America’s Ambassador, Ryan Crocker, who midwifed America’s diplomatic wonderfulness in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as having this very blog named after him in honor of his superior dip-ness, was arrested for drunk driving, according to KXLY in Spokane, Washington.
KXLY reports that the Crock was seriously crocked, blowing a manly .16 BAC on one test, which is twice the legal limit in Washington State. Another test indicated a .152 BAC. The State Patrol believes he was intoxicated by alcohol, not prescription drugs, due to odor and the high blood alcohol count. Cooler yet, Crock was pinched drunk at 2:05pm, a helluva a way to spend an afternoon as a retiree. Crock spent a night in jail and pleaded not guilty. He shows his face again in court September 12.
We’ll just throw in that a serious drinking problem would be a pretty good explanation for Crocker’s often bizarre public statements. Crock, for example, said while ambassador in Kabul:
The greatest concern that Afghans with whom we have regular contact express about the US military presence isn’t that we’re here but that we may be leaving. So it’s simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone. It’s quite the contrary.
Now, the next thing we’ll keep an eye out for is State’s Diplomatic Security pulling Crock’s security clearance because of the DUI. I mean, they pulled mine for blogging sober, so driving drunk seems a no-brainer.
And if, as some more sympathetic commentators have speculated, Crocker is suffering from PTSD or alcoholism related to his years of service in America’s self-created shitholes, then the Crock should exercise some real leadership and speak openly of his challenges to enable others without his status and rank to also acknowledge their need for care. PTSD is a time bomb inside State (and of course, the military), with many sufferers afraid to see a doctor for fear of losing their medical or security clearance, or fear of the public stigma.
So, so long for now Crocker! We’ll call you for the next war, don’t worry!
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
This blog just loves Ryan Crocker, America’s ambassador to everything. The Crock is always firing off wacky statements from wherever he is ambassadoring from, be it Iraq or Afghanistan. It is what he does.
The other thing Crock likes to do is have things named after him, like droppings at each post he leads. The State Department even offers an in-house award called the Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy.
Crock’s latest North Korean-like leadership example is what appears to be a makeshift hut in Kabul that is now known as the The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio, for making the teevee things that will win our war. Both Diplopundit and El Snarkistani have much more to say about all this.
For me, however, this time I want to be on the team. Thus, I am officially renaming this blog “The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Blog.”
Actually, nothing will change. This is partially because changing the graphics for this blog is a hassle, and partially because in a few weeks no one will care what was named after Crocker as it was just some short-term suck up move on the part of his staff anyway.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Antiwar.com’s Kelley B. Vlahos uncorks an excellent essay on the never-ending leadership transition in Afghanistan:
Washington’s foreign policy elite loves to mock the overuse of the cliché “graveyard of empires,” but it seems as though the last decade of our increasingly failed bid in Afghanistan is littered with lackluster epitaphs for American generals, envoys and diplomats.
The latest, of course, is Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who is leaving his post as early as July. Gen. John Allen, current commander of U.S. and ISAF in Afghanistan, will also be leaving, as well as Cameron Munter, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. All three leave records of little renown (complete with shifting goal posts and neon question marks) and earlier than expected. Crocker exits after only one year on the job, Munter less than two and Allen, perhaps a record, announced his departure after only eight months on the job.
Referring to the similarly short reigns of Gens. David McKiernan, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, Spencer Ackerman of Wired’s Danger Room noted wryly of Allen’s early promotion to head the U.S. European Command, which will take him far away from the battlefield: “Afghanistan war commanders have tenures as long as Spinal Tap drummers.”
The Crock has been an Administration favorite all through the years, and was well-loved by both Bush and Obama. Indeed, after Crocker as Ambassador to Iraq won that war personally, he was lauded as a “modern day Lawrence of Arabia.”
Crocker’s tenure in America’s wars of choice in Iran and Afghanistan has been the subject of frequent fodder for this blog and others, as the guy just can’t stop himself from saying dumb things. It suggest perhaps Afghanistan might be better known in this century as the graveyard of assholes, as well as empires. But don’t listen to me, listen to Antiwar.com again:
Turns out Crocker was just one in a line of diplomats who were put into a mission that was designed to fail, where professional legacies and even personal stamina appeared to wither over time against the perfidious Hamid Karzai, the labyrinth of Kabul’s corruption and always having to take the child’s seat at the military’s table.
Read the entire piece on Antiwar.com. The Crock would want you to.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
America’s superhero Ambassador in Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker (pictured left with his senior adviser) just keeps the hits coming. After manfully mocking the Taliban for pulling off coordinated attacks all over the country, including just outside his own office windows, Crocker now turns his insightful gaze toward the future of terrorism.
But first, a very brief history of our war in Afghanistan. 9/11 happened, with almost all of the terrorists being Saudi, using money from Saudi Arabia and having obtained their visas in Saudi Arabia courtesy of the US Department of State (not their fault, they did not have social media then). Following the Saudi-led horrors of that day, the US attacked a different country, Afghanistan, because the Saudi citizen behind some of 9/11 moved there (many other Saudi plotters went to Pakistan, which we did not attack). The stated purpose of invading Afghanistan was to find Osama bin Laden and deny al Qaeda a homey place to live and train. You can look that up on Wikipedia or something.
So it is, well, curious, to read this quote from Crocker:
Al-Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan. If the West decides that 10 years in Afghanistan is too long then they will be back, and the next time it will not be New York or Washington, it will be another big Western city. Al-Qaeda remains a potent threat despite suffering setbacks. We have killed all the slow and stupid ones. But that means the ones that are left are totally dedicated.
Yeah, like, totally.
The good news from Crocker is that he somehow knows that New York and DC will be safe next time. The bad news is that after almost eleven years of war, 100,000 troops deployed, some 2,000 dead Americans, trillions of dollars plus who knows how many dead Afghans, as well as the fact that the war has spread into Pakistan, the US has not accomplished much at all. We are in fact, Crock says, pretty much where we started and all that effort and all those American lives did nothing but lop off the slow and stupid bad guys.
Afghans (Heart) Crocker
Crocker also seems to have hit the executive minibar one too many times. When told by a reporter that “Some Afghans even argue that the US presence has done more harm than good in Afghanistan,” Crocker parried:
The greatest concern that Afghans with whom we have regular contact express about the US military presence isn’t that we’re here but that we may be leaving. So it’s simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone. It’s quite the contrary.
Of course the mind spins, wondering if the masses of Afghans upset over the US burning Quarans, peeing on their dead and of course turning wedding parties in red mush with “unfortunate” drone attacks really would love the Americans to stay– please– just a little bit longer. Maybe Crocker could put his theory to the test with a series of homestays in the homes of typical Afghans, asking each if they would like him in the particular to stay around longer? Everyone knows that foreigners want nothing more than an American Occupying Army to sit on them.
Turks (Heart) Crocker
In that same interview, just for laffs, Crocker also fired off a threat to the Iranians, saying mirthfully that:
The Iranians would be making a terrible mistake to push Turkey too hard. Turkey definitely knows how to push back very, very effectively, and I think the Iranians are smart enough to understand that they had better stay within some pretty careful limits or they will pay a price they won’t like, shall we say.
Yes, them Turks are bad asses, shall we say. Problem is in between Turkey and Iran lies Crocker’s out vacation home in Iraq, which would need to be overflown by the Turks when they go off huntin’ Iranian butt. Yeah, it’ll be cool. Crock’s got your back.
Crocker, it is a bad idea to taunt people with weapons, especially when it is other people who will bear the burden of defending your taunts against the inevitable response.
Maliki (Hearts) Crocker
Lastly, Crocker wows his audience with a completely wrong retelling of reality, speaking now about Iraqi autocrat Maliki:
Turkey knows better than anyone the deep divisions between Iraq and Iran in the aftermath of that awful eight-year ground war. Again, you understand that, as many in my country do not, that simply because the government is now led by a Shiite prime minister does not mean that he takes his direction from Tehran — quite the opposite. He is a very proud Arab and a proud Iraqi nationalist.
Of course Crocker wouldn’t know that Maliki spent most of the eight years of the Iraq-Iran war in exile in Iran, and that Maliki owes his Prime Minister job to the Iranian-brokered deal with the Sadrists that concluded the March 2010 sham elections nine months after the voting ended. Crocker’s version of Iraq-Iran history also ends in 1990 and omits two US invasions of Iraq that followed.
So, once again, Ryan Crocker, would you please just shut up?
(Thanks to Ryan Crocker fan blogger Random Thoughts for the story idea)
The Taliban, see, launched a wave of assaults on Kabul and three other provinces Sunday. Fighting in the Kabul district that houses allied embassies lasted into Sunday night. Bombs, suicide vests, AKs, the whole MFer.
So what does America’s bad boy Ambassador have to say to ‘dem Taliban bitches: “The Taliban are very good at issuing statements, less good at fighting.”
Da Man Crocker, is not the first time he lay smack on the Taliban. Following the all-day Taliban assault on the American Embassy in Kabul last September, Crocker said “If this is the best they can do, I find both their lack of ability and capacity and the ability of Afghan forces to respond to it actually encouraging in this whole transition process.”
Crock’s bad-ass statements sound tough and cool, like a real manly diplomat should. Freakin’ Taliban, can’t do nothing right. But wait, gee, what’s it been for our war in Afghanistan, heading into ELEVEN FREAKING YEARS Ryan? After eleven years of fighting, trillions of dollars, thousands of lives and umpteen training missions for the Afghans, the Taliban can still stage a coordinated attack in central Kabul? That does not seem like a lack of ability or capability. The victories over the Taliban seem to be taking place closer and closer to home somehow. And how many more Americans have died in Afghanistan in between Crocker’s childish posturing?
How well did grunting “Bring ‘em on!” work out when George Bush said it regarding Iraq? When he said it, only 23 Americans had died in Iraq. 4479 dead Americans and nine years later, he is still eating those words.
What is lacking here is credibility. Lacking also is humility. Ryan Crocker, please just shut the freak up.
(America, please note that my previous blog posting of some seven months ago about Ryan Crocker’s macho posturing was singled out by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security agents as a further example of my “poor judgement” and included in the Report of Investigation filed against me. Boy oh boy, seven more months from now am I gonna be in trouble when the next investigation uncovers this blog posting.)
Ryan Crocker is an ass. He is also America’s ambassador to Afghanistan. Following the all-day Taliban assault on the American Embassy in Kabul, Crocker said:
“If this is the best they can do, I find both their lack of ability and capacity and the ability of Afghan forces to respond to it actually encouraging in this whole transition process.”
Crocker went on to describe the attack as “harassment” and “not a very big deal”.
Let’s do a little thinking here, shall we? First of all, US leaders have a poor record of egging on foreign fighters. How well did grunting “Bring ’em on!” work out when George Bush said it regarding Iraq? When he said it, only 23 Americans had died in Iraq. 4474 dead Americans and eight years later, he is still eating those words. Crocker will have his turn as well.
Second, gee, what’s it been for our war in Afghanistan, TEN FUCKING YEARS Ryan? After ten years of fighting, trillions of dollars, thousands of lives and umpteen training missions for the Afghan cops, the Taliban can still stage a coordinated attack in central Kabul? That does not seem like a lack of ability or capability. The BBC described the attack as the most complex ever by the Taliban, but what do they know.
As for the Afghan cops (and whatever contracted, booze hound mercenaries pass for Embassy security), the attackers set up shop in a high rise building NEXT to the Embassy, unnoticed. The attackers are believed to have spent a number of days accumulating weapons in the unfinished tower block. The BBC in Kabul says officials think some of them may have been working as laborers on the building site for several weeks. Typically, you’d want to praise security that notices such things and be concerned about security that does not.
In fact, one reporter stated:
The really striking thing about climbing inside the building is the views you get from the top of it. Straight in front, I can see the US embassy – a very clear line of sight, just behind the Isaf headquarters. The insurgents were well planned and well supplied, but they also knew this was perhaps one of the best spots in Kabul from which to mount this assault, and be able to attack all those high-value targets.
Harassment? Not a big deal Crocker? The dead included 11 civilians, among them children, along with at least four police and 10 insurgents. Nato has confirmed six International Security Assistance Force personnel were injured. It is probably a big deal to the parents of the dead kids but then again, they are only Afghan kids so who really cares, right? Most would end up dying in a drone attack before they turned 18 anyway.
Hey Crocker, by the way, how much work got done in the Embassy when your whole staff spent 20 hours huddled in bunkers, terrified for their lives? Take a quick poll in the cafeteria on how many of them think the attack was no big deal.
Just three days ago, Crocker said “The biggest problem in Kabul is traffic.”
Ryan, we all know you are a big stud who speaks just wonderful Arabic. But before making any more public statements, better check with your translator: what’s the Pashto term for “Tet“?
Since Iraq worked out so well, let’s reunite the old gang for Afghanistan. FTW!
Jeez, you’d think some fresh blood might be called for. The gene pool needs chlorine friends.
Vintage cartoon (the Iraq success was in 2007) from Republican-Elephant.
One of the most popular apps these days is Snapchat. It allows the sender to set a timer for any photo dispatched via the app, so that a few seconds after the recipient opens the message, the photo is automatically deleted.
The evidence of what you did at that party last night is seen and then disappears. POOF!
I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest that the Iraq-Syria War against the Islamic State (ISIS) is being conveyed to us via Snapchat. Important things happen, they appear in front of us, and then… POOF!… they’re gone. No one seems to remember them. Who cares that they’ve happened at all, when there’s a new snap already arriving for your attention? As with most of what flows through the real Snapchat, what’s of some interest at first makes no difference in the long run.
Just because we now have terrifyingly short memories does not, however, mean that things did not happen. Despite the POOF! effect, events that genuinely mattered when it comes to the region in which Washington has, since the 1980s, been embroiled in four wars, actually did occur last week, last month, a war or two ago, or, in some cases, more than half a century in the past. What follows are just some of the things we’ve forgotten that couldn’t matter more.
It’s a Limited Mission — POOF!
Perhaps General David Petraeus’s all-time sharpest comment came in the earliest days of Iraq War 2.0. “Tell me how this ends,” he said, referring to the Bush administration’s invasion. At the time, he was already worried that there was no endgame.
That question should be asked daily in Washington. It and the underlying assumption that there must be a clear scope and duration to America’s wars are too easily forgotten. It took eight long years until the last American combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Though there were no ticker tape parades or iconic photos of sailors smooching their gals in Times Square in 2011, the war was indeed finally over and Barack Obama’s campaign promise fulfilled…
Until, of course, it wasn’t, and in 2014 the same president restarted the war, claiming that a genocide against the Yazidis, a group hitherto unknown to most of us and since largely forgotten, was in process. Air strikes were authorized to support a “limited” rescue mission. Then, more — limited — American military power was needed to stop the Islamic State from conquering Iraq. Then more air strikes, along with limited numbers of military advisers and trainers, were sure to wrap things up, and somehow, by May 2016, the U.S. has 5,400 military personnel, including Special Operations forces, on the ground across Iraq and Syria, with expectations that more would soon be needed, even as a massive regional air campaign drags on. That’s how Washington’s wars seem to go these days, with no real debate, no Congressional declaration, just, if we’re lucky, a news item announcing what’s happened.
Starting wars under murky circumstances and then watching limited commitments expand exponentially is by now so ingrained in America’s global strategy that it’s barely noticed. Recall, for instance, those weapons of mass destruction that justified George W. Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq, the one that turned into eight years of occupation and “nation-building”? Or to step a couple of no-less-forgettable years further into the past, bring to mind the 2001 U.S. mission that was to quickly defeat the ragged Taliban and kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. That’s now heading into its 16th year as the situation there only continues to disintegrate.
For those who prefer an even more forgotten view of history, America’s war in Vietnam kicked into high gear thanks to then-President Lyndon Johnson’s false claim about an attack on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The early stages of that war followed a path somewhat similar to the one on which we now seem to be staggering along in Iraq War 3.0 — from a limited number of advisers to the full deployment of almost all the available tools of war.
Or for those who like to look ahead, the U.S. has just put troops back on the ground in Yemen, part of what the Pentagon is describing as “limited support” for the U.S.-backed war the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched in that country.
The new story is also the old story: just as you can’t be a little pregnant, the mission never really turns out to be “limited,” and if Washington doesn’t know where the exit is, it’s going to be trapped yet again inside its own war, spinning in unpredictable and disturbing directions.
No Boots on the Ground — POOF!
Having steadfastly maintained since the beginning of Iraq War 3.0 that it would never put “American boots on the ground,” the Obama administration has deepened its military campaign against the Islamic State by increasing the number of Special Operations forces in Syria from 50 to 300. The administration also recently authorized the use of Apache attack helicopters, long stationed in Iraq to protect U.S. troops, as offensive weapons.
American advisers are increasingly involved in actual fighting in Iraq, even as the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers to an air base in Qatar before promptly sending them into combat over Iraq and Syria. Another group of Marines was dispatched to help defend the American Embassy in Baghdad after the Green Zone, in the heart of that city, was recently breached by masses of protesters. Of all those moves, at least some have to qualify as “boots on the ground.”
The word play involved in maintaining the official no-boots fiction has been a high-wire act. Following the loss of an American in Iraqi Kurdistan recently, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter labeled it a “combat death.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest then tried to explain how an American who was not on a combat mission could be killed in combat. “He was killed, and he was killed in combat. But that was not part of his mission,” Earnest told reporters.
Much more quietly, the U.S. surged — “surge” being the replacement word for the Vietnam-era “escalate” — the number of private contractors working in Iraq; their ranks have grown eight-fold over the past year, to the point where there are an estimated 2,000 of them working directly for the Department of Defense and 5,800 working for the Department of State inside Iraq. And don’t be too sanguine about those State Department contractors. While some of them are undoubtedly cleaning diplomatic toilets and preparing elegant receptions, many are working as military trainers, paramilitary police advisers, and force protection personnel. Even some aircraft maintenance crews and CIA paramilitaries fall under the State Department’s organizational chart.
The new story in Iraq and Syria when it comes to boots on the ground is the old story: air power alone has never won wars, advisers and trainers never turn out to be just that, and for every soldier in the fight you need five or more support people behind him.
We’re Winning — POOF!
We’ve been winning in Iraq for some time now — a quarter-century of successes, from 1991’s triumphant Operation Desert Storm to 2003’s soaring Mission Accomplished moment to just about right now in the upbeat third iteration of America’s Iraq wars. But in each case, in a Snapchat version of victory, success has never seemed to catch on.
At the end of April, for instance, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesperson, hailed the way American air power had set fire to $500 million of ISIS’s money, actual cash that its militants had apparently forgotten to disperse or hide in some reasonable place. He was similarly positive about other recent gains, including the taking of the Iraqi city of Hit, which, he swore, was “a linchpin for ISIL.” In this, he echoed the language used when ISIS-occupied Ramadi (and Baiji and Sinjar and…) fell, language undoubtedly no less useful when the next town is liberated. In the same fashion, USA Today quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying that American actions had cut ISIS’s oil revenues by an estimated 50%, forcing them to ration fuel in some areas, while cutting pay to its fighters and support staff.
Only a month ago, National Security Adviser Susan Rice let us know that, “day by day, mile by mile, strike by strike, we are making substantial progress. Every few days, we’re taking out another key ISIL leader, hampering ISIL’s ability to plan attacks or launch new offensives.” She even cited a poll indicating that nearly 80% of young Muslims across the Middle East are strongly opposed to that group and its caliphate.
In the early spring, Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, took to Twitter to assure everyone that “terrorists are now trapped and desperate on Mosul fronts.” Speaking at a security forum I attended, retired general Chuck Jacoby, the last multinational force commander for Iraq 2.0, described another sign of progress, insisting that Iraq today is a “maturing state.” On the same panel, Douglas Ollivant, a member of former Iraq commander General David Petraeus’s “brain trust of warrior-intellectuals,” talked about “streams of hope” in Iraq.
Above all, however, there is one sign of success often invoked in relation to the war in Iraq and Syria: the body count, an infamous supposed measure of success in the Vietnam War. Washington spokespeople regularly offer stunning figures on the deaths of ISIS members, claiming that 10,000 to 25,000 Islamic State fighters have been wiped out via air strikes. The CIA has estimated that, in 2014, the Islamic State had only perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters under arms. If such victory statistics are accurate, somewhere between a third and all of them should now be gone.
Other U.S. intelligence reports, clearly working off a different set of data, suggest that there once were more than 30,000 foreign fighters in the Islamic State’s ranks. Now, the Pentagon tells us, the flow of new foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria has been staunched, dropping over the past year from roughly 2,000 to 200 a month, further incontrovertible proof of the Islamic State’s declining stature. One anonymous American official typically insisted: “We’re actually a little bit ahead of where we wanted to be.”
Yet despite success after American success, ISIS evidently isn’t broke, or running out of fighters, or too desperate to stay in the fray, and despite all the upbeat news there are few signs of hope in the Iraqi body politic or its military.
The new story is again a very old story: when you have to repeatedly explain how much you’re winning, you’re likely not winning much of anything at all.
It’s Up to the Iraqis — POOF!
From the early days of Iraq War 2.0, one key to success for Washington has been assigning the Iraqis a to-do list based on America’s foreign policy goals. They were to hold decisive elections, write a unifying Constitution, take charge of their future, share their oil with each other, share their government with each other, and then defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later, the Islamic State.
As each item failed to get done properly, it became the Iraqis’ fault that Washington hadn’t achieved its goals. A classic example was “the surge” of 2007, when the Bush administration sent in a significant number of additional troops to whip the Iraqis into shape and just plain whip al-Qaeda, and so open up the space for Shiites and Sunnis to come together in an American-sponsored state of national unity. The Iraqis, of course, screwed up the works with their sectarian politics and so lost the stunning potential gains in freedom we had won them, leaving the Americans heading for the exit.
In Iraq War 3.0, the Obama administration again began shuffling leaders in Baghdad to suit its purposes, helping force aside once-golden boy Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and pushing forward new golden boy Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to — you guessed it — unify Iraq. “Today, Iraqis took another major step forward in uniting their country,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said as Abadi took office.
Of course, unity did not transpire, thanks to Abadi, not us. “It would be disastrous,” editorialized the New York Times, “if Americans, Iraqis, and their partners were to succeed in the military campaign against the Islamic State only to have the politicians in Baghdad squander another chance to build a better future.” The Times added: “More than 13 years since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, there’s less and less reason to be optimistic.”
The latest Iraqi “screw-up” came on April 30th, when dissident Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters broke into the previously sacrosanct Green Zone established by the Americans in Iraq War 2.0 and stormed Iraq’s parliament. Sadr clearly remembers his history better than most Americans. In 2004, he emboldened his militias, then fighting the U.S. military, by reminding them of how irregular forces had defeated the Americans in Vietnam. This time, he was apparently diplomatic enough not to mention that Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese 41 years ago on the day of the Green Zone incursion.
Sadr’s supporters crossed into the enclave to protest Prime Minister Abadi’s failure to reform a disastrous government, rein in corruption (you can buy command of an entire army division and plunder its budget indefinitely for about $2 million), and provide basic services like water and electricity to Baghdadis. The tens of billions of dollars that U.S. officials spent “reconstructing” Iraq during the American occupation of 2003 to 2011 were supposed to make such services effective, but did not.
And anything said about Iraqi governmental failures might be applied no less accurately to the Iraqi army.
Despite the estimated $26 billion the U.S. spent training and equipping that military between 2003 and 2011, whole units broke, shed their uniforms, ditched their American equipment, and fled when faced with relatively small numbers of ISIS militants in June 2014, abandoning four northern cities, including Mosul. This, of course, created the need for yet more training, the ostensible role of many of the U.S. troops now in Iraq. Since most of the new Iraqi units are still only almost ready to fight, however, those American ground troops and generals and Special Operations forces and forward air controllers and planners and logistics personnel and close air support pilots are still needed for the fight to come.
The inability of the U.S. to midwife a popularly supported government or a confident citizen’s army, Washington’s twin critical failures of Iraq War 2.0, may once again ensure that its latest efforts implode. Few Iraqis are left who imagine that the U.S. can be an honest broker in their country. A recent State Department report found that one-third of Iraqis believe the United States is actually supporting ISIS, while 40% are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.
The new story is again the old story: corrupt governments imposed by an outside power fail. And in the Iraq case, every problem that can’t be remedied by aerial bombardment and Special Forces must be the Iraqis’ fault.
Same Leadership, Same Results — POOF!
With the last four presidents all having made war in Iraq, and little doubt that the next president will dive in, keep another forgotten aspect of Washington’s Iraq in mind: some of the same American leadership figures have been in place under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and they will initially still be in place when Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump enters the Oval Office.
Start with Brett McGurk, the current special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS. His résumé is practically a Wikipedia page for America’s Iraq, 2003-2016: Deputy Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran from August 2013 until his current appointment. Before that, Senior Advisor in the State Department for Iraq, a special advisor to the National Security Staff, Senior Advisor to Ambassadors to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Christopher Hill, and James Jeffrey. McGurk participated in President Obama’s 2009 review of Iraq policy and the transition following the U.S. military departure from Iraq. During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq, then as Special Assistant to the President, and also Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 McGurk was the lead negotiator with the Iraqi Government on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement to govern the presence of U.S. forces. He was also one of the chief Washington-based architects of The Surge, having earlier served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority from nearly the first shots of 2003.
A little lower down the chain of command is Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland. He is now leading Sunni “tribal coordination” to help defeat ISIS, as well as serving as commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force. As a colonel back in 2006, MacFarland similarly helped organize the surge’s Anbar Sunni Awakening movement against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
And on the ground level, you can be sure that some of the current colonels were majors in Iraq War 2.0, and some of their subordinates put their boots on the same ground they’re on now.
In other words, the new story is the old story: some of the same people have been losing this war for Washington since 2003, with neither accountability nor culpability in play.
What If They Gave a War and No One Remembered?
All those American memories lost to oblivion. Such forgetfulness only allows our war makers to do yet more of the same things in Iraq and Syria, acts that someone on the ground will be forced to remember forever, perhaps under the shadow of a drone overhead.
Placing our service people in harm’s way, spending our money in prodigious amounts, and laying the country’s credibility on the line once required at least the pretext that some national interest was at stake. Not any more. Anytime some group we don’t like threatens a group we care not so much about, the United States must act to save a proud people, stop a humanitarian crisis, take down a brutal leader, put an end to genocide, whatever will briefly engage the public and spin up some vague facsimile of war fever.
But back to Snapchat. It turns out that while the app was carefully designed to make whatever is transmitted quickly disappear, some clever folks have since found ways to preserve the information. If only the same could be said of our Snapchat wars. How soon we forget. Until the next time…
You know the joke? You describe something obviously heading for disaster — a friend crossing Death Valley with next to no gas in his car — and then add, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Such is the Middle East today. The U.S. is again at war there, bombing freely across Iraq and Syria, advising here, droning there, coalition-building in the region to loop in a little more firepower from a collection of recalcitrant allies, and searching desperately for some non-American boots to put on the ground.
Here, then, are seven worst-case scenarios in a part of the world where the worst case has regularly been the best that’s on offer. After all, with all that military power being brought to bear on the planet’s most volatile region, what could possibly go wrong?
1. The Kurds
The lands the Kurds generally consider their own have long been divided among Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. None of those countries wish to give up any territory to an independence-minded ethnic minority, no less find a powerful, oil-fueled Kurdish state on their borders.
In Turkey, the Kurdish-inhabited border area with Iraq has for years been a low-level war zone, with the powerful Turkish military shelling, bombing, and occasionally sending in its army to attack rebels there. In Iran, the Kurdish population is smaller than in Iraq and the border area between the two countries more open for accommodation and trade. (The Iranians, for instance, reportedly refine oil for the Iraqi Kurds, who put it on the black market and also buy natural gas from Iran.) That country has nonetheless shelled the Kurdish border area from time to time.
The Kurds have been fighting for a state of their own since at least 1923. Inside Iraq today, they are in every practical sense a de facto independent state with their own government and military. Since 2003, they have been strong enough to challenge the Shia government in Baghdad far more aggressively than they have. Their desire to do so has been constrained by pressure from Washington to keep Iraq whole. In June, however, their military, the Peshmerga, seized the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and other northern cities in the face of the militants of the Islamic State (IS). Lacking any alternative, the Obama administration let the Kurds move in.
The Peshmerga are a big part of the current problem. In a near-desperate need for some semi-competent proxy force, the U.S. and its NATO allies are now arming and training them, serving as their air force in a big way, and backing them as they inch into territory still in dispute with Baghdad as an expedient response to the new “caliphate.” This only means that, in the future, Washington will have to face the problem of how to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle if the Islamic State is ever pushed back or broken.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and now under the control of the Islamic State, is the most obvious example. Given the woeful state of the Iraqi army, the Kurds may someday take it. That will not go down well in Baghdad and the result could be massive sectarian violence long after IS is gone. We were given a small-scale preview of what might happen in the town of Hassan Sham. The Kurds took it back last month. In the process, some Shia residents reportedly sided with their enemies, the Sunni militants of IS, rather than support the advancing Peshmerga.
Worst-case scenario: A powerful Kurdistan emerges from the present mess of American policy, fueling another major sectarian war in Iraq that will have the potential to spill across borders. Whether or not Kurdistan is recognized as a country with a U.N. seat, or simply becomes a Taiwan-like state (real in all but name), it will change the power dynamic in the region in ways that could put present problems in the shade. Changing a long-held balance of power always has unintended consequences, especially in the Middle East. Ask George W. Bush about his 2003 invasion of Iraq, which kicked off most of the present mess.
You can’t, of course, talk about the Kurds without discussing Turkey, a country caught in a vise. Its forces have battled for years against a Kurdish separatist movement, personified by the PKK, a group Turkey, NATO, the European Union, and the United States all classify as a terrorist organization. Strife between the Turks and the PKK took 37,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s before being reduced from a boil to a simmer thanks to European Union diplomacy. The “problem” in Turkey is no small thing — its Kurdish minority, some 15 million people, makes up nearly 20% of the population.
When it comes to taking action in Syria, the Turks exist in a conflicted realm because Washington has anointed the Kurds its boots on the ground. Whatever it may think it’s doing, the U.S. is helping empower the Kurdish minority in Syria, including PKK elements arrayed along the Turkish border, with new weapons and training.
The Turkish ruling party has no particular love for those who run the Islamic State, but its loathing for Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad is such that its leaders have long been willing to assist IS largely by looking the other way. For some time, Turkey has been the obvious point of entry for “foreign fighters” en route to Syria to join IS ranks. Turkey has also served as the exit point for much of the black-market oil — $1.2 to $2 million a day — that IS has used to fund itself. Perhaps in return, the Islamic State released 49 Turkish hostages it was holding, including diplomats without the usual inflammatory beheading videos. In response to U.S. requests to “do something,” Turkey is now issuing fines to oil smugglers, though these have totaled only $5.7 million over the past 15 months, which shows the nature of Turkey’s commitment to the coalition.
The situation in the IS-besieged town of Kobani illustrates the problem. The Turks have refused to intervene to aid the Syrian Kurds. Turkish tanks sit idle on hills overlooking the hand-to-hand combat less than a mile away. Turkish riot police have prevented Turkish Kurds from reaching the town to help. Turkish jets have bombed PKK rebels inside Turkey, near the Iraqi border.
American bombs can slow IS, but can’t recapture parts of a city. Short of destroying Kobani by air to save it, U.S. power is limited without Turkish ground forces.
On the other hand, Washington’s present policy essentially requires Turkey to put aside its national goals to help us achieve ours. We’ve seen how such a scenario has worked out in the past. (Google “Pakistan and the Taliban.”) But with Kobani in the news, the U.S. may yet succeed in pressuring the Turks into limited gestures, such as allowing American warplanes to use Turkish airbases or letting the U.S. train some Syrian rebels on its territory. That will not change the reality that Turkey will ultimately focus on its own goals independent of the many more Kobanis to come.
Worst-case scenario: Chaos in Eastern Turkey’s future, while the sun shines on Assad and the Kurds. An influx of refugees are already taxing the Turks. Present sectarian rumblings inside Turkey could turn white hot, with the Turks finding themselves in open conflict with Kurdish forces as the U.S. sits dumbly on the sidelines watching one ally fight another, an unintended consequence of its Middle Eastern meddling. If the buffer zone comes to pass, throw in the possibility of direct fighting between the U.S. and Assad, with Russian President Vladimir Putin potentially finding an opening to reengage in the area.
Think of Syria as the American war that never should have happened. Despite years of calls for U.S. intervention and some training flirtations with Syrian rebel groups, the Obama administration had managed (just barely) to stay clear of this particular quagmire. In September 2013, President Obama walked right up to the edge of sending bombers and cruise missiles against Assad’s military over the purported use of chemical weapons. He then used an uncooperative Congress and a clever Putin-gambit as an excuse to back down.
This year’s model — ignore Assad, attack IS — evolved over just a few weeks as a limited humanitarian action morphed into a fight to the finish against IS in Iraq and then into bombing Syria itself. As with any magician’s trick, we all watched it happen but still can’t quite figure out quite how the sleight of hand was done.
Syria today is a country in ruins. But somewhere loose in that land are unicorns — creatures often spoken of but never seen — the Obama administration’s much publicized “moderate Syrian rebels.” Who are they? The working definition seems to be something like: people who oppose Assad, won’t fight him for now, but may in the meantime fight the Islamic State, and aren’t too “fundamentalist.” The U.S. plans to throw arms and training at them as soon as it can find some of them, vet them, and transport them to Saudi Arabia. If you are buying stock in the Syrian market, look for anyone labeled “moderate warlord.”
While the U.S. and its coalition attacks IS, some states (or at least wealthy individuals) in that same band of brothers continue to funnel money to the new caliphate to support its self-appointed role as a protector of Sunnis and handy proxy against Shia empowerment in Iraq. Vice President Joe Biden recently called out some of America’s partners on this in what was billed as another of his famous gaffes, requiring apologies all around. If you want to see the best-case scenario for Syria’s future, have a look at Libya, a post-U.S. intervention country in chaos, carved up by militias.
Worst-case scenario: Syria as an ungoverned space, a new haven for terrorists and warring groups fueled by outsiders. (The Pakistani Taliban has already vowed to send fighters to help IS.) Throw in the potential for some group to grab any leftover chemical weapons or SCUD-like surface-to-surface missiles from Assad’s closet, and the potential for death and destruction is unending. It might even spread to Israel.
Israel’s border with Syria, marked by the Golan Heights, has been its quietest frontier since the 1967 war, but that’s now changing. Syrian insurgents of some flavor recently seized border villages and a crossing point in those heights. United Nations peacekeepers, who once patrolled the area, have mostly been evacuated for their own safety. Last month, Israel shot down a Syrian plane that entered its airspace, no doubt a warning to Assad to mind his own business rather than a matter of military necessity.
Assumedly, the Obama administration has been in behind-the-scenes efforts, reminiscent of the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi SCUDS began raining down on Israeli cities, to keep that country out of the larger fight. It is not 1991, however. Relations between the U.S. and Israel are far more volatile and much testier. Israel is better armed and U.S. constraints on Israeli desires have proven significantly weaker of late.
Worst-case scenario: An Israeli move, either to ensure that the war stays far from its Golan Heights frontier or of a more offensive nature aimed at securing some Syrian territory, could blow the region apart. “It’s like a huge bottle with gas surrounded by candles. You just need to push one candle and everything can blow up in a minute,” said one retired Israeli general. Still, if you think Israel worries about Syria, that’s nothing compared to how its leadership must be fuming over the emergence of Iran as an ever-stronger regional power.
What can go wrong for Iran in the current conflict? While in the Middle East something unexpected can always arise, at present that country looks like the potential big winner in the IS sweepstakes. Will a pro-Iranian Shia government remain in power in Baghdad? You bet. Has Iran been given carte blanche to move ground forces into Iraq? Check. Will the American air force fly bombing runs for Iranian ground troops engaged in combat with IS (in a purely unofficial capacity, of course)? Not a doubt. Might Washington try to edge back a bit from its nuclear tough-guy negotiations? A likelihood. Might the door be left ajar when it comes to an off-the-books easing of economic sanctions if the Americans need something more from Iran in Iraq? Why not?
Worst-case scenario: Someday, there’ll be a statue of Barack Obama in central Tehran, not in Iraq.
Iraq is America’s official “graveyard of empire.” Washington’s “new” plan for that country hinges on the success of a handful of initiatives that already failed when tried between 2003-2011, a time when there were infinitely more resources available to American “nation builders” and so much less in the way of regional chaos, bad as it then was.
The first step in the latest American master plan is the creation of an “inclusive” government in Baghdad, which the U.S. dreams will drive a wedge between a rebellious and dissatisfied Sunni population and the Islamic state. After that has happened, a (re)trained Iraqi army will head back into the field to drive the forces of the new caliphate from the northern parts of the country and retake Mosul.
All of this is unrealistic, if not simply unreal. After all, Washington has already sunk $25 billion dollars into training and equipping that same army, and several billion more on the paramilitary police. The result: little more than IS seizing arsenals of top-notch Americans weaponry once the Iraqi forces fled the country’s northern cities in June.
Now, about that inclusive government. The United States seems to think creating an Iraqi government is like picking players for a fantasy football team. You know, win some, lose some, make a few trades, and if none of that works out, you still have a shot at a new roster and a winning record next year. Since Haider al-Abadi, the latest prime minister and great inclusivist hope, is a Shia and a former colleague of the once-anointed, now disappointed Nouri al-Maliki, as well as a member of the same political party, nothing much has really changed at the top. Really, what could possibly go wrong?
As for the Sunnis, American strategy rests on the assumption that they can be bribed and coerced into breaking with IS, no matter the shape of things in Baghdad. That’s hard to imagine, unless they lack all memory. As with al-Qaeda in Iraq during the American occupation years, the Islamic State is Sunni muscle against a Shia government that, left to its own devices, would continue to marginalize, if not simply slaughter, them. Starting in 2007, U.S. officials did indeed bribe and coerce some Sunni tribal leaders into accepting arms and payments in return for fighting insurgent outfits, including al-Qaeda. That deal, then called the Anbar Awakening, came with assurances that the United States would always stand by them. (General John Allen, now coordinating America’s newest war in Iraq, was a key figure in brokering that “awakening.”) America didn’t stand. Instead, it turned the program over to the Shia government and headed for the door marked “exit.” The Shias promptly reneged on the deal.
Once bitten, twice shy, so why, only a few years later, would the Sunnis go for what seems to be essentially the same bad deal? In addition, this one appears to have a particularly counterproductive wrinkle from the American point of view. According to present plans, the U.S. is to form Sunni “national guard units” — up-armored Sunni militias with a more marketable name — to fight IS by paying and arming them to do so. These militias are to fight only on Sunni territory under Sunni leadership. They will have no more connection to the Baghdad government than you do. How will that help make Iraq an inclusive, unitary state? What will happen, in the long run, once even more sectarian armed militias are let loose? What could possibly go wrong?
Despite its unambiguous history of failure, the “success” of the Anbar Awakening remains a persistent myth among American conservative thinkers. So don’t be fooled in the short term by media-trumpeted local examples of Sunni-Shia cooperation against IS. Consider them temporary alliances of convenience on a tribe-by-tribe basis that might not outlast the next attack. That is nowhere near a strategy for national victory. Wasn’t then, isn’t now.
Worst-case scenario: Sunni-Shia violence reaches a new level, one which draws in outside third parties, perhaps the Sunni Gulf states, seeking to prevent a massacre. Would the Shia Iranians, with forces already in-country, stand idle? Who can predict how much blood will be spilled, all caused by another foolish American war in Iraq?
7. The United States
If Iran could be the big geopolitical winner in this multi-state conflict, then the U.S. will be the big loser. President Obama (or his successor) will, in the end, undoubtedly have to choose between war to the horizon and committing U.S. ground forces to the conflict. Neither approach is likely to bring the results desired, but those “boots on the ground” will scale up the nature of the ensuing tragedy.
Washington’s post-9/11 fantasy has always been that military power — whether at the level of full-scale invasions or “surgical” drone strikes — can change the geopolitical landscape in predictable ways. In fact, the only certainty is more death. Everything else, as the last 13 years have made clear, is up for grabs, and in ways Washington is guaranteed not to expect.
Among the likely scenarios: IS forces are currently only miles from Baghdad International Airport, itself only nine miles from the Green Zone in the heart of the capital. (Note that the M198 howitzers IS captured from the retreating Iraqis have a range of 14 miles.) The airport is a critical portal for the evacuation of embassy personnel in the face of a future potential mega-Benghazi and for flying in more personnel like the Marine Quick Reaction Force recently moved into nearby Kuwait. The airport is already protected by 300-500 American troops, backed by Apache attack helicopters and drones. The Apache helicopters recently sent into combat in nearby Anbar province probably flew out of there. If IS militants were to assault the airport, the U.S. would essentially have to defend it, which means combat between the two forces. If so, IS will lose on the ground, but will win by drawing America deeper into the quagmire.
In the bigger picture, the current anti-Islamic State coalition of “more than 60 countries” that the U.S. patched together cannot last. It’s fated to collapse in a heap of conflicting long-term goals. Sooner or later, the U.S. is likely to once again find itself alone, as it eventually did in the last Iraq war.
The most likely outcome of all this killing, whatever the fate of the Islamic State, is worsening chaos across Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region, including possibly Turkey. As Andrew Bacevich observed, “Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.” The loss of control over the real costs of this war will beg the question: Was the U.S. ever in control?
In September, Syria became the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded, occupied, or bombed since 1980. During these many years of American war-making, goals have shifted endlessly, while the situation in the Greater Middle East only worsened. Democracy building? You’re not going to hear that much any more. Oil? The U.S. is set to become a net exporter. Defeating terrorism? That’s today’s go-to explanation, but the evidence is already in that picking fights in the region only fosters terror and terrorism. At home, the soundtrack of fear-mongering grows louder, leading to an amplified national security state and ever-expanding justifications for the monitoring of our society.
Worst-case scenario: America’s pan-Middle Eastern war marches into its third decade with no end in sight, a vortex that sucks in lives, national treasure, and Washington’s mental breathing room, even as other important issues are ignored. And what could possibly go wrong with that?
Gentle readers, allow me a moment of angry self-congratulation. I’ll be back to normal with the next posting. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy.
I was right. When they print the next edition of my book, I’m going to change the title from We Meant Well to I Told You So.
I spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, leading two of the then-vaunted Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We were charged with nothing less than winning the war for America by rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, creating a functioning democracy and stable economy, and thus ensuring Iraq would be an ally of the United States in the war on terror. As it became more and more apparent to me over the course of my time in Iraq that we were accomplishing none of those goals (while simultaneously wasting incredible amounts of money), I was compelled to tell the American people what I saw. It would be both a lesson for history and a warning about similar efforts already under way in Afghanistan. I wrote a book and lost my career of 24 years at the State Department as a result.
What if Iraq Turns Around?
When, in 2010, I sent the first draft of We Meant Well, about the waste, fraud, mismanagement, and utter stupidity surrounding the Iraq reconstruction efforts, to my editor, I remember her saying, “You know the book itself won’t come out for close to a year, and if things turn around in Iraq in the meantime, that will make you look wrong.” I told her not to worry.
When the book did come out in September 2011, most of the interviewers I met with threw in skeptical comments: “Well, maybe it will work out like in Japan,” they said, or “It’s too early to tell.” When I met with staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, they said, “We’d like to believe you, but everything that State tells us contradicts your thesis that the money spent was just a big waste.” Foreign Policy felt the need to run an angry rebuttal (“The greatest assets in many respects were our ‘clients,’ the Iraqi ministers, provincial officials, and local residents who were active and engaged at every level”) to an excerpt from my book.
Failure Made Official
Well, now it’s official. Although it took 10 years for the report to come out, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), “$60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.”
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said “that $55 billion could have brought great change in Iraq,” but the positive effects of those funds were too often “lost.”
Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts did not “achieve the purpose for which it was launched. Rather, it had unfavorable outcomes in general.”
There “was usually a Plan A but never a Plan B,” said Kurdish official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Shiite, Sunni, Kurd. Trust me, about the only thing everybody agrees on is the United States spent a bundle of money. According to the Associated Press, to date the United States has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants on Iraq. That works out to about $15 million a day. Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs and other aid, the United States has spent at least $767 billion since the U.S.-led invasion began. Some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.
I Told You So
I hate to say I told you so — but I told you so. SIGIR, if you’re out there, perhaps it would have been better to agree to meet with me back in 2009. I could have saved you some time and money. SIGIR, like everything else associated with the Iraq reconstruction, was expensive. The inspectors cost taxpayers $16 million this year, a bargain compared with the $30 million a year they used up during the war era itself.
We all know that we study history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, so with the dreadful example of Iraq now clear, we can draw from it to avoid repeating the errors in Afghanistan. In fact, speaking of book titles, my volume on the Iraq failures was originally supposed to be called Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq, before the editor thankfully nudged me toward the snarkier We Meant Well.
What Went Right?
And yet … and yet … only the day before the SIGIR report on Iraq was issued, this magazine ran a long piece by Peter Bergen titled “What Went Right.” The piece talks about al Qaeda on the run from Afghanistan (without mentioning how well the franchises in Iraq and North Africa are doing), cites gains in cell-phone usage (without discussing how much is due to billions of U.S. aid dollars dumped on the local markets), talks about how the Taliban have been vanquished (without understanding an insurgency avoids head-on clashes just before the other guys pack up and go home), and describes aspects of Kabul as “thriving” (based most likely on a conversation with some taxi driver). Incredulously, Bergen writes, “U.S. and other NATO forces have taken care to ensure that their soldiers do not contribute to the civilian death toll. Indeed, some American cities are today more violent than Afghanistan. In New Orleans, residents are now around six times more likely to be murdered than Afghan civilians are to be killed in the war” and concludes, “Maybe, not too long from now, a new generation of guidebooks will again be raving about the joys of springtime in the Hindu Kush.”
Quite sadly, one only need change “Afghanistan” to “Iraq” in the article, and it could have been published in 2010, right down to the last line about tourists: The United States spent millions of dollars building tourist infrastructure around Iraq’s ancient archaeological sites for naught. It idiotically helped sponsor the “Iraq Tourism Week” expo in Baghdad in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has been issuing its own reports, saying among other things that “a significant portion” of the U.S. government’s $400 million investment in large infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2011 alone may have been wasted because of poor planning. In an episode that could have come straight out of my book — except that it took place years later in Afghanistan — SIGAR released an inspection of the Imam Sahib Border Police company headquarters in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. The $7.3 million facility was built to hold 175 people, “yet only 12 were on site and no one was aware of any plans to move additional personnel to the facility. The personnel did not have keys to many of the buildings and most of the facility appeared to be unused. Additionally, there is no contract or plan to train personnel in the operations and maintenance of the facility raising questions about its sustainability.” There are many, many more examples.
History Repeats Itself
In asking why such mistakes are being repeated, one need only look at the people involved: A large percentage of the State Department personnel on the ground in Afghanistan are veterans of the Iraq reconstruction, as are the soldiers reconstructing alongside them. The same two U.S. Ambassadors (Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker) ran both embassies at different times. Most of the lame and unskilled hirelings who worked with me in Iraq moved over to identical roles in Afghanistan, and even one of my old bosses found work in Afghanistan after retirement from State. On the macro level, the same massive contracting firms and security mercenaries continue to make bank. The fat paychecks help keep everyone looking the other way about “progress” and thus on-message.
Despite SIGAR finding that “delays, cost overruns, and poor construction of infrastructure projects … resulted in lost opportunities and in incalculable waste,” the United States and its allies have already committed to $16 billion in economic aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. Costs for maintaining Afghan security forces are expected to come to over $4 billion per year.
There is a pop-psychology definition of mental illness that applies here: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. And there’s something grim about this. So while it feels good today to know I was right — the reconstruction of Iraq I participated in is now unambiguously acknowledged as the failure I said it was years ago — it still feels bad knowing someone else will need to write an article just like this in a few years, when we tally up the losses in Afghanistan.
(A version of this story also appeared on Huffington Post, February 5, 2013)
Kids and music go together beautifully. Free from pretensions, children play from their hearts. Put that beauty into an international setting– in this case, young people from war-torn Afghanistan coming to the U.S. to perform traditional songs at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall– and it becomes something of poetry, a breath of peace, a vision of a better world.
“Normally, Afghan girls are not picking traditional instruments,” one young musician said in an interview. “I am one of the first. It’s an honor to play with the orchestra and to act as an ambassador for Afghan music and culture.” “Music can play a role in bringing about social changes and breaking taboos,” said another child.
Unless it is all garbage.
Exploitation ‘R Us
This week 47 young Afghans are coming to the U.S. to play music. Their trip is being paid for mostly by the U.S. Department of State. Their school was started and paid for by the U.S. Government and sympathetic U.S. donors, as well as the World Bank. While the pure of heart might imagine those young girls’ sentiments about social change and women’s rights are coming from somewhere deep inside of their souls, they more than likely were fed to them by their handlers at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Not that the Embassy is trying to hide either its true intentions.
“The Afghanistan National Institute of Music is an example of how far education, culture and youth have advanced since the fall of the Taliban,” said Eileen O’Connor, director of communications and public diplomacy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department. “We wanted Americans to understand the difference their tax dollars have made in building a better future for young people, which translates into reduced threats from extremists in the region.”
I’d heard this song before; we did the same thing in Iraq. Take the story of Operation Little Yasser. We singled out one orphan and built a whole phony project around him, something about bringing a greenhouse to an orphanage so the kids could heal by growing squash. The kid, Yasser, was just a prop for the media to write stories about, describing him as a “sweet, fragile child, whose soulful eyes reveal some of the heartbreak he’s endured.” The kid did not get anything out of his exploitation, kids rarely do, but the Embassy sure got some PR miles out of Yasser’s crummy life. Who knows if the orphanage ever got the greenhouse?
Bottom line: The State Department is sending these young Afghans to the U.S. to perform for Americans so that those Americans can see “the difference their tax dollars have made.” That’s a pretty bold statement given how, under even the best of narcotic influence, progress in Afghanistan over the course of the twelve years of U.S.-initiated war has been “uneven.” One is left with the distinct sense that one is being played, not unlike those traditional instruments, with cute kids and soothing music used to sell a meme that is blatantly untrue and make us feel better that the United States is still engaged in nation-building abroad despite the president’s promises to do it at home.
The selling of that meme is also expensive. The two-week tour of the 47 kids is going to cost $500,000, $350,000 of which is being paid by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul using American tax dollars. That works out to more than $10,000 per kid, suggesting either some pretty swanky accommodations or a subcontractor getting rich. Like the war itself, propaganda isn’t cheap.
But what propaganda effort is worth its cost without Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, who oversaw the failed U.S reconstruction efforts in Iraq? Crocker, now at Yale (of course), said that “I think I can speak for all donors that support the institute, that helping indigent children is worthy in and of itself, but the school also creates a human bulwark that is effectively saying, ‘Never again. Those people will never rule us again.’ ”
It’s Actually Worse
While doing the same kind of development work in Iraq, chronicled in my book We Meant Well: How I Lost the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, I saw the U.S. spend money on cultural projects, translations of American classic novels into Arabic, pastry lessons for widows, producing plays with deep moral messages, sponsoring art shows and paintings. None of it helped Iraq in the end. What I learned is that while using U.S. tax money to propagandize Americans is bad, and exploiting children for political purposes is worse, the waste of money on such feel-good projects as the Afghan children’s music tour has an even darker side.
The thing most folks say about this sort of cultural spending is that it is wasteful (yes, but by small amounts when the overall war costs one billion a week) but that really, at the end of the day, what was the harm? If someone enjoyed a play or some music, or a widow baked some wonderful date tarts, what was the harm? What’s wrong with helping a few kids?
While there is nothing inherently wrong with helping children, the harm of these programs is this: We wanted to leave Iraq (and soon, Afghanistan) stable and safe. But how did we advance those goals when we spent our time and money on obviously pointless things, while most people lacked access to clean water, or regular electricity, or hospitals. Another State Department official in Iraq wrote in his weekly summary to me, “At our project ribbon-cuttings we are typically greeted now with a cursory ‘thank you,’ followed by a long list of crushing needs for essential services such as water and power.” How could we help stabilize Iraq when we acted like buffoons? Spending money on plays and art shows must have seemed like insanity, or stupidity, or corruption, or all three. As one Iraqi told me, “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”
What will become of these young Afghan musicians when the U.S., searching for a new propaganda meme or just tired of Afghanistan in general, turns off the money tap? Why isn’t the Afghan government building such music schools themselves? Why, after twelve years of war, is the only thing we can think of to do in Afghanistan is to spend $500,000 on a propaganda tour? Indeed, to what life will these 47 young musicians return when the U.S. government no longer has a need for them? There, sadly, lies the long-term harm, long after the music has faded.
Photo, above, is of new SecState John Kerry meeting the Afghan musical youth, his statesman legacy dissolving in real time.
In response to my recent article “How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan — or America,” originally published on TomDispatch.com and Huffington Post, the site CommonDreams featured this very interesting comment by Art Brennan:
I was the director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) at the US Embassy in Baghdad during the summer of 2007. That summer, I signed and OAT issued an 80 page report on the corruption within each of 33 Iraqi government ministries.
The report was retroactively classified by Condi Rice to keep Congress from discussing it and the people of the US from knowing about the evidence of 18 billion dollars stolen, lost and wasted.
Later in July of 2007, a group of US law enforcement officers asked to meet with me in my office at the palace (US Embassy Annex). They explained that the director of the Iraqi equivalent of the FBI (Judge Radhi al Radhi) was going to be murdered because he would not stop investigating the Iraqi Ministries. His house had been rocketed twice and 31 of his personnel had been murdered.
I confronted [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker about this. I sponsored Iraqis for asylum and they were granted asylum. And my chief of staff, James Mattil and I both testified to House and Senate Committees about the recklessness and negligence of our “preeminent statesman” Ryan Crocker and the Department of State in Iraq. Obama was subsequently elected and the same group of corrupt incompetents were nominated by Obama and confirmed by the Senate to preside over the similar corruption and murder in Afghanistan. The only consequence for the group of us who stood up and testified was that we were blacklisted by the US Embassy.
I am a US Army veteran and a retired New Hampshire Superior Court judge. Nancy and I have been active with Stop the Machine at Freedom Plaza in DC and both have been arrested there. We are members of Veterans for Peace and the Veterans Peace Team (VPT). Next week, I go on trial in NYC for VPT’s part in a peaceful demonstration by OWS at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Lower Manhattan. I write these words because I think we have to speak, even when no one in Congress or the White House is listening and most people in the US simply don’t care. I know people reading this do care.
Example No. 1 was then-ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, who oversaw a good chunk of the State Department’s failed reconstruction follies in America’s longest war. Crocker had previously overseen a good chunk of the State Department’s failed reconstruction in Iraq as ambassador there. He was also recycled to be ambassador in Pakistan, where things are also going swimmingly in anticipation of someone else’s disclosure book-to-come. Why keep sending a guy who failed at leading reconstruction efforts repeatedly back to lead some more off a cliff?
The Crocker example was paired with a piece on State’s failures in post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti, lead there by now-departing US ambassador Kenneth Merten (Merten’s departure was marked by the freakish sideshow caricature above, posted on the embassy’s official Facebook page; Crocker’s embassy staff blessed his departure by naming a hut after him. My own departure from the State Department will no doubt by marked by them simply slamming the door shut behind me).
Today we learn from Diplopundit that Merten was the recipient of the 2011 Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy, for, of course, “his extraordinary leadership of the unprecedented U.S. government response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which… embodies the highest virtues of public service and crisis management.”
So to sum up things at the State Department: a guy who fails at reconstruction gets chosen to do it again, then gets an award for such work named after him, and that award is given to another guy who was largely unsuccessful at the task.
Aw yes, the circle is complete. As one philosopher stated, self-love is the purest form of affection. Gotta go wash up now.
The Washington Post’s Al Kamen, reviewing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistanon the failure of reconstruction (and everything else) in Afghanistan, pulls out some State Department-specific highlights:
Two-thirds of the supposed nation-building civilians are camped out in Kabul and not out in the field;
Eleven Bolivian engineers were brought in to show how a U.S.-backed program there to build cobblestone roads could be repeated in Afghanistan. A short demonstration stretch was built. But the Afghans objected. They wanted gravel and asphalt. The cobblestones, they claimed, hurt their camels’ hooves.
Huge amounts of money were dumped into one district to employ lots of day laborers at good wages. Then the schools “suddenly closed.” The “teachers had become day laborers because the pay was better.”
There was the State Department official who had worked anti-narcotics in Bogota. He brought in two Colombian women for a 12-day visit to talk about their country’s reintegration of FARC rebels. “But they spoke no English,” Chandrasekaran writes, “and no Marine battalion wanted to host them.” So they were dispatched to meet with Afghan officials. A senior official listened to them talk through an interpreter for an hour. “’Our problems are very different,’ he said as he got up to leave. ’But I love to hear the sound of Spanish.’”
Kamen writes that in predictable State Department style, these disclosures have sparked a scramble in the Kabul embassy compound to compile “success stories” to counter the book’s analysis.
The same thing happened in Iraq. If you want to read now the old claims of success in Iraq, they are still, without apparent irony, online on the Baghdad Embassy web site.
(Pictured is then-ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, who oversaw the State Department reconstruction follies. Crocker had previously overseen State Department reconstruction in Iraq as ambassador there. He was also recycled to be ambassador in Pakistan, where things are also going swimmingly in anticipation of someone else’s disclosure book-to-come.)
If the definition of mental illness is doing the same thing repeatedly hoping for different results, the Department of State is clearly and simply insane as an organization.
US ambassadors in Iraq (and Afghanistan, and Pakistan…) seem to have the lifespan of Spinal Tap drummers.
Our current man in Baghdad, James Jeffrey, is packing now and of the 220 million people in the US population, the only one the State Department can seem to come up with as a replacement is Brett McGurk. McGurk has his Senate confirmation hearing today.
So let’s look at the resume of the guy America wants as the new ambassador to its pile of failed foreign policy doo doo, Brett McGurk:
After law school and clerking, McGurk was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.
Advisor to the last three US Ambassadors to Iraq: Jim Jeffrey, Christopher Hill and good ol’ Ryan Crocker.
National Security Council, director for Iraq and later as senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lead negotiator for the 2008 US-Iraq security agreement that extended the U.S. troop presence there until the end of 2011 and leader of the failed negotiations in 2011 to extend the US troop presence in Iraq even longer. On this last point Senator McCain has voiced concerns over McGurk’s nomination. Asked if he would try to block the nomination, McCain said, “I have to see what happens in his hearing.”
McGurk is 38 years old and has never done any job other than help muck up Iraq on behalf of the United States. Dude only graduated in 1999. Despite essentially doing nothing but Iraq stuff his entire adult life, McGurk has also avoided learning any Arabic. You’d kind of think that maybe that wouldn’t be the resume for the next guy in charge of cleaning up some of his own mistakes, like maybe you’d want someone who had some… depth or experience or broad knowledge or understanding of something other than failure in that God-forsaken country. Normally when you are a hand maiden to failure you don’t get promoted, but then again, this is the State Department. This is almost as good as Harriet Miers.
How could this possibly not work out?
Well, it seems McGurk is not as popular at the State Department as he would probably like to believe. The objections among the voiceless unwashed at State are that he is associated with pretty much everything that went wrong since 2003 and not in line with the “new beginning” meme State is still trying to sell, and he is so close to divisive Iraqi Prime Minister Malaki that it will be even harder for State to engage across the political spectrum in the “new” Iraq.
The leaks out of Foggy Bottom have not been kind to McGurk. Some have claimed he is party to a sex tape filmed on the Republican Palace roof (I haven’t seen it, so don’t write in).
The Alleged Emails from 2008
Now, the latest leak shows the intrepid McGurk in his own words, or actually what purport to be his romantic-y emails from Baghdad in 2008 (I didn’t post them, I don’t know where they came from, don’t write in). The messages, to a reporter some have linked romantically to McGurk, are full of references to “blue balls” and “exercises” to relieve same, and plans for the two to meet up if McGurk can shake his security “goons.”
If these emails are authentic, and I have no way to verify them (let’s ask State!), they raise questions about McGurk’s relationship with a reporter covering the news McGurk was creating, as well as his discretion and judgment. These emails would also raise questions about why the State Department would seek to withhold information that might be of interest to the Senate in assessing McGurk’s suitability to be ambassador to Iraq.
I myself could care less what two adults agree to do, married or not, but State has disciplined its own Foreign Service Officers for extra marital affairs, and cautions against using official email for too-personal correspondence. Always want to keep an eye on double-standards so they don’t negatively influence morale among the troops.
In the end, I’m sure that Iraq will just keep on being all it can be, as long as America sends her its best.
So, with all the good news in Iraq these days (didn’t you see, Disney is buying up land for an oil-based water park), you’d think that some new thinking might be just the thing.
Looking back on events since 2003 (looting, dissolution of civil society, disbanding the army and police, losing trillions of dollars, Sunni-Shia-Kurd slaughter, civil war, Stalingrad on the Tigris in Falluja, more civil war, Abu Ghraid, failed reconstruction, failed US base strategy, failed US elections strategy, failed US oil strategy, failed US Kurd reconciliation strategy, World’s Largest and Most Expensive White Elephant Embassy, Iran-sympathetic autocracy emerging, etc) it sure seems that the US has made its share of mistakes.
So let’s look at the resume of the guy Obama wants as the new American Ambassador to this pile of failed foreign policy doo doo, Brett McGurk:
After law school and clerking, McGurk was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.
Advisor to the last three US Ambassadors to Iraq: Jim Jeffries, Ryan Crocker, and Christopher Hill.
National Security Council, director for Iraq and later as senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lead negotiator for the 2008 US-Iraq security agreement that extended the U.S. troop presence there until the end of 2011 and leader of the failed negotiations in 2011 to extend the US troop presence in Iraq even longer.
McGurk is 38 years old and has never done any job other than help fuck up Iraq on behalf of the United States. Dude only graduated in 1999. Despite essentially doing nothing but Iraq stuff his entire adult life, McGurk has also avoided learning any Arabic. You’d kind of think that maybe that wouldn’t be the resume for the next guy in charge of cleaning up some of his own mistakes, like maybe you’d want someone who had some… depth or experience or broad knowledge or understanding of something other than failure in that God-forsaken country. Normally when you are a hand maiden to failure you don’t get promoted, but then again, this is the State Department. This is almost as good as Harriet Miers.
How could this possibly not work out?
Oh yeah, a lot of Iraqis don’t like McGurk because he is seen as a toady for Prime Minister Malaki, our brother freedom fighter in Baghdad. “Many Iraqi players outside Maliki’s circle view McGurk as an advocate for the prime minister. That may not be a fair characterization, but the perceptions are there on the ground. There’s the possibility that this sentiment could undermine our perception of neutrality and therefore our ability to effectively mediate disputes between all Iraqi factions,” one expert said.
Also, Gordon Gecko called and wants his hairstyle back. Party on, McGurk!
I’d like to share a few quotes, and you try and guess whether they came from my book, We Meant Well, or from somewhere else. Five points for each correct answer; anyone who scores 20 or more wins a free trip (one way) to Iraq. Bonus points if you can guess to whom these were directed.
Here we go:
As a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, I was proud when I swore in at the State Department. By the middle of 2007 that changed. I was ashamed for my country.
Pax Americana will not be achieved with the Foreign Service and the State Department’s bureaucracy at the helm of America’s number one policy consideration. You are simply not up to the task, and many of you will readily and honestly admit it.
At stake, as a whole, is not only the success of the mission, the lives of Americans and the future of a country for which we must now bear some responsibility, but also hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted and poorly managed.
After a year at the Embassy, it is my general assessment that the State Department and the Foreign Service is not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq. The problem is institutional. The State Department bureaucracy is not equipped to handle the urgency of America’s Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds. You lack the “fierce urgency of now.”
Foreign Service officers, with ludicrously little management experience by any standard other than your own, are not equipped to manage programs, hundreds of millions in funds, and expert human capital assets. It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy.
The American people would be scandalized to know that, throughout the Winter, Spring and Summer of 2007, even while our Congress debated the Iraq question and whether to commit more troops and more funds, the Embassy was largely consumed in successive internal reorganizations with contradictory management and policy goals. In some cases, administrative and management goals that occupied our time reflected the urgencies and priorities that could only originate in Foggy Bottom and far-removed from the reality or urgencies on the ground. The fact that over 80 people sit in Washington, second-guessing and delaying the work of the Embassy, many who have never been to Baghdad, is an embarrassment alone.
I would venture to say that if the management of the Embassy and the State Department’s Iraq operation were judged by rules that govern business judgment and asset waste in the private sector, the delays, indecision, and reorganizations over the past year, would be considered willfully negligent if not criminal.
The Embassy is also severely encumbered by the Foreign Service’s built-in attention deficit disorder, with personnel and new leaders rotating out within a year or less. Incumbent in this constant personnel change is a startling failure to manage and retrieve information. The Embassy is consequently in a constant state of revisiting the same ground without the ability to retrieve information of past work and decisions. This misleads new personnel at senior levels into the illusion of accomplishment and progress. This illusionary process of “changing goal posts,” as one senior official put it, helps to explain why so few goals are scored.
Overall, the lack of coordination and leadership in key areas (including Rule of Law activity, PRT’s, and others), upon which the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has repeatedly commented, is real and pervasive. The waste of taxpayer funds resulting from such mismanagement is something that only a
deeply entrenched bureaucracy with a unionized attitude, like the Foreign Service and Main State, could find acceptable.
The impulse to transform the Embassy into a “normal embassy” displays most starkly the State Department bureaucracy’s endemic problems, including inflexibility and the inability to understand alternative management principles, use expertise and funds in any manner outside the State Department’s normal experience, the inability to respond to the urgency of America’s presence in Iraq, and the inclination to make excuses and blame the Embassy’s failures on others.
Simply put, Foreign Service officers are not equipped to manage process-oriented assistance programs and yet we have put into their hands hundreds of millions of dollars. Any American graduate school study group could do better.
The Foreign Service culture has created a situation where important information is kept from vital decision-makers. In my year in Baghdad, I have seen the Embassy intentionally keep information from the State Department in Washington (because “we cannot trust that they will not leak to the press”), and the Commanding General (because “we do not wash our dirty laundry in public”.)
I have also witnessed a relentless culture of information-hording within the Embassy. The dysfunctional failure to communicate and share information is beyond anything that can be imagined under any circumstances. It is endemic of a bureaucracy that is far beyond its pale of competence and experience.
The significance of our work in Iraq would suggest that the State Department might need to think outside its box on an information management system that any medium-sized law firm would have.
Trick questions– none of these quotes come from my book. They were all written in 2008, in a blistering memo from Manuel Miranda, a contractor heading the Office of Legislative Statecraft in Baghdad, to then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Hell, I did not even quote the entire memo, so go read it for yourself.
I’m just glad Miranda didn’t decide to write a book about his thoughts on Embassy Baghdad, otherwise I’d be out of a job.
One of the goals of the US in Iraq was to institute the “rule of law.” Under Saddam, people could be arrested for any reason, convicted without trial and executed on a whim. The US military sacrificed 4479 soldiers’ lives to fix this, though the task was largely handed to the State Department to carry out with the assistance of the Department of Justice.
At the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) like the two I lead, implementing the Rule of Law was a standing priority– the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad (c) even has left the old cheery web pages online from those days, so have a look for yourself. In our area of operations, the law was pretty much either the tribal vengeance of our local Sheikhs, dispensing rudimentary justice like Tony Soprano might, or the heavy-handed actions of the local Iraqi Army commander. The police were scared of both sides, and usually stayed in the back room sleeping off the day’s heat, emerging to shake down merchants in the marketplace when business was good, or collect bribes at checkpoints for expedited service.
Apparently such a cynical view of our work enhancing the rule of law in Iraq was not limited to the PRTs outside Baghdad. In fact, in 2008, Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s departing US advisor on these matters slammed the “rule of law” effort in Iraq, telling the cowlicked diplomat that “US officials in the country had mostly ignored legal culture institutions that address underlying requirements for the very success of the rule of law, such as the confidence of citizens, a preventive rather than punitive program against corruption, and the qualifications of the legal profession.”
The advisor then quoted the President of the Iraqi Bar:
America’s Rule of Law effort in Iraq has focused almost entirely on training police, building prisons, and supporting prosecutions. This is understandable. These areas are important to security but they represent a policeman’s and a prosecutor’s definition of what Rule of Law means. This definition is limited to law enforcement… [O]ur legal culture is in need of assistance and America’s millions of dollars have done little to assist our institutions…If you think that “implanting” the Rule of Law in Iraq is limited to your current Rule of Law efforts, then you are receiving poor advice.
History does not record Ambassador Crocker’s reaction, likely because he had been scientifically trained to simply not hear things that disagree with State Department guidance. This physical trait, once rare, is now trained into most senior diplomats. Crocker was just ahead of his time ignoring the obvious, as was the State Department in general, which continues to “train Iraqi police” to the tune of some $3-5 billion dollars even as we speak.
Instead, the World’s Largest Embassy (c) now has a permanent Rule of Law Coordinator, staffed by 200 personnel in eleven operational units of U.S. Embassy Baghdad. 200 people are working on this issue full time.
Here is what they have achieved so far:
The United Nations human rights chief said on January 24 that she was shocked at reports that 34 people were executed in Iraq in a single day last week. “Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated in a news release.
“Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure,” she added. The death penalty can be imposed in Iraq for around 48 crimes, including a number of non-fatal crimes such as – under certain circumstances – damage to public property.
“Most disturbingly,” said Ms. Pillay, “we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress.”
…And thus the United States, at first under George Bush and now under Barack Obama, set out to create an Iraq in its own image. Sadly, tragically, it looks like we succeeded, Texas-style.
Ahydrosis is the inability to sweat properly. Among its many afflictions, this is not a disease that the US government suffers from. There is plenty of sweating going on in Washington over the lack of action on getting Iraq to commit to a forever US troop presence.
The latest actor to bark about the need for troops to remain forever in Iraq is Ray Odierno, the four-star nominated to be the next Army chief, when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Odierno served three tours in Iraq, the last as the top overall boss from 2008-10.
Odierno is also the latest actor to pick up the current talking point, that US troops are needed to defend Iraq from Iranian efforts. The General, like his SecDef and many others, cites the Iranian threat as a new reason for the US to remain in Iraq.
Odierno’s weeping was followed up by Obama’s pick to become the top US military officer, who warned Iran not to underestimate US resolve in responding to attacks on US forces in Iraq by Iranian-backed militia. General Martin Dempsey’s message to Iran would be “It would be a gross miscalculation to believe that we will simply allow that to occur without taking serious consideration or reacting to it.”
While the Iranian threat is being dragged out as something new, another breaking crisis in the war of terror (schedule to run now forever), it is nothing new at all.
Iran began moving resources into Iraq as early as 2003, after its overtures to the US to resestablish diplomatic relations were rebuffed by the then-engorged Busy Administration. The push back, quickly followed by Tehran’s sense that the US was getting handed its ass in Iraq, led to Iran’s paramilitary and intelligence buildup in Iraq. Tehran deployed to Iraq a large number of the Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force — a highly professional force specializing in assassinations and bombings — as well as officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security and representatives of Lebanese Hezbollah. Did I make that up? No, it was reported by the Washington Post in 2006. Odeirno and everyone else involved knows this but presents Iran as a new cause nonetheless.
Want more? In 2008, the Council on Foreign Relations pretty much laid out the whole Iranian strategy in Iraq, noting among other things that Iraq is filled with figures, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who spent time during Saddam Hussein’s tenure exiled in Iran.
Even the mighty team of former Ambassador Crocker and former General Petraeus called out the Iranians as waging a proxy war, back in 2008.
Closer to home, this blog has regularly reported on the US-Iran proxy war being fought in Iraq.
So we call bullshit on Odierno and everyone else trying to twist Iran’s eight years of activity in Iraq into something new that creates a reason to leave US troops forever. The Iraqis are certainly not sweating over it. Face it guys, the strategic result of the US invasion of Iraq is the emergence of Iran as an even more powerful and secure regional power.
Ryan Crocker used to be the US Ambassador to Iraq when in 2008 he negotiated the deal that would have all US troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011. He said “The agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, and we anticipate that it will expressly forswear them.” Here in 2011, the US is desperately negotiating with Iraq to allow those troops to stay on, in permanent bases.
Ryan Crocker is now the US Ambassador to Afghanistan. In 2011 he said “We have no interest in permanent bases in Afghanistan… We will stay as long as we need to and not one day more… We have no interest in using Afghanistan as a platform to project influence into neighboring countries.”
Better yet, that line about “not one day more” has a history. George Bush said of Iraq in 2003 “American troops will stay in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day longer.” Mmm, credible.
Psssst… hey, Afghanistan… he might not be telling you the truth… better keep your hand on your wallet when the guy who looks like a Muppet is in the room!
I have to admit in hindsight I should have included a facility in Kurdistan on my list. Southern Iraq is still Indian country, which requires a Fort Apache. The current bases down under are not isolated and thus far enough under the radar and defensible enough to fit our needs. Maybe work out of Kuwait and commute to next spring’s Shia uprisings?