• What Did We Learn from Iraq War 2.0?

    March 25, 2022 // 9 Comments »

    March 19 passed without a mention of its ghosts. The day was the 19th anniversary of Iraq War 2.0, the one about Saddam Hussein’s weapons’ of mass destruction. What have we learned over the almost two decades since?

    While the actual Gotterdammerung for the new order took place just six months ago in Afghanistan, as the last American troops clambered aboard their transports, abandoning American citizens and a multi-million dollar embassy to the same fate as Saigon, Iraq is so much more the better example. The Afghan War did not begin under false pretenses as much as it began under no pretenses. Americans in 2001 would have supported carpet bombing Santa’s Workshop. Never mind we had been attacked by mostly Saudi operators, the blood letting would start in rural Afghanistan and the goal was some gumbo of revenge, stress relief, hunting down bin Laden in the wrong country, and maybe nation building, it didn’t matter.

    But if Afghanistan was a pubescent teenager’s coming to the scene too quickly, Iraq was a seduction. There was no reason to invade it, so one had to be created. The Bush administration tried the generic “Saddam is pure evil” approach, a fixture of every recent American conflict. He gasses his own people (also tried later in Syria with Assad.) Saddam is looking to move on NATO ally Turkey (substitute Poland in 2022.) But none of these stuck with the American public, so a narrative was cut from whole cloth: Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, WMDs, chemical and biological, soon enough nuclear. He was a madman who Had. To. Be. Stopped.

    That this was completely untrue mattered not at all. The American MSM took up the story with great energy, first as stenographers for the Bush Administration fed by public statements, and then as amplifiers of the message fed by leaks from senior officials. At the same time, dissenting voices were stifled, including a number of whistleblowers who had been working inside Iraq and knew the weapons claims were a hoax. In an age before social media, the clampdown on other ideas was near total. When their true editor-in-chief George W. Bush stood up, a mix of Ben Bradley and Lou Grant, to proclaim “you were either with us or with the terrorists,” the media stifled dissent in its ranks nearly completely.

    It became obvious from the initial days of the invasion there were no WMDs, but that mattered little. The WMDs were only the excuse to start the war. Once underway, the justification changed to regime change, democratization, nation building, and then as America’s own actions spawned an indigenous terrorist movement, fighting the indigenous terrorist movement. When all that devolved into open Sunni-Shia civil was in Iraq, the justification switched to stopping the civil war we had started. It was all a farce, with the media fanning the flames, rewriting its “takes” and creating new heroes (Petraeus) to replace the old heroes they had created who had failed (all the general before Petraeus.) The NYT issued a quiet mea culpa along the way and then like a couple caught having affairs who decided to stay married anyway, vowed never to speak of this again.

    That mea culpa is worth a second look in light of Ukraine 2022. The Times wrote its reporting “depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on regime change in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate.” In other words, sources with a goal of their own are not reliable. The Times noted that information from all sources was “insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.” In other words, stenography is not good journalism. A reporter should ask questions, challenge veracity, and especially should do so as new information comes to light. The NYT also said “Articles based on dire claims tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.” The memory hole.

    Those are of course Journalism 101-level errors admitted to by arguably the most prestigious newspaper in the world. It would be easier to be more generous to the NYT (and of course they are just a placeholder for all MSM who committed the same sins) if they had not gone on to purposefully repeat many of the same crimes reporting on Libya and Syria, Russiagate, the Covid crisis (“two weeks to flatten the curve”) and now, the war in Ukraine.

    The big change is that while in its previous abetting of propaganda the Times, et al, took the side of the US government in supporting war, in Ukraine they are working for the Ukrainian government. Almost all of the video and imagery out of Ukraine comes from the government and those anonymous sources of 2003 have been replaced by no real sourcing at all, simply scary pictures and nameless English-speaking peasants somehow conversant in Zelensky’s own talking points.

    Here’s eight seconds of a tank blowing up. Where was it shot? When? Was the explosion caused by a mine, a missile, or something internal to the tank? In most cases the media has no idea of the answers. Even if they tumble on to the basic who-what-where, the exploding tank video is devoid of context. Was that the lead tank hit, blunting the Russian advance toward a village? Or was it a Russian tank that lingered in an open field and got picked off in a lucky shot, strategically without much consequence? It is just a little jolt for the viewer. Such videos were immensely popular among terrorists in Iraq; nearly every one captured had inspirational video on his phone of a US vehicle being blown apart by a roadside IED. Now the same thing is on MSNBC for us.

    Remember that stalled Russian convoy? The media stumbled on online photos of a Russian convoy some 40 miles long. Within hours those images became a story — the Russians had run out of gas just miles from Kiev, stalling their offensive. That soon led to think pieces claiming this was evidence of Russian military incompetency, corruption, and proof Ukraine would soon win. It all fit with the narrative of plucky, brave Ukrainians standing up to Putin the madman, the deranged psychopath threatening NATO and indeed democracy itself. If only the U.S. would step in an help! The whole of the American media has laid itself available to funnel the Zelensky message westward — go to war with Russia. We’re shown a photo of a destroyed building, maybe from 2016 maybe from yesterday. It soon becomes a hospital bombing by the Russians. A photo of a stationary vehicle is narrativized as the Ukrainians are capturing Russian gear. The media is once again taking whole information provided by sources with an agenda, drawing the US into this war, and reporting it uncritically and unchallenged.

    Any information from the Russian side is instantly misinformation, and the pseudo-media of Twitter and Facebook not only call it fake, they make efforts to block it entirely so Americans cannot even view it long enough to make up their own minds. Pro-war journalists in America demand dissenters be investigated as foreign agents. You can’t see Facebook in Moscow and you can’t see RT in America. That’s not the equivalency a democracy should ascribe to.

    As with Iraq, the goal is to present a one-sided, coordinated narrative of a complex event with the goal of dragging America into a new war. Will it work again this time?

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    Posted in Democracy

    Who’s to Blame for Losing Afghanistan?

    August 28, 2021 // 14 Comments »


    Who should we blame for losing Afghanistan? Why blame anyone?

    Did anyone expect the U.S. war in Afghanistan to end cleanly? If so, you bought the lies all along and the cold water now is hitting sharp. While the actual ending is particularly harsh and clearly spliced together from old clips of Saigon 1975, those are simply details.

    Why blame Biden? He played his part as a Senator and VP keeping the war going, but his role today is just being the last guy in a long line of people to blame, a pawn in the game. That Biden is willing to be the “president who lost Afghanistan” is all the proof you need he does not intend to run again for anything. Kind of an ironic version of a young John Kerry’s take on Vietnam “how do you ask the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out, it’s easy: call Joe.

    Blame Trump for the deal? One of the saddest things about the brutal ending of the U.S.-Afghan war is we would have gotten the same deal — just leave it to the Taliban and go home — at basically any point during the last 20 years. That makes every death and every dollar a waste. Afghanistan is simply reverting, quickly, to more or less status quo 9/10/01 and everything between then and now, including lost opportunities, will have been wasted.

    Blame the NeoCons? No one in Washington who supported this war was ever called out, with the possible exception of Donald Rumsfeld who, if there is a hell, now cleans truck stop toilets there. Dick Cheney walks free. The generals and diplomats who ran the war have nice think tank or university jobs, if they are not still in government making equally bad decisions. No one has been legally, financially, or professionally disadvantaged by the blood on their hands. Some of the era’s senior leaders — Blinken, Rice, Power, Nuland — are now working in better jobs for Biden. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it.

    George Bush is a cuddly grandpa today, not the man who drove the United States into building a global prison archipelago to torture people. Barack Obama, who kept much of that system in place and added the drone killing of American citizens to his resume, remains a Democratic rock god. Neither man nor any of his significant underlings has expressed any regret or remorse.

    For example, I just listened to Ryan Crocker, our former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, on CNN. Making myself listen to him was about as fun as sticking my tongue in a wood chipper. Same for former general David Petraeus and the usual gang of idiots. None of them, the ones who made the decisions, accept any blame. Instead. they seem settled on blaming Trump because, well, everything bad is Trump’s fault even if he came into all this in the middle of the movie.

    In the end the only people punished were the whistleblowers.

    No one in the who is to blame community seems willing to take the story back to its beginning, at least the beginning for America’s latest round in the Graveyard of Empires (talk about missing an early clue.) This is what makes Blame Trump and Blame Biden so absurd. America’s modern involvement in this war began in 1979 when Jimmy Carter, overreacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up what was already a pro-Soviet puppet government, began arming and organizing Islamic warriors we now collectively know as “The Taliban.”

    People who want to only see trees they can chop down and purposely want to miss the vastness of the forest ahead at this point try to sideline things by claiming there never was a single entity called “The Taliban” and the young Saudis who flocked to jihad to kill Russians technically weren’t funded by the U.S. (it was indirectly through Pakistan) or that the turning point was the 1991 Gulf War, etc. Quibbles and distractions.

    If Carter’s baby steps to pay for Islamic warriors to fight the Red Army was playing with matches, Ronald Reagan poured gas, then jet fuel, on the fire. Under the Reagan administration the U.S. funded the warriors (called mujaheddin if not freedom fighters back then), armed them, invited their ilk to the White House, helped lead them, worked with the Saudis to send in even more money, and fanned the flames of jihad to ensure a steady stream of new recruits.

    When we “won” it was hailed as the beginning of the real end of the Evil Empire. The U.S. defeated the mighty Red Army by sending over some covert operators to fight alongside stooge Islam warriors for whom a washing machine was high technology. Pundits saw it as a new low-cost model for executing American imperial will.

    We paid little attention to events as we broke up the band and cut off the warriors post-Soviet withdrawal (soon enough some bozo at the State Department declared “the end of history.” He teaches at Stanford now) until the blowback from this all nipped us in the largely unsuccessful World Trade Center bombing of 1993, followed by the very successful World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001. Seems like there was still some history left to go.

    How did U.S. intelligence know who the 9/11 culprits were so quickly? Several of them had been on our payroll, or received financing via proxies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or were inspired by what had happened in Afghanistan, the defeat of the infidels (again; check Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikhs, the British, et al.)

    If post-9/11 the U.S. had limited itself to a vengeful hissy fit in Afghanistan, ending with Bush’s 2003 declaration of “Mission Accomplished,” things would have been different. If the U.S. had used the assassination of Osama bin Laden, living “undiscovered” in the shadow of Pakistan’s military academy, as an excuse of sorts to call it a day in Afghanistan, things would have been different.

    Instead Afghanistan became a petri dish to try out the worst NeoCon wet dream, nation-building across the Middle East. Our best and brightest would not just bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, they would then phoenix-it from the rubble as a functioning democracy. There was something for everyone: a military task to displace post-Cold War budget cuts, a pork-laden reconstruction program for contractors and diplomats, even a plan to empower Afghan women to placate the left.

    Though many claim Bush pulling resources away from Afghanistan for Iraq doomed the big plans, it was never just a matter of not enough resources. Afghanistan was never a country in any modern sense to begin with, just an association of tribal entities who hated each other almost as much as they hated the west. The underpinnings of the society were a virulent strain of Islam, about as far away from any western political and social ideas as possible. Absent a few turbaned Uncle Toms, nobody in Afghanistan was asking to be freed by the United States anyway.

    Pakistan, America’s “ally” in all this, was a principal funder and friend of the Taliban, always more focused on the perceived threat from India, seeing a failed state in Afghanistan as a buffer zone. Afghanistan was a narco-state with its only real export heroin. Not only did this mean the U.S. wanted to build a modern economy on a base of crime, the U.S. in different periods actually encouraged/ignored the drug trade into American cities in favor of the cash flow.

    The Afghan puppet government and military the U.S. formed were uniformly corrupt, and encouraged by the endless inflow of American money to get more corrupt all the time. They had no support from the people and could care less. The Afghans in general and the Afghan military in particular did not fail to hold up their end of the fighting; they never signed up for the fight in the first place. No Afghan wanted to be the last man to die in service to American foreign policy.

    There was no way to win. The “turning point” was starting the war at all. Afghanistan had to fail. There was no other path for it, other than being propped up at ever-higher costs. That was American policy for two decades: prop up things and hope something might change. It was like sending more money to a Nigerian cyber-scammer hoping to recoup your original loss.

    Everything significant our government, the military, and the MSM told us about Afghanistan was a lie. They filled and refilled the bag with bullhockey and Americans bought it every time expecting candy canes. Keep that in mind when you decide who to listen to next time, because of course there will be a next time. Who has not by now realized that? We just passively watched 20 years of Vietnam all over again, including the sad ending. So really, who’s to blame?


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    Posted in Democracy

    Letter from Your Friend Haider al-Abadi, Prime Minister of Iraq (Satire)

    May 29, 2015 // 5 Comments »


    Hello American people, your friend Haider al-Abadi, Prime Minister of Iraq, writing to you here from Baghdad, which is the capital of Iraq since many Americans I heard are ignorant of basic geography.

    Go ahead, check the Wikipedia, as Google is the friend of us all. Me, my English not so good, you forgive, OK.

    I meeting this good day with my old friends the Iranians. I had a few minutes here and wanted to drop you in America a line to say “hi.”

    I started thinking about you when I was reading a book about what you call the “Vietnam War.” People over there call it the Third Indochina War, as they fought the Japanese, the French and then you Americans in succession. Your wonderful naivete about history just amuses me. We in Iraq call the most recent invasion by you the Third and a Half Gulf War, after Saddam fought the Iranians in the 1980’s (you were on Iraq’s side), then Iraq fought the U.S. in 1991 and of course then you invaded us because of 9/11 in 2003. Now your troops are back in my country, but without their boots on my ground, so I call it half a new war for you.

    You know, in Vietnam your government convinced generations of Americans to fight and die for something bigger than themselves, to struggle for democracy they believed, to fight Communism in Vietnam before it toppled countries like dominoes (we also love this dominoes game in Iraq!) and you ended up fighting Communism in your California beaches. Everyone believed this but it was all a lie. Then in 2003 the George W. Bush (blessed be his name) told the exact same lie and everyone believed it again– he just changed the word “Communism” to “Terrorism” and again your American youth went off to die for something greater than themselves but it was a lie.

    How you fooled twice? Hah hah, don’t haggle in the marketplace, we say. Soon of course the Obama will say something similar and you’ll do it again. Maybe in Syria, maybe in Iran, maybe somewhere else. As you say, it’s a big world!

    But I am rude. I need to say now “Thank You” to the parents of the 4491 Americans who died in this Iraq invasion so that I could become leader of Iraq. Really guys and the girls, I could not have achieved this without you. See in March 2010 you had another American election festival for us in Iraq, and my good friend, boss and mentor al-Maliki lost by the counting of votes. However, because your State Department was desperate for some government to form here and they could not broker a deal themselves, they allowed the Iranian government to come and help us.

    My Iraq is good friends with my Iran thanks to you. “If Tehran and Baghdad are powerful, then there will be no place for the presence of enemies of nations in this region, including the U.S. and the Zionist regime,” the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling al-Maliki.

    Anyway, I gotta run my bitches. But yes, my thanks again for sacrificing 4491 of your young men and women for me. I can never repay this debt, not that I would even think of seeking to repay you anything you ignorant pigs.

    With love,

    Haider al-Abadi (follow me on Twitter!)

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    Posted in Democracy

    Waiting (for Memorial Day)

    May 28, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    There will be a lot of thanking of veterans this Memorial Day weekend, and that is not altogether out of place. We ask a lot from the people in the military, and in return many would like us to understand what they endure, so when we thank them it is not just a bumper sticker but a thank you that comes from some understanding. From understanding comes empathy, and from there it’s a hop, skip and jump to sincerity. Excerpted from my book, We Meant Well, I offer this meditation on what it means to wait this Memorial Day.

    Soldiers did a lot of waiting. They waited for orders, they waited for trucks to arrive, they waited for chow, they waited for someone to explain why they were waiting. Not as bad as prisons, nursing homes, and shipwrecks, but it was an artificial way to live. Soldiers learned how to ingest time as if it were a physical thing. They became Zen masters of boredom, always waiting.

    They waited, too, back home. We regularly had communications blackouts, when the Army cut off the Internet and the phones. The blackouts lasted two or three days and were usually after a soldier was killed and the Army did not want anyone calling his or her family or the media or posting online until the next of kin had received official notification. For our spouses and children, panic set in when the e-mails and Skype stopped suddenly. They knew it meant someone had died, and they held their breath and waited until they learned who. That was hard, so we usually figured out which one of us had a cell phone with international dialing that worked outside the Army system. There were a lot of ten-second calls to say the dearest words a soldier can utter to a waiting loved one, “Can’t talk, but I’m OK.”

    In our war, communication was omnivorous-present, and waiting was done at Internet speed. Facebook did not exist when the Iraq war started (war, March 2003; Facebook, February 2004), but it sure as hell was here now. Even in the smallest dirt hole there was a sat phone or some kind of Internet connectivity or someone with the right Jetsons iPhone that got a cell signal in a place that did not even get daylight some weeks.

    It started off as a good thing. We don’t have to wait for the mail! Hey, I can call you from the war! OMG frm #iRaQ LOL. Sometimes it was cool. But a lot of times it meant two worlds that had nothing in common but the soldier collided. Why the hell was she Skyping from home about a small problem with the backyard fence when I’ve just come in from six hours in 110 degrees looking for an arms cache site? What to do about the leak in the basement? You call a plumber, burn down the house, I don’t care, we just took a mortar round and I’m going to miss my only real food of the day in five minutes.

    Other times it was worse. No one picks up at 3:00 a.m. back home in a house that is supposed to contain a sleeping wife. Kids answer the phone, distracted by the Disney Channel, and have nothing to say. You worry after three deployments that the substitution of a phone call for a birthday party grows old even for weary preschoolers. The attempt to reconcile a life out here with a life over there fails again and again and again, until you quit trying. Yeah, the lines were down, or I guess you weren’t home when I called, or maybe I’ll call in a week or so or never. Sometimes after they’d hung up you watched guys unable to say it earlier whisper “I love you” to the dead phone, maybe waiting for a response.

    Of course, many nights it was different and you wanted to sit with the phone to your ear and hear the voice at the other end talk about anything, nothing, forever, your world collapsing into the wire. You clung to a wife complaining about the dry cleaner because that represented somewhere better than where you were and today your head was screwed on tight enough to realize it. You had to store up the good stuff when you could get it because you couldn’t count on it coming when you needed it. Like sleep, you wished there was a way to bank it.

    The availability of communication sometimes forced on me more than I wanted to accept. I was waiting to go home, waiting to hear from my child, waiting for my turn to use the phone, and had no strength left to share everyone else’s burden. I walked past a stranger on the phone in the calling center and heard him say “I want to touch you” to a girl somewhere else. I saw a man listening to a six-year-old recite lines from a play seven thousand miles and a world away, using the speakerphone so he had both hands free to cover his eyes. It was too much to be plunged this deeply into the lives of people I didn’t know, and I wished at those times that phones and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter would just go away.

    Outside the calling center I saw an orange dot poking a hole in the darkness and smelled cigarette smoke. I heard another guy crying in the latrine, buttoned up into some of the only privacy available. He couldn’t wait for the moment of his breakdown— technology thrust it onto him. That’s when I knew it was bad. I stopped sleeping for a while and started just waiting for my own mornings to come.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Well, That Didn’t Take Long

    December 19, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    As all the false statements by Obama, Panetta and the neocon stenographers who tried to justify the war by claiming Iraq is a democratic, stable society drifted off into space, a day later Iraq’s Sunni-backed bloc suspended its participation in parliament accusing Prime Minister Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government of concentrating power. The move by the Iraqiya parliamentary bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, intensifies political jostling among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs who form Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government.

    Iraqiya said in a statement it was “suspending its participation in parliament … until further notice,” accusing Maliki of stalling on promises to form a partnership government.

    The bloc complained Maliki is delaying filling key positions such as the ministries of defense and security, posts which have been empty for a year because of political squabbling. Supported strongly by minority Sunnis, Iraqiya won the largest number of seats in the March 2010 national election but failed to muster a governing majority. Maliki put together a coalition with Iranian help that included the Sadrists.

    “We think there are new indications of a new attempt to create a dictatorship,” said Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. “We are really worried that the country is being led into chaos and division and the possibility of civil war is there.”

    It gets better, or maybe worse.

    A brewing confrontation in the province of Diyala underscored the risk that violence could erupt. After the mostly Sunni leadership of the province declared last week that it intends to seek regional autonomy under the terms of Iraq’s constitution, Shiite militiamen surrounded the provincial council headquarters and set fire to the Sunni governor’s home.

    The governor and most members of the provincial council have fled to northern Kurdistan, and on Saturday, the main highway linking Baghdad to the northern city of Kirkuk was blocked for a third day by Shiite militiamen who, residents said, belong to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

    And finally….

    An arrest warrant was issued for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi for being the mastermind behind the recent bombing targeting the parliament. He has been banned from leaving the country, and three of his body guards have been arrested on terror charges related to the car bombing which took place on November 28.

    According to the Iraqi government, evidence pointed at al-Hashimi’s embroilment in the parliament blast incident after deriving confessions from four arrested Islamic Party members.


    “As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” said Leon Panetta.

    But wait…

    There are new stories from Iraq that the Maliki government is no longer issuing passes for journalists to enter the Green Zone. If true, that, plus the general withdrawal of Western media from Iraq now that the “big story” of the troop withdrawal is over, will limit what the world knows about events. Sorry.

    And thus…

    Gonna be an interesting 2012 in Iraq. What is most significant here is not the events– though they are shattering in scope and negative potential– but the timing. Both sides barely waited for the last US soldier to cross the border before beginning the unraveling. No decent interval here, just a contemptuous display of how little the US accomplished.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Write to Bradley Manning

    November 22, 2011 // 5 Comments »

    Bradley Manning can receive mail and (money order) donations now, with some very specific restrictions/conditions. However, if you wish to contact him you can. Follow the rules on his lawyer’s website.

    After over 530+ days in captivity, Manning gets his first appearance, albeit at a military court, next month. Ironically, the appearance is simply a placeholder formality to determine if grounds exist to move forward. Yeah, right, after all this time, maybe it was all just a mistake, right?

    From my own experience with prison correspondence rules, they are very specific and the people who administer them are very particular. Think about it– that is not a job sought by free spirits and creative thinkers. If the restriction says no more than five pages, they mean it. Prison administrators will either return the entire six page letter to you, destroy it, or at least throw away the last page. Don’t waste time writing in to Bradley’s busy lawyer (as people are doing on his blog) asking about exceptions, or “what five pages” really means.

    Also, prisoners pretty much anywhere can’t receive goods. If you want to help Bradley with pens, stamps or whatever, follow the rules and send him a money order he can use at the prison store.

    The good news is that this means Bradley is aware of the support he is receiving outside, as well as having some minimal situational awareness of what is going on in the world around him.

    More info also from the Bradley Manning Support Network.

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    Posted in Democracy

    New Interview: With Peter B. Collins of KGO San Francisco

    October 30, 2011 // Comments Off on New Interview: With Peter B. Collins of KGO San Francisco

    Listen in on my conversation with KGO San Francisco’s Peter B. Collins, now online. Here’s how Collins sums it all up:

    Diplomats are masters of spin and doublespeak, but Van Buren is not so diplomatic as he details his role in funding reconstruction and nation building projects in Iraq. Not only is Van Buren a brilliant writer–his colorful narrative is tight but rich, laced with snarky humor–his verbal commentary is just as compelling. We talk about the $6.6 billion in lost funds recently “found”; about how he “volunteered” for a tour in Iraq; the roles of contractors, from armed merceneries to third world crews of cooks and service workers; the contrast between his forward operating base and the unreal scene in the Green Zone and much more.

    Van Buren talks about the power struggle between Defense and State over reconstruction, offers comments on our ambassadors, and is blunt about Obama’s October 21 announcement that he is keeping his campaign promise, and almost all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this year. “The decision…..was made in Baghdad,” said Van Buren, and he added that he thinks there will be thousands of US troops returning to Iraq by next summer.

    If you only buy and read one book this year, make it this one. It’s important, and very well written.

    Catch the whole interview, now online.

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    Posted in Democracy

    4479: Soldier Death in Iraq Same Day Obama Announces Pullout

    October 27, 2011 // Comments Off on 4479: Soldier Death in Iraq Same Day Obama Announces Pullout

    Too much irony for one war.

    The Department of Defense announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

    Private First Class Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., died Oct. 21 in Tallil, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

    Steven died the same day Obama announced the US troop pullout, stating “ALL troops would be home by the holidays.”

    Sorry Mr. President, too late. Steven is not coming home.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Voices from the PRT Diaspora

    October 9, 2011 // 13 Comments »

    A comment from another former PRT contractor:

    I was in Iraq as an adviser from about March 2004 to August 2005 and I know what you mean. I have been an idealist all my life and went to Iraq to turn it to the next Germany, Japan etc through a Marshall Plan sort of aid program. I thought my lifelong dream to be one of the idealist Americans who changed the world has finally come.

    I hate the Middle Eastern regimes that treat woman so ruthlessly and thought that if we can use Iraq as a base to show how wonderful it is to have a civilized free enterprising democracy then we can change the whole world. As you can imagine I was so depressed by the time I chose to call it quits (after many bouts of fights with almost everybody there) and return to the USA. There was no leadership, there was no vision.

    Yet have to say that I met some idealistic people who worked so hard but the rest of them were trying their best to give money (welfare) to US corporations through some gimmick. I worked with some military (especially a General) who I thought was remarkable, shared my view and worked hard under harsh conditions risking their lives. So there are heroes in this effort and my love for the USA increased many folds because of people like that. That’s the only positive thing came out of that experience.

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    Posted in Democracy

    One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    October 6, 2011 // Comments Off on One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    Defense.gov news tells us:

    American forces’ efforts in Iraq “have given the people of Iraq a huge gift” through the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, a senior U.S. commander said today.

    “We have given them freedom and liberty that they’ve never known, and we have given them the potential to have a democracy in this part of the world … where it would be a unique institution,” Army Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of U.S. Division-North and the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told Pentagon reporters.

    Aswat al-Iraq, which was or maybe still is, partly funded by the US and thus not the most radical of reporters, has the following stories on its web site:

    Press Freedoms Observatory condemns detention of TV Channel’s reporter
    9/29/2011 6:55 PM

    URGENT: Three killed, 79 injured in Kirkuk explosion
    9/29/2011 6:34 PM

    12 persons injured in Kirkuk booby-trapped car blast
    9/29/2011 12:22 PM

    Policeman killed, officer injured, in Baghdad attack
    9/29/2011 11:30 AM

    Iraqi officer, his bodyguard killed, 3 soldiers injured in Kirkuk attack
    9/29/2011 9:38 AM

    URGENT / Diala’s al-Sahwa Council leader detained on terrorism charge
    9/28/2011 5:19 PM

    Two armed men killed while planting an explosive charge in Kirkuk
    9/28/2011 12:15 PM

    Iraqi Parliament delegation in Kirkuk on fact-finding mission after stepping up of assassinations
    9/28/2011 12:13 PM

    Five civilians killed, 7 injured in Anbar attack
    9/28/2011 12:10 PM

    Iraqi civilian killed, officer injured in Baghdad attack
    9/28/2011 9:50 AM

    Five injured in 2 explosive charges blast in west Baghdad
    9/28/2011 9:24 AM

    8 Civilians injured in Baghdad booby-trapped car blast
    9/28/2011 9:04 AM

    Conference on land-mines and war victims held in Arbil
    9/27/2011 6:17 PM

    15 civilians injured in bomb attacks in central Mosul
    9/27/2011 5:48 PM

    Civilian killed by unknown gunmen in west Baghdad
    9/27/2011 5:45 PM

    Turkish warplanes resume bombardmen​t of Kurdistan’​s border areas
    9/27/2011 5:02 PM

    Turkomen Front charges Parliament with security deterioration in Kirkuk
    9/27/2011 11:50 AM

    Mosque Imam escapes assassination, his companion killed in Diwaniya
    9/27/2011 11:12 AM

    High-ranking Iraqi Army officer assassinated in Baghdad
    9/27/2011 10:39 AM

    URGENT: Kurdish Peshmerga man killed in clash with Mosul village inhabitants
    9/27/2011 9:36 AM

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    Contractors in Iraq Never Held Responsible

    July 8, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    If my child does something wrong, as a parent I’m responsible for interceding. If an employee does something wrong, the employer steps in to fix things. If a US Government contractor in Iraq does something wrong, anything from torture to sexual harassment to murder, nobody is held responsible. By law, it seems.


    The latest get out of jail free card was issued by the Supreme Court last week, when they let stand the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that employees of two defense contractors took part in the torture and abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. The justices rejected an appeal by a group of 250 Iraqis seeking to reinstate their lawsuit against CACI International Inc, which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc’s Titan unit, which provided interpreters to the U.S. military.

    The lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of the Iraqis who said they or their relatives had been tortured or mistreated while detained by the US military at Abu Ghraib. They said contractor employees participated in the abuse. The justices declined to review a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit because the companies had immunity as government contractors. The Obama administration supported the companies and said the appeal should be denied. Free at last, I guess.


    Another case to make the news concerns the alleged rape in Iraq of KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones by another KBR employee (Ms. Jones’ name and picture have been prominently featured around the web, so we are not “outing” anyone here). The criminal case got lost in immunities, and KBR’s insistence that the allegations be dealt with through the employee arbitration proceedings spelled out in Jones’ employment contract.

    After six years of legal fussing and fighting, the courts eventually sided with Jones, who is pursuing the matter as a civil complaint. Details are complex, and what really happened seems unclear—a good break down of the evidence is on Mother Jones. The claimed attack took place in 2005; ultimate source of all contractor legal matters Ms. Sparky has pages of details on the legal events since then.

    Sexual Harassment

    The problem of contractor liability is not new, nor is it going away. As a reminder, we’ve written previously about the problem women interpreters claiming sexual harassment at the hands of their contractor employment face– it is almost impossible to successfully sue any of America’s finest contractors for things that may have happened in Iraq.


    We also wrote about KBR, the contractor who runs the backstage portion of our wars, setting up the chow halls, building the offices, running the power lines and maintaining the plumbing. It is the latter task that resulted in a slip and fall lawsuit just settled after a federal judge ruled that KBR cannot be sued by someone who slipped in a toilet it maintained at Camp Shield. KBR argued against their having any liability for anything they ever did, citing cases as significant as the Supremes’ 1803 hit Marbury v. Freaking Madison in their defense.

    Ironic Comparison to the UK

    No blog post here is complete without an ironic comparison, this time to the way the UK has treated human rights abuses by its soldiers (Ok, yeah, not exactly the same as contractors, but…).

    The European court of human rights on July 7 issued two landmark rulings on UK abuses in Iraq. In the first (al-Skeini and others) it found that Britain had violated the rights of the families of four Iraqis killed by British forces (and one other case in which responsibility for the killing is disputed) by failing to ensure independent investigations into their deaths. In the second (al-Jedda) it ruled the UK had violated the rights of a man it had interned for three years without trial or any real opportunity to challenge his detention, on vague grounds of security.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers

    May 16, 2011 // Comments Off on Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers

    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:




    Huffington Post

    The Nation

    American Empire Project

    American Conservative Magazine

    Mother Jones

    Michael Moore


    Le Monde

    Daily Kos


    Rethink Afghanistan

    Middle East Online


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

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    Posted in Democracy

    Freedumb They Died For

    April 25, 2011 // Comments Off on Freedumb They Died For

    Another example of the good use of American lives and taxpayer dollars to bring freedom to those oppressed by an evil dictator (episode 875):

    An Iraqi Army force has surrounded al-Ahrar (Liberals) Square in central Mosul on Monday, to prevent demonstrators from reaching the square that witnessed a sit-in demonstration over the past few days.

    “An Iraqi Army force has surrounded al-Ahrar Square since Monday morning, preventing demonstrators to reach the square,” a security source said, adding that the Army closed all the streets leading to the square, where about 3000 demonstrators gathered.

    He said the Army force opened fire in the air and used water hoses to disperse the demonstrators.

    Mosul had witnessed broad sit-demonstrations in al-Ahrar square since April 9th, demanding the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, release of detainees and carrying out public reforms.

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    Posted in Democracy


    April 14, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Free Iraqi ChildSimon Peres said “America is unique. One nation in history laid down hundreds of thousands of lives and took no land — no land from Germany, no land from Korea, no land from Japan.” Colin Powell added, “The only land we took after the last great conflict was enough land to bury our dead.”

    Both Simon Peres and Colin Powell lied.


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    Posted in Democracy

    PrePub Alert: LibraryJournal.com

    April 11, 2011 // Comments Off on PrePub Alert: LibraryJournal.com


    An early review from the nice folks at LibraryJournal.com:

    Van Buren, Peter. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Metropolitan: Holt. Oct. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780805094367.

    A Foreign Service officer for more than two decades, Van Buren led the State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team in its effort to win over the Iraqis through invigorating social projects—like sports murals in violence-wracked neighborhoods and pastry-making classes to help folks supply goods to nonexistent cafés on rubble-strewn streets without water or electricity. Talk about the arrogance of trying to remake a world in our image without even knowing the world we are trying to remake. Billed as bitingly funny, though I’m not sure I’m laughing; an important book from someone who was there.

    My book also beat out one by Ozzy Osbourne to be a “Pick” of the editor.

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    Location of Permanent Bases

    April 10, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    Iraq Base Locations With all the talk of SecDef Gates in Iraq trying to secure some sort of US military presence after the official “withdrawal” date of New Year’s Eve 2011 (“Mother of all New Year’s Eves,” MONYE, pronounced “money”), I’ll lay down a marker on which bases will be kept alive:


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    Posted in Democracy