John Stanton‘s reputation as a truth-teller/trouble-maker (depending on your politics) is solid.
His new book, The Raptor’s Eye, JIEDDO, MISO, General P and The Prophet Smith: Reports from Washington, DC 2012, Capitol of the American Empire, with contributions from Dr. Emma L. Briant, University of Glasgow, is a collection of essays on the state of Amerika.
Stanton made his name in part through his dissection of General Petraeus’ vaunted Human Terrain System (HTS), a failed component of Petraeus’ failed counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. HTS employed anthropologists to work alongside the US Army, analyzing the Iraqis scientifically so the US could more effectively manipulate and/or kill them.
But that’s for another time. Here are a couple of quotes from Stanton’s new book to set the tone for you:
“The biggest reason why stuff like the General Petraeus scandal happens is because the Inspector General’s Office (IG) continues to discount or ignore complaints from subordinates, until they explode in their faces. There is no way Paula Broadwell could have jumped on a plane and appeared in Afghanistan, without someone asking questions, somewhere. Instead of going after General David Petraeus, or Paula Broadwell, the military would save a lot of time and trouble taking a look at the people who allegedly approved Paula’s access to classified information, and the people responsible for safeguarding that access. I guarantee you that you will find someone who raised questions, who was harassed, intimidated, or removed from their position. The IG complaint process is supposed to provide a safety net for people who come forward with allegations of misconduct. This system appears to have fallen apart, and IG offices appear to be either complicit or disinterested in pursuing allegations of suspicious conduct by senior officers and NCO’s”.
“It was not to New York City, Boston or Baltimore that Wall Street financiers and banking houses ran to in 2008 when they screwed up. It was a sprint to Washington, DC that they made in search of cash to salvage their bank accounts first, and then the American economy, second. This provided a fine lesson for those who deride the citizens and institutions of the National Capitol Region: the action is here DC, not outside the Beltway.”
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Everyone is special in his/her own way, so take what applies below and leave the rest.
— Your State Department person is unlikely to have had any military service, or any training into the way the military works. Unless you clearly do not have to, make sure s/he understands who out-ranks whom, what acronyms mean and what will be expected of him/her at a meeting (sit quietly, agree with General, offer real options, etc.). Your Statie is unlikely to arrive knowing the difference between the S-2 and the S-4.
— At the same time, State people usually have a lot of experience blending in to foreign cultures. S/he may talk the talk like a 25 year O-6, but unless you clearly do not have to, make sure s/he understands who out-ranks whom, what acronyms mean and what will be expected of him/her at a meeting (sit quietly, agree with General, offer real options, etc.). Some State people will inadvertently overdo it, maybe too many war movies, so it is OK to advise against calling the visiting CSM “Sarge” or trying to out profane the “guys” in the “unit.”
— Inside an embassy, almost everyone but the ambassador calls each other by his/her first name. People are “asked” to do things and expected to understand when “ask” means “an order.” Even though State people may say “I’d like you to…” or “If you get a chance…” those words may or may not mean what they sound like. It is usually considered a bit uncool or crass to issue “orders” or “demand” things even when that is what you are clearly doing. State people can read these things like dogs understand each other by sniffing, but you may not get what’s going on. If a State person says “It is my strong recommendation…” for example, that means “Goddammit, do it now.” “I’ll consider it” or “That requires some study” are the same as “I’m busy that night” in the dating world.
— Explain to your Statie who to talk to about problems. S/he will have at least courtesy meetings regularly with your boss’ boss and that would be a bad place for the Statie to casually bring up a minor complaint about his CHU. While some Staties are indeed out to jerk you around, in most cases it is benign ignorance. Tell your Statie to come to you personally with any issues, however small.
— Telling your Statie to pack for a helo trip, or be prepared to overnight means nothing to them. Be specific: one small backpack you can carry yourself, boots not shoes, bring a sleeping bag, etc.
— State does not do Powerpoint well. If you are expecting slides or a presentation, get someone to help your Statie get ready. Be very specific: if you only need one slide, say that. If you need photos, a chart, whatever, don’t assume, specify.
— State is a very vertical organization. Everyone is at least a Major and thinks they are a Colonel. At the same time, very little authority is explicit or delegated. Expect even minor decisions to take time and be run up the chain. Whereas a decision run up through channels to a Four Star is a big deal, it is not uncommon in State for even relatively minor things to be “cleared” by the Deputy Chief of Mission or Ambassador as part of State’s deeply ingrained CYA culture. It may not mean that much, so don’t over-read into it.
— The State Department culture is very clearly comfortable with men and women in all roles. Sexual harassment is not tolerated in any form, even what some might call “friendly kidding around.” Gay Staties are very openly accepted and acknowledged. Ambassadors will travel with their partners on government travel. While usually age and rank in State track, State does accept entry-levels of all ages, and the promotion system can send relatively young people into higher positions. Your Statie’s attitude on these things may differ from yours.
— State rarely has any money. Think of the relationship like an old-timey date– you’ll pay. Most State people are encouraged to believe that DOD has unlimited personnel, money and resources. If you say something can’t be done for lack of these, however truthful, your State person will think you are not telling the truth.
— There is no physical fitness requirement at State. Medical clearance is mostly a negative thing– the Statie doesn’t have a life-threatening heart condition– and not a positive thing. Assess the physical demands of a task before sending a State person out into the field or make provisions to accommodate.
— Commitment will vary. Personnel rules at State require most employees to “volunteer” to do some time in conflict zones whether they really want to or not. Many lack the service ethic. Don’t be too surprised if your Statie bitches openly about having to be there and does very little. Perhaps offer the option to “backstop the operation from the FOB” instead of going outside the wire?
— At the same time, many “field” positions have been created by State to satisfy some Washington-level political need, and your Statie, even if pumped-up herself, may not have anything pushed to her from the embassy and will need to be kept busy.
— Be honest and clear about living conditions. Most of the State people will be flexible if prepared right, but simply saying “we’ll be at COP Hammer for two days” is not enough. Best to say “two days unless weather closes down the helos, it’ll be four to a dry CHU, probably MREs for two out of three meals, no good Internet.”
— State does not issue gear to its people. Whatever your Statie has s/he bought at LL Bean and carried over in a suitcase. The shopping list was spread like chlamydia, from the last Statie to the next. It is not their fault. Help them if appropriate, maybe even a shopping trip to the Exchange. Your Statie having the right boots will make everyone’s life easier. At the same time, gently turn the volume down from 11 for the Statie festooned with belts and web gear and GPS’ and patches and pouches.
— Information sharing at State is poor. Information is hoarded like loot, to be exchanged and traded. Don’t assume your Statie has been briefed, is informed or has shared. Check, or take the responsibility necessary to ensure your mission works. That one part of the embassy knows something does not mean anyone else there knows it. Info sharing in/out of the Political and Security sections is notoriously poor.
— State is big on “consultations,” in person chats among itself. State people are paranoid about their written communications being thrown back at them (Wikileaks) and will always worry about Freedom of Information Action requests and refer to fears that “this’ll end up in the Washington Post.” Be prepared for them to have to spend a lot of time at the home office figuring out what’s up, and don’t expect to get anything sensitive done in writing, even if classified. More than the military, what State says on paper and what they do in practice vary.
— The biggest brownie points within State are given for “reporting,” often long, literary pieces “from the field” (again, see Wikileaks). If you want to make your Statie look good, throw him/her some tidbits or expose them to some tribal meeting or something to report on. As noted, don’t expect secrecy, but often State prizes most highly slice of life pieces anyway, “taking the pulse of the people” kind of soft stuff. This reporting is referred to as a cable, the term coming from long ago (last year) when actual telegrams were sent via wire back to Washington.
— Almost everything that matters in State is affected by the very specific words on the yearly performance evaluation, EER. Your Statie will be consumed by this throughout the spring, as preparation and negotiations (it is an interactive process) begin in March or so and continue into May. This is the most stressful time of the year for most State people. Especially at the lower levels where the Statie lacks a clear “corridor reputation,” what is said on the EER will significantly affect them. Similarly, State’s next-assignment system is equally hazardous and complex to navigate. This is usually done starting in late summer into early winter, and is also a huge source of anxiety and State stress, FYI.
— All Statie’s are assigned to “cones,” area of specialty. The formal ones are political, economic, consular, public diplomacy or administrative. Security is part of admin but really a world of its own. Ask your Statie about her cone as an icebreaker. Like in the military, “where have you been assigned before?” is a very easy neutral question. Statie’s usually like to say city names instead of country or base names, so it’s Tokyo, not Japan or Yokosuka.
— State personnel assigned to the embassy often do not want to travel into the field, and/or cannot arrange travel out. It may not mean anything that no one senior from the embassy ever visits, or that your Statie’s every meeting with his boss takes place when summoned to the embassy. When seniors do visit, they may feel they should only see their own State person to avoid bothering you and slip back out. If protocol requires a courtesy call or a briefing to senior leaders, best to make this clear way ahead of time if possible. If a senior embassy person does come by on short notice and fails to meet with the Colonel, it may mean nothing. In most cases no harm is intended.
— At the same time, it will be good relations with your Statie to have him sit in on your higher-ups visits. S/he’ll report back to the embassy and brownie points will be awarded for the “access,” especially if the Statie fancies himself a “liaison.”
— In war zones, State offers its people usually three R&Rs a year. No temps or replacements will be sent. There is usually no one in the co-pilot’s seat waiting to fill in, and if there is a deputy s/he will not take charge. Plan for long gaps when whatever it is that your Statie is doing won’t be done. State rarely allows for any significant left-seat/right-seat hand off time. Overlaps, if they occur at all, are usually a matter of a few informal days as the incumbent tries to get out as soon as possible by announcing how well-prepared her new colleague is.
BONUS: A now-classic 1998 essay, DEFENSE IS FROM MARS STATE IS FROM VENUS, by Colonel Rickey L. Rife of the Army War College, is well-worth reading, especially for its still-relevant discussion of decision making styles at State and within the military.
A more official happy-talk depiction of State for a DOD audience is also somewhat entertaining.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Despite the utter failure of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one thing is certain: our future wars will continue to feature civilian-military mixed efforts. This is the sadistic high school football coach’s version of “we’re gonna do this over and over until you losers get it right.”
Getting along is not easy; military personnel will always vastly out number civilians and so most of the adapting needs to happen on our side of the equation, not theirs. The military has its own culture, which you do not share.
Retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson has an article in Small Wars Journal aimed at helping civilians who work with the US military to understand it. His piece is very good, and worth reading, but does not go far enough. Some additional ideas, in no particular order:
1) Earn respect by being very good at whatever it is you are doing there. Don’t expect second chances to move from the dumb ass to the useful category. Don’t be a know it all either, especially if your knowledge is mostly book learning.
2) 0900 means be there no later than 0845. Don’t operate on civilian time. If you’re late for a movement, you’ll be left behind.
3) If you are entitled to privileges beyond what the military gets, share if you are allowed (sat phone, laptop, movies, books) or keep quiet about it (booze).
4) Follow the rules even if you can get away with not following the rules to earn respect. Shave, keep your hair cut, don’t dress like a slob.
5) Start off formal, work back toward casual. Expect to be invited to call senior officers by their first names. Expect to decline to do so unless in private.
6) Anything to do with real military stuff, such as defensive plans or drills, shut up, pay attention and follow along. Don’t end up dead weight that has to be carried along.
7) Speaking of which, always be able to and always do carry your own gear. Even if you are short, weak and slight, hump what is yours and do not let a soldier carry it for you (they will try). If you can’t carry it, leave it behind. Check how much room you’ll have for stuff on various forms of transport, like MRAPs and different model helos.
8 ) Expect to be tested. Expect things to be thrown your way to see what you’ll do– meet deadlines, help out, or skip things and get away with being lazy. Soldiers have to figure out who they can trust and who they can’t.
9) Socialize. If you are one of many civilians, try hard not to split off into a civilian group at meals.
10) Adopt a sports team if you don’t follow one. There is not a more neutral topic in the military than sports. It’ll be a while before you can argue politics or news, but sports is always a decent topic and opinions are encouraged. You don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia, just be able to join in. Surprise people by being “normal.”
11) Listen carefully to how soldiers complain. Complaining is a right of being in uniform, but you must be careful not to exceed the boundaries, or to make it seem like you are not being cared for.
12) Do not criticize another soldier, even if the troops are doing it. They’re insiders, you’re not. Do feel free to poke fun at yourself to show that you are not an asshole like the last civilian. Just because soldiers of different races can make racial jokes with one another, don’t think you can.
13) If told to wear body armor, or a helmet, or gloves or whatever, just do it. Don’t try to get away with not. There may or may not be a good reason, but that is not your concern.
14) If you don’t understand an acronym, ask. Otherwise people will expect that you understood and expect you to do whatever is expected. Nobody will translate everything for you and as long as they do you are an outsider.
15) Don’t play soldier. Don’t wear military gear you don’t need, don’t over use slang or profanity, don’t pretend to know things you don’t know, or know from books. Be polite and respectful but don’t overdo the Sirs and Ma’ams. Be who you are, though maybe a slightly more laid back and in-shape version of who you are.
16) If you agree to do something, absolutely do it. This is not an environment to say “Let’s get together sometime” without meaning it.
17) Share hardships. Expect to always be offered the best food, the best sleeping arrangements, the ride instead of walking. Decline sometimes, say yes when it seems better than pissing someone off by declining (hard to judge– that’s why you get the big bucks).
18) Special for State Department heroes: don’t ask officers to fetch coffee for you, don’t wear bow ties, don’t speak in passive-aggressive slights, don’t complain when your shoes get dusty, don’t wear white pants to the field, don’t show up without a Powerpoint, don’t ask soldiers to take notes for you, don’t talk about your next assignment to Paris, overall just don’t be a dick and make it harder on the rest of us.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
“Why Barack, I’m the Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past.”
“What are you doing here? It’s just Thanksgiving. I thought you guys visited on Christmas Eve, anyway. It starts earlier every year, doesn’t it?”
“You’re confusing me with other spirits, Barack. I visit second-term presidents just after they are reelected to help them map out their foreign policy legacy.”
“I’m calling the Secret Service. Get out of my bedroom!”
“No need Mr. President. No one can see me but you. I’m here to talk about the future, about America overseas, so you can achieve your place in history. I am here to help guide you.”
“You do this for all presidents? What happened with Bush, then?”
“That was unfortunate. It turned out Rove had been a hyena in a previous life and could somehow still smell me, so I got chased out. And see how it ended up for Bush? His legacy is fear of overseas travel, wondering how far the Hague’s reach really is.”
“OK Spirit, what do you want from me?”
“Barack, you were elected the first time on the promise of hope and change. You got reelected mostly by not being Mitt Romney. You need to reclaim the original mantel. You need to be bold in foreign affairs and leave America positioned for this new world. You won the election by not being the candidate from the 1950s. Now, you need to establish a foreign policy for an America of 2012 instead of 1950.”
“What do you mean, Spirit?”
“Stop searching for demons. Let’s start with the Middle East. You inherited a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly, thanks to Rove and his canine sense of smell, but what did you do with it?”
“I ended the war in Iraq.”
“No, you agreed not to push back when the Iraqis threw the troops out in 2010. The war continues there, fought in little ugly flare-ups among Iranian proxies. But that’s spilled milk. What you need to do is reclaim your State Department from what is now a lost cause.”
“What do you mean?”
“Much like the way Vietnam destroyed the army, Iraq and Afghanistan gravely wounded your State Department. Why does America still maintain its largest embassy in a place like Baghdad? That massive hollow structure sucks money and, more importantly, personnel, from your limited diplomatic establishment. Scale it back to the mid-size level the situation there really requires, and move those personnel resources to places America badly needs diplomacy. As a bonus, you’ll remove a scab. That big embassy is seen throughout the Middle East as a symbol of hubris, a monument to folly. Show them better — repurpose most of it into a new university or an international conference center and signal a new beginning.”
“You mentioned Iranian influence in Iraq, so yeah, thanks, George, for that little gift. I have the Israelis up my ass looking for a war, and it seems every day another thing threatens to spark off a fight with the Iranians.”
“Iran can be your finest achievement. Nixon went to China, remember.”
“You know Spirit, you actually look a little like Henry Kissinger in this light.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. Coincidences, right? Barack, you can start the process of rebalancing the Middle East. Too many genies have slipped out of the bottle to put things back where they were and, like it or not, your predecessor casually, ignorantly allowed Iran to reclaim its place as a regional power. Let’s deal with it. Don’t paint yourself into a corner over the nukes. You know as well as I do that there are many countries who are threshold nuclear powers, able to make the jump anytime from lab rats to bomb holders. You also know that Israel has had the bomb for a long time and, despite that, despite the Arab hatred of Israel and despite the never-ending aggressive stance of Israel, their nukes have not created a Middle East arms race. Start talking to the Iranians. There are any number of would-be middle men out there, and even Iran’s foreign minister has floated a few trial balloons. Follow the China model — set up the diplomatic machinery, create some fluid back channels, maybe try a cultural exchange or two. They don’t play ping-pong over there, but they are damn good at chess. Feel your way forward. Bring the Brits and the Canadians along with you. Give the good guys in Tehran something to work with, something to go to their bosses with.”
“But they’ll keep heading toward nuclear weapons.”
“That may be true. America’s regular chest-thumping military action in the Middle East has created an unstoppable desire for Iran to arm itself. They watched very, very closely how the North Koreans insulated themselves with a nuke. The world let that happen and guess what? Even George W. stopped talking about North Korea and the stupid Axis of Evil. And guess what again? No war, and no nuclear arms race in Asia. Gaddafi went the opposite route, and look what happened to him, sodomized on TV while your Secretary of State laughed about it on TV.”
“But sanctions are working on Iran. We’re crushing their economy.”
“Maybe, though there are lots of holes. Regardless, real change in Iran, like anywhere, is going to have to come from within. Think China again. With prosperity comes a desire by the newly-rich to enjoy their money. They start to demand better education, more opportunities and a future for their kids. A repressive government with half a brain yields to those demands for its own survival and before you know it, you’ve got iPads and McDonalds happening. Are you going to go to war with China? Of course not. We’re trading partners, and we have shared interests in regional stability in Asia that benefit us both. Sure, there will be friction, but it can be managed. We did it, with some rough spots, in the Mediterranean with the Soviets and we can do it in the Gulf, what President Kennedy called during the Cold War the “precarious rules of the status quo.” I don’t think this will result in a triumphant state visit to Tehran, but get the game started. Defuse the situation, offer to bring Iran into the world system, and see if they don’t follow.”
“I can’t let them go nuclear.”
“Well, I don’t know if you can stop it, and focusing just on that binary black and white blocks off too many other, better options. Look, they and a whole bunch of other places can weaponize faster than you can stop them. What you need to do is work at the need to weaponize, pick away at the software if you will, the reasons they feel they need to have nukes, instead of just trying to muck up the hardware. Use all the tools in the toolbox, Barack.”
“But they’re Islamos.”
“Whatever you want to call it. Islam is a powerful force in the Middle East and it is not going away. Your attempts, and those of your predecessor, to try and create ‘good’ governments failed. Look at the hash in Syria, Libya and, of course, Iraq, real sacks of it. You need to find a real-politick with Islamic governments. Look past the rhetoric and ideology and start talking. Otherwise you’ll end up just like the U.S. did all over Latin America, throwing in with crappy thugs simply because they mouthed pro-American platitudes. Not a legacy move, Barry. You’re sorting your way through this in Egypt. It will feel odd at first, but the new world order has created a state for states that are not a puppet of the U.S., and not always an ally, but typically someone we can deal with, work with, maybe even influence occasionally. That’s diplomacy, and therein lies your chance at legacy. Demilitarize your foreign policy. Redeploy your diplomats from being political hostages in Baghdad and Kabul and put them to work all over the Middle East.”
“Sure Spirit, nothing to it. Anything else you want me to do before breakfast?”
“Hey, you asked for the job — twice — not me.”
“Spirit, sorry to go off topic, but is that an 8-track tape player you’re carrying around?”
“Hah, good eye Barack. KC and the Sunshine Band, Greatest Hits. Things work oddly in the spirit world and one of the quirks is that unloved electronics from your side migrate to us. Here, look at my cell phone, big as a shoebox, with a retractable antenna. I still play games on an old Atari. We got Zunes and Blackberries piled up like snow drifts over there. But back to business.”
“What else, Spirit?”
“As a ghost of sorts, I’m used to taking the long view of things. I know better than most that memory lasts longer than aspiration, that history influences the future. You have it now in your power to amend an ugly sore, America’s dark legacy of the war of terror. Guantanamo. You realize that every day that place stays open it helps radicalize ten young men for every one you hold in prison. Demand your intel agencies give you a straight-up accounting on who is locked away there. For the very few that probably really are as horrible as we’d like to believe, designate them something and lock them away in an existing Federal Super Max. Just do it. Turn the others over to the UN for resettlement. It is an ugly deal, but it is an ugly problem. Close the place down early in your term, let the short-term heat burn off and move on.”
“Same thing. Cut your losses. Accelerate the drawdown. You’ll keep your bases, so your back is covered against anything really awful happening and embarrassing you. The Taliban is disorganized enough, and under Pakistani ISA control enough, that there is unlikely to be any fall-of-Saigon scenarios. Afghanistan will be on a slow burn for, well, probably forever. Among other reasons, Pakistan needs it to stay that way. They like a weak but not failed state on their western border and you can manage that. The special ops guys you leave behind can deal with any serious messes. Corruption and internal disagreements mean there will never be a real Afghan nation-state, no matter how badly you want one. The soldier suicides and green-on-blue attacks are a horror. You are going to accomplish nothing by dragging that corpse of a war around with you for two more years, so cut it off now.”
“Next is drones, right?”
“Yes Barack, next is drones. This is fool’s gold and you bought into it big. You thought it was risk-free, no American lives in danger, always the 500 pound elephant in the room when considering military action. But, to borrow a phrase, look at the collateral damage. First, you have had to further militarize Africa, setting up your main drone base in Djibouti. The Chinese are building cultural ties and signing deals all over Africa, and we’re just throwing up barbed wire. Who’ll win in the long-run? Like Gitmo, every thug you kill creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. Seriously, haven’t you noticed that the more you kill, the more there seem to be to kill? You need more friends for America and fewer people saying they are victims of America. Make your intel people truly pick out the real, real bad guys, the ones who absolutely threaten American lives. Be comfortable in publicly being able to articulate every decision. Don’t be lazy with bringing death. Don’t continue to slide downhill into killing easier and easier just because you have a new technology that falsely seems without risk. Seek a realistic form of containment, and stop chasing complete destruction. You need an end game. The risk is there my friend, you just have to pull back and see it in the bigger picture.”
“Bigger picture, eh? That’s what this legacy business is all about, isn’t it? Seeing Iranian nukes not as the problem per se, but as part of a solution set that doesn’t just leave a glowing hole in the ground, but instead fills in things, builds a base for more building.”
“You’re getting it now. And even as domestic politics suffers in gridlock, you have room to do things in foreign policy that will mark history for you. As a second term president, you are freed from a lot of political restraints, just like you told Medvedev you would be.”
“Open mikes, who knew, right? But what about my successor? The party wants me to leave things ready for 2016.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got Springsteen working on new songs for the campaign. Hey, you know anything that rhymes well with ‘Hillary’? Right now we’ve only got ‘pillory’ and ‘distillery.’ Bruce is stuck on that.”
“But look, Spirit, I appreciate the advice and all, but to be honest, all this you propose is a lot of work. It’s complicated, needs to be managed, has a lot of potential for political friction. I could, you know, just stick with things the way they are. People seem to have gotten used to a permanent state of low-level warfare everywhere, drone killings, the occasional boil flaring up like Benghazi. It wasn’t a serious election issue at all. Why should I bother?”
“Well, among other things Barack, you’ve got two very sweet, wonderful reasons sleeping just down the hallway. It is all about their future, maybe even more than yours.”
“You make a lot of sense Spirit. America retains immense power, to do good or to muck things up. I may even earn my Nobel Peace Prize this time. It will be my legacy. I don’t know how to thank you, Spirit.”
“Well, actually, there is one small thing, ironically a domestic issue.”
“Certainly. What can I do for you Spirit?”
“It’s actually for a friend of mine, lives out in Colorado.”
“He needs a job? Should I appoint him ambassador somewhere?”
“No Barack, just two words. Legalize it.”
To celebrate Thanksgiving, here is a video of our Thanksgiving at FOB Hammer in Iraq, November 2009. As part of the celebration, the officers served dinner to the enlisted men and women. I assisted– because I had a beard, I am the one wearing a facemask stretched over the lower part of my chin.
You could almost write a book based just on the history of Thanksgivings in our war in Iraq. Remember in 2003, flush with manly, victory-laced testosterone, George W. Bush secretly flew into Iraq to have turkey dinner with the troops? Then, during the boom years of occupation, no expense was spared to provide a full, all-the-trimmings Thanksgiving feast for our men and women in uniform, such as you can witness in the video above.
Meanwhile, as we ate out meal in 2009, in the freedom city of Basra on Thanksgiving Day, at least nine people were killed and 40 wounded when three bombs exploded in a market. Many of the casualties were police and soldiers who responded to the scene of the first blast, officials said. Hospital sources put the toll at nine dead and 40 wounded, while a police source said 11 people were killed and 42 wounded.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
A few years ago, I retired the Department of Health and Human Services. During my last years of federal service, I was an international assignee.
Because I was both new to and naive about USG “foreign service” my tour was eye-opening. As I found myself routinely unable to complete “impossible tasks” assigned to me, I felt obliged to “explain” to my foreign service superiors what they failed to grasp about laboratory work. Slowly I realized that Van Buren is correct: my task was to spend money. I was supposed to “demonstrate” that the money had “been spent”. In my case, I was supposed to demonstrate that I had “built laboratory capacity” and “strengthened laboratory infrastructure”. Because laboratory-testing demonstrations are not as dramatic as chicken-processing demonstrations, I am especially grateful for his book. He tells the story I have to tell on a grander scale and in a more entertaining way.
I wish that those who understood the pretentiousness of our “do something” foreign policy could hear what Van Buren has to say. He is not the only foreign service assignee to have witnessed our national ineptitude.
Testing the old saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” former pro-wrestler former Minnesota governor and possible crazy person Jesse “The Body” Ventura has written a new book in which he reports favorably about We Meant Well and my own year-long battle with the State Department for my First Amendment rights.
For those readers unfamiliar with the Ventura oeuvre, he is the former governor of Minnesota and author of four national bestsellers, including 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read and American Conspiracies. Ventura is the host of the television show Conspiracy Theory on truTV. He says things like people shouldn’t drink fluoridated tap water, because fluoride was first added to water by the Nazis, and is added to the water because it is a chemical precursor to Prozac and designed to make us sheep in the government’s hands.
In his latest book, DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans: No More Gangs in GovernmentVentura kindly mentions my story on page 120 as part of a longer rant against government crackdown on dissent. I’m not sure about the fluoride, but I kinda agree with him about the crackdown on dissent. Ventura quotes from a piece I wrote for TomDispatch.com and others about Joining the Whistleblowers’ Club.
Politics, they say, does make for strange bedfellows.
Leaving aside how lowly first-time authors are treated in the contract world (I signed away rights to all the Beatles’ early songs), let’s instead drop in on former State Department employee Zalmay Khalilzad. Zal, as he is known to many, was former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations during the glory years of the Bush Decade o’ Horrors. That’s Zal in the photo, on the right.
Given that, you’d expect Zal might be at a mountain top Zen (or Zal) monastery, seeking forgiveness. Instead, he runs Gryphon Partners, a consulting firm that, among other things, goes after US Government contracts in Afghanistan. He sits on the boards of the American University of Iraq in Suleymania, and the American University of Afghanistan. None of this could possibly be a conflict of interest, nor anything close to profiting from his government service.
(An aside. My old boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must be proud of her daughter Chelsea. Chelsea, age 31 and a grad student, has been working on the board of Barry Diller’s media company, a gig that pays $50k a year with a $250,000 stock signing bonus. None of this had anything at all to do with Mom and Dad’s government service. I’m having my daughter send off a resume today).
Back to Zal. Zal has the stones to write a “think piece” on Foreign Policy bitching about losing a contract to the Chinese in Afghanistan, whining that “flaws in the Pentagon-backed process mean that state-owned Chinese companies are at an advantage over private companies.”
Private companies such as his own firm.
Balls, the man has balls. Maybe I should hire his consulting firm to represent me on my next book deal, for the win!
A new review of the paperback edition of We Meant Well is available on the site Political Theology:
As a disabled veteran of combat service in Vietnam (I was a grunt), I find most observations and/or writing about war to border on the absurd if not totally out of touch with what it’s really like to have the choice (non-choice?) offered in times of battle. Mr. Van Buren has the integrity and intelligence to allow those who were there to tell their stories without embellishment or censorship and recognizes that for the grunts and the Iraqi’s this debacle was neither glorious nor successful. He even dares to tell the story of a suicide of a soldier and how that effected his unit. And he isn’t afraid to see the absurdity of everyday life as lived “on the ground” and not in the embassy. If you will pardon the personal memory, his description of a visit to the “Green Zone” reminded this vet of trips out of the “field” and into the rear while doing my time in Vietnam. Nothing reminds one more of the absurdity and idiocy of war than the contrast between those who plan and those who implement.
This is a book which Presidents and Presidential candidates should read before they decide that we need to invade and/or dominate a society/country if for no other reason than to remind them that cultures are created not by consultants or policy wonks but by history and those who participate in that history. And it is a book to be read by church folk, believers that we might think about and be confronted with Micah’s notion that God requires us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Read the entire review at Political Theology.
Storms that knock out power for days, stripping away the veil that America’s infrastructure matches its first-world ambitions, are now common-place. Equally common, at least while there was an election on, were statements by candidates about “nation building at home” and “rebuilding America’s infrastructure.”
Candidate Obama repeatedly assured Americans that it was time to reap a peace dividend as America’s wars wind down. Nation-building here at home should, he insisted, be put on the agenda: “What we can now do is free up some resources, to, for example, put Americans back to work, especially our veterans, rebuilding our roads, our bridges.”
The news is that the spending process is already well underway, albeit by the Pentagon, in the Middle East. TomDispatch, in an excellent piece America Begins Nation-Building at Home (Provided Your Home is the Middle East) by Nick Turse, lays out the extent of taxpayer money being spent: The Pentagon awarded $667.2 million in contracts in 2012, and more than $1 billion during Barack Obama’s first term in office for construction projects in largely autocratic Middle Eastern nations, according to figures provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District (USACE-MED). More than $178 million in similar funding is already anticipated for 2013. These contracts represent a mix of projects, including expanding and upgrading military bases used by U.S. troops in the region, building facilities for indigenous security forces, and launching infrastructure projects meant to improve the lives of local populations.
The figures are telling, but far from complete. They do not, for example, cover any of the billions spent on work at the more than 1,000 U.S. and coalition bases, outposts, and other facilities in Afghanistan or the thousands more manned by local forces. They also leave out construction projects undertaken in the region by other military services like the U.S. Air Force, as well as money spent at an unspecified number of bases in the Middle East that the Corps of Engineers “has no involvement with,” according to Joan Kibler, chief of the Middle East District’s public affairs office.
But what is a picture if not worth a few million bucks? The photo above is of the $1 billion U.S. embassy in Baghdad, bad enough but at least still in partial use. Here’s a photo of just part of the U.S.-built facility at the Baghdad Airport. Everything you see was carted to Iraq with your tax dollars, put up and maintained with your tax dollars, and then simply abandoned along with your tax dollars when the Iraq War got boring for the U.S. Have a look:
So there you were this morning, wondering what the State Department was doing with your tax money. They were making a “Gangnam Style” parody video!
Have a look at this clip from a continuing series of “social media” produced by the American Embassy in Seoul:
Now, in the words of Psy, let’s “break it down”:
— State’s weird attempt at humanizing America abroad comes off instead as a lame attempt at creating a cult of personality around its ambassador. Truly, do Korean people care about his clothing (as featured in the video, hung in a messy closet)? Was the last “question” praising the embassy’s wonderful social media really a question that needed featuring here? And honestly, did US government employees on US government time really need to be forced to dance Gangnam style while the ambassador stood by watching like some playground pedophile?
— What is the point? I get “social media” as a concept but I am unsure what the national policy goal here is, and there damn well better be one since taxpayer money is paying for this garbage. Are Koreans supposed to see the cartoon caricature of the Ambassador and “like” America? Are they supposed to see the Gangnam dancers and feel America is “with it”? Are we “groovy” yet?
— Is this simply a silly shot at linking Psy’s 15 minutes of fame to the U.S.’ hope for another 15 minutes of fame?
— Is the U.S. the only hip and cool country representing in South Korea? Because I checked the web sites of countries like the UK, Japan and China for Korea, and none of them feature silly poo stuff like this. I also checked the South Korean government’s web site in the U.S., and there are no YouTube videos of the South Korean ambassador lip syncing to Beyonce. Is America just that far ahead of the public diplomacy curve?
— Why is State trapped in this loop of idolatry? The ambassador is the lead guy in these videos because he is the ambassador, and thus his entire staff is devoted to sucking up to him. If real communication was the goal, perhaps they could have found almost anyone else in the embassy with a teeny dollop more of charisma? Maybe someone who didn’t look deeply embarrassed alternating with deeply bored throughout the entire project?
Anyway, hopefully State will show videos like this to Congress at the next budget hearings to help justify their requests for more money. I am sure Congress will be impressed.
Dear Playboy Adviser:
I am an older professional man; call me “Dave” (maybe not my real name). Bored with my marriage of many decades to a woman who looks like she could be my mother, it seemed OK to me to have an affair with this dame writing a book about me, and, OK, maybe a few other broads. Turns out they are all bat shit crazy and now I’m in trouble where I used to work. I just want to get back in the saddle, put myself back out there while I’m still young enough, but I’m worried. Is Viagra still the best or should I try Cialis? This all seems like just a personal matter but the media is all over it like some big f’ing deal.
Dear Stick Man:
Writing from a Gmail account SkinnyLoveHunk@gmail.com created by someone named NotGeneralPetraeus at CIA HQ is a poor way to conceal your identity, just saying.
David Petraeus, you are a disgraceful slut. You lied to your wife, messed around with a “reporter,” wrote her naughty emails we all know are going to leak eventually and make us sick. If you did not resign, exactly what credibility would you have with your staff? How about your female staff? What kind of leader and role model are you trying to be? You wrote yourself in your “12 Rules for Living” that Rule No. 1 is “Lead by example from the front of the formation.” You were the head of the freaking CIA– did you think no one would notice?
You presence in any senior position would send a clear, sad message to all employees that double standards of behavior apply, and that if you’re senior enough you can get away with things underlings get fired for. The Army publicly fires commanders all the time for adultery, and the CIA quietly pulls security clearances from employees who cannot show personal discretion and judgement. If you’re lying to your wife, who else are you willing to lie to for your own crappy satisfaction? Your agency needs to know it can trust you. And don’t invoke your own Rule No. 4, “There is an exception to every rule, standard operating procedure, and policy; it is up to leaders to determine when exceptions should be made and to explain why they made them.” That does not apply to your marriage vows, mister.
(To be fair, none of your 12 Rules specifically bans nailing your biographer, but it is implied)
Is America sending the right message to the world when this is the best we can come up with? What, you think, this is the State Department?
Now, you disgust me. Zip it up and go away please.
Special to NotGeneralAllen@gmail.com: Take a look at that emblem you carry; it says Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. That’s your guide on what to do when you’re not sure what to do. And if you’ve got time to write 20,000-30,000 pages of sexytime emails to a married broad in Florida, you’ve got time to win the freaking war. Do your job, loser.
While the hearings on what happened in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and elsewhere on the Hill this week are being held behind closed doors, and while SecState-in-Wanting John Kerry as chair is on board to make sure nothing too bad happens, what we do know continues to suggest the cesspool in Washington has no bottom.
David Petraeus’ political assassination last week has taken him off the stage as effectively as any sniper’s round. Conveniently timed to drop just a few days after Obama’s re-election (and on a Friday before a three day weekend to boot, sorry Mitt), in one fell swoop a fall guy is crowned for whatever went wrong in Benghazi, Hillary’s virgin status is preserved for 2016 and at no extra charge a potential Republican candidate is shredded. Not a bad day’s work for our FBI. And of course, most immediately, Petraeus won’t be allowed to testify before the Senate to cover his own philandering butt on Libya. People have learned a lot about how to do these kinds of things since the messy demise of Vince Foster.
New CIA Renditions?
As part of the gift that seems to keep giving, we now can go back and examine Petraeus’ snooki, Paula Broadwell, and see what she has been saying in new light. Overnight she has gone from pretend journalist to oracle into the deepest secrets at the CIA. And what might those be?
How about this: On October 26 Broadwell told an audience at the University of Denver that the CIA annex at the Benghazi consulate came under assault on September 11 because it had earlier “taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back.”
Woooo, holy mother of Christ on toast! Knowing now that Broadwell had access to Petraeus’ top secret pillow talk, her “speculative” statement becomes serious stuff. It tells us without a doubt that the September attack was aimed at the CIA (which this blog called way back then without having to had slept with anyone) not Ambassador Stevens, that the White House and Susan Rice damn well knew the attack was unrelated to the anti-Muslim video and worst of all, that the CIA is back in/still in the kidnapping and rendition business.
The latter is major stuff people. The CIA was kidnapping dudes in Libya? To do what with them? Torture/interrogate them locally and then release them? Render them to some outside secret site? What other sites? What the hell are those bad boys (still) doing in our name?
Where in the World is Hillary?
Just prior to the re-election of Barack Obama, lickspittle Hillary proudly proclaimed that she would assume full responsibility for what happened in Benghazi.
So with that statement of full responsibility, one would assume that Hillary will be up on the Hill this week, adding her insight and responsibility into the Senate’s Libya hearings, right?
Hillary is off to Australia to pimp for money to prop up America’s overweight defense structure in Asia. And don’t ask her for next week either, because she’ll be “on travel.” And also don’t expect to hear any testimony from any Libyans, either.
From Friday’s State Department press briefing:
MS. NULAND: Matt, they’ve asked for closed hearings, closed briefings; that’s what we’re complying with.
QUESTION: The Secretary won’t appear before any of these committees?
MS. NULAND: The Secretary has not been asked to appear. They’ve asked for the individuals that are coming.
QUESTION: Would she be willing to fly back from Australia to appear?
MS. NULAND: Again, she has not been asked to appear. She was asked to appear at House Foreign Affairs next week, and we have written back to the Chairman to say that she’ll be on travel next week.
QUESTION: Are you aware that any Libyans will be called to the hearings to be talked to?
MS. NULAND: That sounds like a question for the Hill. I’m not aware of any panels other than the government panels.
QUESTION: But you have not been asked to facilitate any visas or anything like this for –
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: — maybe some Libyan officials?
MS. NULAND: No.
As a public service, looking ahead to the Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, opposition researchers are invited to bookmark this page.
2150 Americans have died in a pointless and ongoing war in Afghanistan that the president insists on keeping, well, alive, for at least two more years. Nobody knows how many Afghans have died as to the U.S. they are not worth counting.
There are 2150 X’s below. On this Veteran’s Day, mourn them.
Leon Panetta declared that the US is at a “turning point” in the Afghan War. “Turning Point,” like “robust,” is one of those words that when used by someone in government should make you run away. Still, it is the holiday season and we want to be light of tone, I’l let this one pass for Leon given that he just shut the lights off as the last US soldier left Iraq.
And what better way to sum up some early history of the Iraq invasion and celebrate the holidays at the same time than with the gift of music. Here is the book for my upcoming operatic version of We Meant Well.
1945-1973: several Vietnam Wars play out, with the Japanese, French and finally, the Americans. US loses over 50,000 soldiers in what Lyndon Johnson calls, “that bitch of a war,” failing in fighting a counterinsurgency. US convinces itself the anti-colonialist, nationalist North Vietnamese insurgents are the spearhead of a global Communist attack against the US and its allies, the domino theory. People say, “If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll fight them in California.” Many terrible things happen, some lessons are learned.
Pause; Overture Resumes
Several of what author Peter Beinart calls “Potemkin Vietnams” occur, in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Kosovo and the like. Some lessons previously learned are forgotten.
1980: Iran-Iraq war starts.
1984-87: US protects non-Iranian tankers in the Gulf from Iranian attack, allows Iraq to attack Iranian tankers.
1987: Iraq mistakenly attacks the USS Stark, kills thirty-seven American sailors. All is forgiven as Iraq is a US friend engaged in killing Iranians.
1988: Iran-Iraq war ends in a tie.
1990: Iraq invades Kuwait.
1991: Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm pushes Iraq out of Kuwait. Not much else changes, most previous lessons are forgotten, new lessons mislearned that US military power alone can quickly and cleanly change complex world events. This strategy will prove as useful as one that seeks to pay a mortgage by buying lottery tickets.
Curtain Raises to Reveal Smoking Ruins of Twin Towers on Stage
October 3, 2001: US semi-invades Afghanistan and, fighting mostly with proxy local forces, pushes Taliban out of power. US takes bin Laden’s bait and stirs up wrath of Muslim world.
January 21, 2002: In his State of the Union address, Bush discovers the Axis of Evil and starts an open-ended global war.
March 19, 2003: US invades Iraq. Iraq becomes everything bin Laden hoped for — US ground forces killing Muslim civilians live on satellite TV. The war that makes little sense in the aftermath of 9/11 except as revenge.
May 1, 2003: Mission Accomplished. Bush’s pouch featured on an aircraft carrier.
“This month will be a political turning point for Iraq,” Douglas Feith, July 2003
“We’ve reached another great turning point,” Bush, November 2003
December 14, 2003: We got him. Saddam is captured.
Curtain closes as Americans cheer loudly at happy ending of disgraced evil dictator Noriega bin Laden Saddam (played by James Edwards Olmos)
“That toppling of Saddam Hussein… was a turning point for the Middle East,” Bush, March 2004
April 28, 2004: Images of torture at Abu Ghraib become public; US stirs up wrath of Muslim world by continuing occupation of Iraq. After failing to take the bait in Afghanistan, US accomplishes al-Qaeda’s goal of permanently pissing off Muslims everywhere while entering Vietnam-like counterinsurgency quagmire.
“Turning Point in Iraq,” The Nation, April 2004
“A turning point will come two weeks from today,” Bush, June 2004
June 28, 2004: US transfers sovereignty to Iraq. Bush writes note to Condi saying “Let freedom reign!”
“Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point,” Columnist Max Boot, July 2004
January 12, 2005: WMD search in Iraq is declared over. None found.
“Tomorrow the world will witness a turning point in the history of Iraq,” Bush, January 2005
“The Iraqi election of January 30, 2005… will turn out to have been a genuine turning point,” William Kristol, February 2005
“On January 30th in Iraq, the world witnessed … a major turning point,” Rumsfeld, February 2005
May 30, 2005: Dick Cheney tells Larry King, “The insurgency is in its last throes.” Larry mentions radio and TV were invented just so more people could hear his voice.
October 15, 2005: Iraqis vote to ratify Constitution. Many, many photos of Iraqis with purple fingers showing they voted.
October 25, 2005: Bush states Iraq is the central front in the Global War on Terror and Muslim extremists fighting in Iraq seek to create an Islamic Caliphate stretching from Indonesia to Spain. This essentially duplicates the Vietnam-era domino theory.
December 15, 2005: Iraqis vote to elect members of Iraqi Assembly. Many, many photos of Iraqis with purple fingers showing they voted.
“I believe may be seen as a turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.” Senator Joe Lieberman, December 2005
“The elections were the turning point. … 2005 was the turning point,” Cheney, December 2005
“2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq… and the history of freedom,” Bush, December 2005
Curtain closes as Americans cheer loudly at happy voting images.
Intermission while audience ponders attack on Iran.
February 22, 2006: The Golden Mosque in Samarra is badly damaged in a bomb attack that ignites the Sunni-Shia sectarian war.
“We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership,” Bush, May 2006
“We have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror,” Bush, May 2006
June 15, 2006: US troops killed in Iraq reaches 2500.
“This is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens.” Bush, August 2006
September 24, 2006: Bush calls Iraq violence “just a comma” in history.
October 4, 2006: Al-Qaeda letter says “The most important thing is you continue in your jihad in Iraq… Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God’s permission.”
“When a key Republican senator comes home from Iraq and says the US has to re-think its strategy, is this a new turning point?” NBC Nightly News, October 2006
November 9, 2006: Iraqi health minister reports 150,000 Iraqis killed so far.
December 30, 2006: Saddam is hanged.
January 3, 2007: Death toll of US soldiers in Iraq reaches 3,000.
“Iraq: A Turning Point: Panel II: Reports from Iraq.” American Enterprise Institute, January 2007
Curtain closes as Americans cheer loudly at death porn images of Saddam’s body on TV.
January 10, 2007: Bush announces Surge.
January 11, 2007: Republican senator Chuck Hagel calls Surge “The most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.”
“Shrine Bombing as War’s Turning Point Debated,” Tom Ricks, March 2007
April 16, 2007: US dead reach 3300.
June 18, 2007: Foreign Policy Magazine shows Iraq ranks second on its failed state index.
September 5, 2007: Bush tells the press “We’re kicking ass” in Iraq.
“This Bush visit could well mark a key turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terror,” Frederick W. Kagan, September 2007
“Bush Defends Iraq War in Speech… he touted the surge as a turning point in a war he acknowledged was faltering a year ago,” New York Times, March 2008
July 22, 2008: Surge ends.
“The success of the surge in Iraq will go down in history as a turning point in the war against al-Qaeda,” The Telegraph, December 2008
February 6, 2009: Another election, more photos of inked fingers.
March 7, 2010: Yet another election, more photos of inked fingers.
June 2, 2010: US deaths breach 4,400.
September 1, 2010: Obama declares combat operations over, albeit while leaving 50,000 troops occupying 92 bases in Iraq. The official name of the war changes from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. The weather remains the same.
Curtain closes, then reopens with entire cast on stage for finale.
On June 8, 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader who led a brutal insurgency that included online beheadings, killed in an airstrike. According to Fox News:
US President George W. Bush said Zarqawi’s death “is a severe blow to al-Qaeda and it is a significant victory in the war on terror.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the killing of Zarqawi was “enormously important” for the fight against terror in Iraq and around the world. “Let there be no doubt the fact he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country and I would say worldwide,” Rumsfeld said.
On April 19, 2010, four years later, the two top al-Qaeda in Iraq figures were killed. According to the AP:
US forces commander Gen. Raymond Odierno praised the operation. “The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.”
On August 25, 2010, just four months later, the Army issued a press release titled “Iraq Attacks Show al-Qaeda Remains as Threat,” concluding “A wave of attacks in Iraq today demonstrates that al-Qaeda in Iraq is still capable of operating.”
Curtain remains up with house lights on as Act comes to a close. Audience removes shoes and is searched for al-Qaeda sympathizers.
I was so thankful that you wrote such an exacting account of what was really going on over in Iraq. I was in Iraq in 2005 and saw first hand the waste fraud and abuse going on not only by the state dept. but even more so by the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers. You just barely touched the tip of the ice-berg. As a lowly GS-8 I tried in vain to get someone in the upper management to do something about what was going on. I had sent e-mails to my supervisor and as high as General Strock. Never got one return email.
It was as if there was an elephant in the room syndrome. I have been so angry ever since my tour there. I don’t trust the military command, and the Corps of Engineers is full of really incompetent people. I’m also ashamed to say there were so many people over there who really wanted to get things done but were so
hampered by management and military command, but didn’t have the integrity to speak out for fear of being sent home or getting in trouble with their sponsoring agency.
Thank you again. Your book should be required reading for every politician and every tax paying American.
But what better way to celebrate than ordering the killing of some mo’ suspected terrorists?
Bright and early Wednesday, only hours after the polls closed, a U.S. drone in Yemen blew up an alleged al-Qaeda operative and four others, who, by virtue of being assassinated by the United States, were obviously terrorists.
In case you care, the attack killed an alleged al-Qaeda figure named Adnan al-Qadhi, said U.S. officials, who described him as a little-known but important operational figure in the terrorist network’s Yemen branch. The strike was the 38th known one this year in Yemen alone.
Ah, now that smells like Victory! Cheers!
One assumes that the purpose of US State Department social media is to win friends and influence enemies, build support for America, something like that.
So WTF is this all about? The photo below was part of the US Embassy in Baghdad’s Twitter feed, and shows some unnamed white guy standing next to who? Is she famous, maybe Iraq’s version of the Gangnam guy? I don’t know much about the Middle East and all, but is it impressive to show a woman all made-up? Who are these people? And who on earth was so thrilled about this photo that he “favorited” it? It’s Instagram paid for with taxes. Oh, I feel old and out of touch.
(Note: Almost all embassies and consulates host taxpayer-paid election night parties, around the world. Sometimes local businesses are strong-armed into “donating” food and drink. State loves these events as a chance to get all high and mighty about the wonders of democracy, even, without irony, in the many places around the world where we actively oppose local democratic movements as inconvenient to our geopolitical goals.
Also, in the UK, the US Embassy in London hired an Elvis imitator for some reason.
It is a tough job being a diplomat, but luckily there is alcohol.)
Next up on the US Embassy Twitter feed parade o’ photos is this one, subtitled in English “How would you feel if your wife’s salary was higher than yours?” I am truly at a loss about what the purpose of this one is. Is it supposed to make men feel better about women working? Support bird rights in the new Iraq? Arabic speakers, is there a secret meaning hidden in the text? The woman looks a little like the Lois character from Family Guy, so maybe it is what the young people call “meta.” A commenter named “WRC” wrote “very impressive photo” underneath, but drilling down it turns out he is the CEO of a firm doing contract work for the U.S. embassy in Iraq. That may be the intended target audience of the embassy’s social media, so it would be cool then.
Congratulations to _____, the winner. Democracy, peaceful transition, electoral college, who could have predicted it/it was just as we predicted.
But even though _____ won:
— We still will have tens of thousands of troops doing nothing more than dying at whack-a-mole in Afghanistan for another two years, followed by indefinite training missions and permanent bases in that God-forsaken country.
— The US will continue its drone wars, foolishly believing that the technology means war without risk because American lives are not at stake. In the big picture, they still are.
— Freed from election politics, the U.S. will resume making war against Iran.
— Guantanamo remains open, though our child prisoners there have now all grown.
— No one is accountable for a decade’s worth of kidnapping and torture.
— The Patriot Act is still in place and Americans’ civil liberties are worth the value of an expired coupon.
— In January 2013 the president will still order deaths off a disposition matrix. People will still be held in indefinite detention without trial at his mere word. Bradley Manning still will not have had his trial.
–Climate change, the homeless, veteran’s suicides, the economy, gun control, immigration, blah blah blah.
Hell, pass me that bottle. I’m gonna have another drink and go back to bed.
I couldn’t vote for Romney. He is a guy who made money destroying America. He started a firm whose only purpose was to buy other companies and squeeze them. It had a nice name, dividend recapitalization, and like the shell game it was, you had to watch closely or you’d be broke before you figured it out. Say you are the We Meant Well Company, on hard times, but still make things, employ people and have assets like land and machinery. A venture firm comes along, figures the We Meant Well Company is worth $100 million. The firm invests say $10 million of its own money, and buys the rest with money borrowed against the value of the We Meant Well Company as collateral.
BANG! The We Meant Well Company now is in debt to who-knows-who for $90 million. The venture firm, which owns it based on the borrowed money, starts having the We Meant Well Company pay it out a management fee while at the same time laying off workers to raise the cash for the fee. The venture ain’t done, though. It has the We Meant Well Company issue stock to the venture firm, then declare a dividend to be paid to itself. Where’s that dividend money come from? More debt for the corporate entity of the We Meant Well Company. If the We Meant Well Company’s managers and board members start complaining, well, that venture firm simply cuts them in on the deal, with bonuses and buyouts and severance packages your dad never got. It is like using someone else’s credit card for a cash advance for yourself.
Once the vultures are done picking the bones, the We Meant Well Company dies in bankruptcy. The bank that made the initial loans loses money, sure, but passes that on as a cost of business risk to its own customers if the government isn’t rushing in with a bailout to protect the economy or some such too-big-to-fail bull. The government actually incentivizes this kind of deal making. The federal tax code allows the venture company to deduct their debt interest, so they pay little to no tax, all supposedly to encourage them to invest more in this sleazy cycle while pretending to create jobs. Romney helped change us from a place that made things—radiators, cash registers, gaskets, ball bearings, TVs– into a place that just makes deals. Making things creates jobs and jobs create broad prosperity. Making deals just creates wealth for the dealers. You might as well just write-in “Goldman Sachs” and cut out the middle man.
As for Obama, I cannot vote for someone who institutionalized the murder of American citizens based on His decision that they must die by drone (as terrorists, or whatever else is justified), and then rationalized it as “justice being done.” I voted for him in 2008 in large part because he said he opposed indefinite detention without trial and would close Guantanamo. He did not, and expanded the secret national security state. He never sought resolution about America’s horrific policy of torture, never mind justice. Bradley Manning still has not had a trial. Obama makes war around the world in an ever-expanding ring of fire.
Such things matter. If you read the dialogue among the Founders, one of the things they feared most for the nation was an omnipotent leader, a king they said because they did not know the word dictator. A president who kills on his own decisions cannot be my America. The potential damage to the social agenda of another Republican president bothers the hell out of me, though at the same time I am reminded that Obama did not seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or do anything on immigration. I grew weary of arguments that said “Vote Obama so we don’t get Romney.” I want my vote to be an act of conscience, a measure of support and not something as weak as better than the alternative. I wish I could vote for someone.
I understand about third party candidates, but at this point that is just a feel-good-about-myself symbolic gesture, and I don’t really feel good about things right now.
When I speak publicly about my book We Meant Well and the failure of reconstruction and nation building, there is usually an older man in the crowd who will bring up the successes of the Marshall Plan, and ask me why that succeeded where we failed so completely and conclusively in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a lot of historical factors, but one of the biggest single issues is that a man like George Marshall was not in charge in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, men like Marshall simply do not exist in high positions in government anymore. Instead of selfless public servants who care about our country, we instead find a government, Republicans and Democrats equally, full of self-serving men and women who exist only as appetite. They see “public service” only as a stepping stone for their own advancement, either in terms of money, power, prestige or all of the above. The most significant cause they support is their own. They are cynical about it, openly mocking the democratic process, buried in mistruths, holding allegiance more to party and self than nation, and are supported by patrons who have so, so much money already but somehow still want more. My politics is no longer about left or right anymore, it’s about up and down.
So I did not vote for a presidential candidate this year, the first time I did not in the nine presidential elections I have been eligible to vote in. I did vote in this election by the way, just not for president. So it’s not as if I have dishonored the sacrifices of those who protected my right to vote. It’s just that I have a conscience and I am writing about my dilemma in honoring it. You’d think people would admire that as a fundamental requirement for an effective democracy rather than dismissing it out of hand or claiming it is wrong.
I never thought it would come to this. I’m sorry.
Too soon? No?
OK then, it looks like our current climate change policy (ignore it and maybe it’ll go away) is not working. The backup plan, find some way to attack it with drones, has not proven robust. Blaming it on “terrorists” has also achieved limited success. It looks like periodic massive disasters are just going to be a “thing” now until the complete destruction of civilization, so we better get some rules into place.
To assist, here is the playbook:
— Giant freakish things will just happen. Stop referring to them now as “storm of a lifetime” or a “once a century” event. Stop saying stupid stuff like “no one could have anticipated _____.” Anticipate it. No biblical references. No one may hereto try to graft “apocalypse” or “armageddon” onto any climate terms, such as “snow-mageddon.”
— Just freaking buy on a regular basis milk, water, batteries, candles and bread. You look stupid rushing into the convenience store in your pajamas panic buying everytime it rains.
— Nature is still working the evolution-thing even if you chose not to “believe” it. If you live in a flood zone and refuse to buy insurance, or if you’re told to evacuate and “choose” not to do so until the water is up to your lips, well, that’s nature’s way of trimming back the gene pool. Accept your role in the miracle of life.
— Make up your mind ahead of time about “big government” so you don’t sound stupid in a disaster. If you think government is the problem, and that people should be self-sufficient and not accept handouts and all that, tie a ribbon to your front door so that the first responders can skip your house.
— For the media, let’s save some time. Start the drive to complete panic a good 48 hours out, being sure to intersperse actual important information with complete nonsense crazy talk. Make sure, no matter what the actual disaster is, that all of your reporters are standing in the rain when reporting, preferably in some sort of media-logo emblazoned coordinated gear. The reporters should insert themselves into the most stupid and dangerous places possible. Do at least one quirky story a day, such as someone who figured out a way to use Twitter to stay warm. Go to a “neighborhood” and run a feature about the bodega/bar/family restaurant “giving back” to the community; make it as “ethnic” as possible if east coast disaster, as uneducated-country-philosopher if midwest. Have a person of one race say it is “not about race anymore, today we are all _______ ” as appropriate (Black in urban barber shop, White in redneck tavern).
— Victims, when interviewed, please stick to the script: you lost a lot, not sure how you’ll rebuild, but somehow you will. Cry but in a spunky way. Be ready with a pet rescue story; don’t make the reporters have to ask twice please, they’ll be busy. Try and retrieve a burned/soggy sentimental item from your rubble ahead of time to show the camera crew (if you are unable to find anything, most crews do carry a supply of generic baby dolls and black and white photos for this purpose.)
— Telethons, concerts, fund raisers are another inevitable part of all this. Bruce Springsteen has set up a special email account simply for such bookings– be sure to specify if you are seeking the mournful Bruce (Atlantic City, My City of Ruins) or the we’re gonna get through this together Bruce (The Rising, Wrecking Ball). Bruce has graciously offered to forward your emails to Willie Nelson for disasters west of the Mississippi, and to Bon Jovi for those east of the Mississippi. John Mellencamp needs the money and would also appreciate a call if that’s cool.
— Politicians, get out there early to have your photo taken hugging a victim. Try for someone of a race or socioeconomic level you do not normally hug. Get some professional assistance choosing the right level of casual clothing; don’t overdress but don’t look too sloppy. First Ladies, head for the soup kitchens and go easy on the makeup and jewelry. Remember to wash your hands and use Purell outside of camera range. Accuse your rival/arch enemy/nemesis of politicizing the tragedy during your photo-op. Thank profusely the first responders pulled away from actually responding to provide security for your visit. Before climbing back into your helicopter or limo, remind everyone we’re all in this together. Try and avoid the question of why old bags filled with sand are our only technological defense against this kind of stuff.
— Celebrities, follow the hints for politicians, above. Have your personal assistant purchase some “real people clothing” for you, they’ll know what to get (Gaga excepted). Be sure to say “I’m just here to do whatever I can to help” to call attention to your celebrity-ness while downplaying it, a kind of zen thing. Don’t get caught by questioners who ask if you’ll donate any of your zillions of dollars as part of doing whatever you can. Many common people expect you to know how to serve food or ladle out soup when doing whatever you can at a shelter, so study up on how those things are done. Easy for you Method actors but pop stars take note. Do not be caught on camera asking for sushi or saying things like “Do people really eat this stuff?” Also, note that most day spas will be closed in the aftermath of a disaster, so plan on exiting the area quickly once the media moves on.
— Everyone: stress your personal connection to the suffering, however slight. If you grew up in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, you’re “from the Shore.” If you have ever changed planes in O’Hara, you’re a Midwesterner at heart. If you can imagine a great- great- relative who had a garden, you’re really just a farm boy made good. Find someone, such as a former roommate’s neighbor, actually affected by the disaster to refer to so you can act all self-righteous when people try to make jokes about what has happened.
— Victims, following 24-48 hours of intense attention to your plight, please shut up. Don’t expect any real, long-term assistance. Do not expect any significant changes to your rusty infrastructure. Grab what you can in those first couple of days because that is pretty much what you’re going to get. If you’re lucky enough to score a celebrity visit to your shelter, demand cash or good drugs up front or, if it is Angelina Jolie, take one of her kids hostage for the money.
— Columnists, bloggers, pundits, you might as well predraft your pieces. Have one of each ready please: end of the world I-told-you-so, the disaster is an excuse for the military to take over, it is crazy that crazy people blame the disaster on Obama/the gays/the Chinese/Koch brothers/Shrek, government is good/bad, this is proof of climate change/proof that climate change is fake.
That should get things organized for now. We’ll update the new rules as the situation develops.
The review found both some good and some, er, less than good:
We Meant Well contains valuable lessons for leaders both military and civilian. Among its revelations, it raises ethical questions concerning the complexities of reconstruction in Iraq, and it does so from the perspective of an embedded provincial reconstruction team (PRT) leader. Van Buren’s goal is to inform readers of flaws in our approach to the reconstruction of post-war Iraq. Many portions of his book do just that. However, readers should be aware that the book seems tendentious in places where the author delivers sarcastic, acerbic, and apparently vengeful observations. The author is humorous and articulate, and he delivers several useful discussions informing potential leaders of pitfalls in the vital work of reconstruction. This book can inspire reflection on how to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
Most important, this review took things seriously. While all State could do was lob odd personal attacks, the military from the beginning was willing to listen and parse out what was worth paying attention to. Unlike State, which lacks a single introspective gene, the military is all about lessons learned. This is a real strength at the mid-levels, though it tends to fade the higher in rank you go, at least outwardly.
The thing which I am most proud of is that I have been able to contribute to, if not help define, the narrative on the civilian side of reconstruction. I have gotten the occasional email from grad students working in the field, asking for more serious info on the projects discussed in We Meant Well. They all decry the lack of information and non-propaganda from the State-side.
The great weakness in the State Department is an almost pathological unwillingness to look at itself. In its hyper-personal relationship focused environment, only success is allowed to be discussed inside Foggy Bottom. There are of course the occasional lessons learned exercises for appearances’ sake, but these typically soft-pedal or ignore any real need for change and simply end up as back door conclusions on the need for more money and resources.
This has to be a sign of the Apocalypse or something worse. Iranian-backed American puppet democratic leader Iraqi strongman Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki now has a Twitter account you can follow at @IDawaParty.
The US Embassy in Baghdad, following the Secretary of State’s clarion call into social media, has set up a Twitter account but so far nothing more than the usual happy talk generic Tweets. Probably still waiting for clearance on the first one from Washington. They “follow” the State Department Twitter account, though.
Maliki’s Dawa party also has a wacky website, including a feature where you can email the PM. I already emailed him to see if he wants a free copy of We Meant Well, but so far no reply. The web page also includes a not-yet-functional link that would allow you to donate to the Dawa party charity, which would probably violate some sort of law. Follow the link above and send Maliki an email greeting!
The US Embassy in Baghdad’s web site has a neat section on “hot topics,” which implies some sort of current events theme. When you click through to the hot topics for Iraq, however, the most recent posting is dated June 2011. One groovy “hot topic” quotes Secretary Clinton from 2010 congratulating Iraq, saying “Iraq’s political leaders have worked together to agree on an inclusive government that represents the will of the Iraqi people.” Oops.
The really interesting thing is that all the web sites, Dawa included, are in English (the “Hot Topics” on the US site are also available in Arabic, but just as out of date). Kinda makes you wonder who the intended audience is.
The latest self-congratulatory social media pablum from the State Department (in the guise of a “new” Brookings Institute report whose data has been peddled before) offers one non-insight, and one quite revealing.
The non-insight is over the course of forty dense pages of praise (“At the vanguard of this adaptation is the U.S. State Department,” Hillary Clinton is referred to as “the Godmother of 21st Century Statecraft”) is that despite over 150 people employed at State in 25 separate ediplomacy nodes covering eight different work areas, and at U.S. missions abroad another 900 staff use ediplomacy tools to some extent, there’s not a word said about effectiveness, value, return on investment, whatever you might wish to call actually assessing the point of spending time and money on something.
What is revealing are the numbers. The report gushes over the numbers of people who friend, follow and like the State Department’s social media outlets. The clear implication is that a tool that reaches this many people can’t but help be effective at, well, something.
Fair enough, but the problem is that a hugely significant number of the people the State Department is talking to are in the United States, a clear miss for what is supposed to be America’s foreign affairs organ.
For Facebook, out of some 12 million fans, almost 8 million are in the U.S., about two thirds of them.
For Twitter, out of 1.7 million followers, 867,000 are in the U.S., about half of them.
For YouTube, out of 26,700 subscribers, over 15,000 are in the U.S., well more than half.
We’ll skip the tired old discussion about the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, whcih, among other things, was supposed to prevent the U.S. from disseminating propaganda inside the U.S.; propaganda was for foreigners. Whatever you think of that, technology, primarily the web, has of course made boundaries disappear and anything from a major news event to those goddamn cute cat videos is available on the global smorgasbord.
We’ll also skip the paranoid rant about how the State Department is trying to influence Americans as a tool of the White House or the gay movement or the Trilateral Commission or Spongebob. The content of the State Department social media is so lame and substance free that its only possible influence is as a sleep aid.
What we’ll conclude instead is that social media as practiced by the State Department is fairly pointless. With its Hillary’s eDiplomacy wonks and their primary role in conducting America’s foreign affairs (Bill handles the domestic affairs, couldn’t stop myself, sorry, and you were thinking it too), you’d think whatever the point of all the social media, it would have more to do with talking to foreigners than talking to Americans.
Since no one at State is willing to assess social media in any way except by numbers, perhaps they need to take a closer look at their headcounts and decide if all the time, money and effort is worth it, given that more than half just dribbles back onto us here at home.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted Wednesday that the U.S. government has been working to establish a new council to represent the Syrian opposition, to be unveiled in Qatar at a major conference next week. The previous U.S.-organized group, the Syrian National Congress (SNC) is no longer to America’s satisfaction, hence the new group. Ambassador Robert Ford, who had a hand in the Iraq debacle, is back in the saddle putting things together for the Syrians.
After Clinton spoke, at the State Department press briefing, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner pushed back against reporters’ assertions that the State Department was trying to choose Syrian opposition leaders for the Syrians rather than let them pick their own leaders. “We’re not giving them a list… We have recommended names and organizations that we have been working with,” Toner said.
Mmmm yes, nation building. We’ve done so well with that in Iraq and Afghanistan, so why not Syria? Why, most countries in the world would prefer if the US simply chose, oh, sorry, recommended, their leaders for them.
The fact that the U.S. has dictated that one group, the SNC, be dropped, and another formed on a U.S.-timetable for unveiling at a U.S. event in– where? Qatar? should not be misinterpreted as the U.S. telling anyone what to do. Indeed, it is just like the Continental Congress, where the “right” colonial Americans selected by the Spanish met in Turkey to form a new government.
Yes, things should work out just fine here, just as they did when we last tried this: in
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya.