Saturday, March 10, 2007
Walter Reed, Inc
The company that maintains (or not) Walter Reed Hospital:
IAP is owned by Cerberus Capital Management LP, an asset-management firm chaired by former Treasury secretary John W. Snow. The company is headed by two former high-ranking executives of KBR, formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root. Al Neffgen, IAP's chief executive, was chief operating officer for a KBR division before joining IAP in 2004. IAP's president, Dave Swindle, is a former KBR vice president.
Dan Swindle? KBR?
Oh the irony! The irony!
Why the Democrats Aren't Much of an Alternative
Tony smith, professor at Tufts University tells us why we should not expect too much change with the change of party control in Washington.
Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, embraced the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since. Even those who have shifted against the war have avoided doctrinal questions.
In fact, these neoliberals are nearly indistinguishable from the better-known neoconservatives. The neocons' think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), often salutes individuals within the PPI, and PPI members such as Marshall signed PNAC petitions endorsing the Iraq invasion. Weeks after "With All Our Might" appeared, the Weekly Standard, virtually the PNAC house organ, gave it a thumbs-up review. And why not? The PPI and PNAC are tweedledum and tweedledee.
Sources for many of the critical elements of the Bush doctrine can be found in the emergence of neoliberal thought during the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War. In think tanks, universities and government offices, left-leaning intellectuals, many close to the Democratic Party, formulated concepts to bring to fruition the age-old dream of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson "to make the world safe for democracy." These neolibs advocated the global expansion of "market democracy." They presented empirical, theoretical, even philosophical arguments to support the idea of the United States as the indispensable nation. Albright's self-assured declaration descended directly from traditional Wilsonianism.
It isn't easy to offer a true alternative. The challenges to world order are many, as are the influential special interests in this country that want an aggressive policy: globalizing corporations, the military-industrial complex, the pro-Israel lobbies, those who covet Middle Eastern oil. The nationalist conviction that we are indeed "the indispensable nation" will continue to tempt our leaders to overplay their hand. The danger lies in believing that our power is beyond challenge, that the righteousness of our goals is beyond question and that the real task is not to reformulate our role in the world so much as to assert more effectively a global American peace.
Professor Smith clearly identifies the challenge for those of us who want real change in American policy throughout the world: developing a world view that supports American interests in a muturally cooperative world. It's not as sexy as the robust hegemony of the neo-cons and neo-libs but it is reality based in that it recognizes the limits of power. Right now, I am part of an anti-war movement that is concerned with a disastrous war. Professor Smith reminds us to look beyond our immediate pain and ask what should be the goals and means of American foreign policy. Many in the anti-war and other progressive movements have, in fact, asked this question but there is lilttle serious discussion among the major parties. We will have to force the issue.
Unfortunately, the only real vehicle for this purpose is the Democratic Party. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go with the party you have, not the party you wished you had. I guess. That's why I have my doubts about the prospects for real change. Even so, I know what I want for America: peace and prosperity, the same goal I have for the rest of the world. Which is why I will continue to press Democrats to offer real change.
The Iraq debate is very, very important but it is only the beginning. I want Democrats to move American policy away from unilateral military action to diplomacy and negotiation. I want policy that acknowledges and understands the traditions, culture and needs of our partners in the world, the many peoples who share this planet with us. I want America to be a nation that is respected for our ideals, not scorned as a foreign occupier or cynical corporate and cultural manipulator.
America's history has always encompassed the twin threads of idealism and opportunisim with the latter often cloaked in the former. No doubt as human beings, we will always be subject to greed and self-interest but I am always rooting for the better angels of our nature to keep up the fight, to look beyond the immediate to see a new world of possibility.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Chain of Evidence
Mission: Walter Reed
The Army is bringing senior combat officers to Walter Reed Hospital. Officers and NCO's who can retain the trust and confidence of combat troops have my utmost respect. More than paint and repair, also needed, providing wounded soldiers access to concerned leaders who know how to make the Army work will improve care. It's still the Army and prone to sluggishness but effective leadership is absolutely essential to ensusre the wounded find their way through the maze.
I hope these guys rock.
The First Step
Congressional Democrats are asking for dates and accomplishments in Iraq, a first for this war. The terms keep Americans in combat for another year but at least the Democrats are beginning the national dialogue toward ending the occupation. We should have been doing this much earlier. Now that the country is two to one against this war,now that its costs and demonstrable folly are known, Congress should have no qualms about setting clear expectations as it exercises its most fundamental authority, the power of the purse.
Rather than tell BushCheney how to fight the war, Congress is taking him at his word regarding performance and results. But more than that, Congress is saying that we don't want to still be fighting the same war in the same manner a year from now.
Under the House plan, Congress would institute the same tough benchmarks for the Iraqi government that Bush detailed in a national address in January. The president would have to certify by July 1 that the Iraqi government had made progress toward those goals. If he could not, troops would begin withdrawing, with all troops out of combat by year's end. If Bush could certify progress, he would have until Oct. 1 to certify that all of the benchmarks had been met. If they had not, troops would have to be withdrawn by March.
Whatever happened with the benchmarks, troop withdrawals would have to begin by March 1, 2008, under the House bill, and all troops would be out of combat roles by Aug. 31.
This is not micromanaging. This is setting a policy regarding the most pressing issue of the day. The Democrats are right to ask for an end to a destructive failed policy. They ask no more than what has been promised.
Speaker Pelosi responded well to the BushCheney veto threat:
"Never confine your best work, your hopes, your dreams, the aspirations of the American people to what will be signed by George W. Bush, because that is too limiting a factor."
A positive note:
"I look forward to even stronger steps," said Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), a leading antiwar Democrat. "But this is a major moment in the history of ending the Iraq war."
An ominous note:
But some conservative Democrats said they are reluctant to sign on to any measure that could be construed as limiting Bush's options. "I'm bothered by dates," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. "I think you still have to go on conditions for staying."
At this point, ANY terms and policies for continued American deployment in Iraq should be thoroughly discussed and understood. I have no confidence that BushCheney will not attempt to distort that discussion in every way possible.
These conditions do nothing to harm the troops--other than keeping them in the shit for another year. What harms the troops is a mission without support. Most Americans don't support the war and occupation in Iraq. Imagine doing the things war requires and seeing your friends blown apart knowing that most of your countrymen don't think the war is in America's best interests. Putting an end to the killing and destruction in that situation will do a lot to improve morale.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Sunday on About Face
About Face, the Veterans For Peace program on the NovaM Radio Network will discuss "Coming Home From the War" this Sunday at 11:00 am on KPHX Radio (1480 AM in the large amorphous urban area known as Phoenix, Arizona and www.1480kphx.com on the web). Join me, co-host Dennis Stout and callers to tell what you experienced when came back from the war. Family members are welcome to tell their stories of spouses, children or parents who returned from war. Local isteners can call 602-258-8800, everyone else can call toll free at 800-989-1480.
Americans have returned from war throughout history. Our stories are as old as human experience. Yet most people don't know what it's like or how to deal with the returning veterans who come home different, if they come home at all. This Sunday's About Face wants to tell all stories. America needs to hear them.
Sunday 11 March 2007 11:00 am (mountain standard time; most of the nation will switch to daylight time that day, most of Arizona will not)
1480 AM local
800-989-1480 toll free
Minstrel Boy, what you have written in the comments lately would be an amazing story. Even if you don't want to come on the air, you should call the station just to tell our engineer how I can contacct you. I am scheduled to exit this AO in May or June and believe that not meeting you in person before I go would be a missed opportunity, what with you living somewhere toward the edge of this Large Amorphous Urban Area and actually traveling within easy range of my own personal largely undisclosed geographic location.
Does This Mean They Must Apologize?
The Word We Dare Not Speak
God forbid that I defend John McCain. But he recently spoke the truth about the Iraq war. Because the war in Iraq has been mismanaged and bungled, McCain said that American lives–“our most precious treasure”–were “wasted”. He quickly changed his wording to “sacrificed” and insisted that more “sacrifice” is in order in order to protect America from an “even greater danger if we are defeated there”. Amazingly, McCain’s new wording came after howls of protest from–are you ready for this?–Democrats who, of course faced a similar contretemps when Barak Obama used the waste word to characterize the failed war and occupation.
So let me get this right. Democrats are unwilling to admit that the United States has wasted lives in Iraq? A war that should have never been launched? A war that has been characterized by failed vision, poor planning and distorted intelligence? A war that has cost this nation the sympathy and understanding of the entire world since 9-11? A war that has given new life and opportunity to the small scale but lethal terrorists who have pledged their enmity toward this nation, its allies and interests? Even the fucking DEMOCRATS won’t call this catastrophe a waste?
With leaders like this America will never escape Iraq and begin to repair the self-inflicted damage caused by what is arguably the greatest strategic blunder in American history. Vietnam was bad but at least the policy makers of that era had not previous example of a horrible waste that did us no good. Hell, I knew invading Iraq in 2003 was a bad move and I’m just a schmuck who knows a little history. Our so-called leaders just assumed it would be a piece of cake and walked into it. And they are SO unable to control the chaos and violence they unleashed. Why isn’t this considered a waste? What perverted and distorted values keep Americans from recognizing a truly bad deal when they see it? A bad deal that kills and maims daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers.
John McCain was right. Iraq is a waste. He claims that those lives will only be sacrificed–not wasted–if we are not defeated. No, John, they are wasted no matter what the outcome because Iraq never threatened the United States in a manner that called for an unilateral invasion. None of the brave Americans who have been killed and wounded need have given their lives, limbs and peace of mind to protect America from any danger that could not have been addressed diplomatically and with international cooperation. That, John, is my definition of waste.
An even greater waste is to send more lives into the meat grinder in the vain hope of creating a result that will any way benefit America. Much of the world, our neighbors on this small planet, probably don’t think we are have earned the right to expect a favorable outcome. We have squandered American lives and treasure and will reap only more animosity and terror from a world that only five years ago stood with us against Al-Qaeda.
What I find so infuriating about this whole thing is the waste. That’s why I agree with your original wording. What is wasted along with the lives and treasure is Americans patriotism. Patriotic Americans are sacrificing, performing heroically to NO END. All that sacrifice and heroism goes for naught. You want to believe that America can somehow manage Iraq to a satisfactory conclusion but it won’t happen until Iraqis can come to their own agreement. In the meantime we are simply creating more instability and chaos.
Americans want out. Iraqis want us out. A growing number of the soldiers you ask to sacrifice yet again question their purpose and mission, especially returning for a third or fourth time only to see a more deteriorated, violent “nation” than the one they left a year or 18 months before. IT’S NOT WORKING! IT’S A WASTE!
John Kerry has made two statements in his life that are unassailable. In 1971 he asked How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake? More recently he noted that half of the names on the Vietnam Memorial came after Americans had decided that war was not in our interest. I served with the men who were among the last few of the 58,000 dead. It sucked. Big time. It was a waste. I knew that even as I served. If someone was killed, we said he’d been “wasted”. We knew what our lives were worth.
But at least the danger was limited. Failure in Vietnam was embarrassing but hardly catastrophic. Iraq is already a catastrophic failure. It has broken the Army in a way not seen since Vietnam. It bleeds our treasury and distracts us from the real job of building an economy that can serve America and the world in the 21st century. It even distracts us from combating the terrorists who threaten us. Yes, they do threaten us. I acknowledge that but I don’t believe we need to occupy and destroy other nations and peoples in order to effectively fight that terrorism. In fact, I believe our ill-advised war and occupation strengthens our adversaries
So, John, for once I will defend your words as correct. I also support your restatement because you don’t really think it’s a waste. You are willing to send more lives into harm’s way. But it’s a waste, John. An obscene, fucking waste.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Sergeant Richard L. Ford is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary.
On a day of blue skies and boisterous winds that hinted of spring, Ford became the 314th service member killed in the Iraq war to be buried at Arlington. Ford, of East Hartford, Conn., died Feb. 20 in Baghdad from combat wounds. He was 40 years old and on his third tour of duty in Iraq.
Godspeed, Sergeant Ford.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Grim assessment of prosects in Iran courtesy of Spengler writing in Asia Times Online:
Washington had the opportunity at the turn of 2007 to isolate and neutralize the Mahmud Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran, but through stupidity and arrogance has made war the most probable outcome.
It is pointless to read the signals out of Washington to divine US intentions. A generous interpretation of the confusion on the Potomac would be that matters have become so complex that the moment Washington sends one sort of signal, it is compelled by the next turn of events to send a different one, to the point that no one can make sense of what the US wants to communicate. A less charitable interpretation would be that no one is in charge, and that different agencies of government are pursuing their own agendas without accountability to a central authority.
In the end it does not matter much which interpretation we choose, for Washington has done everything possible to destroy the prospects for a diplomatic solution. Whether it was possible to begin with, the historians will have to debate. For the time being, Bush has snatched war out of the jaws of peace.
Can You Hold?
One term that keeps appearing in the stories about Walter Reed is "medical holding company", which is simply a temporary company for persons passing through between permanent assignments. I was in two holding companies during my brief military career: four days at Oakland Army Base waiting to ship out to Vietnam and just over two weeks at the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh. The extended stay at the latter occurred because they pulled me and some other infantrymen out of regular processing to serve as iternal security guards for a couple weeks.
The memory I have from both experiences is being in limbo, unattached and unconnected to anyone who cares. I was just there, being processed, but other than moving me through the system, no one paid much attention to me. During the two week guard stint, I was pretty much on my own as long as I stayed in the battalion area and showed up for duty. It wasn't bad duty but I could not receive mail since I had no permanent address. What made it bearable was that it was good time not in the field and the fact that I talked my way into access to the battalion library.
The sense of being cast adrift comes back to me as I read about the soldiers at Walter Reed and other military hospitals. I had no particular needs when I was on hold so the indifference wasn't a big deal. Had I really needed something--like the wounded from Iraq--I would have been shit out of luck. They sure are.
Maybe If We Buy More Yellow Ribbon Magnets
When I met with my Congressman's staff a week ago, I asked about care for wounded soldiers and veterans in facilities other than Walter Reed Hospital. If conditions at the premier Army medical facililty were as bad as described by the Washington Post, I wondered what other, less prominent facilities were like.
The answer is in, from today's Washington Post, not my Congressman.
Oliva is but one quaking voice in a vast outpouring of accounts filled with emotion and anger about the mistreatment of wounded outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Stories of neglect and substandard care have flooded in from soldiers, their family members, veterans, doctors and nurses working inside the system. They describe depressing living conditions for outpatients at other military bases around the country, from Fort Lewis in Washington state to Fort Dix in New Jersey. They tell stories -- their own versions, not verified -- of callous responses to combat stress and a system ill equipped to handle another generation of psychologically scarred vets.
Across the country, some military quarters for wounded outpatients are in bad shape, according to interviews, Government Accountability Office reports and transcripts of congressional testimony. The mold, mice and rot of Walter Reed's Building 18 compose a familiar scenario for many soldiers back from Iraq or Afghanistan who were shipped to their home posts for treatment. Nearly 4,000 outpatients are currently in the military's Medical Holding or Medical Holdover companies, which oversee the wounded. Soldiers and veterans report bureaucratic disarray similar to Walter Reed's: indifferent, untrained staff; lost paperwork; medical appointments that drop from the computers; and long waits for consultations.
Sgt. William A. Jones had recently written to his Arizona senators complaining about abuse at the VA hospital in Phoenix. He had written to the president before that. "Not one person has taken the time to respond in any manner," Jones said in an e-mail.
From Ray Oliva, the distraught 70-year-old vet from Kelseyville, Calif., came this: "I wrote a letter to Senators Feinstein and Boxer a few years ago asking why I had to wear Hospital gowns that had holes in them and torn and why some of the Vets had to ask for beds that had good mattress instead of broken and old. Wheel chairs old and tired and the list goes on and on. I never did get a response."
Welcome home from the war, guys. America loves you. Just don't ask for anything.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
New Life for an Old Enemy
Asia Times Online has an interesting two part series on Al-Qaeda's resurgence. Part one is here and part 2 is here. I was going to post an erudite, mildly snarking post about how BushCheney has so thoroughly and completely bolloxed the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked the US on 9-11 and how Al-Qaeda could not possibly have contemplated moving their operations to Iraq four years ago. But I haven't, so go read the articles.
Eyes Wide Open, Part 3
The Eyes Wide Open memorial to American and Iraqi dead made its third appearance in the Phoenix area this weekend. This installation is at Crash Arts, located at 817 W. Madison Street in Phoenix and will be on display from noon to 4:00 pm today as part of the 19th annual Art Detour. Art Detour is a BFD here, drawing thousands of people who would otherwise go nowhere near some of these places.
I volunteered for a couple hours yesterday morning. Crowds were slow during my watch but began picking up as I left around noon. Along with the opportunity to see Phoenix art spaces, patrons will also get a strong dose of reality at Eyes Wide Open.
The indoor venue gives the memorial a much different feel from the earlier installation at Encanto Park. This installation has a more somber, almost sepulchral, feel than the outdoor setting. I felt a sense of passage and change as I walked among the boots. The arrangement is no less respectful or moving for being in a confined space, just different.
The second installation was last Monday and Tuesday at Arizona State University. I didn't make it for that event. You can find pictures of it here.
Thanks to Cheri Lippmann of Code Pink Phoenix for organizing and coordinating the exhibit. She and other volunteers from the End the War Coalition put a lot of effort into this. It would be nice to think that we'll never have to do this for another war.
Crash Arts is located near the Central Arizona Shelter Services center so the area is frequented by many homeless individuals, including veterans. The juxtaposition of Iraq war casualties with our domestic walking wounded is a stark reminder that our national priorities create collateral damage here at home.