• I’ll Be at the Army Heritage Center at the War College

    November 19, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    USAHEC_Seal


    The Army has a renewed interest in Iraq, to include what went wrong in Iraq War 2.0 as Iraq War 3.0 metastasizes. Who knew, right?


    Unlike many other parts of government involved in the Iraq swamp, the Army is a learning institution. Unlike my former employer, the Department of State, who prefers to stay warmly inside the bubble of agreeing with itself, I have found the Army is very interested in a range of opinions, and open to hearing a side of the story that some may disagree with. Indeed, they often seek out sides of the story they may disagree with.

    To this end, I’ll be speaking on November 19, 7:15 pm, at the Army Heritage Center, Carlisle Barracks, at the Army War College outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The event is free and open to the public. There will be a Q&A and a book signing as well.

    Any possibility of any definition of “success” in the current war in Iraq demands an understanding of how we lost the last time. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory messed up by the Iraqis because we left is very dangerous, and of course fully untrue. This uber myth plays out specifically in the belief, still a favorite among 2.0 apologists, that the Anbar Awakening/Surge was a strategic success.

    The two apparent pillars of America’s current strategy — that a unity government can be formed and that indigenous Sunnis can be split from ISIS — are exactly the two pillars that failed the last time (ISIS was al Qaeda then.) Repeating the strategy will result in repeating the mistakes. And that does little but sacrifice more at great cost in every definition of that word.

    It also sets up the inevitability of Iraq War 4.0, same as the failure in 2.0 begat 3.0. See the pattern?

    If you are in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area, please come out and see what I have to say!




    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    How To Get Along with the Military

    November 26, 2012 // 18 Comments »

    Despite the utter failure of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one thing is certain: our future wars will continue to feature civilian-military mixed efforts. This is the sadistic high school football coach’s version of “we’re gonna do this over and over until you losers get it right.”

    Getting along is not easy; military personnel will always vastly out number civilians and so most of the adapting needs to happen on our side of the equation, not theirs. The military has its own culture, which you do not share.

    Retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson has an article in Small Wars Journal aimed at helping civilians who work with the US military to understand it. His piece is very good, and worth reading, but does not go far enough. Some additional ideas, in no particular order:

    1) Earn respect by being very good at whatever it is you are doing there. Don’t expect second chances to move from the dumb ass to the useful category. Don’t be a know it all either, especially if your knowledge is mostly book learning.

    2) 0900 means be there no later than 0845. Don’t operate on civilian time. If you’re late for a movement, you’ll be left behind.

    3) If you are entitled to privileges beyond what the military gets, share if you are allowed (sat phone, laptop, movies, books) or keep quiet about it (booze).

    4) Follow the rules even if you can get away with not following the rules to earn respect. Shave, keep your hair cut, don’t dress like a slob.

    5) Start off formal, work back toward casual. Expect to be invited to call senior officers by their first names. Expect to decline to do so unless in private.

    6) Anything to do with real military stuff, such as defensive plans or drills, shut up, pay attention and follow along. Don’t end up dead weight that has to be carried along.

    7) Speaking of which, always be able to and always do carry your own gear. Even if you are short, weak and slight, hump what is yours and do not let a soldier carry it for you (they will try). If you can’t carry it, leave it behind. Check how much room you’ll have for stuff on various forms of transport, like MRAPs and different model helos.

    8 ) Expect to be tested. Expect things to be thrown your way to see what you’ll do– meet deadlines, help out, or skip things and get away with being lazy. Soldiers have to figure out who they can trust and who they can’t.

    9) Socialize. If you are one of many civilians, try hard not to split off into a civilian group at meals.

    10) Adopt a sports team if you don’t follow one. There is not a more neutral topic in the military than sports. It’ll be a while before you can argue politics or news, but sports is always a decent topic and opinions are encouraged. You don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia, just be able to join in. Surprise people by being “normal.”

    11) Listen carefully to how soldiers complain. Complaining is a right of being in uniform, but you must be careful not to exceed the boundaries, or to make it seem like you are not being cared for.

    12) Do not criticize another soldier, even if the troops are doing it. They’re insiders, you’re not. Do feel free to poke fun at yourself to show that you are not an asshole like the last civilian. Just because soldiers of different races can make racial jokes with one another, don’t think you can.

    13) If told to wear body armor, or a helmet, or gloves or whatever, just do it. Don’t try to get away with not. There may or may not be a good reason, but that is not your concern.

    14) If you don’t understand an acronym, ask. Otherwise people will expect that you understood and expect you to do whatever is expected. Nobody will translate everything for you and as long as they do you are an outsider.

    15) Don’t play soldier. Don’t wear military gear you don’t need, don’t over use slang or profanity, don’t pretend to know things you don’t know, or know from books. Be polite and respectful but don’t overdo the Sirs and Ma’ams. Be who you are, though maybe a slightly more laid back and in-shape version of who you are.

    16) If you agree to do something, absolutely do it. This is not an environment to say “Let’s get together sometime” without meaning it.

    17) Share hardships. Expect to always be offered the best food, the best sleeping arrangements, the ride instead of walking. Decline sometimes, say yes when it seems better than pissing someone off by declining (hard to judge– that’s why you get the big bucks).

    18) Special for State Department heroes: don’t ask officers to fetch coffee for you, don’t wear bow ties, don’t speak in passive-aggressive slights, don’t complain when your shoes get dusty, don’t wear white pants to the field, don’t show up without a Powerpoint, don’t ask soldiers to take notes for you, don’t talk about your next assignment to Paris, overall just don’t be a dick and make it harder on the rest of us.




    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    On Social Media, State Department Stands Alone

    July 15, 2012 // 5 Comments »




    (This article was originally published on the Huffington Post, June 1, 2012)

    As other parts of the Federal government begin to examine their own practices toward social media and publication review, the State Department stands alone in clinging to a 19th century model emphasizing lack of transparency and message control. That State seeks this modus in a largely unclassified world and while other agencies move toward change makes even more ripe State’s policies for a judicial challenge.

    Introspection at the CIA

    The CIA, for example, has begun a voluntary internal investigation into whether a process designed to screen books by former employees for classified information is wrongly and unconstitutionally being used to censor agency critics. The investigation is aimed at determining whether some redactions have been politically motivated. The target of the probe is the agency’s Publications Review Board, which is supposed to focus on whether publication of material would threaten national security interests. CIA critics said the disparities in the review process are particularly apparent in books that deal with controversial subjects, including waterboarding and other forms of “authorized” torture. (The Washington Post story on the CIA’s internal reform was of course not included in the State Department’s own internal press summary of the same day’s “Federal News.”)

    Embracing Social Media in the Army

    The State Department’s regulations also trail behind other government agencies, particularly the military. Military regulations concerning blogging and social media are not onerous and do not involve pre-clearance requirements. The Army encourages blogging in both official and private capacities, and has published glossy brochure-ware highlighting best practices for each. Though the Army heavily regulated military blogging briefly in 2008, it quickly reversed course. Military Law statutes, regulations, and cases available do not contain any references to pre-clearance requirements.

    In fact, the Army social media guidelines are all online, in a colorful, user-friendly slideshow. They begin with the stated premise that “It is important to be as transparent as possible. As communicators, we need to be the first with the truth, whether it’s good or bad.” The emphasis in the Army guidelines is on good judgement– don’t post things online that could endanger soldiers’ lives– with not a word mentioned about the need to pre-clear (indeed, the Army emphasizes the value of social media is in its immediacy) or the requirement to say only “nice things.” Indeed, the introduction to the social media guidelines emphasizes displaying the good with the bad, with “truth” as the goal. The Army guidelines provide lots of examples and include easy-to-understand (“soldier-proof”) checklists of Do’s and Don’t’s.

    State Stands Alone

    And then, standing alone, is the State Department.

    State has its own regulations (not “guidelines”) on social media. No slick slide shows at State. The social media regs start with 15 pages of text, and begin by citing 27 Executive Orders, OMB decisions and Federal laws the user is responsible for following, including 18 U.S.C. 713 and 1017, Use of Department and Government Seals (rather than prohibiting the use of Seals and logos, as State does, the Army includes links to web-ready artwork so social media users get the images right) and whatever the Anti-Lobbying Act of 1913, is.

    The secret sauce hidden in State’s hefty social media regulations is 3 FAM 4170, Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching. That reg is State’s requirement that all social media, even when posted as a private citizen, be pre-cleared, and that the State Department is allowed up to 30 working days to act.

    That means the State Department demands of all of its thousands of employees that they seek pre-clearance for every blog post, update and Tweet, every day, 24/7. An exaggeration on my part? Sorry, no– have a look at the compliance letter I was forced to sign as a condition of employment, which specifically mentions these things even when done by an employee in his or her private capacity.

    Obviously State cannot pre-clear what must add up to millions of social media utterances each week, and so it does not. In many instances when I have sought pre-clearance for a blog post on some timely matter, State simply sat on a response until, weeks later, the blog post was so irrelevant that it was not usable anymore. The law anticipated this type of government-foot-dragging-as-shadow-censorship, and in a seminal case on the free speech rights of Federal workers, stated:

    But even then insistence on advance approval would raise a further question, as before-the-fact condemnation of speech raises special concerns such as undue delay-the review itself plus time needed for a speaker to secure judicial relief-and stifling of expression that in hindsight would have been viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.


    Droppin’ Some Law On ‘Ya

    It was actions such as this that lead the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to assert that the State Department violated my First Amendment free speech rights and acted unconstitutionally. My attempts to clear items for publication were met with lengthy delays and periods of no contact. It was indeed such actions by the Department that often lead me to publish without preclearance so that the material was relevant to breaking news.

    Want some law? Specifically on the issue of foot dragging on pre-clearance as a clever technique to kill a story, in Weaver the Court noted “if the prior review were extensive, of course, it might delay constitutionally protected speech to a time when its only relevance was to historians.” In Crue v. Aiken, the 7th Circuit found a pre-clearance directive without a schedule for the review of proposed communications problematic because nothing prevented the reviewing official from delaying approval of communications until they were no longer relevant. (Crue v. Aiken, 370 F.3d 668, 679 (7th Cir. 2004)).

    In Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, the NJ Superior Court recognized that “before-the-fact review and approval requirements restrict employee speech—and raise special concerns such as undue delay and stifling of expression that in hindsight may be viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.” (Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, Div. of State Police, 742 A.2d 619, 628-29 (Ch. Div. 1999)). Davis citing the Supreme Court in Freedman v. State of Maryland, notes that the danger present when a regulation “is made unduly onerous, by reason of delay or otherwise, to seek judicial review, the censor’s determination may in practice be final.” (Freedman v. State of Md., 380 U.S. 51, 58, 85 S. Ct. 734, 738, 13 L. Ed. 2d 649 (1965)).

    I know, I know, too heavy Doc. It took the ACLU five dense pages to spell out in legal detail all the ways the State Department social media regulations were unconstitutional and violated my First Amendment free speech rights.

    Bottom Line

    So it is not as simple as some claim, broadly announcing that Federal employees give up their First Amendment rights, or that social media and the responsibilities of a classified job are incompatible. Federal employees do not give up their First Amendment rights, and there is plenty of law to substantiate that.

    The bottom line is this: If the hyper-classified CIA recognizes the need for an internal review of its pre-clearance process, why doesn’t the State Department? If the military, with its obvious day-to-day operational need for secrecy and its immediate impact on soldiers’ lives, can co-exist without pre-clearance restraints on blogs, why can’t State?

    Given the chance to make sane, voluntary changes to an obviously out-dated social media policy that stands outside the boundaries of other Federal agencies with a whole lot more secrets to protect, State appears ready to instead insist on having those changes dictated to it by a court. That is an expensive, and in this case, unnecessary way to change out-dated regulations.



    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    Of hearts and minds won in Iraq and the legacy left behind

    February 18, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    AL ARABIYA is one of the leading Arabic-language news sources in the Middle East, with readership concentrated in Saudi Arabia. They were kind enough to review my book, We Meant Well.

    The review notes:

    There’s been an increase of news reports recently assessing portions of the legacy of the work and money spent by international forces along with aid workers in Afghanistan.

    If the book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped to Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” provides any insight, the legacy could be defined by a few successes, but also, sadly, an overall environment of inefficiency, ignorance and a startling cluelessness that even billions of dollars couldn’t cure.

    But the humor doesn’t mask his ultimate conclusion about the nation-building efforts of America and its allies. “Our efforts, well-meaning but always somewhat ignorant, lacked a broader strategy, a way to connect to local work with national goals,” he writes. “Some days it felt like the plan was to turn dozens of entities loose with millions of dollars and hope something fell together,” something akin to monkeys typing, an effort which might produce Shakespeare.

    In “We Meant Well,” Van Buren chronicles jaw-dropping sums being spent on a dizzying array of programs. At $63 billion and counting, “we were the ones who famously helped paste feathers together year after year, hoping for a duck.”


    You may also want to read a write up from a recent speaking engagement I had in Camden, Maine, or commentary on that same appearance from the Government Accountability Project.

    The review in Al Arabiya follows Al Jazeera reprinting my recent article on whistleblowers facing retaliation from the US government, including my own case. I have spoken with journalists from the UK, Iran, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, France and Japan. It remains something between amusing and just plain sad that while these news sources feel it important to bring a variety of opinions to their readers, and while even the US Army asked to hear me speak about reconstruction, all the State Department can seem to do is label me as insubordinate, like they are but some lousy naked emperor, embarrassed. It is not about agreeing, but agreeing to listen. Oh well.



    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    Chicken Shit

    October 2, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    If you’ve surfed over from the excerpt from my book on TomDispatch, or you’ve read the chapter entitled “Chicken Shit” in the book, you know all about the $2.58 million failed chicken processing plant in Iraq your tax dollars paid for.

    But could you imagine the scene? To help out, here are some photos from the actual plant, including an image from the chicken beheading room not usually shown to visitors. Mmmm… tasty.





    Best of all, KPFK 90.7 FM in L.A radio host Jon Weiner located actual US Army propaganda video of the chicken plant.


    (If the video is not showing, follow this link)

    When watching the video (yeah, you tax dollars paid for that too), be sure to note the sign at the very beginning, and the line in the narration that says the plant employs 400 Iraqis. See if you can spot more than 10 working there.

    When we can’t even get the propaganda right, it is really time to go home troops.



    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    Your Daily PRT Corruption Report, Afghan Edition

    September 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    No money at home for schools, roads, bridges, health care, cable TV? Better move to Afghanistan and work for the US Government over there. They have money to burn ya’ll, it’s crazy!

    For today’s whacky Afghan corruption report, we welcome special guest Sidharth “Tony” Handa. “Tony” is a decorated former Army captain, who was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for taking more than $300,000 in bribes from Afghan contractors, a scheme the government called the largest bribery case to be prosecuted related to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. “Largest” meaning as of today, as I am sure there is more to come.

    “Tony”, of Charlotte, N.C., who somehow received the Bronze Star for his non-bribed service in Afghanistan, was arrested earlier this year. He had been targeted in an undercover sting in which Handa agreed to help a purported heroin dealer who had promised to help Handa collect additional bribe payments he believed were owed to him. The smack dealer would supply the muscle, Handa would collect the green. According to federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., Handa was assigned to help coordinate reconstruction projects in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He solicited $1.3 million in bribes and received $315,000, which he split with an interpreter. A generous guy!

    “From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case was prosecuted. “His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted.”

    Otherwise, yeah, we’re still winning in Afghanistan. The show, now entering its 11th year, is scheduled to last for America as long as the Chinese will pay for it, and as long as proud Americans like “Tony” are willing to step up and serve their country. Hoooo-rah!



    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    Ask and Tell

    September 20, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Today marks the end of the military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the beginning of a new era when military members may serve without penalty simply because of their sexual preference. Gay people can now be gay people, in uniform.

    Of course gay men and women have served in the military forever. There is no doubt that some of the bravest soldiers, best Marines, dumbest grunts, most incompetent sailors and everyone else were gay; they just could not admit that without being thrown out of the military. That made no sense. Judge a person by his/her actions and how they do their job, not who they dream about at night.

    As one Air Force enlisted man once famously said, “I got a medal for killing one man, and thrown out of the service for loving another.”

    Serious about honoring our military, supporting our troops? Then stand with them as they transition to this new policy. Trust me, in combat, deployed to crappy places, in fear of their lives, they have enough on their minds and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about who is gay.



    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers

    May 16, 2011 // Comments Off

    My thanks to the dozens of sites that picked up my article on embedding with the military (“Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers”). If you haven’t read it, please visit one of the sites below and have a look:

    TomDispatch

    Diplopundit

    Salon

    Huffington Post

    The Nation

    American Empire Project

    American Conservative Magazine

    Mother Jones

    Michael Moore

    Jezebel

    Le Monde

    Daily Kos

    Myfiredoglake

    Rethink Afghanistan

    Middle East Online

    Guernica

    …and many more I haven’t been able to catalog yet. My thanks to everyone!



    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

    You and Whose (State Department) Army?

    April 15, 2011 // Comments Off

    (R - The Closet) Closeted friend of all Lindsey Graham answers the question for us of “Yeah, you and whose army?”:

    “I do not believe the State Department can carry on their mission of helping the Iraqi government and people reconstitute their society without American forces there to provide security, air power, logistical support for the Iraqi army,” Graham argued. “This idea that we’ll have a State Department army, I will not vote for that. I will not support that.”

    “If all military forces have withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, the State Department has to come to the Congress and say, ‘We’re going to need over 50 mine resistant vehicles. We need a fleet of helicopters and thousands of private security guards,'” Graham said. “I think that is a losing formula. I do not believe the State Department should have an army, that’s not the way to provide security.”




    Related Articles:




    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 Iraq

IP Blocking Protection is enabled by IP Address Blocker from LionScripts.com.