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Posts Tagged ‘iraq war’

Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

ISIS supporters Mosul

ISIS supporters rally in Mosul, Iraq. BBC photo.

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White House Considers Special Forces to Advise Iraqis; Smells Like “Early Vietnam” Again

“The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has rushed hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. A second round of counterterrorism training between American Special Operations commandos and Iraqi troops started in Jordan this week.”New York Times (6/11/14)

The Guardian and other news outlets report that President Obama yesterday notified Congress that the U.S. is sending “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” The president’s letter to Congress continued:

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added this:

The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

Sectarian LinesThis action is a response to the sudden offensive last week by the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that charged through Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and central Iraq to within 75 miles of Baghdad, routing the Iraqi army, robbing banks, and executing Iraqi soldiers and police, and freeing Sunni prisoners. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant Sunni group founded in 2006 with ties to al Qaeda (though al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme), and the area it has swept through is also Sunni, thus sympathetic and more likely to cooperate than to resist.

The security situation is dire enough that the U.S. and Iran, already holding talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, have discussed the possibility of joint diplomatic efforts to halt the insurgents’ advance through Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry initially would not rule out military cooperation, but other administration officials quickly downplayed the likelihood of military cooperation. In another sign of Iran’s alarm at the threat, the (Shiite) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call to arms for all able-bodied men to resist ISIS’s advance toward Baghdad.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, is ruled by a Shiite government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who, to the U.S. administration’s dismay, has refused to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives within the governing elite. President Obama has been criticized for not leaving a residual force in Iraq when U.S. troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but al-Maliki refused to allow any U.S. forces to stay behind. “Matters worsened after American troops left in 2011,” writes The New York Times’s Serge Schmemann, “effectively turning the Iraqi Army into a hated and corrupt occupation force in Sunni areas. When ISIS forces approached, most Iraqi Army soldiers simply shed their battle fatigues and fled, leaving behind huge stores of American arms, including helicopters, for the rebels to harvest.”

“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” —President Obama, letter to Congress, June 16

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

This move by the Obama administration, only days after the president vowed not to send U.S. combat forces back to Iraq, is in itself is not necessarily cause for alarm, but it does raise serious concerns, especially when we hear the too-familiar flapping of the wings of neocon war hawks (see below). The U.S. has a vast embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. must show that it intends to protect its assets (people, property, files, etc.).

Rumsfeld-Hussein handshake 1983We are not alone in seeing the United States—or the five or so most forceful members of the George W. Bush administration, anyway—as responsible for igniting a conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, dismantled the central government and effectively split Iraq into three autonomous regions. For all of his faults, the Sunni strongman, long a friend of the U.S., did keep a lid on sectarian tensions in Iraq—often brutally (see also former Yugoslavia). But we will always believe that the “liberation” of Iraq, cynically branded “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” had more to do with U.S. access to Iraqi oil, and that the chaotic forces loosed by the American-led war are something that Bush-Cheney Inc. never bothered to prepare for. Defense was king, and the nuances and subtleties of the State Department’s diplomats were scorned by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, & Co. (The illustration above shows Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greeting Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 1983.)

Then, compounding countless other errors already made through arrogance, lack of planning, and shunning of the State Department’s expertise, the U.S. through its Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and sought to neutralize the Ba’ath Party that was Saddam’s. A formerly proud and cohesive military—after all, with some help from Uncle Sam, Iraq held tough in a war against Iran for eight years in the 1980s—was scattered, and the ex-soldiers, many of them, became fierce fighters against the U.S. occupation forces. This is one reason why the U.S. had to stay as long as it did, training a new army. (Why the Iraqi army had to be disbanded was never clear, and none of the brains behind the operation will take responsibility for the decision.) You may recall former president Bush saying, over and over, “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the worst of many disastrous decisions made by the U.S., and it haunts us—and Iraq—still.

“The Past Is Never Dead,” or, Beware the Neocon “Experts”

neocon1At the same time Obama is vowing not to send combat forces but is sending 275 embassy guardians, neocon hawks such as John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Kenneth Pollack, who in 2002 and 2003 pushed relentlessly for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, are again appearing on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, in The New York Times, and on other mainstream network news talk shows and urging strong action against the jihadist forces. McCain has said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and has called for the ouster of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

John McCain also said, in April 2003, that there was “not a history of clashes that are violent” between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, “so I think they can probably get along”—he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time—and he told MSNBC that he had “no doubt” that U.S. troops would be “welcomed as liberators.” McCain also said repeatedly in his 2008 campaign for president that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, had been training and supplying al-Qaida, a Sunni Islamist organization. Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said in congressional testimony, “we have no idea what kind of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I’ve noted it has not been the history of Iraq’s recent past,” and said that money from Iraq’s oil would pay for the (brief) war. William Kristol said “it’s going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” It turned out to be a nearly nine-year war (2003–11), and it may not be over. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is invariably identified as a Middle East expert, wrote in his very influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

“. . . critics tend to exaggerate the likely costs to the United States of pursuing the Reconstruction Approach. In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. . . . it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime . . .” [Emphasis per Mondoweiss, where this quotation was found.]

These guys—always wrong, always called back and still taken seriously by the news producers.

James Fallows at The Atlantic puts the point nicely:

“. . . we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. 

“. . . we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”  [LNW’s emphasis]

new rule titlenew rule

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One more thing: Ominously, the U.S. aircraft carrier that has been sent into the Persian Gulf in case any air strikes are deemed necessary is the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

USSGHWBush-bbc

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Further Reading

The New York Times Middle East index

The Guardian on the ISIS crisis in Iraq

New York TimesThe Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video

New York Times, “Rebels’ Fast Strike in Iraq Was Years in the Making” (6/15/14)

New York Times, U.S. Said to Rebuff Iraqi Request to Strike Militants” (6/11/14; quoted in epigraph above)

Nafeez Ahmed, “Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction” in The Guardian

The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave” by Matthew Yglesias

Juan Cole, “Seven Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq

Steve Benen @ MaddowBlog, “[Neocons] have earned the right not to be listened to

James Fallows in The Atlantic, “The Return of the Iraq War Hawk

Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative

Enter Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman– the Iraq experts!” James North at Mondoweiss

The Best and the Brightest: (Former Clintonite) Kenneth Pollack” by Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss (6/1/06)

Levees Not War posts on the Iraq War

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Omigod! Infinite Iraqi Freedom! We’re Never Leaving!  (4/7/08)

OMG! Operation Iraqi Freedom Isn’t Free!  (11/11/07)

Let the Eagle Soar . . .”  (10/23/07)

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How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

500,000 vets may suffer from PTSD, depression, or traumatic brain injury

Dan Froomkin, senior Washington correspondent for Huffington Post, reports at Nieman Watchdog that the Pentagon’s figure of 32,226 wounded seriously undercounts the true casualty rate. Possibly more than a half million of the 1.5 million Iraq war veterans sustained traumatic brain injury or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, exposure to hazardous substances, breathing disorders, severe hearing loss, migraines, and other uncounted afflictions. “We don’t have anything close to an exact number,” Froomkin writes, “because nobody’s been keeping track.”

The much-cited Defense Department figure [of 32,226 wounded] comes from its tally of “wounded in action”—a narrowly tailored category that only includes casualties during combat operations who have “incurred an injury due to an external agent or cause.” That generally means they needed immediate medical treatment after having been shot or blown up. Explicitly excluded from that category are “injuries or death due to the elements, self-inflicted wounds, combat fatigue”—along with cumulative psychological and physiological strain or many of the other wounds, maladies and losses that are most common among Iraq veterans.

The article is worth reading in full (so is the entire Harvard-based web site, Nieman Watchdog), but here are a few disturbing highlights:

•  The Pentagon’s Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reports having diagnosed 229,106 cases of mild to severe traumatic brain injury from 2000 to the third quarter of 2011, including both Iraq and Afghan vets.

•  A 2008 study of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by researchers at the RAND Corporation found that 14% screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder and 14% for major depression, with 19% reporting a probable traumatic brain injury during deployment. . . . Applying those proportions to the 1.5 million veterans of Iraq, an estimated 200,000 of them would be expected to suffer from PTSD or major depression, with 285,000 of them having experienced a probable traumatic brain injury.

• Altogether, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America group estimates that nearly 1 in 3 people deployed in those wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or traumatic brain injury. That would mean 500,000 of the 1.5 million deployed to Iraq.

• A 2010 Congressional Research Service report, presenting what it called “difficult-to-find statistics regarding U.S. military casualties” offers one indication of how the “wounded in action” category undercounts real casualties. It found that for every soldier wounded in action and medically evacuated from Iraq , more than four more were medically evacuated for other reasons.

•  The VA’s web page on hazardous exposures warns that “combat Veterans may have been exposed to a wide variety of environmental hazards during their service in Afghanistan or Iraq. These hazardous exposures may cause long-term health problems.” The hazards include exposure to open-air burn pits, infectious diseases, depleted uranium, toxic shrapnel, cold and heat injuries and chemical agent resistant paint. The VA provides no estimates of exposure or damage, however.

•  A March 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that many wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan will persist over veterans’ lifetimes, and some impacts of military service may not be felt until decades later.

A Three- to Five-Billion-Dollar War

It was by including the Iraq war’s un(der)counted casualties that Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes estimated the Iraq war would ultimately cost the United States some $3 trillion when all health care costs over the soldiers’ lifetimes are factored in. In 2008 they raised their estimate to $4 or $5 billion. And that’s just the financial cost to the United States.

Whatever the actual numbers are—and the physical and psychic costs are beyond calculation—the American public should press firmly on the White House, Congress, and Veterans Administration secretary Eric K. Shinseki to ensure that veterans receive high-quality physical and psychological care. It is the right thing to do. Most of the U.S. public opposed a war with Iraq until it actually started—on the insistence of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, among other war hawks—but now that the war has run its bloody course, the nation owes it to the veterans to see that they are cared for and that serious and sustained funds are allocated for job training and health care, physical and mental.

There are about 1.5 million Iraq war veterans, and the experience of Vietnam veterans (and the Bonus Army long before them) shows that these vets, too, will be brushed aside if the public does not stand by them. The countless thousands of homeless, armless, legless, and hopeless Vietnam veterans shames this nation, and should not be repeated. We fear, however, that the conservatives corporate interests that have such outsize influence in Washington will fight any further spending on the veterans with whom the politicians so love to be photographed.

You can help by supporting Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for PeaceMake the Connection, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families listed on the “Anti-War” blogroll at the bottom right of this page. Tell members of Congress to support the Veterans Jobs initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to press the private sector to commit to hiring 100,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013. Read more about it here.

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See also “The Freedom and the Damage Done” in “As ‘End’ of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran” (10/30/11) and “As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?” (8/19/10).

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Photo credits: Top photo by Platon, from a portfolio on American soldiers and their families published in the Sept. 28, 2008, issue of The New Yorker. Middle photo shows Bryan Malone, 22, an Army specialist from Haughton, La., while working with a speech pathologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center Aug. 2, 2007, in Nashville. The scar is a result of a rocket attack on a Baghdad gym where Malone was working out. He now suffers from traumatic brain injury, the “silent epidemic” of the Iraq war (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey). Bottom illustration: Red Cross, World War I Red Cross.

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As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

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[ cross-posted @ Daily Kos ]

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“In August [2002] a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek: ‘Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.’

—Paul Krugman, “Things to Come,” March 18, 2003

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Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

On Friday, Oct. 21, President Obama announced that “as promised,” by the end of this year, 2011, the last remaining U.S. forces (about 39,000) will leave Iraq and be home in time for the holidays.

A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments. He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future. We are in full agreement about how to move forward. So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

The U.S.–Iraq status of forces agreement (2008) worked out between Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and the George W. Bush administration had provided for continued U.S. military presence of some 50,000 “advise and assist brigades” for security and training until the end of 2011, with a possible extension if negotiated.

As WhiteHouse.gov puts it, “President Obama Has Ended the War in Iraq.” Some 90,000 American combat brigades were withdrawn between early 2009 and August 2010 (see “As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?”); many were redeployed to Afghanistan. On Sept. 1, 2010, Operation Iraqi Freedom ended and Operation New Dawn commenced.

This month Prime Minister Maliki decided to have all U.S. troops leave by Dec. 31, 2011. By doing so, he would remove a political liability for himself and a social and political irritant, but would also forgo a potential stabilizing force in case of an outbreak of civil war—or of invasion by a foreign power, such as Iran. But the Americans are already negotiating to send a new round of military trainers to Iraq in 2012, along with equipment specialists for the weapons systems the U.S. hopes to sell, and to base a large contingency force nearby in Kuwait (see below). Thus the New Dawn.

Republican reaction to the president’s Oct. 21 announcement was mixed: G.O.P. presidential candidates and senators McCain and Graham denounced the withdrawal; other Republicans expressed approval, relief, or said nothing. (McCain this month recommended U.S. military action against Syria, like that against Libya, “to protect civilian lives.”) For an Iraq war veterans’ perspective on the announced withdrawal, see the statement from Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. (IAVA is on our blogroll, bottom left.)

Now that the “cakewalk” we were promised is ending, we have to ask of the George W. Bush foreign policy team (many of whom Mitt Romney wants to hire) and in particular those in Congress who voted to authorize military force against Saddam Hussein in October 2002: Where’s that “Mission Accomplished” feeling?

And where is our national security? How’s that workin’ out?

And to what kind of economy and job prospects are these soldiers returning—those who don’t have to turn right around and go fight in Afghanistan? What “job creators” will hire them? While they were risking their lives amid hardships and dangers that most of us can hardly imagine, what has become of their One Nation Under God? Fortunately for some of them, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are leading a Veterans Jobs initiative to press the private sector to commit to hiring 100,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013. That’s not very many jobs, but if it succeeds at all, it will help.

The Freedom and the Damage Done

Regrettably, even though it has been announced that some 40,000 troops like Stratego game board pieces will be returned to home base for a while, and despite the claims of a White House in reelection mode, we and many others do not see The War as ending. Iraq is, or was, only one theater—a particularly misguided, costly, and tragic one—in the larger War on Terror that has in effect already expanded into Pakistan and (hey, why not?) threatens Iran (“Tensions Flare As G.I.s Take Fire Out of Pakistan” [photo below]; “Iran Reacts to Pressure from America”). The United States is not moving from its strategic positions in the Middle East and Central Asia. And the financial costs to the United States, which may reach $3 to 5 trillion, are still being paid, and will paid for decades to come.

Indeed, beyond the financial cost, the damage done to the American economy, the psychic harm to our citizens, both combatant and noncombatant, and to the nation’s culture and political system, are incalculable. If you close your eyes and listen with your heart in the way a psychic or a shaman is able to listen, you might hear a great howl of agony resounding from the nation’s soul, a scream or roar as of a wounded giant that shakes the forests and mountainsides and echoes down the skyscraper canyons of Wall Street, bouncing off the concentric rings of the Pentagon, from all the needless pain inflicted, from the death groans of shattered, burned, eviscerated soldiers who will never come back, and those who are damaged for life, inside and out, in the veterans’ hospitals. And though we turn our iPods or TVs up to full blast, the roars and screams of pain could not be drowned out. If, that is, we could hear them at all. That we cannot hear the howls and cries doesn’t mean they’re not there to be heard.

And then, even harder for us to imagine, is all the pain and destruction suffered by the people of Iraq, the bereft families of the more than 100,000 killed; the massive destabilization of political systems and relations in the Middle East; and the shattering of the ancient social systems, culture, and archaeological heritage, all symbolized by the looting of the National Museum and the torching of books and Korans in the National Library in Baghdad (“stuff happens,” shrugged Donald Rumsfeld), plus the damage to the archaeological heritage in Nineveh, Ur, Babylon, and other sites of irreplaceable relics of the cradle of human civilization around the Tigris and Euphrates with an archaeological record going back 7,000 years that includes the cultures of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Sassanids, and Muslims. (See Chalmers Johnson, “The Smash of Civilizations,” and Frank Rich, “And Now: ‘Operation Iraqi Looting’.”)

 

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Ten Years of U.S. War in Afghanistan

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

“While post-9/11 veterans are more supportive than the general public, just one-third (34%) say that, given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have both been worth fighting.”

—Pew Research Center, “War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era,” Oct. 2011

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Is it a rule of the age of the War on Terror(ism) that no armed conflict the U.S. enters ever really ends? Is that what the Defense Department was signaling when it came up with the name Operation Enduring Freedom?

With all the attention this week to Occupy Wall Street and, sadly, the death of Steve Jobs, it was almost possible to not notice the tenth anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan that began on Oct. 7, 2001. But, as we said on September 11, we’re not forgetting.

This war has been the longest in American history for over a year: the milestone was passed in June 2010 when the war entered its 104th month. U.S. involvement in Vietnam is reckoned at 103 months long. U.S. participation in World War II was only 44 months. The Afghan war is now in its 120th month, and the Obama White House and Pentagon see our forces there well into 2014 and beyond.

A majority of the American public has long said this war is not worth fighting. A Pew Research Center poll in June found 56% of Americans—an all-time high—want the U.S. to pull troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Veterans are usually the segment of the population most supportive of military engagements, but a new Pew Research poll, “War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era,” finds that only one-third of post-9/11 veterans say that, “given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have both been worth fighting.” Only one-third of veterans.

And what is Congress doing? What are we telling Congress to do? How do we get their attention?

The White House issued a quiet statement (no graphic pictures of burned or bloody shredded bodies of nineteen-year-olds) noting the sacrifice of some 1,700 American service members in this war, to “honor the memory of the nearly 1,800 American patriots, and many coalition and Afghan partners, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan for our shared security and freedom.” The statement hits all the right notes, if you believe in that kind of thing.

End It Now. Quietly. Steadily. Reinforce the Diplomatic Corps.

What we believe is that the war in Afghanistan is not one that can ever be won. The best that can be done is not through arms but through quiet steady accelerated withdrawal of armed forces and the intelligent application of diplomacy along the lines the late Richard Holbrooke was attempting. Try to forge agreements or alliances between the numerous tribes and ethnic groups and factions within them to provide for their living together with as little violence as possible. Accept the necessity of some diplomatic presence and some foreign aid, with as little interference as possible from neighboring interests (Pakistani, Iranian).

A precise prescription for a diplomatic resolution is beyond our pay grade, to put it lightly—and for all we know it may not be possible even for a diplomat / peace broker of Richard Holbrooke’s or George Mitchell’s capabilities—but we do know the costly military operation is unaffordable for a nation as cash-strapped by under-taxation of its wealthy individuals and effectively non-taxation of its corporations. (Far from the traditional approach of raising taxes during wartime, the Republican-driven U.S. government has been slashing revenues since the Afghan war began.) The United States has already spent some $462 billion in the Afghanistan war, more than 1,700 soldiers have died, and over 14,000 have been wounded in action. The war is approaching a half trillion dollars—a figure that would surely be higher had not the Bush administration siphoned off a great proportion of U.S. “resources” toward the invasion of Iraq from 2003 until they were redirected back to Afghanistan by President Obama in 2009. The war in Iraq has cost $800 billion by the time you read this. And already the Iraq war alone is estimated by Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to eventually cost the U.S. $3 trillion.

The present Obama plan announced in June is to wind down the Afghan war by 2014, when the U.S. role will change “from combat to support.” But what does “wind down” mean? How many soldiers will still be stationed there? How many are presently in Iraq? How many military contractors will still be in Afghanistan and Iraq by 2014, and at what cost? The projected reductions will only bring us back to the roughly 65,000 troops that were stationed in Afghanistan when Obama announced the surge. As we pointed out in June,

we still have 85,000 active duty military personnel stationed in Iraq at a monthly cost of about $4 billion. For that matter, U.S. military personnel number some 50,000 in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, and 25,000 in South Korea. How long does the government intend to keep this going?  (“Obama’s Troop Drawdown Is Little, Late, But a Start,” 6/23/11)

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10th Year of Afghan War Begins

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

America Slogs On, “Dead or Alive”

Briefly, sadly noted: Today, October 7, 2010, begins the tenth year of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. How’s that hunt for Osama bin Laden going? How’s that expansion into Pakistan going? How much taxpayer-supplied money has the U.S. spent on the war in Afghanistan? That we can answer: more than $352 billion (thanks to the National Priorities Project). How many dead? 1,321 U.S., 339 U.K., 472 other: total = 2,132 (per iCasualties.org). These are not statistics, but individual human lives lost forever.

What are they dying for? For how much longer? If “we’re fighting for freedom,” are we free to say “enough”? Free to withhold our taxes from the Pentagon? (Didn’t think so.)

Does “Operation Enduring Freedom” = War That Never Ends?

For the first year or so, we like most Americans agreed with the necessity of an invasion of Afghanistan because we trusted that the U.S. and allied forces actually intended to and would be able to capture bin Laden and crush al Qaeda (and not just drive them down to Pakistan). That was a long time ago. Readers can see our views on the whole damn thing in hard-hitting, award-winning posts like “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation” and “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire.” Other Afghan War pieces can be found here.

Lastly, let us quote again the revealing remarks by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that suggest what the U.S. is in for (note the count of 10 years), and the sobering observation by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit:

“. . . the reality, secretly guarded until now, is . . . [that] . . . it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. . . . That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. . . . The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), January 15–21, 1998

“Notwithstanding the damage al Qaeda and the Taliban have suffered . . . bin Laden’s forces now have the United States where they have wanted it, on the ground in Afghanistan where Islamist insurgents can seek to reprise their 1980s’ victory over the Red Army [of the Soviet Union]. Al Qaeda now has the chance to prove bin Laden’s thesis that the United States cannot maintain long-term, casualty-producing military engagements . . .”

Michael Scheuer, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (2002)

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Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Thoughts on Two American Traumas

[ Cross-posted at Daily Kos. ]

Between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, which do you think gets most attention, and why?

What if the national focus on 9/11 is exaggerated and the nation should focus instead on 8/29—Hurricane Katrina—as the catastrophe that signifies the greatest threat to America? The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has received high-profile attention, marked by the release of feature films (Spike Lee, Harry Shearer), hour-long special reports (Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper), and a presidential address at Xavier University, so we’re not complaining that Katrina has been ignored.

We were in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and saw men and women in dust- and debris-covered clothing walking the streets in a daze and crossing the 59th Street Bridge into Queens as from an apocalypse. We heard distraught eyewitnesses on pay phones talking about seeing the burning, falling bodies (“Look, Mommy, the birds are on fire”); we have heard first-person accounts from survivors who were just 20 feet away when their coworkers fleeing the burning towers were crushed beneath chunks of falling metal the size of garbage trucks. We’ve heard accounts from neighbors who were trapped on the E train near the World Trade Center while frantic escapees pounded on the doors to get in. The haunting stories, the anguish go on and on. Many others have experienced far worse than we can ever imagine. So, the following thoughts are by no means intended to diminish the trauma of September 11 or the necessity of dealing with al Qaeda and other extremist threats.

Anorexia of the Homeland: Making War While “Starving the Beast”

And yet we think maybe the challenges this nation faces are more accurately represented by the natural and bureaucratic/political disaster suffered on August 29, 2005, and in the following days, weeks, months, years. The United States is falling apart from a lack of funding of every kind of infrastructure—resulting from neglect, indifference, and a mean-spirited conservative agenda that seeks to roll back the progressive reforms of the 20th century. Our nation is in a downward spiral because of political unwillingness to protect the environment and our fellow citizens who are poor, jobless, homeless, in need of medical care and decent education. Our coasts and cities are vulnerable because of long-term environmental neglect and denial of the effects of industry—global warming, rising sea levels, intensified storms resulting from warming seas—and because corporate-captive politicians of both parties have put industrial and political interests ahead of what’s best for the planet, humanity, and other life forms. Even if 9/11 had never happened, all these conditions would still threaten our way of life.

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As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Out of Iraq, on to Afghanistan

The last combat troops have left Iraq, as a convoy of the 4th Stryker Brigade rumbled in the wee hours of August 19, 2010, from Iraq toward U.S. bases in Kuwait. At the end of August, Operation Iraqi Freedom will end and 50,000 advisory and security troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 for a new phase to be known as Operation New Dawn. (May we have a new dawn in the United States, please?—or is it not “morning in America” anymore?)

Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports here on how the U.S. State Department, with about 2,400 civilian employees protected by up to 7,000 private security guards, will continue the training of Iraqi police and assist with political stabilization and other functions—including counterterrorism—in an effort to help Iraq rebuild without the presence of U.S. combat troops. The 2,400 civilian State Department employees will work at the Baghdad embassy and regional outposts in Mosul, Kirkuk, and at consulates in Erbil and Basra. Gordon writes:

The startup cost of building and sustaining two embassy branch offices—one in Kirkuk and the other in Mosul—and of hiring security contractors, buying new equipment and setting up two consulates in Basra and Erbil is about $1 billion. It will cost another $500 million or so to make the two consulates permanent. And getting the police training program under way will cost about $800 million.

So, the combat forces are withdrawing, returning to the Homeland. Some soldiers will get to rejoin their families after a long time away—we wish them well—and others will have to redeploy in maybe six months to Afghanistan, where Obama’s surge continues.

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

It is surely a good thing that the combat forces are withdrawing from Iraq, but why don’t we feel any pleasure or pride? What has been accomplished, aside from doubling the price of a gallon of gas and making Iran the main power in the region? The soldiers themselves surely feel some pride and relief, and after all their hard work they deserve more than a good cigar. But what have we gained? Where is the security? The United States is immeasurably poorer, more weak and divided than when this war began—economically, socially, politically. As of this writing, 4,415 American soldiers are dead; tens of thousands are wounded, many critically, missing limbs, and some with unimaginable brain and neurological injuries, and alarming numbers have committed suicide: 27 in July alone, 32 in June. (In addition to all the Iraqi dead—estimates are around 100,000—there have been 179 British dead and 139 from other Coalition nations.) And then there’s the psychological, soul damage the soldiers suffer, and the broken marriages, the frayed family relationships, the children who have grown from infants to eight- and ten-year-olds hardly even knowing their fathers or mothers who have been away on multiple deployments and come home virtually strangers with scant job prospects here in the Homeland. But Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, so maybe it’s all worthwhile.

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Declare Independence from Endless War

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967

While we’re enjoying good old-fashioned 4th of July cookouts, fireworks, and other traditional Independence Day pleasures, let’s also take some time to remember the soldiers far away in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not with their families, as well as those who are recovering (we hope) in military hospitals, and let’s begin mentally drafting letters and phone call messages to the White House and Congress to demand the nation’s independence from those unaffordable wars. Bring the troops home already. We can’t wait until July 2011, which Obama suggested as a potential beginning of a drawdown when he announced the 30,000-troop escalation at West Point last December when the Afghan war was already in its eighth year. (See our assessment of the president’s decision to escalate, “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation.”)

The explosive revelations in Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” were only superficially about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s trash-talking Obama’s national security team. It may be that in the long term the most damaging consequences will be the revelations that the troops in Afghanistan do not support the vaunted counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for which the additional 30,000+ troops have been “surged” into the hell-hole, and even McChrystal himself has doubts that the COIN strategy can work there (see “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire” below). We expect no substantial changes under Gen. David Petraeus, whose 99–o approval by the Senate on June 30 can only be interpreted as a license to do as he will, for as long as he pleases, whatever it may cost.

Costs of War: Unaffordable, Unsustainable, Unconscionable

This past week, when Senate Republicans and Ben Nelson (D-NE) warmed up the nation for the 4th of July festivities by filibustering for a third straight time an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans—15 million are out of work, about the number who were unemployed when Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933—the House approved $80 billion for Afghan war funding. Sounds just like the Bush years. The Center for American Progress reports that “as of July 3, an estimated 1.7 million workers will lose their benefits. If this drags on through July, a total of 3.2 million workers will lose their benefits.”

Think Progress reports that 17 senators from states with double-digit jobless rates have repeatedly voted to filibuster unemployment benefits. Click the chart to read all about it.

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