• Archive of "Iran" Category

    Things Fall Apart: Iraq

    June 27, 2014 // 24 Comments »




    The mistakes of U.S. foreign policy are mostly based on the same flawed idea: that the world is a chessboard on which the U.S. makes moves, or manipulates proxies to make moves, that either defeat, counter or occasionally face setbacks from the single opponent across the table.

    The game held up for a fair amount of time; the U.S. versus the Nazis (D-Day = checkmate!), the U.S. versus Japan (Lose an important piece at Pearl Harbor, grab pawns island by island across the Pacific, and so forth). Most of the Cold War seemed to work this way.

    And so into Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration seemed to believe they could invade Iraq, topple Saddam and little would be left to do but put away the unused chessmen and move on to the next game. In reality, world affairs do not (any longer?) exist in a bipolar game. Things are complex, and things fall apart. Here is a quick tour of that new form of game in Iraq.

    Iran

    – Iranian transport planes are making two daily flights of military equipment into Baghdad, 70 tons per flight, to resupply Iraqi security forces.

    – Iran is flying Ababil surveillance drones over Iraq from Al Rashid airfield near Baghdad. Tehran also deployed an intelligence unit to intercept communications. General Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. Iran has also deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq.

    – As many as ten divisions of Iranian military and Quds Force troops are massed on the border, ready to intevene if Baghdad comes under assault or if important Shiite shrines in cities like Samarra are threatened, American officials say.

    – Suleimani was a presence in Iraq during the U.S. Occupation and helped direct attacks against American troops. In particular, Iraqi Shiite militias under the tutelage of Suleimani attacked American troops with powerful explosive devices supplied by Tehran. These shaped charges were among the very few weapons used toward the end of the U.S. Occupation that could pierce U.S. armor, and were directly responsible for the deaths of Americans.

    – General Suleimani is also the current architect of Iranian military support in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. calls for Assad to give up power, and was steps away from war in Syria to remove Assad only months ago.

    – Should America conduct air strikes in Iraq (some claim they are already stealthily underway), those strikes would be in direct support of Iranian efforts, and perhaps Iranian troops, on the ground.

    – The United States has increased its manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Iraq, and is now flying about 30 to 35 missions a day. The American flights include F-18s and P-3 surveillance planes, as well as drones.

    ISIS

    – ISIS, currently seen as a direct threat to both Iraq, Syria and the Homeland, is a disparate group of mostly Sunni-affiliated fighters with strong ties to Syria. The U.S. is now at war with them, though it appears that as recently as 2012 the U.S. may have had Special Forces arming and training them at a secret base in Safawi, in Jordan’s northern desert region. There are reports that the U.S. also trained fighters at locations in Turkey, feeding them into the Syrian conflict against Assad.

    – ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, three supposed U.S. allies. “The U.S. Treasury is aware of this activity and has expressed concern about this flow of private financing. But Western diplomats’ and officials’ general response has been a collective shrug,” a Brookings Institute report states.

    – ISIS itself is a international group, though added 1,500 Sunni Iraqis it liberated from a Shia prison near Mosul. A senior U.S. intelligence official said there are approximately 10,000 ISIS fighters — roughly 7,000 in Syria and 3,000 in Iraq. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 foreign fighters who have been incorporated into ISIS ranks.

    Turkey

    – The New York Times reports Turkey allowed rebel groups of any stripe easy access across its borders to the battlefields in Syria in an effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad. An unknown number of Turks are now hostages in Iraq, and Turkey continues its tussles with the Kurds to (re)fine that border.

    – “The fall of Mosul was the epitome of the failure of Turkish foreign policy over the last four years,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “I can’t disassociate what happened in Mosul from what happened in Syria.”

    Iraq

    – With the official Iraqi Army in disarray, Prime Minister Maliki is increasingly reliant on Shiite militias primarily loyal to individual warlords and clerics, such as the Madhi Army. Despite nine years of Occupation, the U.S. never defeated the Madhi Army. Prime Minister Maliki never had the group surrender its weapons, and now, with the Baghdad government too weak to disarm them, they exist as the private muscle of Iraq’s hardline Shias. Once loosed onto the battlefield, Maliki will not be able to control the militias. The Mahdi Army has also sworn to attack American “advisors” sent to Iraq, believing them to be a vanguard for a second U.S. occupation. Many of the most powerful militias owe their ultimate loyalty not to the Iraqi state, but to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has much blood on his hands left over from the Occupation.

    Syria and Israel

    – Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 57 civilians and wounding 120. Syrian warplanes also killed at least 12 people in the eastern Iraqi city of Raqqa Wednesday morning. A U.S. official said it was not clear whether the Iraqi government requested or authorized Syrian air strikes in Iraqi territory.

    Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria the same day as Syria struck Iraq.


    Checkmate

    It should be clear that there is no such thing as simply “doing something” in this crisis for the U.S. As with the 2003 invasion itself, no action by the United States can stand alone, and every action by the United States will have regional, if not global, repercussions apparently far beyond America’s ability to even understand.

    A chess game? Maybe, of sorts. While American interest in Iraq seems to parallel American interest in soccer, popping up when world events intrude before fading again, the other players in Iraq have been planning moves over the long game. In the blink of an eye, U.S. efforts in Syria have been exposed as fully-counterproductive toward greater U.S. goals, the U.S. has been drawn back into Iraq, with troops again on the ground in a Muslim war we thought we’d backed out of. The U.S. finds itself supporting Iranian ground forces, and partnering with militias well outside of any government control, with Special Forces working alongside potential suicide bombers who only a few years ago committed themselves to killing Americans in Iraq. What appears to be the U.S. “plan,” some sort of unity government, belies the fact that such unity has eluded U.S. efforts for almost eleven years of war in Iraq.

    In such a complex, multiplayer game it can be hard to tell who is winning, but it is easy in this case to tell who is losing. Checkmate.



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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Ten Reasons Airstrikes in Iraq are a Terrible Idea

    June 23, 2014 // 6 Comments »




    The smell of blood is once again in the air in Washington, this week for airstrikes and other forms of violent intervention in Iraq (reference: many of the same people– McCain and Graham in particular– were only recently calling for airstrikes or other military action in the Ukraine, and before that Syria, and before that…)

    Here are some of the many reasons airstrikes (or any other form of U.S. military action) in Iraq are just a terrible idea.


    1) Air strikes will not resolve anything significant.

    The short answer is through nine years of war and occupation U.S. air power in Iraq, employed on an unfettered scale, combined with the full-weight of the U.S. military on the ground plus billions of dollars in reconstruction funds, failed to resolve the issues now playing out in Iraq. Why would anyone think a lesser series of strikes would work any better?

    We also have a recent Iraqi example of the pointlessness of air strikes. The Maliki government employed them with great vigor against Sunnis in western Iraq, including in Fallujah, only six months ago, and here we are again, with an even more powerful Sunni force in the field.


    2) But air strikes now are crucial to buying the Iraqi government time to seek a political solution.

    See above about nine years of ineffectiveness. Today’s crisis is not new; Iraqi PM Maliki has been in power since 2006 and has done nothing to create an inclusive government. Indeed, he has done much to actively ostracize, alienate, jail and destroy his Sunni opposition. Maliki currently is his non-inclusionary own Minister of the Interior and Minister of Defense. Replacing Maliki, another regime change the U.S. now apparently supports, is no magic cure. Maliki’s successor will most likely come from his own majority party, and inherit his own ties to Iran and the many Shia groups needed to stay in power. Even with good intentions, a new Prime Minister will walk into office in the midst of a raging, open war against Sunni forces, not exactly the best place to start towards a more inclusive government. This argument of buying the Iraqis time is the same falsehood that fueled the unsuccessful Surges in Iraq (2007) and Afghanistan (2009). History matters, and it is time to accept that despite arguable tactical progress, in the longer view, the Surges did not work. And long views are what matter.

    Even David Petraeus, once America’s golden boy as architect of the Iraq Surge, warns against military intervention now in Iraq.


    3) John Kerry flying around the world diplomizing on Iraq is an air strike of its own.

    Worth noting is also the uselessness of American diplomacy. Since 2006 the U.S. has maintained its largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, with thousands of State Department and military personnel, alongside no doubt a healthy intelligence presence. It is clear that all those diplomats have not accomplished much in service to Iraqi reconciliation under even the more peaceful conditions in the past. It is unrealistic to expect more now.

    As for recruiting allies to intercede somehow with America in Iraq, that seems equally unlikely. The British, America’s former stalwart companion in global adventures, refused to get involved in American action last September in Syria. British involvement in the 2003 invasion remains controversial at home, and it is hard to see the Brits getting fooled again.



    4) Air strikes are surgical.

    Oh please. Check with the wedding parties in Yemen destroyed, and funeral gatherings massacred in Pakistan. Bombs and missiles are not surgical tools. They blow stuff up. It is impossible to avoid killing people near the other people you set out to kill, what the U.S. blithely refers to as collateral damage. And even that assumes you are aiming the weapons even close to the right place to begin with. Bad info that identifies the wrong house means you kill an innocent family, not a ISIS command cell.

    And even if you take the coldest American view possible that collateral damage is just an unavoidable cost of war, you fail to understand the real cost. Every innocent killed sets the population further against the U.S. and the people the U.S. seeks to support, both in Iraq and throughout the greater Middle East. Videos of dead children propagate well over social media.


    5) Air strikes are not a counterinsurgency tool.

    See nine years of war and occupation in Iraq, or forever years of war in places like Vietnam. You cannot bomb away a political movement. You cannot kill an idea that motivates millions of people with a Hellfire missile.


    6) Air strikes mean the U.S. is taking sides in a pit bull fight.

    The U.S. strikes would presumably be in an attempt to support the “Iraqi government and army.” The problem is that those entities are elusive. The Maliki government enjoys uneven public support, so supporting it alienates swaths of the Iraqi population and nearly requires them to take up arms against the U.S. and its puppets. The forces Maliki is putting into the field include a growing number of Shia militias under the control, such as that even is, of individual warlords and religious leaders. These are fighters who actively killed Americans just a few years ago, but somehow we’re on their side now. Maliki’s collection of forces are also bolstered in various ways by Iran. Somehow we’re on their side now too. Air strikes are part of a pattern of failed short-term thinking by the U.S.


    7) Air strikes are just more of “whack-a-mole” foreign policy.

    These entanglements are much more serious than to be dismissed as “well, politics makes for strange bedfellows” or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Such trite phrases are typical of a U.S. foreign policy that only sees discrete crises within clear geopolitical borders. As long as the U.S. fantasizes that it can support Sunni fighters in Syria while striking them in Iraq, and as long as the U.S. believes it can bolster Iranian goals and credibility in Iraq while pushing back against it elsewhere in the Gulf, the worse things will get in the broader region.

    The same applies to the U.S.’ global “whack-a-mole” geopolitical strategy. Russia invades the Ukraine? A devoted by Washington to that. Boko Harem kidnaps girls? Ten days of Twitter memes. Iraq simmers for years? Let’s act now (and only now) before the next shiny object distracts our leaders.


    8 ) But air strikes are necessary because the U.S. must “do something.”

    Nope. There is nothing that says the U.S. must “do something” in response to all world events. There are many reasons to say even if we are compelled to do something, a military “solution” is not necessarily, or even often, the right thing to do. Imagine if you are outside a burning house, with a can of gasoline in your hand. With the compulsion to do something, is it better to throw the gas can into the flames, or stand back. Sometimes the best answer is indeed to stand back.

    9) ISIS is a threat to the U.S. and has to be air struck to stop another 9/11.

    ISIS is far from the Super Villains the U.S. media has seen necessary to depict them as. The groups fighting on the “Sunni” side, such as it is, are a collection of tribal, Baathist, religious, warlord and other conglomerations. Their loosely organized goal is to hold territory that criss-crosses the borders of Iraq and Syria. Absent some odd event, they are likely to withdraw or be chased out of central Iraq and hold on out west, where they have existed as a state-like thing for some time now. Central Iraq is way too far from their home base to retain supply lines (though they have been doing well capturing weapons from the retreating Iraqi forces), and Shia militia strength is more powerful the closer ISIS, et al, get to Baghdad.

    The threat line is most ardently espoused by who else, Dick Cheney, who brought out his own go-to scary thing, saying “One of the things I worried about 12 years ago – and that I worry about today – is that there will be another 9/11 attack and that the next time it’ll be with weapons far deadlier than airline tickets and box cutters.”

    ISIS and/or its Sunni supporters in Iraq have held territory in western Iraq for years without being a threat to the U.S. Homeland. Little changes if they hold a bit more, or less territory.

    ISIS is not a transnational terror group, and unless the U.S. drives them into an alliance with al Qaeda (as the U.S. did in the early years of the 2003 invasion with the Sunnis), they are unlikely to be. They fight with small arms in small groups under loose leadership. They will not be invading the U.S.

    10) Bottom line why air strikes are a terrible waste.

    The U.S. lost the war in Iraq years ago, probably as early as 2003. It is time to accept that.




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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Radio Interview: Between the Lines, with Scott Harris

    June 22, 2014 // 2 Comments »




    Here’s a radio interview I did with Scott Harris, host of Between the Lines. Follow this link for the full interview.

    The focus of the interview is how the 2003 invasion of Iraq upset a fragile but workable balance of power in the Middle East, unleashing the chaos we are witnessing today playing out in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. So the short version: yes, it is all our fault, and more airstrikes and drone killings will work out in current Iraq about as well as they have in Yemen, Libya and all the other places where lacking any alternative besides getting out, the U.S. just lashes out.

    Between The Lines describes itself as “a weekly syndicated half-hour news magazine featuring progressive perspectives on national and international political, economic and social issues” which seems about right. Have a listen to the interview!



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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    At CNN

    June 21, 2014 // 9 Comments »




    Selfie at CNN studios today in NYC.


    Taped a segment on Iraq, not sure if/when it will air. I explained U.S. military intervention in Iraq, as opposed to “doing nothing,” would be like choosing between throwing gas into a fire versus “doing nothing.”


    That said, consensus among the anchors and other guests was that “we have to do something.” OK, sure, but how’d that work out for ya’ last time?



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    From 2011: Who Won the War in Iraq? Iran.

    June 18, 2014 // 12 Comments »

    Land of the Free


    For those (I’m talking to you here CNN) who seem surprised about events unfolding now in Iraq, here’s an excerpt from something I wrote almost four years ago. At that time pretty much everyone disagreed with these conclusions, but can you hear me now?


    Wars End?

    When wars end, usually there is a winner and a loser. Greeks burn down the city for the win; Trojans accept a dummy horse for the epic loss, like that. As we near the end of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, and note the beginning of the State Department occupation (the formal mission handover is Oct. 1), it is a good time to decide who lost and who won, and what that means for the future of Iraq.

    For the minority, all-around Washington guy (now stopping off briefly to be Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta thinks we and the Iraqis sort of won. Leon said, “But the bottom line is, whether it’s diplomatic or whether it’s military, we’ve got a long-term relationship with Iraq. We’ve invested a lot of blood in (Iraq). And regardless of whether you agree or disagree as to how we got into it, the bottom line is that we now have, through a lot of sacrifice, established a … relatively stable democracy that’s trying to work together to lead that country.”

    Tune into your favorite right-wing blog, and there is lots of mumbo-jumbo about the surge and sacrifices and all that false patriotism stuff that no longer even makes for a good country and western song. On firmer ground, it is less clear that the United States or Iraq won anything. The United States lost 4474 soldiers (and counting), with thousands more crippled or wounded, spent a couple of trillion dollars that helped wreck our economy at home, and did not get much in return.

    Blood for Oil?

    Only in the sense that one of out of every eight U.S. casualties in Iraq died guarding a fuel convoy. Iraqi oil output is stuck at pre-war levels and will be for some time. A drop in world oil prices would wreck the Iraqi economy. Despite Panetta’s patter about Iraq being a country willing to work with the United States, Iraq as a political entity follows its own path, virtually allied with Iran and unsupportive of American geopolitical dreams. The U.S. government will sell some military gear to the Iraqis and make some money, but in the end George Bush went to war and all we got was a low-rent dictatorship turned into a low-rent semi-police state.

    As for Iraq being any sort of winner after being stomped on by the U.S. military, no. Iraq had its civil society shredded, underwent eight years of sectarian civil war, saw over 100,000 killed and is home now to a small but bustling al Qaeda franchise. The United States left without brokering a deal between the Kurds and the Arab Iraqis, leaving that kettle on full boil. The United States also failed to establish stable borders for the Kurds, such that the Iranians shell “Kurdistan” from the east, while Turkish jets drop bombs in the west. Turkey is part of NATO — imagine the U.S. government sitting silently if Germany bombed Poland next week.

    What many people do not know is that one reason for the drop in sectarian violence in 2008 was that both sides had done much of the killing they needed to do. The fighting then was a civil war, Shia versus Sunni, and the death toll was high enough on both sides to achieve the level of segregation and redistribution of power desired at that time– they temporarily ran out of reasons for the war to continue at that level of intensity. Ominously, however, the Sunnis and Shias did not fully settle the score and so that pot sits bubbling on the stove as well.

    Sectarian tensions do still run high in Iraq, and the United States has been left powerless to do anything about it. Except for some technical assistance and perhaps some very low-key special operations help, the U.S. government has taken a sideline seat to the sectarian violence over the last few months, leaving the fight to the Iraqis. Whether zero or 3,000 or 10,000 U.S. troops stay on in Iraq, it is unlikely that such a smaller U.S. force will intervene, given that a larger one declined to do so.

    The tinderbox nature of things is such that the Iraqi government is seeking to ban a television drama about events leading up to the historic split in Islam into Sunni and Shiite sects hundreds of years ago. The Iraqi parliament asked that the Communication and Media Commission, a media regulator, ban “Al Hassan and Al Hussein” on the grounds it incites sectarian tensions and misrepresents historical facts. “This TV serial includes sensitive issues in Islamic history. Presenting them in a TV series leads to agitated strife,” said Ali Al Alaq, a politician who heads the religious affairs committee.

    Needless to say, a glance at the daily news from Iraq will reveal the ongoing steady low hum of suicide bombings and targeted killings that is now all too much a normal part of life. The occasional spectacular attacks (instantly blamed on al Qaeda by the United States) make headlines, but every Iraqi knows it is the regular nature of these killings as much as the death toll itself that is most disruptive to society. Iraq is hardly a winner.

    Who won the war? Iran…

    Iran sat patiently on its hands while the United States hacked away at its two major enemies, Saddam, and the Taliban, clearing both its east and west borders at no cost to Tehran. (Iran apparently reached out to the U.S. government in 2003, seeking some sort of diplomatic relationship but, after being rebuffed by the engorged Bush Administration, decided to wait and watch the quagmire envelope America). The long slog both wars morphed into dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for another war, and cooled off plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for airstrikes against Iran’s nukes (if Cheney couldn’t edge the United States into that fight, who can?).

    The Iranians also came to see that Iraq, like Lebanon, made for a nice proxy battleground. By the time my tour in Iraq was wrapping up, the mine resistant vehicles we traveled in could take a solid hit from pretty much anything out there and get us home alive, except for one thing: Iranian-made roadside bombs ealled EFPs. These shaped “explosively formed penetrating devices” fired a liquefied white hot slug of molten copper that was about the only weapon that really scared us. The Iranians were players in all parts of Iraqi society post-2003, including the daily violence. (Iranian proxy warfare in Lebanon is well documented in Robert Baer’s excellent book, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower which also advances the United States vs. Iran proxy theory in general.)

    Iran not only lost an enemy when Saddam was hanged, it gained an ally in the new Iraq. When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003. Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.

    Iran Ascendant in Iraq

    Yet while strategic and political relationships are very important between Iraq and Iran, it is the growing economic and social-religious ties that cement the relationship and signify Iran as the real winner of the U.S. invasion. The raw numbers tell a big part of the story: the two countries’ current annual trade is valued at $4 billion to $5 billion and growing, with much more money changing hands on the black market.

    On more formal terms, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi kicked off the most recent round of goodwill on July 6, when he traveled to Baghdad to join the Iran-Iraq Joint Supreme Economic Committee. Better yet, Iran agreed to supply 9,400 barrels of “gasoil” a day to Iraq for power generation. Iraq also signed a $365 million agreement to install a pipeline network to import natural gas from Iran for power stations in the country. The pipelines will eventually supply 25 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas a day to the Sadr, al-Quds and South Baghdad power stations in the Iraqi capital.

    Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshiar Zibary said that Iran and Iraq would soon sign an agreement to overcome “all the suspended problems between both countries.” “Iran is playing a positive role in Iraq and there is no objection for the strengthening of relations between the two countries,” Zibary said.

    But while trade is good, and oil is necessary, the real money is in tourism. More specifically, religious tourism. Iranian Shia pilgrims traveling to previously off-limits shrines in Iraq, is a huge source of economic exchange. It also creates significant people-to-people ties that Iran will be able to exploit long into the future.

    Iranian travel agencies control religious tourism to the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The Iranian companies are associated with local hotels, also owned by Iranians. The control by Iranian companies extends to tourists from Lebanon who combine a visit to Iraq with one to the religious site Mashhad, in Iran. The Iranian domination also extends to security arrangement for protecting the tourists. That role is filled by one company owned by one of the religious parties in Karbala.

    Business is Booming

    Najaf is in the midst of a hotel building frenzy in a bid to ramp up the number of visiting pilgrims. While thousands of mostly Iranian religious tourists already pass through Najaf every day on what are marketed as nine-day tours of Iraq’s holy Shiite sites, hoteliers and business groups in the city expect hotel capacity, currently at breaking point, to double in the next three years.

    Elsewhere, markets in rural Iraq are filled with Iranian goods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. While the knitwear market is dominated by cheap Chinese stuff, other household goods are conspicuously marked “Made in Iran” and are snapped up by consumers.

    I saw a little slice of this during my own time in Iraq. My Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) covered an area that included the city and mosque of Salman Pak. Once a center for chemical weapons production and secret police training under Saddam, Salman Pak is better known to most Iraqis and Iranians as a historical and recreational area, approximately 15 miles south of Baghdad near a peninsula formed by a broad eastward bend of the Tigris River. It is named after Salman the Persian, a companion of Mohammad, who is buried there.

    Salman Pak is also site of the Arch of Ctesiphon, the remains of the once majestic Persian Sassanid capital. Ctesiphon is one of the largest and oldest freestanding arches in the world. Before the U.S. invasion of 2003, the area was a popular day trip out of Baghdad, and even sported a floating casino and villas for select friends of Saddam. My translator recalled family trips to the area the way my daughters remember a visit to Disney, leaving me a bit nostalgic for a time and place I never knew. The attraction now for Iranian pilgrims is the mosque, once a well-known Shia shrine, converted to a well-known Sunni shrine by Saddam and now once again a well-known Shia shrine after sectarian violence post-2003 blew away most of the Sunnis in the area.

    On routine patrols through the area, my PRT and Army would frequently see giant tour buses with Iranian license plates and markings hauling tourists around the city. The Iranian tourists would take pictures of our military vehicles and gesture at us as we drove past, even as our soldiers scowled at them and pantomimed “no photos.” Nothing weirder than to be spending one’s days freeing Iraq only to run into Iranian tour agencies being the most obvious beneficiaries of that freedom. We didn’t know it then, but our tourists were offering us a glimpse of the future, a picture of who the winners, and losers, were to be in our war.

    Adding it Up

    As for Iraq, add it up:

    –no resolution to the Arab-Kurd issue,

    –no resolution to the Sunni-Shia issue,

    –no significant growth in the oil industry,

    –a weakened U.S. presence more interested in a Middle East land base and profitable arm sales than internal affairs,

    –and an increasingly influential Iran seeking a proxy battleground against the United States and a nicely weak buffer state on its formerly troublesome western border.


    None of that tallies toward a stable Iraq. Indeed, quite the opposite. Worst case scenario might look a lot like the darkest days in Lebanon, with many of the same players at the table.


    Here’s the full article.



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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Why America Can Never Win in Iraq

    June 16, 2014 // 20 Comments »




    I think of it now, all the time.

    Sometimes I think I even recognize a place on TV I had been, having spent a year in the midst of America’s Occupation in Iraq, 2009-2010. I was a State Department civilian, embedded in turn with two Army brigades of some 3000 men and women each, far from the embassy and the pronouncements of victory and whatever bright lights Iraq might have had.

    Why We Lost

    I grow weary of the drumbeat for the U.S. to return to Iraq and blow more stuff up. Drones, airstrikes, Special Forces on the ground who are somehow not really “boots on the ground,” the whole bloodlust redux. As a human being I decry the loss of more life. As someone who cares about America’s foreign policy, I cannot believe (while believing) that we are continuing to misunderstand the larger picture, what might be called the strategic or long-term, once again for the tactical, the expedient, the short-term.

    Of all the many reasons why American could not win its Iraq War (and I wrote about one of the most significant, the failure of Occupation and Reconstruction, in my first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People perhaps the one that is most applicable now is the most basic.

    America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space that imagines Blue Forces fighting Red Forces, Saving Private Ryan but with more sand. Instead, in Iraq right now, there are multiple layers of war going on. For those who like to look ahead a bit, you may feel free to substitute “Syria” for “Iraq” in the rest of this article. Most of this also applies to Libya, Afghanistan and pretty much the rest of the post-9/11 conflicts.


    A War of Layers

    Instead of a good old fashioned and simple Our Side vs. Their Side, Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, the Iraq War is one comprised of many layers. They intermingle and overlap, kind of like the multiverse of conflict. Some of this is painted here in quibbly broad strokes, but the core is solid:

    – On the surface you have our media-view war: Jihadists vs. The Iraqi Government. This is the dominant view in Washington, because it is the easiest to understand in bullet points, the easiest to sell to the American people through an ever-compliant media, and the one that fuels the most defense spending. These sorts of wars need plenty of hardware for the U.S. military, and lots of stuff to sell to whichever side we support. You can imagine these sorts of wars as winnable with brave-but-Spartan-like-expendable Special Forces, drones and intel. Blue-on-Red wars also lend themselves well to demonizing the enemy (Terrorists! Who kill people! Who want Sharia law!)

    – Another layer down in Iraq you have one group dominated by Sunnis vs. another Shia one fighting a political civil war for actual control of territory. The U.S. willingness to devote extraordinary amounts of money and military power to keeping “Iraq” from not separating on its historical boundaries (the present national borders were drawn up by British cartographers after WWI) over eight years of Occupation and for four years of pretend democracy left this one on long-term simmer awaiting today’s boil. Enough power and money can reduce it again to a simmer, maybe, but it won’t go away.

    – Below that layer are intra-Sunni and intra-Shiite struggles for turf and power. There is no such thing as a Sunni Corporate Structure, or a Shia one, with privates reporting to colonels who report to a white house. Instead you have religious allegiances, tribal allegiances, warlord allegiances, paid for allegiances, allegiances of convenience and so forth. At some point they turn on each or dissolve, for awhile, then often reassemble. During the Occupation the U.S. thought they could play off various groups against each other, but the Iraqis had been doing that long before any Americans got there, and knew the game so well that it was like putting the U.S. soccer team up against the Brazilians.

    – Laying under it all is the much larger proxy war, including Iran’s support for the Shiites/Malaki government and Saudi/Kuwaiti support for the Sunnis. To zoom out for a moment, this is why invading Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan failed as well. Failure to focus on the proxy war means things like America supporting the same side as the Iranians in Iraq. Inevitably, this results in adding to Iran’s regional power with every drone flight and Special Forces action undertaken. That Iranian regional power will end up projecting itself elsewhere, such as in Syria, where the U.S. and Iran are not on the same side.

    – And just because many Americans don’t see/know this, the people in the region sure do: should airstrikes occur,or even just more military aid into Iraq, once again America is at war in an Islamic country. You cannot win the hearts and minds of dead people, but you sure can help recruit their friends and relatives against you. Worse, in that the U.S. promised to leave forever in 2011. America is also supporting Shias against Sunnis, which does not go unnoticed outside of Iraq.


    Why the U.S. Cannot Win

    The reason why America can never win the war in Iraq, et al, is because to win the war you have to somehow win all the layers of wars, and to win all the wars involves impossible to resolve paradoxes such as siding with the Iranians here while opposing them there. Here and there are often in reality the same place, such as along the Syrian-Iraqi border. It can’t be done. It is a trick, like a carnival ring toss game. The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just another sucker with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

    BONUS: Not convinced yet? The aircraft carrier being sent into the Persian Gulf to launch any air strikes the U.S. deems necessary is the USS George H.W. Bush. Construction of the ship began in 2003, planning and funding well before that. I know irony is not a government thing, but using a carrier named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq is one level of it, and then realizing we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who started the adventure is another.

    BONUS BONUS: And for goodness sakes, stop saying this is all PM Maliki’s fault. It is, of course, but only after the U.S. slipped him into power in the 2006 elections, allowed him to cut deals with the Iranians to stay in power in 2010 elections and then has maintained him in power with money, weapons and support since then (including now).



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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Hillary: Giving Hagiography a Bad Name

    June 12, 2014 // 12 Comments »




    I suppose I have to get this over with. Sigh. Hillary’s book, Hard Choices, is out this week. As I write it is ranked Number 5 on Amazon.

    The main theme of the book echoes the current media meme around Hillary: that her successes and accomplishments as Secretary of State make it almost mandatory that she be elected president in 2016.

    For that to snuggle even close to truth, there must be successes and accomplishments that rose to the level of being the president. These must be real and tangible, not inflated intern stuff gussied up to look like “work experience.” The successes and accomplishments should not be readily debatable, hard-to-put-your-finger on kind of things. Last time around we bet big on just the two words hope and change, so this round we probably should do a little more due-diligence. And we need to be able to do that. It will not be a good thing heading into an election cycle unable to talk about Hillary except in ALL CAPS BENGHAZI RETHUGS!!! or ELECT HER ‘CAUSE SHE’S A DEM AND A WOMAN!

    So, Can We Talk?

    Let’s start with Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times. Nick pulls no punches in a column headlined “Madam Secretary Made a Difference.” He frames his argument:

    Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.” No, her legacy is different.


    The Clinton Legacy Difference

    Specifically, Nick offers the following examples (all quotes from his article):

    – For starters, Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations. She didn’t fully deliver on this “pivot” — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them.

    – Clinton vastly expanded the diplomatic agenda. Diplomats historically focused on “hard” issues, like trade or blowing up stuff, and so it may seem weird and “soft” to fret about women’s rights or economic development. Yet Clinton understood that impact and leverage in 21st-century diplomacy often come by addressing poverty, the environment, education and family planning.

    – Clinton was relentless about using the spotlight that accompanied her to highlight those who needed it more… On trips, she found time to visit shelters for victims of human trafficking or aid groups doing groundbreaking work.

    – Clinton greatly escalated public diplomacy with a rush into social media.

    – So, sure, critics are right that Hillary Rodham Clinton never achieved the kind of landmark peace agreement that would make the first sentence of her obituary. But give her credit: She expanded the diplomatic agenda and adopted new tools to promote it — a truly important legacy.

    Um…
    First up, Nick used the word “agenda” three times. Not sure what that means really. Also, I am not sure when and where diplomats historically focused on “blowing up stuff.” I also think issues such as “poverty, the environment, education and family planning” were in State’s portfolion pre-Hillary. But matter, we move on.

    A read of Kristof’s article (which mirrors Clinton’s own self-written list) begs the question: What really did Clinton accomplish as Secretary of State? Even her supporters’ lists make it seem like her four years as Secretary and nearly endless world travel were little more than a stage to create video footage for use in the 2016 campaign.

    Here’s Clinton talking about a pivot to Asia (that never happened); Here’s Clinton talking about all sorts of soft power issues (that little was accomplished on; readers who disagree please send in specifics, with numbers and cites and do not try and get away with the cop-out of “raising awareness,” that’s what Bono does); Here’s Clinton visiting shelters and all sorts of victims (whose plight seemed to drop off the radar after the brief photo-op; hey, how’s Haiti doing these days?); Here’s Clinton making her whole Department do social media (without any measures or metrics accompanying the push to see if it helps in any way other than generating hashtag mini-memes and please, let’s not go on about how Twitter changed the world ) and so forth. Clinton’s State Department did spend $630,000 of taxpayer money to buy “likes” on Facebook, so I guess that is one metric.

    The many lists of Clinton’s accomplishments that trailed her departure from State are not very different; here are some examples.

    What’s Missing

    Missing are things that in the past have stood out as legacies for others, history book stuff like the Marshall Plan, or ending a war we didn’t start in the first place, or saving something or advancing peace even a little in the Middle East or opening relations with China to forever change the balance of power in the Cold War. And for the purposes of this discussion we will not get into Clinton’s mistakes and no-shows on important foreign policy issues.

    Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State does not show she is a leader. She showed no substance. She focused on imagery. She remained silent on many issues of import (the aftermath in Libya and Iraq stand out.) Her time at State was more of a reality show many Americans seemed 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.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Execute the Rich

    May 30, 2014 // 4 Comments »




    The weird days are the ones where Iran is more honest and just than America.

    The Iranian Model

    Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, an Iranian billionaire businessman at the heart of a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest fraud case since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, was executed Saturday, Iranian state television reported.

    Authorities put the swindler to death after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. The fraud involved using forged documents to get credit at one of Iran’s top financial institutions, Bank Saderat, to purchase assets including state-owned companies.

    A total of 39 defendants were convicted in the case. Four received death sentences, two got life sentences and the rest received sentences of up to 25 years in prison.

    That’d be one way to enforce financial laws and protect against wealthy people misusing the system for their own personal gain, never mind the consequences for the greater society. Here’s another way.

    The American Way

    How many executives have been convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to the crushing U.S. financial crisis of 2008?

    The Department of Justice doesn’t know. That’s because the Department doesn’t keep count of the numbers of board-level prosecutions. In a response to a March request from Senator Charles Grassley, the Justice Department said it doesn’t hold information on defendants’ business titles. “Consequently, we are unable to generate the comprehensive list of Wall Street convictions stemming from the 2008 meltdown.”

    Quick aside: The Department of Justice not only keeps exact track of the number of terrorists it prosecutes, it lists them in detail on a publically available “fact sheet” on its web site. No need for a Senator to even ask.

    Not a Big Number

    Back to America’s financial “terrorists.” C’mon, really, how many were prosecuted? “It’s not a big number to count, that’s for sure,” said Chris Swecker, who ran the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal division from 2004 to 2006. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the numbers of financial-fraud cases being brought has increased since the crisis, though it is of course unclear how she could know that since apparently no one at DOJ keeps a count. “I can tell you why you wouldn’t keep the data,” William Black, a former bank regulator, said. “Because it would be really embarrassing.”

    Still, credit where credit is due (get it?). DOJ did prosecute one known case of alleged wrongdoing directly related to the financial crisis: criminal charges filed against all of three former Credit Suisse employees for allegedly inflating mortgage-bond values and tax evasion. Credit Suisse is of course not an American company. Nobody went to jail or was executed, but the company did pay a hefty fine. Even then, the Credit Suisse prosecutors were instructed to consult the Federal Reserve about the potential fallout from the case.

    More prosecutions to follow? Maybe not. Head of the Department of Justice Eric Holder said he understands “the public desire to, as one pundit put it, ’see the handcuffs come to Wall Street.’ We’ve found that much of the conduct that led to the financial crisis was unethical and irresponsible. But we also have discovered that some of this behavior, while morally reprehensible, may not necessarily have been criminal.”

    OK, It’s Zero

    While the Department of Justice can’t seem to figure out how many prosecutions it has pursued following the financial crisis of 2008, Reuters can. They report “In the United States, home to Lehman Brothers, no top executives at large Wall Street or commercial banks have been convicted of criminal charges relating to the 2008 crisis.”

    Why is that? Reuters also knows that. Basically it is just so gosh darn hard to do. “At issue is the difficulty in pinning the blame on any one person for risks and decisions taken throughout a firm – one of the main obstacles to building such cases so far. ‘It’s a case of the confused lines of responsibility and accountability,’ said Judith Seddon, director in law firm Clifford Chance’s business crime and regulatory enforcement unit in London. ‘When you’re pursuing an individual, if they’ve delegated responsibilities… it’s much more difficult in a big organization.’” They add: “U.S. regulators’ approach since the crisis has reflected some of these challenges.”

    Execute the Rich

    So, for those keeping track of these things where the Department of Justice is not, here’s a quick tally from the crisis of 2008:

    Credit Suisse: Three people prosecuted, company paid a fine.

    Bank of America: No officers prosecuted.

    Bear Stearns: No senior officers prosecuted.

    Citigroup: No officers prosecuted.

    Goldman Sachs: No senior officers prosecuted.

    J.P. Morgan Securities: No officers prosecuted.

    UBS Securities: No officers prosecuted.

    Wachovia Capital Markets: No officers prosecuted.

    Wells Fargo: No senior officers prosecuted.


    We’ll give this round on points to the Iranians.


    (No bankers were harmed in writing this blog post)



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Morris Berman: Home of the Brave

    April 19, 2014 // 7 Comments »

    We’ve talked about historian Morris Berman before here, and his view of a fading (some say faded) American economy and society. If you’re not familiar with his work, read a previous blog post, or visit his own website to catch up.

    With Dr. Berman’s permission, we’ve reprinting one of his recent essays.

    Home of the Brave

    One of the more famous quotes made by Nelson Mandela during his lifetime has been curiously omitted by the mainstream American media in the gushing obituaries that have recently appeared. It goes like this: “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.”

    I had occasion to remember this remark upon recently reading a review of Stephen Kinzer’s book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, recently published in the NYTBR. Kinzer used to work for the NYT, then switched over to The Guardian, and in between wrote two important books on American interventionism: All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror and Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq—both of them powerful indictments of U.S. foreign policy. He now returns to the scene with a biography of the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen.

    The opening paragraph of the Times review is worth quoting in full:

    Anyone wanting to know why the United States is hated across much of the world need look no farther than this book. The Brothers is a riveting chronicle of government-sanctioned murder, casual elimination of ‘inconvenient’ regimes, relentless prioritization of American corporate interests and cynical arrogance on the part of two men who were once among the most powerful in the world.

    Both brothers, Kinzer tells us, were law partners in the New York firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, the firm that, in the 1930s, worked for I.G. Farben, the chemicals conglomerate that eventually manufactured Zyklon B (the gas used to murder the Jews). Allen Dulles, at least, finally began to have qualms about doing business in Nazi Germany, and pushed through the closure of the S&C office there, over John Foster’s objections. The latter, as Secretary of State under Eisenhower, worked with his brother (by now head of the CIA) to destroy Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, among others. The two of them pursued a Manichaean world view that was endemic to American ideology and government, which included the notion that threats to corporate interests were identical to support for communism. As John Foster once explained it: “For us there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” It was not for nothing that President Johnson, much to his credit, privately complained that the CIA had been running “a goddamn Murder Inc. in the Caribbean,” the beneficiaries of which were American corporate interests.

    The destructiveness of the Dulles brothers in foreign policy was mirrored by what went on in their personal lives. They were distant, uncomfortable fathers, not wanting their children to “intrude” on their parents’ world, and they refused to attend the wedding of their sister, Eleanor, when she married a Jew. At home and abroad, the two of them were truly awful human beings. But the most trenchant comment made by Kinzer reflects an argument I have repeatedly made, namely the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm. “They are us. We are them,” says Kinzer, and this is the God-awful truth: that it is a rotten culture that produces rotten representatives. Americans benefited, materially speaking, from the corporate profits generated by the violence fostered by the CIA and the State Department, and didn’t say boo. They mindlessly got on the anti-Communist bandwagon, never questioning what we were doing around the world in the name of it. Their focus was on the tail fins of their new cars, and the new, exciting world of refrigerators and frozen foods, not on the torture regime we installed in Iran, or the genocide we made possible in Guatemala.

    By the latest count, 86% of them can’t locate Iran on a world map, and it’s a good bet that less than 0.5% can say who John Foster Dulles was. When Mandela says that “they don’t care for human beings,” we have to remember that the “they” is not just the U.S. government; it also consists of millions of individual Americans whose idea of life is little more than “what’s in it for me?”—the national mantra, when you get right down to it. The protesters who marched in the streets against our involvement in Vietnam, after all, amounted to only a tiny percentage of the overall American population, and it’s not clear that things have changed all that much: 62% of Americans are in favor of the predator drone strikes in the Middle East that murder civilians on a weekly basis. You don’t get the Dulleses rising to the top without Mr. John Q. Public, and he is as appalling as they. Like the Dulleses, he typically believes in a Christian world of free enterprise vs. the evil others who do not, “thinks” in terms of Manichaean slogans, and is not terribly concerned about anyone outside his immediate family—if that. America didn’t get to be what it is by accident; this much should be clear.

    “They are us. We are them.”

    ©Morris Berman, 2013



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    The New Year’s Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past

    January 1, 2014 // 5 Comments »

    (In the spirit of our times, this end-of-year post looks forward, not backward. Happy New Year to all.)

    “Who the hell are you?”

    “Why Barack, I’m the Christmas Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past. I visit second-term presidents to help them map out their foreign policy legacy.”

    “Dude, Christmas was last week. It’s 2014, the New Year.”

    “Yeah, sorry, traffic was bad, and I lost most of a day trying to sign up for healthcare.”

    “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 Karl 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 2014 instead of 2001.”

    “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, just without us, 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 Bush, for that little gift. I have the Israelis up my back 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. Yet. Keep talking to the Iranians. Follow the China model (they had nukes, too) and 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 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 while your then-Secretary of State laughed about it on TV.”

    “But what about sanctions?”

    “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 despite the occasional saber-rattling around elections. Sure, there will always be friction, but it has been and 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 without exploding the entire region, 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 their 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. 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 thugs simply because they mouthed pro-American platitudes. Not a legacy move, Barry. It will feel odd at first, but the new world order has created a state for states that are not a puppets 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 Christmas’ past 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, 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 finally 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 dozens of 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 or the other and lock them away in an existing Federal Super Max. Just do it, override Congress and take the heat. Heck, you’re not very popular even among your former supporters anymore, so why not go for a win for the base. Turn the others in Gitmo over to the UN or the Red Cross for resettlement. It is an ugly deal, but it is an ugly problem. Close the place down early in 2014 over the first three-day weekend to defuse the media, let the short-term heat burn off and move on.”

    “And Afghanistan?”

    “Same thing. Cut your losses. Afghanistan will be on a slow burn for, well, probably forever no matter how many occupiers you can leave in place. 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 secretly 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, helicopter accidents and green-on-blue attacks are a horror, and so unnecessary at this late stage of the great game. 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. 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. Drones are a tool, not a strategy. 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. Ordering the military to do things is easy, we’ve got an online form for it now where I just select countries to attack from a drop-down list. 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.”



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    The Dumbest Article You’ll Read This Week About Iraq

    October 31, 2013 // 26 Comments »

    Smell that?

    Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is in the US this week, meeting with officials in hopes of getting more US assistance, including lots of weapons he says he needs to fight terrorism, or Syria, or whatever (whatever=killing more Sunnis.) You can expect lots of dumb, uninformed comment about this visit.

    To save readers valuable time and as a public service, I have searched the web for the dumbest article you’ll encounter about Maliki’s visit, and present it here, with some explanatory comment.

    The winner is Douglas A. Ollivant, writing for the really, really important blog-thingie War on the Rocks. Ollivant is certainly a smart apple about Iraq; indeed, he is responsible in part for the disaster there.

    Ollivant served as Director for Iraq at the National Security Council during both the Bush and Obama administrations. He is now the Senior Vice President of Mantid, a “consulting firm” with offices in Washington, Beirut and Baghdad. He was also a member of now-disgraced idiot warrior-poet-flim flam man David Petraeus’ “brain trust” of “warrior-intellectuals.”

    But enough about Google. Let’s see what this warrior intellectual has to tell us now about Iraq.

    Iraq Did This to Themselves

    First, it is important to note, Ollivant says, that “Iraq is, quite simply, on the receiving end of a major al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) offensive. AQI remains one of the most capable of the al Qaeda affiliates or regional franchises. As a percentage of the population, Iraq has lost more of its citizens to al Qaeda explosives in each of the past three months than the United States did on September 11, 2001.” Not that any of that has anything to do with the United States’ invasion and inept occupation of Iraq.

    No, no, the al Qaeda “issue” in Iraq is actually Iraq’s own fault. We learn:

    AQI has experienced a resurgence. As I have written elsewhere, this is largely due to the release of AQI-affiliated detainees, spill-over from the Syria conflict, passive support from elements of the Sunni population, and the simple fact that the Iraqi security forces fall far short of JSOC, particularly with respect to training and equipment.

    Ollivant’s solution?

    To defeat this sophisticated terrorist network, the Iraqis must acquire more JSOC-like capabilities

    (JSOC– Joint Special Operations Command, is a super-secret special forces entity that the US used for years in Iraq as a high-tech assassination squad, killing off a long whack-a-mole string of “senior al Qaeda leaders.” JSOC now continues its filthy work pretty much everywhere in the world following its success in Iraq.)

    Of course, one cannot just order up some JSOC-like Iraqi guys on the internet or something for speedy delivery. Or can one? Ollivant has the answer:

    Perhaps a more feasible answer is for the United States to facilitate the Iraqi contracting of private U.S. firms that specialize in intelligence analysis, many of them formed and/or staffed by JSOC, and other military intelligence, veterans.

    That’s it, the solution to Iraq’s problem is for the nation to hire some of the US’ out-of-work mercenaries, from Blackwater or whomever, to return to Iraq and return to killing Iraqis. We all know how much Iraqis loved American mercs stampeding over their country during the Occupation, so this makes perfect sense.

    After the Mercs, Weapons

    Ollivant also knows that the Iraqis need weapons, lots of weapons. But why?

    The frustration with the delays in fighter jets, air defense equipment, helicopters, and armored vehicles has moved beyond the staff level and become a Prime Ministerial issue. This should be of interest to the United States, as the reason Iraq needs this equipment is to stand up to—among others—its perennial rival, Iran.

    C’mon man, this borders on warrior intellectual satire! Rival Iran? For the love of Allah, Maliki is an Iranian stooge. He was put into power by Iran, uses Iranian thugs to capture, imprison or kill his political rivals and visits Tehran as necessary to maintain a robust cross-border trade. Iranian planes overfly Iraq freely, on their way to Syria to deliver weapons to some version of whatever count as “rebels” nowadays (Ollivant says “Iraq lacks the Air Force and Air Defense system to stop this.”) And of course fighter jets and armored vehicles are exactly what you need for counter-insurgency work, right? I mean, that’s what the US used so fruitfully for nine years in Iraq so it must be right.

    That Sunni-Shia Thing

    Ollivant is also aware of that nasty Sunni-Shia thing. He does skip over Maliki’s arrest threats that drove his own Sunni Vice President into exile days after the US pulled out, and the systematic disenfranchisement of Sunni voters, and the abandonment of the Sahwa, Sunni fighters promised jobs in return for putting down their arms and all that. But Ollivant is a realist and so adds:

    Maliki is no doubt expecting—with some resignation—a lecture on Sunni inclusion and reconciliation. This is a delicate issue and one that does not lend itself to easy solutions. But the reasonable Sunni issues can be reduced to de-Baathification reform, inclusion in Iraqi society, and an end to persecution by the security forces.

    The de-Baathification thing is just a hoot, given that it was done by the US in 2003 and in many respects was the tipping point of the whole disaster, destroying Iraq’s civil service and thus functional government, throwing millions of Sunni’s out of work, and essentially creating the groundwork for the next nine years of insurgency. Hi-larious.

    Security forces (Shia controlled) killing Sunnis? Just a typo: “Regarding the alleged persecution of Sunnis, there is no doubt that some innocent Sunni are caught in the raids that the security forces engage in to try to discover the AQI cells.”

    Inclusion into Iraqi society? A statistical anomaly. “Sunni do not appreciate what they do have. While there has been no census in many decades, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are no more than 25% of the population, and the CIA Factbook estimates they could be as little as 12%. Yet most Sunnis believe they comprise at least 50% of the Iraqi population. If the 12% is correct, Sunnis may well be over-represented…”

    Maliki is Actually Thomas Jefferson

    At this point you’d think that Ollivant would have sobered up, realized how he had embarrassed himself, and hit the delete key, just like he might do with those Facebook photos that seemed fun when posted last night but now don’t seem like resume material. Instead, he doubles-down for a big conclusion:

    Maliki is not coming to the United States with hat in hand—he has his own money, and plenty of it. He does not want Iraq to be a ward of the U.S. military, but, rather, a customer of U.S. business. Iraq doesn’t need the U.S. to give it anything other than goodwill. It just wants the U.S. to deliver on sales of goods and services.

    And in this, the Prime Minister will be echoing the sentiment, if not the words, of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

    So there you have it. The democracy the US failed to implement in Iraq after nine years of Occupation, trillions of dollars and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives, is in hand. Thomas Jefferson is now Prime Minister of Iraq.

    If the US gives Maliki anything on his trick-or-treat visit but a cold shoulder it has learned nothing in defeat. Huzzah!




    Update: We now have a runner-up. Psychotic microcephalic James Jeffrey, former US ambassador in Baghdad, said Iraq desperately needs teams of US advisers, trainers, intelligence and counterterror experts to beat back al-Qaeda.

    “They could mean all the difference between losing an Iraq that 4,500 Americans gave their lives for,” said Jeffrey.

    So heads up American military reservists, for the recall order to ship back to Iraq for some more war. We’re getting the old band back together!



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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    What if Congress Doesn’t Say No to War in Syria?

    September 14, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

    Once again, we find ourselves at the day after 9/11, and this time America stands alone. Alone not only in our abandonment even by our closest ally, Great Britain, but in facing a crossroads no less significant than the one we woke up to on September 12, 2001. The past 12 years have not been good ones.  Our leaders consistently let the missiles and bombs fly, resorting to military force and legal abominations in what passed for a foreign policy, and then acted surprised as they looked up at the sky from an ever-deeper hole.

    At every significant moment in those years, our presidents opted for more, not less, violence, and our Congress agreed — or simply sat on its hands — as ever more moral isolation took the place of ever less diplomacy. Now, those same questions loom over Syria. Facing a likely defeat in Congress, Obama appears to be grasping — without any sense of irony — at the straw Russian President Vladimir Putin (backed by China and Iran) has held out in the wake of Secretary of State John Kerry’s off-the-cuff proposal that put the White House into a corner. After claiming days ago that the U.N. was not an option, the White House now seems to be throwing its problem to that body to resolve. Gone, literally in the course of an afternoon, were the administration demands for immediate action, the shots across the Syrian bow, and all that. Congress, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle, seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief that it may not be forced to take a stand. The Senate has put off voting; perhaps a vote in the House will be delayed indefinitely, or maybe this will all blow over somehow and Congress can return to its usual partisan differences over health care and debt ceilings.

    And yet a non-vote by Congress would be as wrong as the yes vote that seems no longer in the cards. What happens, in fact, if Congress doesn’t say no?

    A History Lesson

    The “Global War on Terror” was upon us in an instant. Acting out of a sense that 9/11 threw open the doors to every neocon fantasy of a future Middle Eastern and global Pax Americana, the White House quickly sought an arena to lash out in. Congress, acting out of fear and anger, gave the executive what was essentially a blank check to do anything it cared to do. Though the perpetrators of 9/11 were mostly Saudis, as was Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda itself sought refuge in largely Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. So be it. The first shots of the War on Terror were fired there.

    George W. Bush’s top officials, sure that this was their moment of opportunity, quickly slid destroying al-Qaeda as an organization into a secondary slot, invaded Afghanistan, and turned the campaign into a crusade to replace the Taliban and control the Greater Middle East. Largely through passivity, Congress said yes as, even in its earliest stages, the imperial nature of America’s global strategy revealed itself plain as day. The escape of Osama bin-Laden and much of al-Qaeda into Pakistan became little more than an afterthought as Washington set up what was essentially a puppet government in post-Taliban Afghanistan, occupied the country, and began to build permanent military bases there as staging grounds for more of the same.

    Some two years later, a series of administration fantasies and lies that, in retrospect, seem at best tragicomic ushered the United States into an invasion and occupation of Iraq. Its autocratic leader and our former staunch ally in the region, Saddam Hussein, ruled a country that would have been geopolitically meaningless had it not sat on what Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz called “a sea of oil” — and next to that future target of neocon dreams of conquest, Iran. Once again, Congress set off on a frenzied rush to yes, and a second war commenced out of the ashes of 9/11.

    With the mighty American military now on their eastern and western borders and evidently not planning on leaving any time soon, Iranian officials desperately sought out American diplomats looking for some kind of rapprochement. They offered to assist in Afghanistan and, it was believed, to ensure that any American pilots shot down by accident over Iranian territory would be repatriated quickly. Channels to do so were reportedly established by the State Department and it was rumored that broader talks had begun. However, expecting a triumph in Iraq and feeling that the Iranians wouldn’t stand a chance against the “greatest force for liberation the world has ever known” (aka the U.S. military), a deeply overconfident White House snubbed them, dismissing them as part of the “Axis of Evil.” Congress, well briefed on the administration’s futuristic fantasies of domination, sat by quietly, offering another passive yes.

    Congress also turned a blind eye to the setting up of a global network of “black sites” for the incarceration, abuse, and torture of “terror suspects,” listened to torture briefings, read about CIA rendition (i.e., kidnapping) operations, continued to fund Guantanamo, and did not challenge the devolving wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Its members sat quietly by while a new weapon, armed drones, at the personal command of the president alone, crisscrossed the world assassinating people, including American citizens, within previously sovereign national boundaries. As a new president came into office and expanded the war in Afghanistan, ramped up the drone attacks, made war against Libya, did nothing to aid the Arab Spring, and allowed Guantanamo to fester, Congress said yes. Or, at least, not no, never no.

    The World Today

    Twelve years later, the dreams of global domination are in ruins and the world America changed for the worse is a very rough place. This country has remarkably few friends and only a handful of largely silent semi-allies. Even the once gung-ho president of France has been backing off his pledges of military cooperation in Syria in the face of growing popular opposition and is now calling for U.N. action. No longer does anyone cite the United States as a moral beacon in the world. If you want a measure of this, consider that Vladimir Putin seemed to win the Syria debate at the recent G20 summit as easily as he now has captured the moral high ground on Syria by calling for peace and a deal on Assad’s chemical weapons.

    The most likely American a majority of global citizens will encounter is a soldier. Large swaths of the planet are now off-limits to American tourists and businesspeople, far too dangerous for all but the most foolhardy to venture into. The State Department even warns tourists to Western Europe that they might fall victim to al-Qaeda. In the coming years, few Americans will see the pyramids or the ruins of ancient Babylon in person, nor will they sunbathe, among other places, on the pristine beaches of the southern Philippines. Forget about large portions of Africa or most of the rest of the Middle East. Americans now fall victim to pirates on the high seas, as if it were the nineteenth century all over again.

    After 12 disastrous years in the Greater Middle East, during which the missiles flew, the bombs dropped, doors were repeatedly kicked in, and IEDs went off, our lives, even at home, have changed. Terrorism, real and imagined, has turned our airports into giant human traffic jams and sites of humiliation, with lines that resemble a Stasi version of Disney World. Our freedoms, not to speak of the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, have been systematically stripped away in the name of American “safety,” “security,” and fear. Congress said yes to all of that, too, even naming the crucial initial piece of legislation that began the process the PATRIOT Act without the slightest sense of irony.

    When I spoke with Special Forces personnel in Iraq, I was told that nearly every “bad guy” they killed or captured carried images of American torture and abuse from Abu Ghraib on his cellphone — as inspiration. As the victims of America’s violence grew, so did the armies of kin, those inheritors of “collateral damage,” seeking revenge. The acts of the past 12 years have even, in a few cases, inspired American citizens to commit acts of homegrown terrorism.

    Until this week, Washington had abandoned the far-from-perfect-but-better-than-the-alternatives United Nations. Missiles and bombs have sufficed for our “credibility,” or so Washington continues to believe. While pursuing the most aggressive stance abroad in its history, intervening everywhere from Libya and Yemen to the Philippines, seeking out monsters to destroy and, when not enough could be found, creating them, the United States has become ever more isolated globally.

    Our Choice

    The horror show of the last 12 years wasn’t happenstance. Each instance of war was a choice by Washington, not thrust upon us by a series of Pearl Harbors. Our Congress always said yes (or least avoided ever saying no). Many who should have known better went on to join the yes men. In regard to Iran and George W. Bush, then-candidate for president Senator Joe Biden, for instance, said in 2007, “I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for 17 years. I teach separation of powers in constitutional law. This is something I know. So I brought a group of constitutional scholars together to write a piece that I’m going to deliver to the whole United States Senate pointing out that the president has no constitutional authority to take this country to war against a country of 70 million people unless we’re attacked or unless there is proof that we are about to be attacked. And if he does, I would move to impeach him. The House obviously has to do that, but I would lead an effort to impeach him.”

    Only a year ago, Biden criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for being too anxious to go to war with Syria. That country, Biden said, “is five times as large geographically [as Libya], it has one-fifth the population… It’s in a part of the world where they’re not going to see whatever would come from that war. It’ll seep into a regional war… If in fact it blows up and the wrong people gain control, it’s going to have impact on the entire region causing potentially regional wars.”

    Biden has been missing from the public eye this week. His last public statement on Syria was in late August. Monday, while Susan Rice begged for war and Obama taped multiple TV interviews, the vice president was in Baltimore handing out federal grant money to improve the port. Silence in the face of a car wreck isn’t golden, it’s deadly. Good God, man, hit the brakes before we kill someone!

    What If Congress Says Yes?

    Some in Congress now are talking about a new resolution that would pre-authorize the administration to launch “fallback airstrikes” — that is, its desired attack on Syria — after some sort of deadline passed for U.N. action, Syrian action, or perhaps just another mythical red line was crossed. Should Congress say yes yet again to such a scheme or anything like it, nothing will change for the better, and much is likely to change for the worse.

    An attack on Syria will demand a response; war works that way, no matter how “surgical” the strikes may be. Other countries, and even terrorists, also tend to imagine that, in such situations, their “credibility” is at stake. Fearing reprisals, the U.S. has already preemptively withdrawn its diplomats from a consulate in Turkey near the Syrian border, and from Lebanon. Security has increased in Iraq, with the already fortress-like U.S. embassy there bracing for attacks, allegedly already being planned by Iranian-sponsored sappers.

    Be assured of one thing: bombs and missiles falling in Syria will cause “collateral damage,” newspeak for images splashed across the globe of Muslim women and children killed by American weaponry. History has ensured that borders in the Middle East are arbitrary and easily enough ignored. As the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq sparked a metastasizing regional Sunni-Shia civil war, so a new intervention in the latest version of that war will lead to further, possibly devastating, and certainly divisive consequences in Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere. Think of this as a grim domino theory for the new century.

    Should a desperate Assad regime in Syria, or an Iranian proxy from Lebanon, retaliate against Israel, the U.S. could wake up to find itself in the middle of a far larger war. Who knows then what a Russia already moving naval forces into the Mediterranean and with a naval base in Syria itself might do, perhaps citing the need to maintain Putin’s “credibility”?

    Even the most optimistic pundits do not believe a single set of strikes over a limited number of days will have much strategic effect. And what if, after giving up some or all of his chemical weapons, Assad just makes or buys more? The famous comment of General David Petraeus during the invasion of Iraq — “Tell me how this ends” — would need answering again. We didn’t like the answer the last time and we won’t like it this time.

    Of course, something like half of the anti-Assad rebels fight for Islamic fundamentalist outfits. If, however unmeant, the U.S. essentially becomes the air force over Syria for al-Qaeda-branded and other jihadist outfits, unleashing them to take further territory, that would undoubtedly create even more unsettled and unsettling conditions across the region. A rebel victory, aided by U.S. strikes, would certainly give al-Qaeda the sort of sovereign sanctuary the U.S. has been fighting to eliminate globally since the Clinton administration. No serious scenario has been offered in which the civil war in Syria would begin to abate thanks to U.S. bombs and missiles.

    With or without an attack, some things will remain constant. Israel destroyed Syria’s nascent attempts to build nuclear weapons and would do so again if needed. Iran has played a clever game in the regional proxy wars in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere — they won in Iraq — and will continue to do so. Since the 1970s, Syria has had stocks of chemical weapons that the Assad regime manufactured itself and has never used them against the United States or any other country, nor have they in 40 years transferred those weapons to any terrorists. There is no reason to believe that will change now, not even as a way to strike back should the U.S. attack first (though the fate of those weapons, should Assad fall under U.S. attacks, no one can possibly know.)

    With a U.S. president willing, for the first time in decades, to hand over some part of his decision-making powers to Congress (though he dubiously maintains that it would still be constitutional for him to launch strikes against Syria on his own), the Senate and House of Representatives have a chance to courageously re-insert themselves in war policy.  Alternatively, they can once again assure themselves of a comfortable irrelevance. On one thing Obama is certainly right: the world is indeed watching the unfolding spectacle.

    What If Congress Says No?

    If Congress says no to an attack on Syria, the U.S. may for the first time in 12 years have the chance to change the world for the better. Though this is not an overly dramatic statement, it’s also true, as every diplomat knows, that it’s easier to break things than fix them.

    The world would at least have seen Washington step back after its citizenry told their government that enough is enough. The world would see an America which, in a modest but significant way, was beginning to genuinely absorb the real lessons to be drawn from our post-9/11 actions: that endless war only fuels more war, that living in a world where foreigners are seen mainly as targets brings no peace, that lashing out everywhere means no safety anywhere.

    In the wake of a non-attack on Syria, parts of the world might be more open to the possibility that the United States could help open new paths, beginning with a tacit acknowledgement that we were wrong. Nothing can erase the deeds of the past years or those long memories common not just in the Middle East, but to humanity more generally. Certainly, what we did is likely to haunt us for generations. But when in a deep hole, the first step is to stop digging. Via Congress, the U.S. can take a small first step toward becoming an “indispensable nation” in more than our own minds.

    If Congress says no on Syria, it will, just as the president warns, also be sending a message to Iran — not, however, that the United States lacks the resolve to fight. It seems unlikely, given the past 12 years, that anyone doubts this country’s willingness to use force. A clear no from Congress would, in fact, send a message of hope to Iran.

    It was only in June that Obama claimed Iran’s election of a moderate as president showed that Iranians want to move in a different direction. “As long as there’s an understanding about the basis of the conversation, then I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t proceed,” Obama said. “The Iranian people rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything anytime anywhere. Clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way.”

    Diplomacy is often a series of little gateway-like tests that, when passed, lead two parties forward. A no on Syria would be such a step, allowing Iran and the United States a possible path toward negotiations that could someday change the face of the Middle East. Only three months ago, Obama himself endorsed such a plan. If Congress says no, it won’t destroy credibility with the Iranians; it’s likely, in fact, to enhance it. This decision by Congress could empower both parties to proceed to the negotiating table in a more hopeful way. A yes from Congress, on the other hand, could sideline Iranian moderates and slam the door shut on discussions for a long time.

    It is clear that partisan politics will play a significant role in Congress’s decision. That body is fundamentally a political animal, and the House, of course, faces midterm elections in little more than a year. Still, that’s not a terrible thing. After all, for the first time in a long while, when it comes to foreign policy, House members are openly speaking about the influence that a wave of constituent opposition to a Syrian intervention is having on them. They appear to be hearing us speak, even if the impulse isn’t just to do the right thing, but to garner votes in 2014.

    Should Congress say no, it seems unlikely that a president, isolated at home and abroad, will go to war.  Some of Obama’s top aides have already been signaling that reality. Despite macho talk in the upper echelons of his administration on his right to ignore Congress, as a constitutional scholar and a savvy politician he would be unlikely to risk the demands for his impeachment and the spectacle of a Constitutional crisis by launching Syrian strikes in the wake of a no vote. All the noise about not backing down and his credibility suffering a catastrophic blow should be taken as so much pre-vote political saber rattling. The president may make foolish decisions, but he certainly is no fool.

    By saying no, not again, not this time, the current group of gray men and women who largely make up our Congress have the chance to join some of the giants who have thundered in those chambers in the past. At this moment, that body has the opportunity to choose a new meaning for future anniversaries of 9/11. It could be the day that life went on just as disastrously as previously — or it could be the day that changed everything, and this time for the better.




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

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Overheard in the White House: Why We Are Going to War in Syria

    September 4, 2013 // 18 Comments »




    Mr. President, we’re going to have to convince the American people about this war with Syria. Our polling shows more support for nuking Miley Cyrus the next time she twerks on TV than for your policy.

    She does have a sweet little–

    We have the Congressional midterms coming up, and Boehner is up my ass about defunding my healthcare legacy. I need this vote, or Hillary’s gonna kill me.

    Right, right, sir.

    (Licking of chops heard)

    Kill them! Kill them all!

    Easy Susan, I promise you’ll see the post-attack color close up photos first, then you pass them to McCain like always.

    Yes, It likes the Precious Photos, It likes them.

    Somebody get her some water or something?

    So what’s our reason for Syria?

    Hey, do we still have to put five bucks in the tip jar if we say ‘Slam Dunk’?

    Seriously now people, we are committing American lives at risk here.

    (General laughter in room)

    OK, OK. We go to war in Iran–

    Syria.

    OK, war in Syria because of a red line.

    Is that the same as a line in the sand?

    No, ours is red. Very different.

    Good one, sir.

    Well, Americans have not been hooked tight enough by the red line. We need another reason.

    OK, evil dictator, killing his own people, yadda yadda.

    That has some traction, but roughly half of the dead in Syria were killed by ‘our own’ rebels, and those were their own people too. What else?

    U.S. credibility?

    (General laughter in room)

    I think U.S. credibility went down the freaking toilet when you promised to close Gitmo and didn’t.

    Shut up Chuck. Nobody asked you.

    Goddammit, I served in Vietnam.

    Yeah, so did John Kerry and Colin Powell, and you don’t see them whining.

    So why don’t we just go old-school and say the Syrians attacked us in the Gulf of Tonkin?

    Would that work?

    Dammit, I had friends killed in Vietnam because of that lie.

    I think one of my frat brothers’ dad got greased in Laos. Is that over there too?

    Also, I read somewhere that we used napalm, white phosphorus and Agent Orange over there. Are those chemical weapons?

    Yeah, but that’s history.

    Not to the victims and their malformed children still alive, nor to the loved ones still mourning their dead at America’s hand.

    O.K., back on track, how about, um, violation of international law?

    (General laughter in room)

    Maybe with our drones, ongoing indefinite imprisonment at Gitmo, torture, renditions, black sites, NSA spying on foreign heads of state, bringing down a sovereign leader’s plane because we thought that son-of-a-bitch Snowden was on board, pushing international law too hard might not be the best thing.

    Easy Chuck.

    Yeah, especially since until around 2006 we were rendering prisoners into Assad’s Syria for out-sourced torture.

    Dammit Chuck!

    OK, back to Iran. We bomb the hell out of Syria to send a message to Iran.

    What message?

    That they can’t support evil regimes.

    But the Iranians have been supporting bad guys in Lebanon forever, these days the Taliban in Afghanistan, and basically control our allies in free Iraq. Hell, they even sent Qods force guys into Iraq to kill our own troops. Not sure here why Syria, now, is the place for a message.

    So what do we have left?

    I’d say we just keep saying ‘WMD, WMD’ over and over again until Americans beg Congress for a military strike on Syria.

    I like that a lot. Any opposition? No? OK then, we go with WMD scare tactics.

    Might as well.

    Agreed. It worked last time.

    O.K., thanks everyone. And thank you gentlemen for coming back to Washington to help see this through. John, would you be kind enough to walk W., Dick and Condi out please?




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Fmr. US Amb to Iraq Jim Jeffrey: Now Gasping for Lameness

    May 14, 2013 // 8 Comments »

    Oh my! Retired, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has turned into a real tiger.

    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?!?

    Hard hitting.

    Insightful.

    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.

    Grrrr!




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Mission Unaccomplished: The Iraq Invasion’s Legacy

    March 20, 2013 // 24 Comments »

    Land of the FreeWhy the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History

    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.


    Happy Anniversary

    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.




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    War of Terror. Repeat as necessary.

    February 27, 2013 // 9 Comments »




    Iraq.

    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.

    War on of Terror. Repeat as necessary.

    Libya.

    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.

    Syria.

    That’s not an angry screed, correct? Now, you kids get off my lawn, and turn that damn music down!!!!!!



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    It’s Us: Hillary Clinton’s Legacy

    January 7, 2013 // 16 Comments »

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Iraq: Worth Dying For

    December 12, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    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!



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    Spirit in the Night

    November 23, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    “Who the hell are you?”

    “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.”

    “And Afghanistan?”

    “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.”



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Operatic Turning Points of the Iraq Invasion

    November 11, 2012 // 12 Comments »




    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.

    Overture

    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


    Act I

    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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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)


    Act II

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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!”

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Act III

    February 22, 2006: The Golden Mosque in Samarra is badly damaged in a bomb attack that ignites the Sunni-Shia sectarian war.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.”

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Act IV

    January 10, 2007: Bush announces Surge.

    January 11, 2007: Republican senator Chuck Hagel calls Surge “The most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.”

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.

    Musical Refrain

    “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.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Six Critical Foreign Policy Questions That Won’t Be Raised in the Presidential Debates

    October 16, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    (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.




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Hillary Yucks it Up Over Iran War (Libya Redux)

    October 5, 2012 // 9 Comments »

    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?



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    Iraq all Obama’s Fault

    September 29, 2012 // 5 Comments »

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

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

    Where to begin? The Hooverite says:

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

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

    Hooverville continues:

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

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

    More:

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

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

    Finally:

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


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



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

    September 10, 2012 // 1 Comment »




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

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

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


    The other news from Iraq involves Syria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Tie: Both Iran and al Qaeda Winners of Iraq War

    September 7, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    Goddammit, Iraq.


    Still.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    Iran Guilty of 9/11; State Department Guilty of Blocking Victims’ Compensation

    August 6, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    Bet you didn’t know that it was Iran that attacked the US on 9/11? It’s true.

    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!



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    A Matter of Priorities

    July 30, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    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.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    A Child’s Glossary for the War of Terror

    May 30, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    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.




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    State Department’s Alec Ross Solves MidEast

    May 3, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    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.


    Look:



    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.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

    American Public Diplomacy

    May 2, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    (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?

    Credibility

    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.

    Propagandizing Amerika

    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.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria

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