” Bush years and in the wake of 24, would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.

    It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.

    Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.


    John Kiriakou Alone

    The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.

    And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.

    The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.

    The Obama Justice Department claims the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”

    The charges result from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.

    Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government insiders into silence when they see something wrong.

    If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is 48. He is staring down a long tunnel at a potential sentence of up to 45 years in prison because in the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.


    Welcome to the Jungle

    John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.

    He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be punished.

    Like so many of us who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you still want to love.

    One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”

    One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” lays out a potential defense for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr. Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find names.”

    If only it was really that easy.


    Never Again

    For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.

    Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.

    Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.

    America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.

    What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?

    The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.


    [Note to Readers: What’s next for Kiriakou? The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia will begin Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in his case on September 12. These hearings, which are closed to the public, will last until October 30 and will determine what classified information will be permitted during trial. Kiriakou has pled “not guilty” to all charges and is preparing to go to trial on November 26.]



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Let’s Look at Some Old Clinton Headlines about the Middle East

    September 22, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    Hillary Clinton says Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi must be killed or captured (October 2011)
    Clinton: “We hope he can be captured or killed soon.”

    Hilary Clinton Arrives Unannounced in Libya to Offer New Aid Package (October 2011)
    U.S. officials said the fresh aid Clinton is bringing totals about $11 million and will boost Washington’s contribution to Libya since the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi began in February to roughly $135 million.

    Remarks With Tunisian Foreign Minister (March 2011)
    Clinton: “The Tunisian people have made history once again. You have shown the world that peaceful change is possible.”

    Clinton calls for change in Yemen (May 2011)
    Clinton: “The government of Yemen must address the legitimate will of the people.”

    Clinton, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Embraces a Revolt She Once Discouraged (March 2011)
    Clinton: “To see where this revolution happened, and all that it has meant to the world, is extraordinary for me.”




    BONUS: Nothing can beat this one of course: Cheney: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire (April 1994)




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    One Headline Explains it All

    September 21, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    Yeah, yeah, it’s so complicated. Attacks on US Embassies, defiling the Koran movies, war on terror, blah blah blah.


    One headline explains it all:

    Six Troops Die in Weekend Afghan Insider Attacks as NATO Airstrike Kills Eight Women and Girls

    While the US mourns the deaths of four Americans in Libya, the US killed eight women and girls in Afghanistan “by accident,” and the Afghans we are supposedly freeing and assisting killed six soldiers.

    If that all doesn’t make sense, please re-read it until it does, because it explains everything about why we are losing, why we are wasting our lives and their lives and why the war of terror needs to just stop. Now.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Bright Ideas: Louisville IdeaFestival

    September 20, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    If any of you happen to be in the Louisville, Kentucky area and/or are professional stalkers, I will be speaking at this year’s Louisville Idea Festival and would enjoy meeting. The Festival runs September 19-22.

    The Festival is quite ambitious:


    IdeaFestival is a celebration for creative thinkers and the intellectually curious. It’s an eclectic network of global thinkers and innovators bound together by an intense curiosity about what is impacting and shaping the future of the arts, business, technology, design, science, philosophy, health, education, etc.

    The festival is also about solutions … about how ideas, imagination and discovery can be recombined in new and novel ways to solve problems both large and small.



    It also sounds like fun. Have a look at the other speakers here. My presentation is on Friday around noon, and I’ll be signing books right after speaking. If you’re a blog reader, please introduce yourself!



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Obama: US ‘Will Not Retreat’ from World (unless we do)

    September 19, 2012 // 8 Comments »

    Your president said just a few days ago, following the deaths in Libya, “the United States of America will never retreat from the world.”



    Now of course since then, the US Embassy in Libya announced its consular services closure through Saturday, September 29. The US Consulate in Benghazi has been burnt out and is thus closed.

    US Mission Pakistan announced the temporary suspension of consular services in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi on September 17-19. U.S. government employees can now undertake essential travel only, including within the cities of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar, due to possible demonstrations moving along major routes.

    US Embassy Tunisia announced that the embassy will be closed to public access on September 17, 2012. All dependents and non-essential State Department personnel have been evacuated back to the US.

    US Embassy Sudan announced that the embassy will be closed to public access. All dependents and non-essential State Department personnel have been evacuated back to the US.

    US Mission India announced that due to planned demonstrations in New Delhi and Kolkata on September 18, 2012, the American Center including the library and USIEF in the two cities will be closed. All dependents and non-essential State Department personnel have been evacuated.

    US Embassy Kabul is closed for routine services.

    Even the US Consulate in Amsterdam closed to the public for a day.

    In many other countries, the US Embassy is advising Americans to avoid, well, the US Embassy, as it will be the target of demonstrations that could get dangerously out of hand.

    (Updates on any more closures)



    I don’t doubt the prudence of closing these embassies and consulates to the public, or withdrawing dependents and non-essential personnel. Safety matters and lives are important.

    I just wish the president would stop saying stupid crap like “America will never retreat from the world” when it is butt obvious that we have to.




    BONUS: US bails out GM with a gazillion tax dollars, then files complaint with WTO over China subsidizing its auto parts industry.


    BONUS BONUS: Susan Rice, UN ambassador and lifetime HUBBA recipient, says Libya attacks were unplanned. Two days later the White House says Libya attacks “may” have been planned.

    BONUS BONUS BONUS: If you do a Google search for “Susan Rice Libya” but mistype it as “Susan Rice Labya” and Google auto-corrects that to “Susan Rice Labia”, for the love of God and all things sacred don’t look at the image results.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    How Many More Will We Kill Mr. President?

    September 18, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    Adnan Latif, a Yemeni, spent more than a decade at Guantanamo, where he repeatedly went on hunger strikes and once slashed his wrist and hurled the blood at his visiting lawyer.


    The Pakistanis captured him near the border in late 2001 and he was among the first prisoners sold to the US and sent to Guantanamo. He was accused of training with the Taliban in Afghanistan but he was never charged and the military said there were no plans to ever prosecute him. At one point, military records show, Latif was cleared for release. But the U.S. has ceased returning any prisoners to Yemen because its government is considered ill-equipped to prevent former militants from resuming previous activities. Of course, it is unclear that Latif was a militant, or that after being driven insane in Guantanamo he posed any threat to anyone but himself.


    Adnan Latif died of Guantanamo, the ninth prisoner to die in U.S. custody there. There are about 167 men left in Gitmo.


    On August 1, 2007, Obama said that “As president I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”


    So, he lied.


    The fact that Latif was a Yemeni of course had nothing to do with the anti-American fervor in his home country. Those folks were upset over a bad movie.

    Obama, who was elected in 2008 in part based on a campaign promise to close Guantanamo, lied. There is no plan to close the prison down, because the US has no plan for the 167 walking dead there. The plan seems to be to allow time and depression and deprivation and despair to kill them off one by one because while the President has signed their death sentences as clearly as he did bin Laden’s, he lacks the balls to carry it out. Better to let them whither away, “natural causes.” I guess he felt there was no political bragging rights in killing off Gitmo prisoners the way Obama made an orgy scene out of bin Laden’s death at the DNC.


    So Mr. President, time to man up. Take five minutes out of your politicized mourning and make this decision.



    Kill them all, but do it quickly. Send a SEAL team down there for target practice, or set dogs loose on them, or torture them to death on Pay-Per-View. Kill them all, but do it with our eyes open so the world can see clearly who we now are.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    HUBBA Award Goes to Fareed Zakaria

    September 17, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    The coveted We Meant Well HUBBA Award (Head Up Butt Bozo Award) this week goes to CNN’s plagiarizer Fareed Zakaria, for his Op-Ed failing to understand events in the Middle East almost completely while still repeating the US Government standard lines almost verbatim like a loyal robo-journalist should.

    Fareed starts us off with a really useful factoid:


    In Libya, the government is not fomenting Anti-Americanism, it is fighting it, openly declaring America an ally and friend. The country is pro-American by a 2-to-1 margin, and the violence there appears to have been the work of small, extremist elements that lack much popular support.

    Libyan government not to blame, small group of isolated ruffians, right on Susan Rice’s talking points. And good news America, Libyans love us 2:1! Now, that does leave a full third of the country that does not love us, and it appears the loving two thirds are willing to at least quietly and passively allow the others to run wild, and of course even a small mob burning down your Consulate and killing your Ambassador counts as burning down your Consulate and killing your Ambassador. It reminds me of General Giap’s famous response after the Vietnam War, when some American General said “Your troops never beat us on the open battlefield,” to which Giap replied “True, but also irrelevant.”

    Fareed doubles down on his idiotic argument:


    Across the Middle East, there have been protests railing against the United States and the West in general. Even in these places, however, keep in mind that these crowds number in the hundreds – perhaps thousands – in countries with tens of millions of people. They make for vivid images, but they do not tell the whole story.

    Yeah, right. Maybe we should relocate the US Embassies from the neighborhoods where people don’t like us into those better parts of town.

    As for the violence in Egypt, Fareed sees it pretty much as the guys blowing off some steam, a lot like Dappy Don Rumsfeld claimed during the Iraq Civil War that “well, democracy can be messy.” Anyway, the fact that the Egyptian government seems powerless to stop the riots is just smart politics. Says Fareed:


    Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is an elected politician, and he is trying to pander, appease, direct and guide people. I wish he were bolder and fought the extremist elements in his society head-on. But let’s face it, he’s behaving like an elected politician.

    Sure, just like an elected politician. Just like elected politicians in say, Western Europe behave around mobs?

    And to wrap things up, a little self-congratulatory music:


    And let’s be honest, there is a cancer of extremism in the Arab world, one that was diagnosed extensively after 9/11 by many, including me.



    So, for his contribution to pointless rhetoric, we award the HUBBA to Fareed Zakaria of CNN! We also congratulate our runner-up, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said, “The [Middle East] protests were as unreflective of popular Middle Eastern opinion as ‘a Ku Klux Klan demonstration’ in the United States.”

    (The HUBBA committee acknowledges the many lame persons in contention for this award, and has told me that choosing just one was, as always, very difficult. They hasten to add that in weeks where no HUBBA announcement is made, the award is by default passed on to US UN Ambassador Susan Rice.)



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    On the BBC

    September 16, 2012 // 4 Comments »



    I was very pleased to join BBC Television live to discuss events in the Middle East, as part of their popular World Have Your Say program. My thanks to all that phoned, Skyped, Tweeted and emailed in with questions and comments.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    We must be clear-eyed, even in our grief.

    September 15, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    Hillary Clinton said regarding the tragic deaths in Libya “We must be clear-eyed, even in our grief” and so even in our sadness over the loss of lives it is important to not stop thinking.

    The anti-US attacks across the Middle East have spread– American School burned in Tunis, violence in Yemen and Egypt, Sudan, maybe more between the time I write this and when you read it. It is at the same time critical that the American government face the reality of its policies in the Middle East (more about that here.)

    It is in this same spirit that it is time for Clinton and others to stop, just please stop, prevaricating and playing with words in the teeth of this tragedy. It does not help and it makes it worse.

    SEAL Team

    Many wondered why the media was reporting from early this week the deaths of four Americans at the Benghazi Consulate, while Clinton continuously only mentioned two (Ambassador Stevens and computer person Sean Smith). Well, that’s because she did not want to tell us that the other two who lost their lives were “former” Navy SEALS now acting as State Department “contractors.” Even Friday, when Clinton finally acknowledged the SEALS’ deaths following widespread press reports, she only mentioned that one’s role was as security for the Ambassador.

    Clinton pointedly did not mention what the other SEAL was doing in Libya.

    That is because the other deceased man was in Libya on an intel mission, search and destroy. The SEAL told ABC News that he was in Libya in the field tracking down and blowing up so-called MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. The US saw its way to allowing those weapons to be used against Qaddafi and now wants to take them back so they are not used against us.

    And, with respect to the deceased and Mrs. Clinton, I would look hard at the depiction of the man as a “former” SEAL and thus a “contractor.” Send such a man into Libya as a SEAL and he is a foreign soldier at war with a sovereign nation supposedly our friend. Have him “quit” the Navy and be hired for the same duties as a “contractor” and on paper it is just the same as if he was the Consulate janitor. Just the same I guess if you are a Washington lawyer, but to the people on the ground the cat can’t change stripes that fast.


    Purpose of the Attacks?

    There’s more. The State Department has been quick to say the attacks were carried out by, Clinton’s words, “by a small and savage group– not the people or Government of Libya.” The U.S. quickly promoted the meme that the attackers were terrorists, or angry about 9/11, or about that damn film. They were out to just kill Americans in their jihadi rage and the attack was not planned. The US says no Libyan government collusion.

    However, the UK’s Independent tells a different story, noting that the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who are working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts. This strongly suggests the attack itself may have been a diversion to steal these documents and the Ambassador’s death, in U.S. terms, merely collateral damage.

    (And for those offended by my referring to the death of a US Ambassador as collateral damage, imagine how the families of America’s drone death mistakes might feel, and then shut the hell up.)

    As for the unorganized nature of the attack, the Independent also tells us that concurrent with the Consulate attack, the Consulate safe house, located elsewhere in the city, came under accurate, aimed mortar fire. This was no unplanned attack. The newspaper also said according to “senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert.” CNN confirms the warning to Cairo.

    Why They Hate Us

    Libya closed its air space over Benghazi airport because of heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at U.S. reconnaissance drones flying over the city. US Marines have been sent to Tripoli and Sanna to reinforce the embassies there. US warships have moved closer to the Libyan coast line, and another American president is once again threatening “justice.” We all know that American justice in this regard means killing.

    Meanwhile, ignoring the complexity of the situation in Libya and America’s rough relationship there, the CIA chief quickly wraps it all up by blaming who else, al Qaeda again. Sure, whatever, blame the freaking Joker.

    And what does Clinton say for the United States? She said as part of her eulogy for the deceased:

    I am enormously proud of the men and women who risk their lives every day in the service of our country and our values. They help make the United States the greatest force for peace, progress, and human dignity that the world has ever known.


    At this tragic time, with America prevaricating on what really happened in Libya, with mobs across the world seeking to burn American embassies, really– really, does anyone outside of Clinton’s own staff truly believe that the “United States the greatest force for peace, progress, and human dignity that the world has ever known”?

    And because they don’t, and because they are right not to believe it, the violence will continue unless and until America changes its words and deeds. I am not saying it is right, but I am saying it is what will happen.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    What Video of the Attack on Our Embassy in Yemen Reveals

    September 14, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    It’s not good.

    Video is afloat on the internet showing the attack on America’s Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. Any casual look tells you this is not a good thing, but there is more on display than first meets the eye.









    OK, Embassy vehicles on fire, people trying to bust through the protective glass, which actually is doing its job and taking a l-o-n-g time to give in. That’s what it is supposed to do, delay attackers to give anyone inside time to get away. Such glass, as well as Embassy doors and safes, all come with three time ratings: how long it will take an average person to bust it, how long for a determined/skilled person or persons, and how long for someone with the right tools or explosives. If it was your home’s front door, (made up numbers), the rating might be 10-5-2, ten minutes for some jerk pounding the door, five minutes for a group kicking at the hinges, and two minutes for a guy with a crowbar.

    But what don’t you see? Any Yemeni cops around? Any host country forces trying to restore order? Nope. Let’s look at another clip; watch towards the end, around 0:54:


    There’s the Yemeni security guy, a soldier or a cop. He’d been watching the whole time. He only fired his 20mm cannon– into the air– when the mob seemed to get too close to him. He and whatever colleagues of his were around did not intercede to stop the riot.

    Most people do not know that foreign embassies and consulates are protected primarily by the host country, the local security forces. It’s that way in the US, in Tokyo, in Yemen. No country wants lots of foreign troops hanging around and that, plus diplomatic tradition, places the burden of security on the locals. US Embassies do traditionally have a US Marine detachment, but except under extraordinary circumstances, even at large embassies, that might still only be 20 or so troops armed with light weapons. They are the last ditch internal defense force, not a full spectrum defense. Almost all US Consulates, branch offices of the embassy if you will, have no US Marine presence. Like in Benghazi, Libya. When more help is needed, such as now in Tripoli, the Marines can send in a FAST team, maybe another 50 men, specially trained for embassy work.

    The video shows that the Yemeni security forces either can’t, or more likely, wouldn’t, defend the US Embassy from the mob. This is bad, really bad. It could mean the Yemeni government is on the side of the mob, or, more likely, that the Yemeni government is more afraid of the mob than the US. That as far as we can tell from these videos the Yemenis stood by and let the mob ransack the Embassy is a very, very ominous sign for the future.

    UPDATE: The day after the events shown above, likely under US-pressure, the Yemeni police did engage the mob, killing four. Twenty-four security force members were reported injured, as were 11 protesters, according to Yemen’s Defense Ministry, security officials and eyewitnesses. SecState Clinton said “All governments have a responsibility to protect those spaces and people, because to attack an embassy is to attack the idea that we can work together to build understanding and a better future.”

    BONUS UPDATE: State Department Spokesdrone Victoria Nuland confirmed her lack of connection with reality by saying “We determined that the security at Benghazi was appropriate for what we knew.”



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    Something Stinks

    September 13, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    There is something very wrong here. I just wasted thirteen minutes of my life watching the supposed trailer of the supposed movie that has inflamed protesters in Egypt and Libya. The film purports to depict scenes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

    The version I watched is on YouTube. I have no interest in reposting it here, but YouTube says some half a million people have watched the English version, so go see it yourself if you care to.

    The film is a poorly made and amateur-acted video. The acting is 1970’s porno quality, and most scenes are shot with a cheesy green screen background and hopelessly fake dubbed in dialogue. Most of what you see is offensive to nearly everyone, with rude remarks about child molestation, homosexuality and near-constant vicious remarks about Islam and the Koran. It looks like it was thrown together in an afternoon with the design of just pissing people off.

    The Atlantic has an article linking the film to Florida racist “preacher” Terry Jones, the asshole who got worldwide attention for himself by threatening to desecrate the Koran (thanks media!) Another web site has a few details about the video’s titular producer, who it claims is an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in California. The AP thinks it has found another Coptic Christian who was involved in the film. Gawker interviews one of the “actresses,” seen in the video receiving simulated oral sex, claiming she had no idea what the movie was about. Gawker is also trolling for more info on the whole thing if you care to submit anything (I certainly don’t want it).

    The Internet conspiracy tubes are overflowing, claiming the film is an Israeli and/or CIA deep cover op to justify US military intervention in the Middle East. It all somehow ties into invading Iran and maybe 9/11 somehow. Others claim the film was made by some mysterious Arabs to justify throwing the US out of the Middle East.

    I am not a big conspiracy guy, but everything about this smells bad. Just how did this crappy video come to the attention of so many people? The YouTube version I watched was posted there in July; why now did everyone wake up to it? Who bothered to even spend lunch money on such horrible garbage? There is a lot unknown. I’d like to hope all those people monitoring everything everywhere could take a few minutes to figure out who and what is behind this mess.

    BONUS: For the few dumbasses mumbling about “free speech,” this is not it. Hate speech can and is limitable.



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    US Ambassador to Libya Killed: Still Laughing Madame Secretary?

    September 12, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    It wasn’t just a movie.

    It was less than a year ago that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was videotaped gleefully laughing at the brutal death of then-Libyan leader Qaddafi. “We came, we saw, he died!” giggled the Secretary of State like a drunk school girl on the sidelines of a national television interview.

    It was, in large part, the military intervention of the US that brought about Qaddafi’s death and the “liberation” of Libya. Qaddafi was a nasty son of a bitch. He had people tortured and had opponents killed. He was a dictator. The common wisdom on the Internet, and inside the State Department, is that while “unfortunate,” a guy like Qaddafi had it coming. The same logic applied to the US’ gunning down of bin Laden and our drone killings of any number of terrorist celebs, including several American Citizens.

    With the tragic news today that US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and several other Americans were killed in an attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, one wonders if Hillary is still laughing.

    It appears that the Ambassador was in Benghazi for the ribbon-cutting for an “American Corner.” An American Corner is, in State’s own words, a “friendly, accessible space, open to the public, which provides current and reliable information about the United States through bilingual book and magazine collections, films and documentaries, poster exhibitions, and guides for research on the United States.” Ironic of course that Ambassador Stevens and his people died in what is sadly all of a propaganda gesture, a book nook Corner that says happy things about America so that Libyans will love us.

    I mean no disrespect to the dead, and mourn with their loved ones. A few years ago it was my family stationed abroad at an American Consulate, so I know too well the tight feeling in my gut wondering what will happen, will someone die today simply because of where they work. Making light over the death of anyone is disgraceful.

    America’s actions abroad, particularly when we kill people because we do not like what they say or do, have consequences that are long and often tragic. Secondary, tertiary effects. I hate killing. I am not justifying any killing nor am I gleeful over Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues’ deaths.

    I am instead offended by US leaders who find happiness in the death of others for political reasons, and then seem shocked and surprised when it is visited on our own. Drone strikes call forth retaliatory terror acts. Terror acts begat more drone strikes. Eye for an eye. Live by the sword.

    It is not about a movie. The anti-Islam movie was just today’s trigger, the most recent one. Behind the easy, casual “oh, it was our free speech that angered them” we seem to forget what filmmaker James Spione knows, that the invasions of multiple Muslim countries, the killing and wounding of hundreds of thousands of civilians to “free them,” the displacement of millions more as refugees, the escalating drone attacks, the torture and rendition, Guantanamo itself as a symbol of all that is wrong with our policies, the propping up of corrupt regimes in Baharain, Saudi and until we changed directions, Libya and Syria, the relentless horrific violence unleashed year after year after year by America’s military. Let’s at least be honest about the miasma of hatred we’ve created that is the true context for this horrible incident.

    It wasn’t just a movie. As if to make the point, Obama is on TV saying “justice will be done” in his serious voice, and CNN reports US drones are being sent to hunt down the killers in Libya.

    Indeed, the US rendered human beings into Qaddafi’s Libya for torture just a few years ago. Some of those who were rendered and tortured under US sponsorship now hold key leadership and political positions in the Libyan government. Payback, revenge, call it what you wish.

    For those who will claim articles such as this are politicizing a tragedy, remember this: the Ambassador was there as a political symbol, and he was killed as a political symbol. He and the Consulate were targeted specifically because they represent America. Our diplomats are abroad for that purpose, and become the closest targets for those who wish to attack America. Expect more, especially when the US and/or Israel strike Iran.

    It wasn’t just a movie. They don’t hate us for our freedoms. They hate us for what we do to them.

    America needs a policy in the Middle East that is not based on killing if we ever want the killing to stop.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Happy 9/11 Day!

    September 11, 2012 // 9 Comments »

    Happy 9/11 day, our eleventh anniversary.

    We’re instituted full background checks, body scanners and cavity searches at my home for all guests, which keeps me pretty busy, so this will be a short post. You can’t be too careful! Because they hate our freedoms, we’ve taken them away for safekeeping.

    Here’s a fun thing for today while we’re all reflecting. I guess the cool political thing to do is ask “Are you better off now?” so let’s just do that:

    State of Things September 11, 2001

    Iraq opposed Iran, helping establish a balance of power in the Middle East. Any danger Saddam was worth was contained by the no-fly zones and had been, successfully, since 1991.

    Iraq had no WMDs.

    Iran’s plans were cooled by an enemy on its western border, Iraq, and one on its eastern border, the Taliban.

    Al Qaeda was active in Afghanistan.

    The Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan.

    The US was not at war, and 4,486 Americans had not died in Iraq and 1,935 had not died in Afghanistan. A bunch o’ brown people were still alive. Suicide was not the most common cause of death in our military.

    The US had a chunky budget surplus and had not spent three trillion dollars on wars. Americans got a tax rebate we had so much cash.

    The US was not well-known among nations as a torturer, a keeper of secret prisons, an assassin with drones.

    America was represented abroad primarily by diplomats.

    Americans at home were secure, protected from abuses by their government by the First and Fourth Amendments.

    Iraq had no WMDs.

    Gas was about $1.50 a gallon in the US.


    State of Things September 11, 2012

    Iran has become a dominant power in the Middle East, with well-established ties into Iraq and Afghanistan.

    China has also made healthy economic inroads in Afghanistan, as well as Africa. They hold a good chunk of America’s debt.

    Al Qaeda is active in Afghanistan. Also Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and many other places the franchise never held ground in before 9/11.

    The Taliban control much of Afghanistan.

    The US national debt is over $16 trillion dollars and growing growing growing growing…

    The US has assets in the fight in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, all over Africa, Guatemala, Yemen, used to in Libya, probaly in Syria, and has suffered drone strikes on all sort of other places, including the Philippines.

    The US government ctively and continuously spies on Americans, particularly through electronic means. Once aimed only abroad, the NSA now devotes a substantial portion of its mighty resources inside the US.

    The US government drone assassinates American Citizen abroad without trial.

    America is represented abroad primarily by soldiers.

    Iraq still has no WMDs. But other new places do or soon will.

    The amount of oil flowing from Iraq is about the same as it was in 2001.

    Gas is about $4.00 a gallon in the US.


    So, are you better off? The traditional anniversary gift for an eleventh anniversary is something made of silk or linen, so for you America, here is a linen hankie to cry into. Can’t afford a silk one.


    For a more sober reflection on how far we have fallen from 9/10/01, have a look at Morris Davis’ latest article.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Now with More Victory Added: Hashimi to Die, Iran Supplying Syria via Iraq

    September 10, 2012 // 1 Comment »




    I was interviewed last night by BBC Radio regarding the sad news that an Iraqi court sentenced fugitive former Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to death for his involvement in the killing of two people.

    The news is sad not because Hashimi is likely innocent; almost all of the Iraqi leaders have blood on their hands (anybody think Sadr hasn’t whacked a couple of guys in his time?) The sad side is that this move represent a clear marker point for when historians will acknowledge the unambiguous and utter failure of the US to establish the rule of law in Iraq despite nine years of playing at it. Prime Minister Maliki began consolidating his power literally within hours of the last US troops leaving Iraq and has never slowed down. Announcing his government’s intent to “legally” kill off his Sunni opponent is simply another step beyond hope for a peaceful solution in Iraq. Oh, and some 92 people were killed across the country this same day by various suicide bombers and what have you. As best anyone knows, Hashimi is hiding out in Turkey waiting for the Apocalypse.

    And just to make sure it remains a valid player in the rough and tumble world of Iraqi politics, on the day of Hashimi’s death sentence, and following the killings of 92 Iraqis, the US Embassy in Baghdad released this Tweet:


    The other news from Iraq involves Syria.

    The New York Times dutifully tells us that Iran is shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Assad of Syria. The Obama administration is pressing Iraq to shut down the air corridor, raising the issue with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. This has all been going on for some time now, with the US making its pleas quietly (“soft power”) but Obama, by going public, imagines he is turning up the heat.

    Why, this is so important that Joe Biden is in charge. Uncle Joe discussed the Syrian crisis in a phone call with Maliki in mid-August. The White House has declined to disclose details, but an American official who would not speak on the record told the NYT that Biden had “registered his concerns” over the flights.

    Ooooooooh you’re in trouble now. We’ve “registered our concerns.” Watch out, next we’ll “view you with increasing concern.”

    That yawning sound you hear is from Baghdad. The Iraqis in general and PM Malaki in particular could care less what America thinks. Might have something to do with those nine years of failed occupation and reconstruction that turned his country into a crappy version of a used car junk yard, but what do I know.

    So yes, yes, another round in the US-Iran proxy war. I wrote about this w-a-y back in November 2011.

    The US is only now starting to publicly admit one of the many costs of losing the Iraq war, an empowered Iran bordered by at best a passive Iraq, more likely an allied Iraq. Never one to consider secondary or tertiary effects of failed empire, the US now cannot back away. Whatever forms of quiet persuasion the US thought would be effective in separating Maliki from his Iranian support have clearly failed, hence the (first?) public denunciations. What’s left to lose?

    Once again the US kicked over another MidEast ant hill (Syria) without any clear idea what the end game would be. Sorry Syrian peoples! Iran has pushed into the gap, its efforts made easier with Iraq allowing transshipment of arms. Of course the US is only publicly talking about overflights, but there is an awful lot of Iranian truck traffic into Iraq and the Iraq-Syrian border is wholly porous.

    I think we are seeing the first public admittance of failure in Iraq, albeit with an anti-Iran twist. But as I wrote in November 2011, this is nothing new. It just stinks more now for the extra time out in the sunlight.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Makings of a Police State: Peter Van Buren Unplugged!

    September 9, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    Unhinged, unplugged, about the same really.

    The always-amusing show Boiling Frogs offers up an interview with me in which I discuss the Obama administration’s unprecedented persecution and prosecution of government whistleblowers, and how he has already charged more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined.

    I also talk about the retaliation I have experienced as the only Foreign Service Officer ever to have written a critical book about the State Department while still employed there, including the suspension of my security clearance, demotion, and being placed under surveillance at work.

    Hear a sample for free on Boiling Frogs!



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    The Best Criticism I Have Ever Received

    September 8, 2012 // 9 Comments »

    You know how deep inside your skull you know what your own weaknesses are, and you try and deny them sometimes, and mostly try to hide them from people not sharp enough to see them themselves? And then randomly in an email comes everything you know about yourself laid out. Here’s that email, as I received it, from someone who had read my book:

    Thank you for an amazing book. I believe you, and I have yet to hear anyone even try to refute your revelations. I think everyone in Congress should be required to read your book. I went to your website hoping to thank you there, but what I found there made me feel bad. Taking potshots at Hillary Clinton dancing with South Africans doesn’t inspire me, even if your interpretation of State Department decorum is valid.

    I’m just giving you a respectful heads up: when we are faced with endless negativity, we the people tend to retreat into our apathy and stop being involved. You have a very important message for the American public, and the world. Stick with that strong message—the war in Iraq is rife with pathetic failure and corruption, ignorance and futility.

    You may be right to call everyone on the carpet from the top down, but historically that doesn’t work to make change. You cannot simultaneously fix and take down existing governmental structures. I sympathize with your frustration, change takes a long time. That process is painfully slow.

    I just hope you can pursue your message without polluting your reputation into something most people feel uncomfortable siding with. You have truth on your side, so stick with that truth, and keep the scope narrow enough for us to achieve changes.

    My own father went the route you are now seemingly going: he found gross corruption in another area of Government, and when Congress refused to act on his facts and information, my Dad devolved into inflammatory bulletins and letters, because he just couldn’t believe how little people cared about truth, and how little Congress would do to fix the egregious problems. I think he could have made more serious change if he had stayed the course of civil and calm restatements of the facts—just keep telling it like it is, over and over, and don’t react, just keep stating the truth, and never ever take any of it personally. Just my opinion.

    I believed in my father, and I saw his tactics fail, leaving us with the same corruption we’ve always had. He died in 2004, and his attempts to fix the system he had found broken also died with him. That breaks my heart. The problem persists. But, he was a fighter who inspired me to hope for better, to expect better of our people and our government.

    If your blog and book are dismissed as “angry crock pot” we will all lose.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Tie: Both Iran and al Qaeda Winners of Iraq War

    September 7, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    Goddammit, Iraq.


    Still.

    Never mind the high-fives at the DNC, Kelley Vlahos depresses us all with a piece reviewing the gains al Qaeda has made in Iraq as a result of the failed US invasion, alongside the geopolitical wins for Iran in Iraq as a result of the failed US invasion.

    Meanwhile, recounting how Iraqi banks are helping Iran evade US economic sanctions, Marcy Wheeler at Empty Wheel concludes that “Obama can’t admit the truth– that Iran won the Iraq War.”

    Al Qaeda, based out of Iraq and taking advantage of the Sponge Bobian porous border, continues to play a role in the Syrian civil war.

    Neither presidential candidate has made a single mention of Iraq. They behave like those 4,486 dead Americans, the 100,000 or more dead Iraqis, the $44 billion in reconstruction funds wasted, the $3 trillion cost of the war that crippled our economy, never… even… happened.

    As for the US’ desire for a new war in the Middle East, whether intervening in Syria or striking Iran, please do remember that every time you repeat a mistake of history, the price goes up.

    Finally, a challenge: I challenge any journalist covering either campaign to ask Barack or Mitt a single question about Iraq sometime between now and November.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    US to Focus $358 Million on Infrastructure: Not in US

    September 6, 2012 // 5 Comments »



    The US is gearing up to drop $300 million of our taxpayer dollars on rebuilding infrastructure, in Palestine.

    Here is what the US plans for the Palestinians. Can anyone find a town in America which would not benefit from $300 million worth of work in:

    • Transportation networks such as primary and secondary roads, bridges and/or other transportation infrastructure;

    • Water systems including the supply, storage, treatment, transmission and/or distribution of water;

    • Sanitation infrastructure including solid waste management and disposal, wastewater treatment and reuse, pollution control, and/or ecological sanitation;

    • Vertical infrastructure including schools, clinics, health facilities, public buildings, government buildings and facilities, sports facilities, warehouses, food storage facilities, youth and sports centers, and/or other vertical infrastructure designed to benefit the public interest;

    • Electrical Power sector infrastructure to include alternative, sustainable and/or traditional forms of power generation (such as wind turbines, photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, and/or fossil-fuel-fired thermal power plants), and/or electricity transmission and distribution systems;


    In addition, the State Department/US AID will lay down a sweet $58 million to promote tourism and other private sector job-creation in Palestine.

    Stunned that no one wants to use your tax money to rebuild your infrastructure? Unhappy that no one is dropping $58 million on your community to create private sector jobs? Want to know why?



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Deedy Done Delayed

    September 5, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    Everyone’s favorite State Department special agent Chris Deedy still has no trial date set for his shooting and killing of a Hawaiian man last November while in the islands as part of Hillary Clinton’s guest appearance at the APEC Summit.

    (Recap here; Deedy shot a guy, guy is dead. Question is whether the killing was part of Deedy’s law enforcement duty or some version of murder. The whole thing was videotaped by a McDonald’s surveillence camera. The video has not been made public.)

    The Honolulu Star Advertiser (slogan: “Steadfastly Not Really Online”) print edition tells us that the most recent legal move took place August 8, when a Hawaiian court denied Deedy’s request to shift the trial to Federal court and outside of state jurisdiction. Next up is a hearing now set for October 22 where Deedy’s lawyer will seek a motion to dismiss, claiming that Deedy acted in his legitimate law enforcement capacity and in self-defense.

    No date has been set to begin the actual trial. Dead guy is still dead.

    Questions. Jump in, crowdsourcers:

    – WTF? A guy is dead, we know who done him. There are multiple witnesses. The whole thing is on video. Why is no trial date set ten months after the fact? How the hell much more evidence do you need to bring this to a decision?

    — Given the WTF angle, why why why is this case being delayed? As best we know, Deedy is alive and well, back in Virginia, still on the payroll with the State Department but on some form of not-so-special agent duty. It seems in the public interest to resolve his status. If he is innocent, then let’s pay him with our taxpayer bucks to get back to his real work. If he is guilty, let’s take him off the street.


    I know all about “island time, brah,'” the Hawaiian version of manana, later, we’ll get to it, but this all seems beyond that. I am in too good a mood today to bark “conspiracy theory,” but anybody got anything else?



    (Thanks to We Meant Well Hawaiian operative “5-0″ for the local paper scans)



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Your Tax Dollars Pay for This Garbage

    September 4, 2012 // 4 Comments »



    Alec Ross was hired by Hillary Clinton.

    Alec Ross works directly for Hillary Clinton.

    Alec Ross is paid by Hillary Clinton, albeit with your tax dollars.

    Alec Ross is a US Government employee paid for with your tax dollars and this is what he does at work, write things like this Tweet:




    Your government is not representing you well when this is what they do with your money. Please give some thought to getting angry.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    America’s Increasingly Irrelevant Concierge Abroad

    September 3, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    (This article was published on the Huffington Post August 22, 2012)


    A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that more than one fourth of all U.S. State Department Foreign Service positions are either unfilled or are filled with below-grade employees. What should be staggering news pointing out a crisis in government is in fact barely worth a media mention, in that State’s lack of personnel is silently tracking its increasing irrelevance to the United States. State is sliding into the role of America’s Concierge abroad.

    Numbers are Much Worse Than at First Glance

    In fact, broken down, it is much worse. At the senior levels, the leaders of America’s diplomacy, the number is 36 percent of positions vacant or filled with “stretch” assignments, people of lower rank and experience pressed into service. At the crucial midranks, the number is 26 percent unfilled. Entry level jobs are at 28 percent, though it is unclear how some of those can be filled with stretch assignments since they are already at the bottom.

    In fact though, it is much worse. Within State’s Foreign Service ranks, there exists the Consular Bureau and everyone else. Consular stands quite separate from other Foreign Service Officers in that Consular employees have very specific, worker-bee jobs processing passports and visas and are not involved in “traditional” diplomatic tasks such as maintaining inter-government relations, writing reports, negotiating treaties, rebuilding Afghanistan and all that (Consular operations are also almost 100 percent fee-funded, and thus operate free of the shrinking foreign affairs budget). These Consular jobs are filled because they have to be, cash cow that issuing visas is for increasingly foreign-tourism-dependent America. That means broken down by function, it is likely that there are even larger gaps in vacancies in traditional diplomatic roles than even the sad percentages suggest.

    These vacancies and stretches at State are largely unchanged from the last time the GAO checked, in 2008. The GAO says in its report that “although the State Department is attempting to compensate by hiring retirees and placing current civil service employees in Foreign Service jobs, it “lacks a strategy to fill those gaps.'”

    (State has 10,490 Civil Service employees and was only able to convert four employees into Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). That’s a 0.03813 percent conversion rate to help bridge the gap. Another perspective: why some Civil Servants might pass on the chance to become FSOs.)

    In response to GAO, State only said it agreed that its workforce planning “should be updated” to include a strategy to address staffing gaps and a plan to evaluate the strategy. Yawn.



    So What?

    State’s somnolent response to what should be a crisis call (anyone wish to speculate on what the response might be to a report that the military is understaffed by 36 percent at the senior levels?) tells the tale. It really doesn’t matter, and even State itself knows.

    What vibrant, it-really-matters institution could persist with staffing gaps over time as gaping as State’s? If an organization can continue to mumble along with over one out of four slots un/underfilled, that kinda shows that you don’t matter much.

    And such is now the case with the US Department of State.



    The Militarization of Foreign Policy

    The most obvious sign of State’s irrelevance is the militarization of foreign policy. As I’ve wrote in May 2011, “There really are more military band members than State Department Foreign Service Officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier.” Despite the role that foreign affairs has always played in America’s intercourse abroad, the State Department is now a very small part of the pageant. The Transportation Security Administration has about 58,000 employees; the State Department has 22,000. The Department of Defense (DOD) has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more in the U.S.

    “At the same time,” I wrote, “Congress continues to hack away at State’s budget.” The most recent “round of bloodletting saw State lose some $8 billion while DOD gained another $5 billion. The found fiver at DOD will hardly be noticed in their overall budget of $671 billion. The $8 billion loss from State’s total of $47 billion will further cripple the organization. The pattern is familiar and has dogged State-DOD throughout the war of terror years.” No more office supplies for you! “What you do get for your money is the militarization of foreign policy,” I wrote.

    As Stephen Glain wrote in State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire, the U.S. military 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 U.S. ambassadors.

    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], 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.”



    America’s Concierge Abroad

    The increasing role of the military in America’s foreign relations sidelines State. The most likely American for a foreigner to encounter in most parts of the world now, for better or worse, carries a weapon and drives a tank.

    State’s attempt to stake out a new role as America’s reconstruction agency abroad has failed in Iraq, failed in Afghanistan, and is failing in Haiti.

    Cronyism and lack of tolerance for dissent lead to an almost clumsy lack of thoughtfulness: an ambassador who demands internet access in his bathroom, $200 million wasted on a training program unwanted by its recipients, or the failed attempt to buy Kindles for a whopping $1,320 a piece.

    Among the many disclosures made in the 250,000 alleged State Department documents dumped on to Wikileaks was the uber revelation that most of State’s vaunted reporting on foreign events is boring, trivial and of little practical value (though well-written and punctuated properly). Apart from a few gossipy disclosures about foreign leaders and sleazy U.S. behind-the-scenes-deals with Middle Eastern dictators, there were few dramatic KABOOMs in those cables. Even now, State is struggling in the Bradley Manning trial to demonstrate that actual harm was done to national security by the disclosures.

    That leaves for the understaffed Department of State pretty much only the role of concierge abroad. America’s VIPs and wanna-be VIPs need their hands held, their security arranged, their motorcades organized and their Congressional visits’ hotels and receptions handled, all tasks that fall squarely on the Department of State and its embassies abroad. “Supporting” CODELS (Congressional Delegations’ visits to foreign lands) is a right of passage for State Department employees, and every Foreign Service Officer has his/her war stories to tell. For me, while stationed in the UK, I escorted so many Mrs. Important Somebody’s on semi-official shopping trips that I was snarkily labeled “Ambassador to Harrod’s Department Store” by my colleagues. Others will tell tales of pre-dawn baggage handling, VIP indiscretions that needed smoothing over (including skinny dipping), and demands for this and that by so-called important people that rivaled rock star concert riders — no green M&Ms!

    Best Cappuccino in ‪Tripoli

    Take a look at this photo, of Senator McCain visiting our embassy in Libya. The cut line reads “US Amb. to ‪#Libya‬ Chris Stevens – one of America’s finest diplomats also makes one of the best cappuccinos in ‪#Tripoli‬.”

    McCain no doubt meant the comment as a compliment, and looking at the ambassador’s face, he is quite pleased with himself to be serving coffee to the senator. Can anyone imagine a photo from Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa showing a Marine general in a similar stance?

    Well, no, you can’t. And that tells the story.



    Understaffed, with roughly a quarter of its jobs unfilled and no plan to do anything about it, fits the State Department just fine. It is, sadly, a perfect example of an evolutionary process of government right-sizing, fitting the resources well to the actual job. RIP State, you rest now; it’s almost over.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

    Review: The Iraq Winning Hearts and Minds Mission Fails

    September 2, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    The Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal has some nice things to say in its review of We Meant Well ahead of my appearance at the IdeaFestival 2012, September 19-22, at the Kentucky Center in Louisville.

    The reviewer wrote:

    Lopsided, misconceived and overly optimistic projects start with great pomp and show but soon fail or are abandoned by the projects’ Iraqi partners: garbage-collection infrastructure, a water and sewage plant, a milk distribution network, a chicken slaughterhouse, etc., start and quickly collapse. These are just a few examples of incessant misfires.

    The mission becomes a conduit of exploitation of the American taxpayer by Iraqi sheikhs, with whom Iraq is replete. Americans cannot do anything without involving a sheikh. Generally, after a project starts, the relevant sheikh pockets most of the money and loses interest in the project.

    The war that had the initial grandiose objective of neutralizing Saddam Hussein’s nuclear laboratories soon morphed into bringing democracy to Iraq on a silver platter — except the platter was full of American and Iraqi blood, with democracy being invisible.


    Catch the entire review!



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq, PRT Life

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