Now at the Washington Institute, a “think” tank, Jeffrey surveyed the current crumbling scene in Iraq from his office window (May is already boiling, and April was the bloodiest month there since 2008, with 712 killed, 1,633 wounded in sectarian violence) and wildly uncorked this remark:
Obama should also signal his willingness to consider new approaches to Iraq if the Maliki government continues its campaign against the Sunni Arab and Kurdish populations.
[Jon Stewart-type mug face to camera look now]
OMG! A willingness, really? And to consider? And the stinger, a new approach?!?
Utter bullshit. All the impact of a David Bowie-Justin Bieber slap fight.
Heavens me, Prime Minister Maliki must be a’ quaking in his sandals. Maliki watched in 2010 as the U.S. stood aside and allowed Iran to broker the election that put him in power. He tried to arrest his Sunni VP practically hours after the last US troops left Iraq. He has seen the U.S. do nothing as he seeks to crush violently the Sunni and Kurd minorities over an extended period of time, including during Ambassador Jeffrey’s own lame tenure. Maliki has allowed Iran to tranship weapons into Syria across Iraq while the U.S. dithered from some dark corner.
Maliki knows a defeated nation when he sees one. This is how America loses wars, former Ambassador Jeffrey.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book. Follow us on Twitter!
This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com
I was there. And “there” was nowhere. And nowhere was the place to be if you wanted to see the signs of end times for the American Empire up close. It was the place to be if you wanted to see the madness — and oh yes, it was madness — not filtered through a complacent and sleepy media that made Washington’s war policy seem, if not sensible, at least sane and serious enough. I stood at Ground Zero of what was intended to be the new centerpiece for a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the invasion of Iraq turned out to be a joke. Not for the Iraqis, of course, and not for American soldiers, and not the ha-ha sort of joke either. And here’s the saddest truth of all: on March 20th as we mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion from hell, we still don’t get it. In case you want to jump to the punch line, though, it’s this: by invading Iraq, the U.S. did more to destabilize the Middle East than we could possibly have imagined at the time. And we — and so many others — will pay the price for it for a long, long time.
The Madness of King George
It’s easy to forget just how normal the madness looked back then. By 2009, when I arrived in Iraq, we were already at the last-gasp moment when it came to salvaging something from what may yet be seen as the single worst foreign policy decision in American history. It was then that, as a State Department officer assigned to lead two provincial reconstruction teams in eastern Iraq, I first walked into the chicken processing plant in the middle of nowhere.
By then, the U.S. “reconstruction” plan for that country was drowning in rivers of money foolishly spent. As the centerpiece for those American efforts — at least after Plan A, that our invading troops would be greeted with flowers and sweets as liberators, crashed and burned — we had managed to reconstruct nothing of significance. First conceived as a Marshall Plan for the New American Century, six long years later it had devolved into farce.
In my act of the play, the U.S. spent some $2.2 million dollars to build a huge facility in the boondocks. Ignoring the stark reality that Iraqis had raised and sold chickens locally for some 2,000 years, the U.S. decided to finance the construction of a central processing facility, have the Iraqis running the plant purchase local chickens, pluck them and slice them up with complex machinery brought in from Chicago, package the breasts and wings in plastic wrap, and then truck it all to local grocery stores. Perhaps it was the desert heat, but this made sense at the time, and the plan was supported by the Army, the State Department, and the White House.
Elegant in conception, at least to us, it failed to account for a few simple things, like a lack of regular electricity, or logistics systems to bring the chickens to and from the plant, or working capital, or… um… grocery stores. As a result, the gleaming $2.2 million plant processed no chickens. To use a few of the catchwords of that moment, it transformed nothing, empowered no one, stabilized and economically uplifted not a single Iraqi. It just sat there empty, dark, and unused in the middle of the desert. Like the chickens, we were plucked.
In keeping with the madness of the times, however, the simple fact that the plant failed to meet any of its real-world goals did not mean the project wasn’t a success. In fact, the factory was a hit with the U.S. media. After all, for every propaganda-driven visit to the plant, my group stocked the place with hastily purchased chickens, geared up the machinery, and put on a dog-and-pony, er, chicken-and-rooster, show.
In the dark humor of that moment, we christened the place the Potemkin Chicken Factory. In between media and VIP visits, it sat in the dark, only to rise with the rooster’s cry each morning some camera crew came out for a visit. Our factory was thus considered a great success. Robert Ford, then at the Baghdad Embassy and now America’s rugged shadow ambassador to Syria, said his visit was the best day out he enjoyed in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq, sent bloggers and camp followers to view the victory project. Some of the propaganda, which proclaimed that “teaching Iraqis methods to flourish on their own gives them the ability to provide their own stability without needing to rely on Americans,” is still online (including this charming image of American-Iraqi mentorship, a particular favorite of mine).
We weren’t stupid, mind you. In fact, we all felt smart and clever enough to learn to look the other way. The chicken plant was a funny story at first, a kind of insider’s joke you all think you know the punch line to. Hey, we wasted some money, but $2.2 million was a small amount in a war whose costs will someday be toted up in the trillions. Really, at the end of the day, what was the harm?
The harm was this: we wanted to leave Iraq (and Afghanistan) stable to advance American goals. We did so by spending our time and money on obviously pointless things, while most Iraqis lacked access to clean water, regular electricity, and medical or hospital care. 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? 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.”
By 2009, of course, it should all have been so obvious. We were no longer inside the neocon dream of unrivaled global superpowerdom, just mired in what happened to it. We were a chicken factory in the desert that no one wanted.
Time Travel to 2003
Anniversaries are times for reflection, in part because it’s often only with hindsight that we recognize the most significant moments in our lives. On the other hand, on anniversaries it’s often hard to remember what it was really like back when it all began. Amid the chaos of the Middle East today, it’s easy, for instance, to forget what things looked like as 2003 began. Afghanistan, it appeared, had been invaded and occupied quickly and cleanly, in a way the Soviets (the British, the ancient Greeks…) could never have dreamed of. Iran was frightened, seeing the mighty American military on its eastern border and soon to be on the western one as well, and was ready to deal. Syria was controlled by the stable thuggery of Bashar al-Assad and relations were so good that the U.S. was rendering terror suspects to his secret prisons for torture.
Most of the rest of the Middle East was tucked in for a long sleep with dictators reliable enough to maintain stability. Libya was an exception, though predictions were that before too long Muammar Qaddafi would make some sort of deal. (He did.) All that was needed was a quick slash into Iraq to establish a permanent American military presence in the heart of Mesopotamia. Our future garrisons there could obviously oversee things, providing the necessary muscle to swat down any future destabilizing elements. It all made so much sense to the neocon visionaries of the early Bush years. The only thing that Washington couldn’t imagine was this: that the primary destabilizing element would be us.
Indeed, its mighty plan was disintegrating even as it was being dreamed up. In their lust for everything on no terms but their own, the Bush team missed a diplomatic opportunity with Iran that might have rendered today’s saber rattling unnecessary, even as Afghanistan fell apart and Iraq imploded. As part of the breakdown, desperate men, blindsided by history, turned up the volume on desperate measures: torture, secret gulags, rendition, drone killings, extra-constitutional actions at home. The sleaziest of deals were cut to try to salvage something, including ignoring the A.Q. Khan network of Pakistani nuclear proliferation in return for a cheesy Condi Rice-Qaddafi photo-op rapprochement in Libya.
Inside Iraq, the forces of Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict had been unleashed by the U.S. invasion. That, in turn, was creating the conditions for a proxy war between the U.S. and Iran, similar to the growing proxy war between Israel and Iran inside Lebanon (where another destabilizing event, the U.S.-sanctioned Israeli invasion of 2006, followed in hand). None of this has ever ended. Today, in fact, that proxy war has simply found a fresh host, Syria, with multiple powers using “humanitarian aid” to push and shove their Sunni and Shia avatars around.
Staggering neocon expectations, Iran emerged from the U.S. decade in Iraq economically more powerful, with sanctions-busting trade between the two neighbors now valued at some $5 billion a year and still growing. In that decade, the U.S. also managed to remove one of Iran’s strategic counterbalances, Saddam Hussein, replacing him with a government run by Nouri al-Malaki, who had once found asylum in Tehran.
Meanwhile, Turkey is now engaged in an open war with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Turkey is, of course, part of NATO, so imagine the U.S. government sitting by silently while Germany bombed Poland. To complete the circle, Iraq’s prime minister recently warned that a victory for Syria’s rebels will spark sectarian wars in his own country and will create a new haven for al-Qaeda which would further destabilize the region.
Meanwhile, militarily burnt out, economically reeling from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lacking any moral standing in the Middle East post-Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the U.S. sat on its hands as the regional spark that came to be called the Arab Spring flickered out, to be replaced by yet more destabilization across the region. And even that hasn’t stopped Washington from pursuing the latest version of the (now-nameless) global war on terror into ever-newer regions in need of destabilization.
Having noted the ease with which a numbed American public patriotically looked the other way while our wars followed their particular paths to hell, our leaders no longer blink at the thought of sending American drones and special operations forces ever farther afield, most notably ever deeper into Africa, creating from the ashes of Iraq a frontier version of the state of perpetual war George Orwell once imagined for his dystopian novel 1984. And don’t doubt for a second that there is a direct path from the invasion of 2003 and that chicken plant to the dangerous and chaotic place that today passes for our American world.
On this 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Iraq itself remains, by any measure, a dangerous and unstable place. Even the usually sunny Department of State advises American travelers to Iraq that U.S. citizens “remain at risk for kidnapping… [as] numerous insurgent groups, including Al Qaida, remain active…” and notes that “State Department guidance to U.S. businesses in Iraq advises the use of Protective Security Details.”
In the bigger picture, the world is also a far more dangerous place than it was in 2003. Indeed, for the State Department, which sent me to Iraq to witness the follies of empire, the world has become ever more daunting. In 2003, at that infamous “mission accomplished” moment, only Afghanistan was on the list of overseas embassies that were considered “extreme danger posts.” Soon enough, however, Iraq and Pakistan were added. Today, Yemen and Libya, once boring but secure outposts for State’s officials, now fall into the same category.
Other places once considered safe for diplomats and their families such as Syria and Mali have been evacuated and have no American diplomatic presence at all. Even sleepy Tunisia, once calm enough that the State Department had its Arabic language school there, is now on reduced staff with no diplomatic family members resident. Egypt teeters.
The Iranian leadership watched carefully as the American imperial version of Iraq collapsed, concluded that Washington was a paper tiger, backed away from initial offers to talk over contested issues, and instead (at least for a while) doubled-down on achieving nuclear breakout capacity, aided by the past work of that same A.Q. Khan network. North Korea, another A.Q. Khan beneficiary, followed the same pivot ever farther from Washington, while it became a genuine nuclear power. Its neighbor China pursued its own path of economic dominance, while helping to “pay” for the Iraq War by becoming the number-one holder of U.S. debt among foreign governments. It now owns more than 21% of the U.S. debt held overseas.
And don’t put away the joke book just yet. Subbing as apologist-in-chief for an absent George W. Bush and the top officials of his administration on this 10th anniversary, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently reminded us that there is more on the horizon. Conceding that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people Iraq was the right decision,” Blair added that new crises are looming. “You’ve got one in Syria right now, you’ve got one in Iran to come,” he said. “We are in the middle of this struggle, it is going to take a generation, it is going to be very arduous and difficult. But I think we are making a mistake, a profound error, if we think we can stay out of that struggle.”
Think of his comment as a warning. Having somehow turned much of Islam into a foe, Washington has essentially assured itself of never-ending crises that it stands no chance whatsoever of winning. In this sense, Iraq was not an aberration, but the historic zenith and nadir for a way of thinking that is only now slowing waning. For decades to come, the U.S. will have a big enough military to ensure that our decline is slow, bloody, ugly, and reluctant, if inevitable. One day, however, even the drones will have to land.
And so, happy 10th anniversary, Iraq War! A decade after the invasion, a chaotic and unstable Middle East is the unfinished legacy of our invasion. I guess the joke is on us after all, though no one is laughing.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book. Follow us on Twitter!
U.S. completes half a regime change, over-throwing a stable government but fails to emplace a new government. Chaos results.
Balance of power in Middle East upended, Iran ascendant.
Weapons pour from Iran through Iraq into, among other places, Syria and Lebanon.
Americans get killed.
on of Terror. Repeat as necessary.
U.S. completes half a regime change, over-throwing a stable government but fails to emplace a new government. Chaos results.
Weapons pour out of Libya into, among other places, Syria and Mali.
Americans get killed.
Mali has a military coup but fails to emplace a stable government. Chaos results.
Americans and other foreigners are taken hostage in Algeria (asymmetrical war, look it up).
U.S. considers how to intervene militarily.
War on Terror. Repeat as necessary.
That’s not an angry screed, correct? Now, you kids get off my lawn, and turn that damn music down!!!!!!
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book. Follow us on Twitter!
With the start of a new year, it seems pretty common to sort of reflect forward, especially if you’re still drinking and on the sofa a week into 2013. I can’t help but come to the conclusion that the problem seems to be, well, us.
This blog has documented concerns about Hillary Clinton as a leader. Highlights include her glee over the death of a world leader (Qaddafi) overthrown without real point by the U.S. (a decision that coupled with the lack of leadership within her State Department led directly to the unnecessary deaths of Americans), that lack of leadership thing within her State Department led directly to the unnecessary deaths of Americans, her often trite and casual traveling about as if miles logged had some greater meaning and so forth. Most recently, her serial health problems (flu –> dehydration –> concussion –> head clot), real or not, have had the direct result of her not speaking a public word about a significant event on her watch, Benghazi. She is fully absent on critical issues, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, either hiding from bad PR or, more likely, sidelined by a White House that prefers her on the sidelines as it makes its own foreign policy around her happy-talk travels.
On the plus side of the slate, her accomplishments after four years as Secretary of State are… Well, let’s let others catalog her accomplishments.
Time magazine (Slogan: Yes, we’re still publishing) writes from a favorable perch:
Eight months before her self-imposed retirement, Clinton is piling up awards and accolades faster than clear-cut achievements. She hasn’t done anything as momentous as opening the door to China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Still, the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran bear her imprimatur.
Kinda thin, huh? I think I’ve said what needs to be said about Libya. Opening relations with Burma is not a bad thing, but it isn’t much of a thing. Not sure what that coalition against Iran is all about, and there is a lot more history to be written about the U.S. and Iran before anyone can claim anything like credit (or blame. The U.S. has declared war on Iran conducting diplomacy.)
Time keeps trying, however, to find something Hillary has accomplished. To wit:
Clinton’s endurance is legendary. She maintained a punishing 18-plus-hour-a-day schedule on her weeklong swing from Libya to Central and South Asia. At the end of her day in New York City last September, with its endless one-on-one meetings, public appearances and forums, Clinton sat down in a closed session with the 27 E.U. Foreign Ministers and listened as each aired opinions on U.S. foreign policy. Even as glazed looks settled over her staff, Clinton retained an easy and relaxed demeanor, speaking off the cuff and calmly responding to bitter criticism of the U.S.’s veto threat against a vote on Palestinian statehood.
To wit, OK, she’s a hard worker, again, not a bad thing but so what? And of course buried in the goofy praise above is the note that the U.S. stands in a tiny minority blocking Palestinian statehood at the UN as if that was an accomplishment.
USA Today digs deep and finds only:
Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.
A) About a third of you are Googling to find out who Chen Guang Cheng is and B) The other two-thirds are wondering so what? Chen has been living in New York City for most of the year and nothing has changed anywhere in China, America or New York.
USA Today continues:
If there’s a signature moment, I suppose it might be this: Mrs. Clinton got her first taste of high-wire negotiating last October in Zurich when she headed off a last-minute dispute that nearly scuttled an agreement between Turkey and Armenia on normalizing diplomatic relations. Sitting in a black BMW limousine, she juggled two cellphones, slowly nudging two ancient enemies together, if only temporarily.
Sure, we all heard about that and it is being taught now in schools. Huh? What was resolved? What problem was fixed where?
The Horse’s Mouth
Let’s go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and quote Hillary Herself, from a speech summing up her own version of accomplishments:
…hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.
OK, I guess, kinda hard to quantify, kinda hard to see as much more than self-promotion, but then again, here’s that travel thing again:
“Somebody said to me the other day, ‘I look at your travel schedule. Why Togo? Why the Cook Islands?’ No secretary of state had ever been to Togo before. Togo happens to be on the U.N. Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a real strategic purpose.”
With a lovely sense of irony, Hillary’s own “I Love Me” pages at the State Department’s own website list no heading for “accomplishments” or the like.
PolicyMic lists the Top Five Clinton Accomplishments as People-to-People Diplomacy, The Importance of Economics, Restoring American Credibility, Diplomacy is National Security and, somewhat amazingly, “Texts From Hillary,” which the site tell us “Her star power and ability to capture the imagination of individuals around the world is one noteworthy aspect of her success.”
That same web site, which no doubt must also feature Twilight fan fiction somewhere, also reports this from an alternate universe:
Surely, the cornerstone of her legacy is the Arab Spring. Here, Clinton’s handling of the immense challenges associated with the revolutions across the Arab world was mixed. On one hand, she has done a good job at letting protesters do their work. Initially, the United States remained on the side lines, and allowed those on the street to take the reins in demanding their basic rights and dignity. Though, of course, the U.S. eventually stepped in later (most forcefully in Libya), it’s admirable that she was able to sympathize with the aspirations of protesters, rather than upholding the status quo and supporting the authoritarian regimes that the U.S. had previously defended .
Foreign Policy’s Stephen Walt starts somewhat ironically with a quote from the New York Times Magazine referring to Hillary as a “rock star diplomat,” and quotes Google chairman Eric Schmidt calling her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson.” Walt then goes on to damn with faint praise Hillary’s legacy accomplishments as:
There’s no question that Clinton has been terrifically energetic, as well as a loyal team player… She’s also proved to be relatively gaffe-free. Insiders with whom I’ve spoken say she is an excellent boss who elicits considerable loyalty from those around her. And as the Times piece notes, she’s helped restore the somewhat battered morale of the foreign service, and used her celebrity to raise public awareness on a number of signature issues.
But We Love Her
I just can’t find anything that Hillary Clinton did in four years as Secretary of State that stands out as a legacy, an accomplishment, like say a Marshall Plan, or ending a war we didn’t start, or saving something or advancing peace in the Middle East or opening relations with China to forever change the balance of power in the Cold War.
Anything? This blog is open to a guest post citing Hillary’s accomplishments, or you may post links in the Comments. This shall be an ongoing, open invitation between now and election day 2016. Instead, Hillary chose to conduct herself as a figurehead, a minor celebrity, traveling around championing feel-good causes and goofy social media hijinks like a chunky Angelia Jolie. She should not look for legacy now.
But… but… we love Hillary. She has this year set a record in Gallup’s annual most-admired survey. Gallup has run its most-admired man and woman survey since World War II, and in the 2012 edition, Clinton kept her top positions among those asked a simple question: “What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?” Clinton was named as most-admired woman for the 17th time since she became a national figure in 1992. Eleanor Roosevelt held the previous record when she was named 13 times as the most-admired woman. The only two women to finish ahead of Clinton in that 20-year period were Mother Teresa (twice) and Laura Bush (once). This year Clinton had 21 percent of the vote, followed by Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Condoleezza Rice. Clinton dominates polling for the democratic nomination for 2016.
America, it is us. We elevate to heights mediocre people pretending to be leaders who actually accomplish little or nothing. We allow them to use high office for self-promotion, and we swill like ignorant pigs the empty praise of dimwitted media. For example, Petraeus– history shows he failed in Iraq, yet absent a sex scandal he’d be in line for the presidency. Hillary isn’t a leader in any stretch of imagination. She possesses no substance. She is a reality show many Americans seem to enjoy, projecting their own ideas about women’s empowerment and modern social media onto her willing shell. We deserve all that we get– and are going to get– enroute to 2016.
Hey, anybody remember we had a war in Iraq that turned out kinda poorly? I know everyone is all caught up in Christmas shopping and planning intervention in Syria, but once in awhile it’s also cool to look back. In this case, about a month ago.
Thumbnail history: U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 to free it from the evil dictator. Iraq was to be a democratic ally of the U.S. in the fight against terrorism. Fast forward to November 2012, and Iraq has freed Musa Ali Daqduq, the senior Hezbollah commander who was tasked by Iran’s Qods Force in Iraq to mold Shia terror groups into a Hezbollah-like entity. Daqduq was directly involved in the murder of five American soldiers in 2007. The U.S. government moved Daqduq to Iraqi custody in December 2011.
Daqduq was freed by Iraqi authorities and transferred to Lebanon where there is no chance whatsoever that he will rejoin Qods or have anything to do with Hezbollah.
The release is seen as a barometer of U.S. versus Iranian influence in Iraq. In June, the U.S. requested that Iraq extradite Daqduq so he could be tried in an American federal court. In August, an Iraqi court blocked his extradition to the U.S. Iraqi officials had previously assured the U.S. they would prosecute Daqduq. Instead, under pressure from Iran, Daqdug was sprung.
So, in summation: U.S. invasion fails to achieve our national goals at the cost of some 4900 American lives, ally Iraq releases a known killer under Iranian pressure and the U.S. is left with the grisly option of droning his ass to death because that’s all we really can do anymore, lash out like some giant of a kid frustrated at his own failings.
It’s a Christmas story!
“Why Barack, I’m the Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past.”
“What are you doing here? It’s just Thanksgiving. I thought you guys visited on Christmas Eve, anyway. It starts earlier every year, doesn’t it?”
“You’re confusing me with other spirits, Barack. I visit second-term presidents just after they are reelected to help them map out their foreign policy legacy.”
“I’m calling the Secret Service. Get out of my bedroom!”
“No need Mr. President. No one can see me but you. I’m here to talk about the future, about America overseas, so you can achieve your place in history. I am here to help guide you.”
“You do this for all presidents? What happened with Bush, then?”
“That was unfortunate. It turned out Rove had been a hyena in a previous life and could somehow still smell me, so I got chased out. And see how it ended up for Bush? His legacy is fear of overseas travel, wondering how far the Hague’s reach really is.”
“OK Spirit, what do you want from me?”
“Barack, you were elected the first time on the promise of hope and change. You got reelected mostly by not being Mitt Romney. You need to reclaim the original mantel. You need to be bold in foreign affairs and leave America positioned for this new world. You won the election by not being the candidate from the 1950s. Now, you need to establish a foreign policy for an America of 2012 instead of 1950.”
“What do you mean, Spirit?”
“Stop searching for demons. Let’s start with the Middle East. You inherited a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly, thanks to Rove and his canine sense of smell, but what did you do with it?”
“I ended the war in Iraq.”
“No, you agreed not to push back when the Iraqis threw the troops out in 2010. The war continues there, fought in little ugly flare-ups among Iranian proxies. But that’s spilled milk. What you need to do is reclaim your State Department from what is now a lost cause.”
“What do you mean?”
“Much like the way Vietnam destroyed the army, Iraq and Afghanistan gravely wounded your State Department. Why does America still maintain its largest embassy in a place like Baghdad? That massive hollow structure sucks money and, more importantly, personnel, from your limited diplomatic establishment. Scale it back to the mid-size level the situation there really requires, and move those personnel resources to places America badly needs diplomacy. As a bonus, you’ll remove a scab. That big embassy is seen throughout the Middle East as a symbol of hubris, a monument to folly. Show them better — repurpose most of it into a new university or an international conference center and signal a new beginning.”
“You mentioned Iranian influence in Iraq, so yeah, thanks, George, for that little gift. I have the Israelis up my ass looking for a war, and it seems every day another thing threatens to spark off a fight with the Iranians.”
“Iran can be your finest achievement. Nixon went to China, remember.”
“You know Spirit, you actually look a little like Henry Kissinger in this light.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. Coincidences, right? Barack, you can start the process of rebalancing the Middle East. Too many genies have slipped out of the bottle to put things back where they were and, like it or not, your predecessor casually, ignorantly allowed Iran to reclaim its place as a regional power. Let’s deal with it. Don’t paint yourself into a corner over the nukes. You know as well as I do that there are many countries who are threshold nuclear powers, able to make the jump anytime from lab rats to bomb holders. You also know that Israel has had the bomb for a long time and, despite that, despite the Arab hatred of Israel and despite the never-ending aggressive stance of Israel, their nukes have not created a Middle East arms race. Start talking to the Iranians. There are any number of would-be middle men out there, and even Iran’s foreign minister has floated a few trial balloons. Follow the China model — set up the diplomatic machinery, create some fluid back channels, maybe try a cultural exchange or two. They don’t play ping-pong over there, but they are damn good at chess. Feel your way forward. Bring the Brits and the Canadians along with you. Give the good guys in Tehran something to work with, something to go to their bosses with.”
“But they’ll keep heading toward nuclear weapons.”
“That may be true. America’s regular chest-thumping military action in the Middle East has created an unstoppable desire for Iran to arm itself. They watched very, very closely how the North Koreans insulated themselves with a nuke. The world let that happen and guess what? Even George W. stopped talking about North Korea and the stupid Axis of Evil. And guess what again? No war, and no nuclear arms race in Asia. Gaddafi went the opposite route, and look what happened to him, sodomized on TV while your Secretary of State laughed about it on TV.”
“But sanctions are working on Iran. We’re crushing their economy.”
“Maybe, though there are lots of holes. Regardless, real change in Iran, like anywhere, is going to have to come from within. Think China again. With prosperity comes a desire by the newly-rich to enjoy their money. They start to demand better education, more opportunities and a future for their kids. A repressive government with half a brain yields to those demands for its own survival and before you know it, you’ve got iPads and McDonalds happening. Are you going to go to war with China? Of course not. We’re trading partners, and we have shared interests in regional stability in Asia that benefit us both. Sure, there will be friction, but it can be managed. We did it, with some rough spots, in the Mediterranean with the Soviets and we can do it in the Gulf, what President Kennedy called during the Cold War the “precarious rules of the status quo.” I don’t think this will result in a triumphant state visit to Tehran, but get the game started. Defuse the situation, offer to bring Iran into the world system, and see if they don’t follow.”
“I can’t let them go nuclear.”
“Well, I don’t know if you can stop it, and focusing just on that binary black and white blocks off too many other, better options. Look, they and a whole bunch of other places can weaponize faster than you can stop them. What you need to do is work at the need to weaponize, pick away at the software if you will, the reasons they feel they need to have nukes, instead of just trying to muck up the hardware. Use all the tools in the toolbox, Barack.”
“But they’re Islamos.”
“Whatever you want to call it. Islam is a powerful force in the Middle East and it is not going away. Your attempts, and those of your predecessor, to try and create ‘good’ governments failed. Look at the hash in Syria, Libya and, of course, Iraq, real sacks of it. You need to find a real-politick with Islamic governments. Look past the rhetoric and ideology and start talking. Otherwise you’ll end up just like the U.S. did all over Latin America, throwing in with crappy thugs simply because they mouthed pro-American platitudes. Not a legacy move, Barry. You’re sorting your way through this in Egypt. It will feel odd at first, but the new world order has created a state for states that are not a puppet of the U.S., and not always an ally, but typically someone we can deal with, work with, maybe even influence occasionally. That’s diplomacy, and therein lies your chance at legacy. Demilitarize your foreign policy. Redeploy your diplomats from being political hostages in Baghdad and Kabul and put them to work all over the Middle East.”
“Sure Spirit, nothing to it. Anything else you want me to do before breakfast?”
“Hey, you asked for the job — twice — not me.”
“Spirit, sorry to go off topic, but is that an 8-track tape player you’re carrying around?”
“Hah, good eye Barack. KC and the Sunshine Band, Greatest Hits. Things work oddly in the spirit world and one of the quirks is that unloved electronics from your side migrate to us. Here, look at my cell phone, big as a shoebox, with a retractable antenna. I still play games on an old Atari. We got Zunes and Blackberries piled up like snow drifts over there. But back to business.”
“What else, Spirit?”
“As a ghost of sorts, I’m used to taking the long view of things. I know better than most that memory lasts longer than aspiration, that history influences the future. You have it now in your power to amend an ugly sore, America’s dark legacy of the war of terror. Guantanamo. You realize that every day that place stays open it helps radicalize ten young men for every one you hold in prison. Demand your intel agencies give you a straight-up accounting on who is locked away there. For the very few that probably really are as horrible as we’d like to believe, designate them something and lock them away in an existing Federal Super Max. Just do it. Turn the others over to the UN for resettlement. It is an ugly deal, but it is an ugly problem. Close the place down early in your term, let the short-term heat burn off and move on.”
“Same thing. Cut your losses. Accelerate the drawdown. You’ll keep your bases, so your back is covered against anything really awful happening and embarrassing you. The Taliban is disorganized enough, and under Pakistani ISA control enough, that there is unlikely to be any fall-of-Saigon scenarios. Afghanistan will be on a slow burn for, well, probably forever. Among other reasons, Pakistan needs it to stay that way. They like a weak but not failed state on their western border and you can manage that. The special ops guys you leave behind can deal with any serious messes. Corruption and internal disagreements mean there will never be a real Afghan nation-state, no matter how badly you want one. The soldier suicides and green-on-blue attacks are a horror. You are going to accomplish nothing by dragging that corpse of a war around with you for two more years, so cut it off now.”
“Next is drones, right?”
“Yes Barack, next is drones. This is fool’s gold and you bought into it big. You thought it was risk-free, no American lives in danger, always the 500 pound elephant in the room when considering military action. But, to borrow a phrase, look at the collateral damage. First, you have had to further militarize Africa, setting up your main drone base in Djibouti. The Chinese are building cultural ties and signing deals all over Africa, and we’re just throwing up barbed wire. Who’ll win in the long-run? Like Gitmo, every thug you kill creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. Seriously, haven’t you noticed that the more you kill, the more there seem to be to kill? You need more friends for America and fewer people saying they are victims of America. Make your intel people truly pick out the real, real bad guys, the ones who absolutely threaten American lives. Be comfortable in publicly being able to articulate every decision. Don’t be lazy with bringing death. Don’t continue to slide downhill into killing easier and easier just because you have a new technology that falsely seems without risk. Seek a realistic form of containment, and stop chasing complete destruction. You need an end game. The risk is there my friend, you just have to pull back and see it in the bigger picture.”
“Bigger picture, eh? That’s what this legacy business is all about, isn’t it? Seeing Iranian nukes not as the problem per se, but as part of a solution set that doesn’t just leave a glowing hole in the ground, but instead fills in things, builds a base for more building.”
“You’re getting it now. And even as domestic politics suffers in gridlock, you have room to do things in foreign policy that will mark history for you. As a second term president, you are freed from a lot of political restraints, just like you told Medvedev you would be.”
“Open mikes, who knew, right? But what about my successor? The party wants me to leave things ready for 2016.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got Springsteen working on new songs for the campaign. Hey, you know anything that rhymes well with ‘Hillary’? Right now we’ve only got ‘pillory’ and ‘distillery.’ Bruce is stuck on that.”
“But look, Spirit, I appreciate the advice and all, but to be honest, all this you propose is a lot of work. It’s complicated, needs to be managed, has a lot of potential for political friction. I could, you know, just stick with things the way they are. People seem to have gotten used to a permanent state of low-level warfare everywhere, drone killings, the occasional boil flaring up like Benghazi. It wasn’t a serious election issue at all. Why should I bother?”
“Well, among other things Barack, you’ve got two very sweet, wonderful reasons sleeping just down the hallway. It is all about their future, maybe even more than yours.”
“You make a lot of sense Spirit. America retains immense power, to do good or to muck things up. I may even earn my Nobel Peace Prize this time. It will be my legacy. I don’t know how to thank you, Spirit.”
“Well, actually, there is one small thing, ironically a domestic issue.”
“Certainly. What can I do for you Spirit?”
“It’s actually for a friend of mine, lives out in Colorado.”
“He needs a job? Should I appoint him ambassador somewhere?”
“No Barack, just two words. Legalize it.”
Leon Panetta declared that the US is at a “turning point” in the Afghan War. “Turning Point,” like “robust,” is one of those words that when used by someone in government should make you run away. Still, it is the holiday season and we want to be light of tone, I’l let this one pass for Leon given that he just shut the lights off as the last US soldier left Iraq.
And what better way to sum up some early history of the Iraq invasion and celebrate the holidays at the same time than with the gift of music. Here is the book for my upcoming operatic version of We Meant Well.
1945-1973: several Vietnam Wars play out, with the Japanese, French and finally, the Americans. US loses over 50,000 soldiers in what Lyndon Johnson calls, “that bitch of a war,” failing in fighting a counterinsurgency. US convinces itself the anti-colonialist, nationalist North Vietnamese insurgents are the spearhead of a global Communist attack against the US and its allies, the domino theory. People say, “If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll fight them in California.” Many terrible things happen, some lessons are learned.
Pause; Overture Resumes
Several of what author Peter Beinart calls “Potemkin Vietnams” occur, in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Kosovo and the like. Some lessons previously learned are forgotten.
1980: Iran-Iraq war starts.
1984-87: US protects non-Iranian tankers in the Gulf from Iranian attack, allows Iraq to attack Iranian tankers.
1987: Iraq mistakenly attacks the USS Stark, kills thirty-seven American sailors. All is forgiven as Iraq is a US friend engaged in killing Iranians.
1988: Iran-Iraq war ends in a tie.
1990: Iraq invades Kuwait.
1991: Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm pushes Iraq out of Kuwait. Not much else changes, most previous lessons are forgotten, new lessons mislearned that US military power alone can quickly and cleanly change complex world events. This strategy will prove as useful as one that seeks to pay a mortgage by buying lottery tickets.
Curtain Raises to Reveal Smoking Ruins of Twin Towers on Stage
October 3, 2001: US semi-invades Afghanistan and, fighting mostly with proxy local forces, pushes Taliban out of power. US takes bin Laden’s bait and stirs up wrath of Muslim world.
January 21, 2002: In his State of the Union address, Bush discovers the Axis of Evil and starts an open-ended global war.
March 19, 2003: US invades Iraq. Iraq becomes everything bin Laden hoped for — US ground forces killing Muslim civilians live on satellite TV. The war that makes little sense in the aftermath of 9/11 except as revenge.
May 1, 2003: Mission Accomplished. Bush’s pouch featured on an aircraft carrier.
“This month will be a political turning point for Iraq,” Douglas Feith, July 2003
“We’ve reached another great turning point,” Bush, November 2003
December 14, 2003: We got him. Saddam is captured.
Curtain closes as Americans cheer loudly at happy ending of disgraced evil dictator Noriega bin Laden Saddam (played by James Edwards Olmos)
“That toppling of Saddam Hussein… was a turning point for the Middle East,” Bush, March 2004
April 28, 2004: Images of torture at Abu Ghraib become public; US stirs up wrath of Muslim world by continuing occupation of Iraq. After failing to take the bait in Afghanistan, US accomplishes al-Qaeda’s goal of permanently pissing off Muslims everywhere while entering Vietnam-like counterinsurgency quagmire.
“Turning Point in Iraq,” The Nation, April 2004
“A turning point will come two weeks from today,” Bush, June 2004
June 28, 2004: US transfers sovereignty to Iraq. Bush writes note to Condi saying “Let freedom reign!”
“Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point,” Columnist Max Boot, July 2004
January 12, 2005: WMD search in Iraq is declared over. None found.
“Tomorrow the world will witness a turning point in the history of Iraq,” Bush, January 2005
“The Iraqi election of January 30, 2005… will turn out to have been a genuine turning point,” William Kristol, February 2005
“On January 30th in Iraq, the world witnessed … a major turning point,” Rumsfeld, February 2005
May 30, 2005: Dick Cheney tells Larry King, “The insurgency is in its last throes.” Larry mentions radio and TV were invented just so more people could hear his voice.
October 15, 2005: Iraqis vote to ratify Constitution. Many, many photos of Iraqis with purple fingers showing they voted.
October 25, 2005: Bush states Iraq is the central front in the Global War on Terror and Muslim extremists fighting in Iraq seek to create an Islamic Caliphate stretching from Indonesia to Spain. This essentially duplicates the Vietnam-era domino theory.
December 15, 2005: Iraqis vote to elect members of Iraqi Assembly. Many, many photos of Iraqis with purple fingers showing they voted.
“I believe may be seen as a turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.” Senator Joe Lieberman, December 2005
“The elections were the turning point. … 2005 was the turning point,” Cheney, December 2005
“2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq… and the history of freedom,” Bush, December 2005
Curtain closes as Americans cheer loudly at happy voting images.
Intermission while audience ponders attack on Iran.
February 22, 2006: The Golden Mosque in Samarra is badly damaged in a bomb attack that ignites the Sunni-Shia sectarian war.
“We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership,” Bush, May 2006
“We have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror,” Bush, May 2006
June 15, 2006: US troops killed in Iraq reaches 2500.
“This is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens.” Bush, August 2006
September 24, 2006: Bush calls Iraq violence “just a comma” in history.
October 4, 2006: Al-Qaeda letter says “The most important thing is you continue in your jihad in Iraq… Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God’s permission.”
“When a key Republican senator comes home from Iraq and says the US has to re-think its strategy, is this a new turning point?” NBC Nightly News, October 2006
November 9, 2006: Iraqi health minister reports 150,000 Iraqis killed so far.
December 30, 2006: Saddam is hanged.
January 3, 2007: Death toll of US soldiers in Iraq reaches 3,000.
“Iraq: A Turning Point: Panel II: Reports from Iraq.” American Enterprise Institute, January 2007
Curtain closes as Americans cheer loudly at death porn images of Saddam’s body on TV.
January 10, 2007: Bush announces Surge.
January 11, 2007: Republican senator Chuck Hagel calls Surge “The most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.”
“Shrine Bombing as War’s Turning Point Debated,” Tom Ricks, March 2007
April 16, 2007: US dead reach 3300.
June 18, 2007: Foreign Policy Magazine shows Iraq ranks second on its failed state index.
September 5, 2007: Bush tells the press “We’re kicking ass” in Iraq.
“This Bush visit could well mark a key turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terror,” Frederick W. Kagan, September 2007
“Bush Defends Iraq War in Speech… he touted the surge as a turning point in a war he acknowledged was faltering a year ago,” New York Times, March 2008
July 22, 2008: Surge ends.
“The success of the surge in Iraq will go down in history as a turning point in the war against al-Qaeda,” The Telegraph, December 2008
February 6, 2009: Another election, more photos of inked fingers.
March 7, 2010: Yet another election, more photos of inked fingers.
June 2, 2010: US deaths breach 4,400.
September 1, 2010: Obama declares combat operations over, albeit while leaving 50,000 troops occupying 92 bases in Iraq. The official name of the war changes from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. The weather remains the same.
Curtain closes, then reopens with entire cast on stage for finale.
On June 8, 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader who led a brutal insurgency that included online beheadings, killed in an airstrike. According to Fox News:
US President George W. Bush said Zarqawi’s death “is a severe blow to al-Qaeda and it is a significant victory in the war on terror.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the killing of Zarqawi was “enormously important” for the fight against terror in Iraq and around the world. “Let there be no doubt the fact he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country and I would say worldwide,” Rumsfeld said.
On April 19, 2010, four years later, the two top al-Qaeda in Iraq figures were killed. According to the AP:
US forces commander Gen. Raymond Odierno praised the operation. “The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.”
On August 25, 2010, just four months later, the Army issued a press release titled “Iraq Attacks Show al-Qaeda Remains as Threat,” concluding “A wave of attacks in Iraq today demonstrates that al-Qaeda in Iraq is still capable of operating.”
Curtain remains up with house lights on as Act comes to a close. Audience removes shoes and is searched for al-Qaeda sympathizers.
(This article originally appeared on TomDispatch and Huffington Post on October 11, 2012. It seems especially useful to review in light of both candidates demanding that the moderator of tonight’s debate not be allowed to ask follow-up questions. Softballs only, please. Indeed, the entire lengthy memo of understanding between the two candidates is an insult to democracy and shows their contempt for the entire process.)
We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like “Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work” or “World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.” Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshalling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.
Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.
But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a “war” capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options. It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign — that is, military — policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject. That old saw about those who fail to understand history repeating its mistakes applies a little too easily here: the last 11 years have added up to one disaster after another abroad, and without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the debates to come), we doom ourselves to more of the same.
So in honor of old Mr. Garrity, here are five critical questions that should be explored (even if all of us know that they won’t be) in the foreign policy-inclusive presidential debates scheduled for October 16th, and 22nd — with a sixth bonus question thrown in for good measure.
1. Is there an end game for the global war on terror?
The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial or hope or a plan for what to do with them. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq — mostly because our Iraqi “allies” flexed their muscles a bit and threw us out — the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).
A huge national security state has been codified in a host of new or expanded intelligence agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, and Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of “al-Qaeda Number 3” guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: “We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.”
So, candidates, the question is: What’s the end game for all this? Even in the worst days of the Cold War, when it seemed impossible to imagine, there was still a goal: the “end” of the Soviet Union. Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence? Is it now as American as apple pie?
2. Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?
A domestic policy crossover question here. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was generally assumed that our amazing Constitution could be adapted to whatever challenges or problems arose. After all, that founding document expanded to end the slavery it had once supported, weathered trials and misuses as dumb as Prohibition and as grave as Red Scares, Palmer Raids, and McCarthyism. The First Amendment grew to cover comic books, nude art works, and a million electronic forms of expression never imagined in the eighteenth century. Starting on September 12, 2001, however, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland. Absent the third rail of the Second Amendment and gun ownership (politicians touch it and die), nearly every other key amendment has since been trodden upon.
The First Amendment was sacrificed to silence whistleblowers and journalists. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were ignored to spy on Americans at home and kill them with drones abroad. (September 30th was the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s first acknowledged murder without due process of an American — and later his teenaged son — abroad. The U.S. has similarly killed two other Americans abroad via drone, albeit “by accident.”)
So, candidates, the question is: Have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?
3. What do we want from the Middle East?
Is it all about oil? Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? What is our goal in fighting an intensifying proxy war with Iran, newly expanded into cyberspace? Are we worried about a nuclear Iran, or just worried about a new nuclear club member in general? Will we continue the nineteenth century game of supporting thug dictators who support our policies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya (until overwhelmed by events on the ground), and opposing the same actions by other thugs who disagree with us like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? That kind of policy thinking did not work out too well in the long run in Central and South America, and history suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.
Candidates, can you define America’s predominant interest in the Middle East and sketch out a series of at least semi-sensical actions in support of it?
4. What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?
The decade — and counting — of grinding war in Iraq and Afghanistan has worn the American military down to its lowest point since Vietnam. Though drugs and poor discipline are not tearing out its heart as they did in the 1970s, suicide among soldiers now takes that first chair position. The toll on families of endless deployments is hard to measure but easy to see. The expanding role of the military abroad (reconstruction, peacekeeping, disaster relief, garrisoning a long necklace of bases from Rota, Spain, to Kadena, Okinawa) seems to require a vast standing army. At the same time, the dramatic increase in the development and use of a new praetorian guard, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with a militarized CIA and its drones, have given the president previously unheard of personal killing power. Indeed, Obama has underscored his unchecked solo role as the “decider” on exactly who gets obliterated by drone assassins.
So, candidates, here’s a two-parter: Given that a huge Occupy Everywhere army is killing more of its own via suicide than any enemy, what will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?
5. Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?
The big one. We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most “exceptional” of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them).
During the Cold War, the American ideal represented freedom to so many people, even if the reality was far more ambiguous. Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer, so much less appealing (as global opinion polls regularly indicate). In light of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and the failure to embrace the Arab Spring, America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course.
America the Hegemonic, a tough if unattractive moniker, also seems a goner, given the slo-mo defeat in Afghanistan and the never-ending stalemate that is the Global War on Terror. Resource imperialist? America’s failure to either back away from the Greater Middle East and simply pay the price for oil, or successfully grab the oil, adds up to a “policy” that only encourages ever more instability in the region. The saber rattling that goes with such a strategy (if it can be called that) feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.
So candidates, here are a few questions: Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual “shining city on a hill” metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world? (Follow up: No really, cut the b.s and answer this one, gentlemen. It’s important!)
6. Bonus Question: To each of the questions above add this: How do you realistically plan to pay for it? For every school and road built in Iraq and Afghanistan on the taxpayer dollar, why didn’t you build two here in the United States? When you insist that we can’t pay for crucial needs at home, explain to us why these can be funded abroad. If your response is we had to spend that money to “defend America,” tell us why building jobs in this country doesn’t do more to defend it than anything done abroad.
Now that might spark a real debate, one that’s long, long overdue.
We all still have nightmares remembering America’s diplomat, Hillary Clinton, laughing it up over the death of Libya’s Qaddafi last year. If not, here’s the clip:
But now, what could be funnier than war in Libya? How about war in Iran? Hillary again, yucking it up with James Baker over the U.S. setting fire to the Middle East:
Does this woman have any shame left? (Trick question: No). What manner of psychotropic drug is she taking? What level of war porn pleasures her in the dark post-Monica nights? Has she not the decency to at least pretend in public to take serious things seriously?
This article is hilarious, just LOL funny. I gotta catch my breath. OK, The piece is from the ultra-conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford (Motto: Opposing Whatever You Like), people who still think Condi Rice was a great leader and that George Bush had nothing at all– nothing– to do with the mess in Iraq.
Ok, spoiler alert: It is all the black guy’s fault.
Where to begin? The Hooverite says:
Little more than two years ago, Iraq seemed headed on a sure path to stability. A new Iraqi state seemed to be emerging in which enduring U.S. interests—ensuring the stable flow of Iraq’s oil, denying Iraq as a base for terrorist groups, and preventing Iraq from destabilizing the broader region—would be secure.
All true, as long as you also don’t believe in gravity (“just a theory”) and ignore the constant sectarian violence that has eaten Iraq alive since unleashed by the US invasion of 2003.
The political pact among Iraq’s main parties—the accommodation that has guaranteed the dramatic reduction in violence since mid-2008—is unraveling. Whether driven by fear, or tempted by an opportunity not to be missed, or both, Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s Da’wa party sparked a crisis on December 15 by moving to purge its top political rivals within hours of the ceremony marking the departure of the last U.S. forces.
What political pact? The half-assed efforts wrought by the US, or the Shiite-dominated power structure put in place by the Iranians eight months after the last US-led election failures.
Our troops have left Iraq because Prime Minister Maliki and his Da’wa party saw no compelling interest in our staying. Nor do Maliki and Da’wa see a compelling interest, at present, in securing the country against Iranian influence. This is because he and Da’wa are embarked on a project to consolidate power and permanently eliminate Baathism and former Baathists from public life, aims that our military presence tends to impede but that the Iranian regime and its Iraqi militant proxies often support.
Where to begin. Removing the Baathists was America’s goal in 2003, dumbass. Maliki spent his Saddam years in exile in Iran, and came to power in 2010 through Iranian influence. Of course he will seek closer ties with Iran. Why could anyone possibly be surprised by this?
Historians will puzzle over how a nine-year American military campaign resulted not in democracy, but in an Iraq led by a would-be strongman, riven by sectarianism and separatism, and increasingly aligned with America’s regional adversaries… Perhaps, in the end, this is what comes of having declared an end to a war that is not over.
I am speechless. Hooverman, read my book if you want answers. If you don’t like my version, try Tom Rick’s Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. America got exactly the Iraq we created. The problems began in 2003, because of 2003. Don’t try now to blame it on Obama.
I was interviewed last night by BBC Radio regarding the sad news that an Iraqi court sentenced fugitive former Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to death for his involvement in the killing of two people.
The news is sad not because Hashimi is likely innocent; almost all of the Iraqi leaders have blood on their hands (anybody think Sadr hasn’t whacked a couple of guys in his time?) The sad side is that this move represent a clear marker point for when historians will acknowledge the unambiguous and utter failure of the US to establish the rule of law in Iraq despite nine years of playing at it. Prime Minister Maliki began consolidating his power literally within hours of the last US troops leaving Iraq and has never slowed down. Announcing his government’s intent to “legally” kill off his Sunni opponent is simply another step beyond hope for a peaceful solution in Iraq. Oh, and some 92 people were killed across the country this same day by various suicide bombers and what have you. As best anyone knows, Hashimi is hiding out in Turkey waiting for the Apocalypse.
And just to make sure it remains a valid player in the rough and tumble world of Iraqi politics, on the day of Hashimi’s death sentence, and following the killings of 92 Iraqis, the US Embassy in Baghdad released this Tweet:
The other news from Iraq involves Syria.
The New York Times dutifully tells us that Iran is shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Assad of Syria. The Obama administration is pressing Iraq to shut down the air corridor, raising the issue with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. This has all been going on for some time now, with the US making its pleas quietly (“soft power”) but Obama, by going public, imagines he is turning up the heat.
Why, this is so important that Joe Biden is in charge. Uncle Joe discussed the Syrian crisis in a phone call with Maliki in mid-August. The White House has declined to disclose details, but an American official who would not speak on the record told the NYT that Biden had “registered his concerns” over the flights.
Ooooooooh you’re in trouble now. We’ve “registered our concerns.” Watch out, next we’ll “view you with increasing concern.”
That yawning sound you hear is from Baghdad. The Iraqis in general and PM Malaki in particular could care less what America thinks. Might have something to do with those nine years of failed occupation and reconstruction that turned his country into a crappy version of a used car junk yard, but what do I know.
So yes, yes, another round in the US-Iran proxy war. I wrote about this w-a-y back in November 2011.
The US is only now starting to publicly admit one of the many costs of losing the Iraq war, an empowered Iran bordered by at best a passive Iraq, more likely an allied Iraq. Never one to consider secondary or tertiary effects of failed empire, the US now cannot back away. Whatever forms of quiet persuasion the US thought would be effective in separating Maliki from his Iranian support have clearly failed, hence the (first?) public denunciations. What’s left to lose?
Once again the US kicked over another MidEast ant hill (Syria) without any clear idea what the end game would be. Sorry Syrian peoples! Iran has pushed into the gap, its efforts made easier with Iraq allowing transshipment of arms. Of course the US is only publicly talking about overflights, but there is an awful lot of Iranian truck traffic into Iraq and the Iraq-Syrian border is wholly porous.
I think we are seeing the first public admittance of failure in Iraq, albeit with an anti-Iran twist. But as I wrote in November 2011, this is nothing new. It just stinks more now for the extra time out in the sunlight.
Never mind the high-fives at the DNC, Kelley Vlahos depresses us all with a piece reviewing the gains al Qaeda has made in Iraq as a result of the failed US invasion, alongside the geopolitical wins for Iran in Iraq as a result of the failed US invasion.
Al Qaeda, based out of Iraq and taking advantage of the Sponge Bobian porous border, continues to play a role in the Syrian civil war.
Neither presidential candidate has made a single mention of Iraq. They behave like those 4,486 dead Americans, the 100,000 or more dead Iraqis, the $44 billion in reconstruction funds wasted, the $3 trillion cost of the war that crippled our economy, never… even… happened.
As for the US’ desire for a new war in the Middle East, whether intervening in Syria or striking Iran, please do remember that every time you repeat a mistake of history, the price goes up.
Finally, a challenge: I challenge any journalist covering either campaign to ask Barack or Mitt a single question about Iraq sometime between now and November.
Manhattan Federal Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in late July ruled in favor of the 110 survivors and 47 victims’ estates that are parties to the lawsuit. The ruling orders not just the Taliban and al Qaeda, but also the current Iranian regime, to pay $6 billion to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. In December, Federal Judge George Daniels concluded that the heinous acts of Sept. 11, 2001 were also aided by Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei and, why not throw them in, Hezbollah.
Readers are forgiven any confusion. Many may remember that George W. Bush tried very, very hard to convince people that it was actually Saddam of Iraq that committed 9/11. Clever citizens noted that most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Yet despite all this, apparently it was Iran all along. Sneaks! And this information is finally coming to light only coincidentally now that the US is preparing for some sort of October surprise Persian Gulf War-a-Polooza.
The so-called evidence of Iranian 9/11-ism is that Federal Judge George Daniels found that Iran, its Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and Hezbollah aided the attacks. According to the unimpeachable New York Daily News, Iran concealed hijackers’ travel through the country and “could have prevented them from entering the U.S.,” while an Iranian government memo not actually cited suggested Khamenei knew of the plot in May 2001. Investigators also believe that Iran helped Al Qaeda members escape Afghanistan after 9/11.
Collecting One’s Winnings
Now about that $6 billion al Qaeda, the Taliban and Iran now owe the 9/11 victims’ families. There is actually a long history of victims seeking cash compensation from despots. Families of victims of Iraqi, Iranian, and Libyan terrorism spent much of the ’80s and ’90s in pursuit of justice, until Congress finally opened the courtroom door by waiving sovereign immunity for countries that sponsor terrorism (list courtesy of the State Department). The victims’ families–because of Congress’ help–started winning default judgments against the likes of Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein back in 1997. But when they went to collect on their judgments–by tapping the frozen US assets of dictators– the State Department turned around and fought the families.
Since sponsors of terrorism tend not to respect the findings of American courts, their frozen national assets held by the U.S. government are only chance the families have to collect on the court judgments. The “compromise” position offered by State is that the families be compensated by the U.S. government, not by the regimes responsible for the terrorist attacks. Why is State so desperate to hoard the frozen assets all for itself? In a letter to the Senate, then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (the same guy who leaked the identity of CIA NOC officer Valerie Plame and was never punished for it) wrote, “There is no better example [of protecting national security] than the critical role blocked assets played in obtaining the release of the U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1981.” In other words, bribe money.
The State Department also is always atwitter of the possible affect of actually helping Americans get compensation on bilateral relations. While demanding 9/11 blood money sound good when the sap is current bad guy Iran, the 9/11 families should not expect to get any money out of a Foggy Bottom ATM.
State Department Also Blocked Victims’ Compensation to Aid Iraq Reconstruction
State has a long, sordid history of protecting bad guys over American victims. By mid-2002, 180 persons who had been used as “human shields” by Saddam during the first Gulf War had obtained judgments totaling $94 million. On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, George W. authorized their payment from blocked Iraqi accounts. But the administration then transferred all remaining Iraqi funds to the Coalition Authority in Iraq instead. The Bush administration promised to “make sure that people who secure judgments find some satisfaction,” and Secretary of State Colin Powell assured Congress that his State Department would lead that effort. But for four years, the Department did nothing. Powell left office under the shame of yet another lie.
In December 2007 Congress stepped up, passing a defense bill which contained a provision that would have enabled American victims of Saddam to obtain compensation from Iraqi money still in U.S. banks. Bush vetoed that mammoth defense bill just before the New Year and demanded that Congress re-enact it without the offending compensation language, all based on advice from the State Department that granting the compensation would hold back the reconstruction effort by draining Iraqi money.
Bush Administration Blocked American POW’s Saddam Compensation
Not the State Department this time, but in 2005 the Bush administration fought former U.S. prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The case — Acree v. Iraq and the United States, named after then-Marine Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, happily pitted the U.S. government against its own war heroes.
“No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of this very brutal regime and at the hands of Saddam Hussein,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters when he was asked about the case in November 2003. Government lawyers insisted, literally, on “no amount of money” going to the Gulf War POWs. “These resources are required for the urgent national-security needs of rebuilding Iraq,” McClellan said.
And thanks for your service, suckers!
The Obama administration is supporting bipartisan legislation in Congress that would designate sites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington and Los Alamos, New Mexico as America’s newest national parks. They would stand alongside Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon as part of the country’s crown jewels.
Familiar names? They should be. The Hanford site produced plutonium during WWII. The Oak Ridge site enriched uranium. Workers in Los Alamos used those materials to assemble the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Japan, killing about 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as World War II ended. The sites were the production arms of the massive Manhattan Project that in large part created the current American Empire. Emerging from world war with the world’s largest army and only intact industrial society but also with the world’s only nuclear weapons gave the American Empire Project a kick start that is only now fading.
At the same time, war again looms as US she-devil Hillary Clinton (remember when Secretaries of State were the peace mongering part of the government?) declares “Our own choice is clear, we will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Israel denied (by which we mean, “called more attention to”) reports that Obama’s national security adviser briefed Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu on a U.S. contingency plan to attack Iran. A proxy war between the US and Iran, first on the ground in Lebanon and Iraq, now in cyberspace, waits to bubble over even as more Navy arrives in and near the Gulf in time for an October surprise (no use having a politically popular war while the Olympics dominate the media).
It is a matter of priorities. If you wanted to celebrate the justifiably awesome scientific accomplishments of the Manhattan Project, sites at Columbia or the University of Chicago where the basic research took place stand out. Designating Los Alamos and the others as national parks is a crude displacement of the ideals of the national park system and a celebration more of testosterone than science. Doing all this while at the same time risking another world war over Iranian nuclear ambitions makes far too clear the selfish, narrow and scared position the US now occupies in the world. For me, I’ll stick to Yellowstone, Boo Boo.
Learning is fun! and knowing how to understand grownup language in the War of Terror is a duty for all children, just as it is important to brush your teeth each evening and report suspicious activity by your parents. Your Government wants you to do these things so it can protect you from scary terrorists.
Bad men (many are gay– ask dad to explain) and women (most have had abortions) in the “media” will try and hurt your mind with words. You have to be strong to fight back against this “word terrorism.” We’ll help!
People killed by US Drones = Militants or Terrorists (suspected terrorist is OK if liberal media, for now)
People killed by Terrorists = Innocent Victims
Innocent Victims Killed by US Drones = Accidents, Suspected Terrorist or Collateral Damage
Innocent Victims Killed by Terrorists = Innocent Victims
Bad Terrorists = Enemies, Mad Dogs
Good Terrorists = Freedom Fighters (need help determining who is who? The State Department keeps a list of terrorist organizations. Check back frequently on the status of MEK.)
Afghan Soldiers Who Kill American Soldiers = Terrorists wearing Afghan Army uniforms
Iraqi Police Who Killed American Soldiers = Terrorists wearing Iraqi Police uniforms
American Soldiers Who Sacrifice Themselves = Heroes
Terrorists Who Sacrifice Themselves = Fanatics
Powerful Belief in God = Righteous City on a Hill
Powerful Belief in Allah = Fanatic
People Who Touch Your Private Parts in the Airport = TSA Patriots
People Who Touch Your Private Parts at School = Pedophiles
Empowering Women in America = Socialism
Empowering Women in Afghanistan = Foreign Policy
Killing People in Yemen = Defending America
Killing People in US = Terrorism
Massacre in Afghanistan = Random act of deranged individual soldier
Massacre in Syria = Proof of whatever it is we think is wrong in Syria
Weapons for One Side = Dangerous Escalation
Weapons for the Other Side = Freedom
Illegal Prisons, Wiretapping, Torture = Bush
Illegal Prisons, Wiretapping, Torture = Obama
And a few bonus items kids:
Reasons Ambassadors and General Quit Early = Spend more time with family, health, give back to society
“Militant” = all military-age males we kill
America’s Most Important Foreign Policy Objective =
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan,Iran, aw, just remember “We Have Always Been at War with Eastasia.”
If you’re caught unaware of the right answer to a hard, hard question, just remember “If we do it, it is right and if they do it, it is wrong.” You’ll be right every time, just like America!
BONUS: For those who think this is satire, much of Obama’s “success limiting civilian deaths in drone strikes is, in part, due to a disputed method for counting civilian casualties embraced by Obama. According to the New York Times, the White House considers ‘all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’” Hah, because dead men tell no tales.
We’ve come full circle now in America. The Obama policy is nearly identical to tying a suspected witch to a stone and throwing her in the river. If she drowned, then the old Salem inquisitors had their “posthumous proof” that she wasn’t a witch.
On almost the exact one year anniversary of Obama personally bringing bin Laden to justice by gunning him down unarmed in his pajamas, State Department innovator/gadfly Alec Ross has resolved the other remaining issues in the Middle East, with his mighty Twitter.
Now one could speculate that Alec’s and Bibi’s intellectual appreciation for Atheian Democracy probably revolves around the image of 300 oily Spartans standing bravely against the bastard Iranians. After all, if 300 guys in codpieces could do it, why couldn’t an Israeli air strike be just as tidy a solution? Of course, the Spartans were actually defeated and killed, but we don’t need to overdo the analogy; we’ve only got 140 characters.
However, since we are talking Athenian Democracy, I’d suggest Alec free up a hand from social media self-stimulation and re-read his Thucydides on the plane ride home, particularly the Melian dialogue from the Greek’s History of the Peloponnesian War. That portion outlines the Greeks’ abandonment of morality (torture, secret prisons, pointless invasions, loss of rights, Guantanamo, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must) in search of what they thought was an expeditious action in support of their war. It didn’t work out for the Greeks and as long as Alec is dialoging with Bibi on ancient history, it is not going to work out for the US and Israel either. Abandoning morality for expediency always fails in the long run.
Alec, and Obama, might also remember Pericles’ saying “Far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes” as a basic tenet of democracy, equal justice and the right to pursuit of individual happiness. “Equal justice under law” is carved on the Supreme Court building in Washington, though largely now regarded as a kind of hipster humor.
(This interview with John Brown originally appeared on the Huffington Post, April 24, 2012)
What is Pubic Diplomacy?
Public Diplomacy (PD) is a hard term to define. Some say it’s just a euphemism for propaganda. The Department of State’s definition is “engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences.” For some traditionally minded diplomats and commentators, the term “public diplomacy” is an oxymoron (true diplomacy, they argue, is practiced behind closed doors, not in public). How would you define PD?
Any communications strategy, from advertising to propaganda to social media to whatever you want to call it, plays second to reality — actions really do speak louder than words. So as long as deaths in wedding parties from misplaced drone attacks, atrocities by soldiers and videos of Abu Ghraib exist, you are not going to fool anyone regardless of how many tweets you send out. In an age of increasingly prevalent media, the usual bullshit of the Secretary standing up in Geneva proclaiming support for human rights while people in their own countries see the U.S. overtly supporting nasty autocrats will dominate mind space. Here’s a graphic (not my work) that illustrates the point.
Look at the outcome of the Haditha massacre in Iraq: 24 unarmed Iraqis were slaughtered by an out-of-control group of Marines in 2005, and now, seven years later, the case is finally concluded and no one is going to jail. You can Tweet and Facebook until the end of time, but that story will resonate for even longer within the Arab world.
The Haditha outcome also illustrates the point of relevancy. While most FSOs and almost all of the American public are probably ignorant about what happened in Haditha, the incident is well known among politically minded Iraqis. On the day when everyone there was talking about the guiltless conclusion, U.S. Embassy Baghdad PD was bleating happily about jazz and some art exhibit. The appearance — to Iraqis — was one of trying to change the topic, change the channel, to distract from the real issue of the day.
So whatever PD is, it can only be less effective than what the U.S. is actually doing.
Pigs with Lipstick
Edward R. Murrow, the famed newsman and Director of the United States Information Agency during the Kennedy administration, is often quoted as saying that public diplomacy, as regards the formulation of policy, should be seriously taken into consideration at the take-off, not at the crash landing. More bluntly, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. What is your view on the relationship between public diplomacy and policy?
See above. Pigs look ugly with lipstick.
Is Pubic Diplomacy “Useless”?
As you know, the above-mentioned United States Information Agency (1953-1999), which handled public diplomacy during the Cold War, was consolidated into the State Department a few years after the collapse of Russian communism, thereby reflecting a historical pattern of the USG abolishing its “propaganda” (anti-propaganda?) agencies (e.g., the Committee on Public Information [1917-1919], the Office of War Information [1942-1945]) when a global conflict is over. Nostalgic USIA veterans tend to regret the dissolution of “their” independent agency, a relatively small organization (by Washington standards) giving its overseas officers considerable flexibility to act, on behalf of U.S. national interests, as they saw fit according general policy guidelines and local conditions (as an ex-USIA senior official told me over lunch not long ago, “we got away with murder”). Not amused by such declarations of independence (often unspoken), strait-laced State Department employees referred to USIA as “Useless,” a play of words on USIA’s overseas designation, USIS (United States Information Service). What’s your take on PD now being, bureaucratically, a State function? Does it make PD more manageable and streamlined?
You can see the themes of relevancy and credibility running through this interview.
State Department output, what we say out loud, is characterized by caution above all else, a weird play on the Hippocratic Oath. But the “safest” things to say (we urge all sides to reconsider, Mistakes were made) have little value outside Foggy Bottom. A bit of vitality is needed, and PD lacks that now. In what foreign country do people routinely turn to a PD news source? Anything that flows into the State Department gets filtered out into the equivalent of “male pale and Yale,” usually three days after the story has moved off the front pages. Safe, for sure, but also irrelevant. Often, irrelevant by choice if not by policy.
For example, to enflame my ulcer, I just flipped over to Twitter. Several Embassies are tweeting “Happy Earth Day” in unison, obviously a central command meme of the day from Washington. So what? Nothing wrong with Earth Day, but so what? Is the U.S. not still the world’s predominant carbon fuels burner? What is the specific goal of sending Happy Earth Day tweets out in English to whomever?
Alec Ross, State’s alleged social media king, tweets today, “97 years ago today, modern chemical weapons 1st used in war. German troops released chlorine gas on the front lines at Ypres, killing 5,000,” with no link or explanation. I am not even sure what the point of that is, never mind how it might play into any of the national goals of the U.S.. Alec tweets out these odd “fun facts” regularly, to what point I do not know.
The lack of content, of vitality, also means that State only practices half of the social media equation. I see little evidence of interactivity, though people do try and break through the screen and ask visa questions, usually very specific to a person/case type questions because they cannot get them answered from inundated Consular sections. Posts crow over how many people watched or viewed something, but very rarely entertain true interactivity. I am sure they are afraid of it, afraid of saying anything that hasn’t been cleared by several layers above them. That may be great for career security (the goal) but it does little to really put social media to use. Just the opposite, really.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq is considered by many a public-diplomacy disaster. Your own book on your one-year Foreign-Service experience (2009-2010) in that country has, as part of its title, “How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” For those who have not had the opportunity to read your admirable volume, where/how did U.S. PD go so wrong in Iraq? Is it possible to say that America did, on occasion, do certain things right in its attempts to remake (in its own image) the cradle of civilization?
My experience with PD in Iraq was all propaganda all the time. PD’s conception of PRT work was simply to over promote any small thing we did that wasn’t a complete failure. If we dug a well, not necessarily a bad thing, the headline was “Bringing Water to Mesopotamia.” Every PRT project had to include an interview with some Hollywood backlot Iraqi praising the United States, because as we know only White People can help the Brown Skinned of the world. PD didn’t even try to balance or nuance a story; they wrote entirely for themselves and their bosses and Washington. People in Iraq certainly knew the truth, living it 24/7 in a world without water, electricity or sewers or schools, so who was PD trying to fool if not themselves? I wrote about this in more detail here and included a PD video piece so your readers can see for themselves what their tax dollars paid for.
The new social media, some argue, are redefining public diplomacy, with the buzzword “public diplomacy 2.0,” coined during the Bush administration, still quite à la mode inside the beltway. Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Alec Ross, according to a twitterer attending his recent talk at American University, stated that “I don’t think of myself as a public diplomacy official. I think … public diplomacy is more old-school American propaganda.” In your view, how important/effective are the social media as a tool for the State Department to engage (a favorite word of the current administration) “key international audiences”?
To begin, you must have a goal — sell soap, get people to switch from Coke to Pepsi, turn out to vote, stop joining al Qaeda, something you can use to know if you have succeeded and completed what you started out to do. Social media as practiced by the Department is amateur hour. A bunch of people led by the State Department’s oldest living teenager Alec Ross think they understand media because they are banging away and getting weirdly excited by numbers. Success seems to be measured in how many followers an Ambassador has. Yet no one is interested in looking into the substance of social media. When I comment on interactive Embassy web pages or State Twitter accounts on my own blog at wemeantwell.com, what I see are desperate people trying to get a Visa question answered. They have no outlet to ask such questions because Consular sections are under siege, so they bombard social media. When I do see some questioners try and aim for more substantive topics, the replies from State are canned official language, statements that are “clearable” only because they are content-free or simply ape the party line.
So what is social media as practiced by State able to accomplish? You’d think given its emphasis and the money spent that someone would be interested in a Return on Investment study, a way to map out what was accomplished. But State does not work that way — it is all about the “doing” and not about the “getting done.” Social media as practiced is just another flim-flam, foisted on State this round by another short-timer political appointee whose connections to the Secretary mean he can do no wrong. Or, perhaps more honestly, no one has the guts to question his pronouncements. Anyone who has been at work in Foggy Bottom for more than a few years can recall similar flim-flams when faxes and email were going to reduce the need for overseas personnel (we can do it all from Washington!), or web home pages or video conferencing. All can be useful tools, but you have got to have a goal and you have got to measure your way toward that goal. Otherwise it is just flavor of the month stuff. Didn’t we have virtual embassies for awhile in some 3-D online world game thing?
The USG-supported Broadcasting Board of Governors, which (according to its homepage) became “the independent entity responsible for all U.S. Government and government-sponsored, non-military, international broadcasting on October 1, 1999″ (e.g., Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa) and whose mission is “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” is under considerable criticism these days for management failures and for intending to cut back on staff and programs. Based on your foreign-service experience of over two decades, what do you think is the reaction of overseas audiences to USG -supported broadcasting such as Voice of America? Are such broadcasts still necessary for U.S. national interests in an age when information is becoming more and more readily available? In a broader sense, can a journalist, in your view, be a true, objective master of her trade (and can her reports be trusted as reliable) if her paycheck comes from Uncle Sam (to cite Kim Andrew Elliott, a fast-media guru, “Journalism and public diplomacy are very different, indeed adversarial, endeavors”).
Credibility is the key. If you look at the very successful penetrations of American society by foreign “public affairs,” you see sources of news and entertainment that are clearly allied with a foreign entity (China Xinhua News, RT.com, al Jazeera, the BBC) and do not try to hide that fact. Yet, at the same time, they are aggressive in presenting a side of news that is missing in America’s mainstream media, often pointing out the “other side” to a story or not shying away from reporting U.S. Government mistakes and misjudgments. Their credibility comes not from being pro-Russia, but from tapping into a need in the U.S. for alternative news sources.
People are too sophisticated now, even in the developing world, to be reached via crude propaganda — America=Good, al Qaeda=Bad. That costs those sources their credibility and thus their audiences. Who cares what U.S. broadcasting into the Arab world has to say, or crap like Radio Marti? Most of the time it is just self-referential: Obama made a speech and PD says “Here’s Obama’s Speech” in case you missed it elsewhere or really want to plod through 1500 words on Earth Day. No one independently quotes their opinions, no one considers them vital or important the way al Jazeera became simply by filling a real gap in what people wanted to hear.
If the U.S. would try and learn a bit more about what people want, they might find a more ready audience. Instead, our “public diplomacy” programming seems designed more to please our bosses in Washington than to really reach people abroad.
Try it now — go here and imagine yourself a young, politically charged Iraqi. What is on that page that demands your attention? The Cold War ended years ago and we are still talking about jazz.
The Smith-Mundt Act (1948), the legislation that provides the statutory basis for U.S. public diplomacy, prohibits the State Department from disseminating domestically USG information intended for overseas audiences. Do you think this firewall, in the Internet age, is anachronistic? Or is there something to be said about prohibiting the U.S. government from “propagandizing” the American people? Would you abolish/amend the Smith-Mundt Act (or, since so few Americans know anything about it, simply let it live on, untouched, in its obscurity, letting sleeping dogs lie)?
I think Smith-Mundt died on the vine already, whether it exists as a law still or not. Given both the ubiquity of the web and the fact that almost all of the U.S. public diplomacy spew is in English, I think we already know who the target audience is. For example, all the phony grief that gets expressed every time a new round of terrible atrocity photos emerge from Afghanistan certainly is not fooling the mothers of the dead Afghans; it is designed to make us feel better here at home. The Afghans know exactly what is happening in their homes and villages, even if the U.S. government can get away with calling each atrocity just another act of some bad apples. By the way, how many bad apples does it take before you have a whole pie full of them?
Not Measuring = Not Knowing
In the how-many-angels-can-dance-on-a-pin tradition, there is quite a lot of talk, among the PD community both outside and inside of academe, about how to measure the results of public diplomacy. Do you think that there is a scientific way to gauge the impact of PD, both short-term and long-term? Or is the practice of public diplomacy, in the words of scholar Frank Ninkovich, essentially “an act of faith” that, in its often-flawed attempts to make our small planet a better world through greater international understanding, cannot be reduced, in well-intentioned efforts to evaluate it, to statistics on a chart or an executive summary on yet another think-tank report?
The old saying, any road will get you there if you don’t know where you’re going, applies here. If I was allowed back into the building and to ask a question of someone important in Public Affairs, I’d ask this: why isn’t your whole “PD” strategy built around sending out messages in bottles dropped into the ocean? Now of course the analogy only goes so far, but just as the message in the bottle strategy can be dismissed with a quick thought experiment (who knows who reads what, and what they do after the read it), can anyone really make a different claim for the State Department’s current efforts?
Metrics start with a clear goal, an end state to use the military term, and work backwards from there. One of the core problems with the State Department, and the one that most significantly contributes to the Department’s increasing irrelevance in foreign policy, is that State seems just content to “be,” to create conditions of its own continued existence. So, if social media is a new cool thing, and Congress will pay for it, then social media it is. What if instead the organization had more concrete goals? Then we could measure back from them. I’ll not trouble readers with my own list of foreign policy goals, but if the best you can come up with is something so broad as “engage the public” then you are pretty close to having no real goal at all. Best to throw notes into the ocean and hope for the best.
Bonus: One cheap and easy way for a non-thinker to dismiss these points is to say “Well, sure, it is easy to ask the questions, but where are Van Buren’s answers? If he wants metrics, what does he propose?”
Of course that is a silly line of reasoning. Change begins with the questions, the point of asking is to stimulate the search for answers and solutions. It would be easier if all the solutions to all of the PD problems could be laid out in a short interview, but life ain’t that way cowboys. Don’t dismiss important questions for lack of easy answers. Instead, realize there are higher goals than obedience and career climbing and at least allow room for the Questions and admit the need to look for Answers.
As a starting point, perhaps consider this: When you get a machine that is so immense and so bureaucratic and so career promotion oriented, the mission will be lost and truth and honesty are mere bystanders eventually wrecking any positive mission. The whole concept of institutions and how they are managed and sized needs to be examined big time. The solution, if there is any, is breaking it down into small autonomous offices or missions or programs that link together but are managed separately eliminating an immense hierarchy.
Here’s a story worth repeating in its whole, as it will be one of those articles you wish you had read a few years from now when everyone is wondering how Iraq ended up a vassal state of Iran.
Note the important parts in bold, particularly the final paragraph which reminds again that the US failure to reconstruct Iraq will continue to have far-reaching consequences for the US in the Middle East.
A pubic relations stumble between Tehran and Baghdad has intensified speculation that one of Iran’s most senior clerics is about to extend his power – and Iran’s theocratic system – into Iraq.
On his return from a visit to Tehran, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office released statements on his meetings with several senior Iranian officials – but it was silent on Mr Maliki’s encounter with 63-year-old Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.
Despite a Baghdad blackout on what is understood to have been their third meeting in recent months, Iran’s government-run news agency IRNA released a photograph of Mr Maliki and Ayatollah Shahroudi – who is Iraqi by birth – greeting each other warmly. An accompanying report on the visit barely mentions Mr Maliki, but quotes Ayatollah Shahroudi urging Baghdad to support the ”Islamic Awakening” currently under way in the Middle East.
Ayatollah Shahroudi, a powerful member of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle, is positioning himself to become the next spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, a move observers say would be impossible without Tehran’s blessing and funding. The Iraqi religious establishment, based in Najaf, south of Baghdad, opposes religious intervention in day-to-day government. But in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s theory that God’s authority is vested in the supreme leader and senior religious scholars is law.
Speaking privately, a senior official in Baghdad described the meeting as ”extremely significant”, revealing at least tacit support by Mr Maliki for an Iranian plan to have Ayatollah Shahroudi replace the ailing Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites.
Reidar Visser, an Oslo-based analyst of Iraqi affairs, sees formidable obstacles to the Shahroudi bid, but warned: “By visiting Shahroudi, Maliki did nothing to kill the rumours about some kind of Iranian design on the holiest centre of Iraqi Shiism. “If Shahroudi should succeed … those arguing that Maliki is moving towards even greater co-ordination with the Iranian clergy would feel vindicated – and rightly so.”
The plan seems to be inspired, in part, by a breakdown in relations between Mr Maliki’s government and religious authorities in Najaf. Despite remaining aloof from day-to-day politics, the ayatollahs wield significant power in their real or perceived endorsement of the government and its policies.
For months now, all the senior clerics in Najaf have been abiding by an edict from Ayatollah Sistani that they not meet with politicians or government officials. Referring to the cloak-like robe worn by Arab men, a spokesman for one of the senior ayatollahs in Najaf told The Saturday Age: “We will not continue to cover their mistakes with our abaya.”
Ayatollah Sistani’s surrogates have recently become even more confrontational, openly attacking the Baghdad government during Friday prayers. One cleric widely linked to Ayatollah Sistani, Ahmed al-Safi, blamed government corruption for the failure to restore Iraq’s electrical generation system.
“When patriotism is absent, officials sell themselves to foreigners for their kickbacks,” he said while preaching at the holy city of Karbala.
Hello American people, your friend Nouri al Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq, writing to you here from Tehran, which is the capital of Iran since many Americans I heard are ignorant of basic geography. For example, did you know that Iraq’s borders, which cause so much Sunni-Shia-Kurd trouble for you, were basically drawn up artifically by your old friends the British? Hah hah, this is true.
I am in Tehran this week, as you can see from the photo, meeting with my old friends the Iranians. I had a few minutes here and wanted to drop you in America a line to say “hi.” Your Barack invited me to the White House last December as a propaganda ploy as the US was magnanimously returning my country to me, but since I have been naughty since then I doubt I will be invited back again to greet you in person.
Ahmadinejad said that Tehran-Baghdad ties are exemplary. “Tehran, Baghdad share ‘unbreakable’ relationship’.” Like me, his English not so good, you forgive, OK.
I started thinking about you when I was reading a book about what you call the “Vietnam War.” People over there call it the Third Indochina War, as they fought the Japanese, the French and then the Americans in succession, much as we in Iraq call the most recent invasion by you the Third Gulf War, after Saddam fought the Iranians in the 1980′s (you were on Iraq’s side), then Iraq fought the US in 1991 and of course then you invaded us because of 9/11 in 2003. Your wonderful naivete about history just amuses me.
You know, in Vietnam your government convinced generations of Americans to fight and die for something bigger than themselves, to struggle for democracy they believed, to fight Communism in Vietnam before it toppled countries like dominoes (we also love this dominoes game in Iraq!) and you ended up fighting Communism in your California beaches. Everyone believed this but it was all a lie. Then in 2003 the George W. Bush (blessed be his name) told the exact same lie and everyone believed it again– he just changed the word “Communism” to “Terrorism” and again your American youth went off to die for something greater than themselves but it was a lie. How you fooled twice?
But I am rude. I need to say now “Thank You” to the parents of the 4484 Americans who died in this Iraq invasion so that I could become the new autocratic leader of Iraq. Really guys and the girls, I could not have achieved this status without you.
You see, during the Saddam years I was forced to live in exile in Iran. This is true! Your war allowed me to come back to Iraq and become Prime Minister. In March 2010 you had another American election festival for us in Iraq, and I lost by the counting of votes. However, because your State Department was desperate for some government to form here and they could not broker a deal themselves, they allowed the Iranian government to come and help me (as we are old friends you now know) and arrange a deal with the Sadrists (they were once terrorists on one of your lists). So then I won.
Within days of your troops leaving Iraq in December 2011 (a deal I also need thanks to say to your randy man Brett McGurk for he negotiated it with me, thanks ‘Randy, we party again soon, maybe in Doha where I hear you have friends, yeah!) I had my main opponent’s staff tortured and sent that bastard dog Hashimi on the run. Soon I take over the good big ministries and arrest a few, watch a mayor commit suicide in my jail and now here I am, working back toward as much power as Saddam held just a few years ago.
My Iraq is good friends with my Iran thanks to you, and I am returning some favors allowing Iranian arms to criss-cross Iraq into Syria. It is what friends are for, no? “If Tehran and Baghdad are powerful, then there will be no place for the presence of enemies of nations in this region, including the U.S. and the Zionist regime,” the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling al-Maliki, which is me.
Anyway, I gotta run. Being a autocrat is busy days you know, as being one man in control means I have to do so much. I am now working with Iran to rebuild Iraq, some of that reconstruction you claimed to have done but now we really do need to fix some stuff up, so this time it is for serious.
There’s my picture when I was at your Arlington National Cemetery with the Obama. I looked so serious but I was thinking about hot women! But yes, my thanks again for sacrificing 4484 of your young men and women for me. I can never repay this debt, not that I would even think of seeking to repay you anything you ignorant pigs.
Nouri al Maliki (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)
It’s fun to be a blogger, so let’s try one together! You take an item from the news (if under 30, “from the media”) and write something about it. What you write can be serious, funny, sarcastic or poignant– you get to choose! So let’s get started.
Here is a cartoon (“graphic novel”) produced at taxpayer expense (“your money”) by the US Government, specifically by the Department of State. The Department of State lately is very concerned about web freedom for other countries (“smart power”) because it has convinced itself that if people in other countries had full and free access to the internet, they would be nice and we would not have to bomb them with drones (“policy”).
So let’s start by watching the cartoon (“propaganda”):
(If the video does not appear by internet freedom magic above, you can also see it here on the YouTube)
Now comes the funnest part, where you write something about that video for “your blog.” Here are some samples to help get you started.
Ironically, the best internet blocking software is made in the US (Include a link for validity, such as Blue Coat).
Countries the US likes also block or filter the web, places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The State Department itself employs web filtering and blocking, internally clamping off access to web sites that have Wikileaks content that the US government does not want people to see.
Interesting that the video is captioned in English. Is State trying to propagandize the Iranians, or is this really designed to help whip up more war fever in the US?
Why does Tehran in that cartoon look a lot like a US urban area?
If Iran suddenly threw away all of its web controls and blocking, the only change would be a 125% increase in views of videos of cats and babies doing funny things on YouTube.
If Iran allowed FourSquare and Twitter to run free, would Hillary Clinton be Mayor of Iran?
So Iran limits broadband access and throttles its web. You mean like Verizon?
Needs more Family Guy references.
So this is what the government spends my tax dollars on?
Sorry, couldn’t watch it, my employer blocks YouTube at work so we don’t spend all day watching crap and not getting any work done.
(For additional sarcastic blogging inspiration, check out the real-world Twitter feed set up to promote this cartoon at #ConnectIran. Click on some names to note how many of the participants are State Department people sucking up to their bosses by RT’ing State’s message to make it seem like it is “viral.”)
If only the State Department would afford the We Meant Well blog the same freedom it demands for Iranians.
The hipster animation moved me. I too demand the basic human right of internet access for Iran!
And now we must sadly ask ourselves: Can anyone in Iran see this video? We watch it ever so casually here on our computers, while even viewing this in Iran is to risk death.
Today, we are all Persians.
So there you have it, your very own blog posting! After you have written yours, be sure to cut it out and stick it on your refrigerator door (“social media”) for everyone to see!
In America, we are proud of our long and distinctive record of championing freedom of speech… we have worked to share our best practices.
–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
We hope that others will join us in advancing a basic freedom for the Iranian people: the freedom to connect with one another and with their fellow human beings.
–President Barack Obama
On March 9, 2012, the Department of State issued a 16 page list of offenses I allegedly committed, for which they seek to fire me. Chief among those offenses is writing this blog, on my own time and on my own computer, an exercise of the very same rights to communicate and free speech Obama and Hillary demand for others:
AL ARABIYA is one of the leading Arabic-language news sources in the Middle East, with readership concentrated in Saudi Arabia. They were kind enough to review my book, We Meant Well.
The review notes:
There’s been an increase of news reports recently assessing portions of the legacy of the work and money spent by international forces along with aid workers in Afghanistan.
If the book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped to Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” provides any insight, the legacy could be defined by a few successes, but also, sadly, an overall environment of inefficiency, ignorance and a startling cluelessness that even billions of dollars couldn’t cure.
But the humor doesn’t mask his ultimate conclusion about the nation-building efforts of America and its allies. “Our efforts, well-meaning but always somewhat ignorant, lacked a broader strategy, a way to connect to local work with national goals,” he writes. “Some days it felt like the plan was to turn dozens of entities loose with millions of dollars and hope something fell together,” something akin to monkeys typing, an effort which might produce Shakespeare.
In “We Meant Well,” Van Buren chronicles jaw-dropping sums being spent on a dizzying array of programs. At $63 billion and counting, “we were the ones who famously helped paste feathers together year after year, hoping for a duck.”
The review in Al Arabiya follows Al Jazeera reprinting my recent article on whistleblowers facing retaliation from the US government, including my own case. I have spoken with journalists from the UK, Iran, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, France and Japan. It remains something between amusing and just plain sad that while these news sources feel it important to bring a variety of opinions to their readers, and while even the US Army asked to hear me speak about reconstruction, all the State Department can seem to do is label me as insubordinate, like they are but some lousy naked emperor, embarrassed. It is not about agreeing, but agreeing to listen. Oh well.
Check out the Justice-Integrity Project’s Washington Update for my recent interview if you missed it on air nationally. The interview grew out of a fine discussion I had with a group of journalists over dinner in the McClendon Room at the National Press Center.
Chairman John J. Hurley, a director of the Justice Integrity Project, introduced me as writing a “sarcastic, funny, sad, angry book about his work for the Department of State as the leader of two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in rural Iraq, 2009-2010.” Hurley continued, “His blog continues the story, with daily humor and commentary about Iraq, the Middle East, national security and his ongoing struggles to preserve his First Amendment rights while remaining a Federal government employee.”
The Justice Integrity Project is a research and education initiative established in 2010 by concerned citizens to improve oversight of abusive prosecutorial and judicial decisions in the federal justice system. Its primary focus is political and other arbitrary prosecutions, and official corruption cases. Good people.
Not to suggest State is overstaffed, but somehow in managing all those international thingies they also have time to demand that I remove the State Department Seal from a blog post. The post, linked here, used the Seal as part of a satirical/parody memo from Hillary to the media, instructing them on how the Department wants them to not tell the truth about events in Iraq. No sentient being could have confused that blog post with an actual State Department memo.
If you want to see the offensive blog post, click here. If you want to see a real State Department memo, go troll through the 250,000 documents on Wikileaks. I shouldn’t post a link to Wikileaks on this blog, or I’ll get in trouble again with the nancy boys who run Diplomatic Security. Read’in is hard work, and they still are sorting out a “link” from a “leak.”
If you’d like to read the State Department’s email to me demanding I remove the Seal from my blog, here it is.
There is, as always, precedent. In 2005 the George W. Bush White House demanded that The Onion stop using George’s seal. So, um, right on State, you’re in lock step with the White House on this issue, albeit seven years late.
Now of course the State Department hasn’t bothered to contact all the other people on the web using their Seal. They didn’t even bother to contact me when I last used that same Seal on this same blog a few months ago. Wonder why now?
Timing is everything in life. Earlier this month I filed a complaint against the Department for retaliatory personnel practices with the Office of the Special Counsel. By coincidence, of course, State kicked its introspection of me and my blog into a higher gear that same week. For those keeping score, that is retaliation for complaining about earlier retaliation. More on this on a later blog post.
Anyway, a lesser man would be angry, or bitter, over such pettiness, but me, I just want to be friends. Who can get mad over a cute, cuddly seal anyway? So be sure to check out my replacement seal.
To: All Media, Commentators and Pundits
From: The Secretary
Subject: Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq
Thank you all for your patience since January 1, when PM Maliki turned 180 degrees from us/US and began unraveling Iraq. We were of course caught by surprise over these events, most of my staff being detailed away to host holiday parties, then Bill took my Blackberry to Davos by accident, and we switched to Chrome in the office and the printer wouldn’t work at first, but we now have your talking points formulated.
I want also to thank Ambassador Chris Hill, who was in Baghdad 2009-2010 and oversaw our standing by dumb-founded while the Iranians put together the coalition we couldn’t that finally concluded the March 2010 elections in December. Chris was kind enough to give these new talking points a trial run a week ago in his barely published Op-Ed. Chris, thank you for your service.
So here is the meme I expect all of you (bloggers too, not just MSM, we know who you are) to follow:
The US did a great job under the Occupation, thanks to our troops, who cannot be criticized, but basically everything that happens after January 1 is the Iraqis’ own damn fault and most certainly not connected in any way with what the US did or failed to do in the preceding nine years.
If you need the elevator speech version (I’m calling you out Fox!), just say: It is all the Iraqis’ fault.
This line of reasoning has worked for us in the past, so it should be smooth sailing. For example, throughout the somnolent reconstruction period, whenever someone complained about how we did not restore the electrical grid, we showed some slides saying power generation was good, it was just that demand was up, blaming the Iraqis for the whole thing because they wanted to use refrigerators and lights.
In addition to Chris’ effort, I have already started the ball rolling. On January 26, I noted that US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has taken the lead in urging Iraqi politicians to settle their differences peacefully. I said “He is constantly… reaching out, meeting with, cajoling, pushing the players, starting with Prime Minister Maliki, not to blow this opportunity.”
I told everyone that despite the downfall of Saddam Hussein which we freaking nailed, Iraqis’ “minds are not yet fully open to the potential for what this new opportunity can mean to them. At the end of the day, Iraq is now a democracy but they need to act like one.”
Speaking of Ambassador Jeffrey, he also has this memo. Just the other day he told Gulf News “Iraq is a sovereign democratic country. We have no role as outsiders in the democratic process other than to observe and, if asked our opinion, we provide our opinion… We believe that Iraq remains the most democratic country in the Middle East.”
Good, right? And you all need to be sure to work this line from Amb. Jeffrey into your pieces: “The attacks [in Iraq] are not a result of the political crisis as they are planned months in advance; they are very carefully put together by al Qaeda.”
That’s pretty clear, yes? Despite 10 years, despite killing bin Laden and 74 al Qaeda No. 3′s, all violence is due to al Qaeda. As for the rest, we did our part by getting rid of Saddam, fast-forward past nine years of failed Occupation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction and then BANG! Iraq has to do it, not our problem. Like it never even happened, babies.
I simply do not care to see any articles such as this. I specifically request that none of the following ever be spoken of again:
–The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.
–The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering fuels insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.
–The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. The US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.
My thanks in advance to all of you for your work promoting this meme over the coming months. It would be especially helpful if your blogs and Op-Eds could be timed to publish right after massive suicide bombings in Iraq. Don’t worry if you miss one; like buses, there is always another one coming soon.
Oh, and my staff promises we’ll have your talking points about how all world evil is caused by Iran out soon. Until then, either hold your stories or just blame things on Somali pirates.
In late December I ran a blog post wondering if US foreign policy had been taken over by the cast of Jersey Shore, Snooki, et al, as the US seemed on the verge of granting the current dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, permission to enter the US for “medical treatment.”
Now we know Snooki must be in charge, as the US has apparently once again chosen expediency as the cornerstone of its Middle East policy. Saleh is enroute to the US as you read this.
Iran once was America’s 51st state in the Middle East. The CIA helped overthrow one government there in 1953 and installed a monarch who bought American weapons, sold America oil and sucked up to the US. That was regime change old-school style.
Then there was an Islamic Revolution that swept through Iran, flawed in its own right, but appealing to a people who had long been kept in line by the Shah’s security apparatus. The Shah was reviled by many of his country people and, to avoid facing their justice for his actions, fled to the US for “medical care.” (“Medical care” is what dictators say when they need to blow town; for domestic US politicians, the correct phrase is “spend more time with my family.”) Saleh had previously sought medical care in Saudi Arabia, but must have not had insurance because he left to go right back to Yemen. Apparently there are no other doctors available anywhere in the entire world now but in America.
The Shah came to the US, Iran went wild and stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking US diplomats hostage. That crisis lasted 444 days, brought down the Carter Administration and messed relations in the Middle East up for pretty much forever. Memories are long in the desert, and people have a tendency to hang around in new roles. What you do today affects a lot of tomorrows, even if memories in the United States are sitcom-short.
“It’s not over for Saleh,” said Hussein Mansoor, a protester in Sanaa. “We want him to come back to Yemen so that he is tried for his crimes.” On Saturday, lawmakers in Yemen approved a controversial law giving Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Remember the Arab Spring Break? By accepting another non-democratic dictator formerly pals with the US for “medical care,” the US denies the events of 2011. The US has the chance to stand up for its long-term goals of supporting people who wish to throw off a dictator. Instead, it looks like we’ll let him into the US for safe haven, once again choosing expediency over morality. The image of the US among Yemenis will be nothing more than the country that gave shelter to their former dictator. US policy in the Middle East will again be clearly little more than oil and back slapping dictators who feed our counterterrorism fetish.
In December 2011, President Obama paid tribute to the more than one million Americans who served in Iraq, the 4,479 fallen Americans and thousands wounded, as well as Iraqis who gave their lives. “They are the reason that we can stand here today and we owe it to every single one of them, we have a moral obligation to all of them, to build a future worthy of their sacrifice,” he said.
As the war drums beat again (Iran this time), we must remember how little politicians actually value our lives. Let us start making a list in relation to what Iraq has become:
4479: General Qassim Sulaimani, head of the Iranian Qods force for Iraq and scenic Lebanon, saying “Iraq is under the will of Tehran.”
David Hickman, 23, of Greensboro was the last of the 4479 Americans killed during the Iraq War and Occupation. According to an Associated Press analysis of casualty data, the average age of Americans who died in Iraq was 26. Nearly 1,300 were 22 or younger, but middle-aged people fought and died as well: some 511 were older than 35.
“I used to watch all the war stories on TV, you know,” said Needham, Hickman’s old coach. “But since this happened to David, I can’t watch that stuff anymore. I just think: That’s how he died.”
4478: 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent, 25, of Mesquite, Texas, died November 3, 2011.
No statement denying the Qods statement from the Iraqi Government.
4477: Sgt. 1st Class David G. Robinson, 28, of Winthrop Harbor, Ill., died October 25.
Iraq is falling back into authoritarianism and headed towards becoming a police state, despite US claims that it has helped establish democracy in the country, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.
4476: Capt. Shawn P. T. Charles, 40, of Hickory, N.C., died October 23.
Iraq cracked down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating and detaining activists, demonstrators and journalists.
4475: Pfc. Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., died October 21. Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, that women’s rights remain poor and civilians have paid a heavy toll in bomb attacks.
4474: Staff Sgt. James R. Leep Jr., 44, of Richmond, Va., died October 17.
Human Rights Watch discovered a secret prison run by forces controlled by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office, the same troops who ran Camp Honour, another facility where detainees were tortured.
4473: Spc. Adrian G. Mills, 23, of Newnan, Ga., died September 29.
Prime Minister Maliki’s security services have locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties over the past several months, detaining many of them in secret locations with no access to legal counsel and using “brutal torture” to extract confessions, his chief political rival, Ayad Allawi, has charged.
4472: Sgt. Andy C. Morales, 32, of Longwood, Fla., died September 22.
Iraq remains consumed by violence.
4471: Staff Sgt. Estevan Altamirano, 30, of Edcouch, Texas, died September 18.
Even the State Department thinks “violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist [in Iraq] and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions.”
4470: Cmdr. James K. Crawford, 50, of East Concord, N.Y., died September 7.
Security remains a primary concern nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion, with bombings a daily occurrence, and most foreign companies hire personal security teams. Bank HSBC spends around $3,000-$6,000 a day on security. Ground Works Inc, an engineering, construction and logistics firm, said security for housing and business compounds can run at $14,000-$18,000 a month, while a local bodyguard costs $1,500 a month and a foreign guard $4,000 per month. Electricity is intermittent and having a generator is a necessity. Businessmen say fuel for generators can cost around $3,000-$8,000 a month.
4469: Sgt. Mark A. Cofield, 25, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died July 17.
A scandal unfolding in Denmark over the transfer of Iraqi prisoners by Danish forces to Iraq authorities, even as they knew they would be tortured, threatens to implicate the current Secretary General of NATO.
4468: Spc. Daniel L. Elliott, 21, of Youngsville, N.C., died July 15.
On the day the last US combat troops left the country, Maliki turned against his vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, accusing him of what he has himself long been suspected of – ordering the bombings and assassinations of his political opponents. Mr Hashimi was not just a leading Sunni Muslim in a Shia-dominated government. He was the linchpin of the political deal stitched together by the US last year, under which the Iraqiya coalition, which won the largest number of votes in the last election, agreed to participate in government. Hashimi fled to the relative safety of Kurdistan, before denouncing the charges as a coup, but he joins a growing list of internal exiles – all of them Sunni.
4467: pc. Marcos A. Cintron, 32, of Orlando, Fla., died June 16.
At least 30 people connected to the leader of Iraqiya, Ayad Allawi, had been arrested in recent weeks by security forces under Mr Maliki’s personal control.
4466: Sgt. Steven L. Talamantez, 34, of Laredo, Texas, died July 10.
For five years Iraq was the most important item on policy-makers’ agenda. That meant we allowed China to steal a march on the United States. It gained economically, militarily and perhaps even diplomatically as the United States demonstrated it was not the unquestionable superpower that many believed it was at the start of 2000s.
4465: Spc. Nathan R. Beyers, 24, of Littleton, Colo. died July 7.
Iraq likely played a role in the export of banned US-made internet surveillance equipment to Syria.
4464: Spc. Nicholas W. Newby, 20, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, also died July 7.
The State Department continues to refuse to cooperate in an audit of its multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.
4463: Capt. David E. Van Camp, 29, of Wheeling, W.Va. died June 29.
Even though they often are housed on-base at Department of Defense facilities and within secure perimeters for embassies operated by the State Department, many of these [third country national] TCN workers live in sub-human conditions, are subjected to sexual abuse and even prostitution, have wages stolen by subcontractors, and have passports stolen in order to prevent them from leaving,” said Gerry Connolly (D-VA) referring to widespread human trafficking committed by US government contractors in Iraq.
4462: Capt. Matthew G. Nielson, 27, of Jefferson, Iowa also died June 29.
Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17%; in 2011: 50%
4461: Spc. Robert G. Tenney Jr., 29, Warner Robins, Ga. also died June 29.
Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175.
To be continued, and repeated…
(All names of the deceased and the dates of their deaths are from Antiwar.com)
State Department Undersecretary for Management guy Pat Kennedy said this recently on NPR, justifying the $3.5 billion a year maintaining the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad (c) costs:
This is a democracy in the Middle East. Is it perfect? No. A lot of people think our system isn’t perfect either. But this is a major oil producer, a friend of the United States, a potential market for American goods and now, I think, a very important symbol in the Middle East of what democracy in the Middle East could be.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said that an investigation into allegations against Iraq’s vice president appears to be proceeding fairly despite claims that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing a political vendetta against a rival.
This statement was made despite the fact that Hashemi is so confident in the fairness of the judicial system that he sought sanctuary in semi-autonomous Kurdistan. The charges against him are based in large part on “confessions” by his bodyguards made after their “interrogations” by security forces loyal to Maliki. Hashemi’s alleged crimes, uncovered by Maliki the very day US forces withdrew in 2011, took place in 2006. Just never got around to investigating them earlier I guess.
Meanwhile, in our universe:
A roadside bomb targeting Shia pilgrims killed 30 people on the outskirts of the southern city of Nasiriyah on Thursday. A total of 30 people were killed and 72 wounded in the attack, which occurred just west of Nasiriyah as pilgrims were walking to the holy shrine city of Karbala for Arbaeen commemorations.
The attack came on the same day two Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad were targeted in bombings that left at least 23 people dead.
At least nine civilians have been killed and 35 others injured in two successive explosions and a motorbike blast in east Baghdad’s Sadr city on Thursday morning.
A female child has been killed and six civilians injured in five successive explosions in the city of Baaquba, the center of northeast Iraq’s Diala Province, on Wednesday morning.
A group of unknown armed men have killed two Iraqi soldiers in southern Mosul, the center of Ninewa Province, late Tuesday night.
We’ll assume officials like Kennedy and Jeffrey are not ignorant or uninformed. That leaves then the question as to why they would keep saying ridiculous things about Iraq, claiming it is a democracy somehow comparable to our own system, or that Maliki’s blatant power plays are following the rule of law.
“What we’re seeing is a new era in post-Saddam politics,” said Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “Iraq’s stability is on really weak foundation. Maliki has gone too far in his campaign against political rivals, his only option is to keep going.”
So who are people like Kennedy and Jeffreys trying to fool?
Either themselves, or you. The Iraqis certainly know what is going on in their own country, watching 60 of their countrypeople blown up on a single all-too-typical Thursday. Maliki and Hashemi understand the game being played out. So the disingenuous statements by State Department officials are designed either to convince themselves that they are doing a robust job, or, to convince you that after all these years, all those lives and all that money, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was still somehow worth it.
As the war drums beat over Iran, you decide, but don’t get fooled again.
Holding what might be the worst job at the State Department other than whatever is in store for me in 2012, Ambassador Daniel Fried is the Special Advisor for Camp Ashraf. He is tasked with overseeing a nice ending to a problem the US (and Iraq) have conveniently put off for almost nine years during the Occupation.
The MEK people are still living in Iraq, at a place called Camp Ashraf, and Iraq would generally prefer that they all die, or disappear or die and disappear. The US has run the gamut of emotions and policy positions on MEK (it’s complicated), but prefer that they just disappear without the being massacred by Iraqis part. That would upset the whole illusion of democracy thing for sure.
The UN has come up with a solution that might work. The MEK people will move from distant, tainted and often rocketed Camp Ashraf into the recently-abandoned Camp Liberty. Once the home of Iraq’s largest PX store during the Occupation, Liberty now has lots of openings for new residents. The nice thing is that Liberty is pretty close to the World’s Largest Embassy (c) and so the US can play a “monitoring” role, basically visiting once in a while to deter the Iraqis from just rolling in and killing everyone one night. The UN is later supposed to arrange something for the 3,200 MEK folks– refugee status, immigration, Publisher’s Clearing House prize, anything to get them out of Iraq before they all are ground into sausage meat by the democracy there.
There will be “bumps” in the road. On the day the MEK agreement was signed, rockets hit Camp Ashraf. The attacks repeated on the following nights. A statement by people in Camp Ashraf said that as a first step, a group of 400 are ready “to move to Camp Liberty with their vehicles and moveable belongings on December 30.” The transfer, however, did not happen as the Iraqi government stepped in to require that people did not carry more than a travel bag to the new looted camp which now lacks basic infrastructure and drinking water.
Ambassador Fried (his real name) held a briefing at the State Department that was quite informative, with a transcript now online. Among the many complications, he reveals that there are at least two (Iranian-) Americans among the Camp Ashraf residents. The briefing sidesteps the messy question of MEK’s status on the US terrorist list and keeps the focus on the humanitarian side, which is probably the best way out.
Sorry but minus three points for the Ambassador for using the word “robust” three times, twice in the same paragraph, to describe the planned State Department monitoring of the MEK people at Liberty. Can you find another adjective in the New Year, please?
Here are some suggestions:
healthy, strong, able-bodied, athletic, boisterous, booming, brawny, built, concentrated, fit, full-bodied, hale, hardy, hearty, hefty, husky, live, lusty, muscular, peppy, potent, powerful, powerhouse, prospering, prosperous, roaring, rugged, sinewy, snappy, sound, stout, strapping, sturdy, thriving, tiger, tough, vigorous, vital, well, zappy, zippy
(P.S. Go with “zippy” or “brawny.”)
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