Saturday, May 05, 2007

Stating the Obvious

CheneyBush didn't mention this part of the equation when he invaded Iraq:
The authors of the Army document argued that the strains placed on troops in Iraq are in some ways more severe than those borne by the combat forces of World War II. "A considerable number of Soldiers and Marines are conducting combat operations everyday of the week, 10-12 hours per day seven days a week for months on end," wrote Col. Carl Castro and Maj. Dennis McGurk, both psychologists. "At no time in our military history have Soldiers or Marines been required to serve on the front line in any war for a period of 6-7 months."

No fucking shit! Combat is nasty, evil business that changes a person forever. Why is anyone surprised at this? All you need do is think about what a Soldier or Marine is asked to do, multiply that day after day, deployment after deployment and it should be blindingly clear that the Iraq occupation will destroy our military. Along the way it will destroy the men and women who have volunteered to serve the nation. It's a bad deal all around.

Multiple deployment must be a living hell. A single tour is bad enough. Knowing that you may/will return to combat means you never really leave that environment. You cannot afford to lose your edge. This makes Iraq far more damaging to the individual than Vietnam where it was over for most of us once we were out of country. I guess the fact that our forces are volunteers takes some of the weight from the burden--they joined to serve their nation--but I wonder how many think it's been a fair bargain or would do volunteer again.

The Army document referenced in the quote is a survey of Army and Marine Corps forces in Iraq. The report also has this no-brainer:
The study also found that the more often soldiers are deployed, the longer they are deployed each time; and the less time they spend at home, the more likely they are to suffer mental health problems such as combat trauma, anxiety and depression. That result is particularly notable given that the Pentagon has sent soldiers and Marines to Iraq multiple times and recently extended the tours of thousands of soldiers to 15 months from 12 months.

Think back now to those stirring days of yesteryear, back in 2002 and 2003. Was any of this considered or discussed that you can recall? Of course not. It was WMD's, liberators, rose petal greetings and home before Thanksgiving, just like in Daddy's war. No biggie. That was back in the days when CheneyBush claimed to create reality that everyone else must follow. He was right. He created a reality in Iraq that America, Iraq and the world must deal with. But CheneyBush doesn't recognize the reality he created, prefering to look toward some future reality that will be better, if we only follow his newest plan. What CheneyBush did not anticipate was reality beyond his control, a reality that would destroy him and America's credibility as well. Meanwhile, the men and women of the armed forces rotate through hell. The ones returning, return to families forever changed by the separation.

The survey also showed that most Soldiers and Marines would not report a fellow combatant for abusing or harassing civilians.

...[A]bout two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,"

Not surprising. Loyalty to your buddies, animosity toward an enemy and fear will keep many otherwise honorable people silent.

For what it's worth, the good news here is that the Army is examining and documenting these issues. The less good news is that none of this is really news. Even worse news is that this mission, all with that sacrifice, does the US no real good. What a fucking waste.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Talk, Talk

Wow. Something I recommended about Iraq actually took place. The International Conference on Iraq is the first step toward building regional stabity. Iraq's parlous state is not only Iraq's problem, the chaos in Iraq could spill over into larger conflicts. Think August 1914. That's why I recommended that everybody--Iraq, its neighbors, the US and UN--start talking about what kind of Iraq they want and why they have a legitimate right to expect that outcome. Iraqis should especially speak up about their interests, their hopes and their identity. Iraq is their home and they have the right to create that home in ways that best serve them and do not harm or threaten others. Talking at Sharm al-Shaykh is a good start.

That the Iraqi government called the conference is a good sign. The government may lack credibility with most Sunnis and many Shi'a as well but its attempt to call attention to the nation's problems and reach out to the world community is positive. Dar Al-Hayat reports from the conference that Iraqi's believe the event and opportunity offered are a sign of Iraqi confidence and diplomatic skill in representing the nation. Iraqi media covereage has the same tenor. The only way that the Iraqi government will gain legitimacy with most Iraqis is when they believe it is acting in their interests, not those of a group or foreign power. Actively pursuing a national agenda in the world is a way to earn that legitimacy. I hope that's what is actually happening.

Since the Iraqi government is not an entirely free actor, I am sure that the occupation authorities concurred in the decision. I wonder if Americans had anything to do with initiating the effort. A regional solution is certainly in America's interests but it's also in Iraq's interest. Either party would have reason to start the process. The conference is excellent cover and opportunity for America start talking with all the players in the region.

I have long maintained that Iraq is a problem to be solved, not a war to be won. War and violence build nothing. A clearly defined national interest, pursued in cooperation and exchange with other nations is the foundation of a global community that can live in peace on this small planet.

Good on you, all the nations who came to talk with Iraq and each other. Please keep talking until you find peace.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Talking Back to CheneyBush

It always feels creepy to me when I agree with Henry Kissinger but sometimes it makes sense.
The idea for the bipartisan commission was rooted in a Jan. 6 Wall Street Journal op-ed by former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, former defense secretary William J. Perry and former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). In the op-ed, they urged the Bush administration to reverse reliance on nuclear weapons as a step toward preventing proliferation. They also called for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking nuclear weapons off alert, reducing the number of nuclear forces and halting fissile-material production.

Well, Duh! You'd think that would be obvious but apparently not, if it takes a gaggle of retired officials (at least one of whom is notorious for his ruthlessness) to get attention. The attention is welcome and shows what at difference the November 2006 elections make in Washington.

A House Armed Services subcommittee voted yesterday to establish a year-long, bipartisan commission to reevaluate the U.S. nuclear strategic posture for the post-9/11 world. The subcommittee voted to pay for it by cutting $20 million from the Bush administration's $88 million request to complete design and cost studies for the first of a new generation of nuclear warheads.

Wow! Taking money from weapons production and using it to study the need for new weapons and their impact on proliferation. I see Congress awakening from a long slumber, not a little outraged by an arrogant executive, and learning how to use its authority to speak fully on major policy issues. Facing that Congress is a CheneyBush administration made careless and sloppy by six years of unfettered rule. They are still dangerous, still exercising authority, however incompetenly but I think their absolute rule is over. Americans will soon be looking into an abyss of greed, venality and mendacity, all done in our name. I look forward to America's wakening. Assuming that everyone doesn't just shrug their shoulders and switch channels.

At least for now, I can hope.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mission Accomplished: Year Four

Pepe Escobar reports on life outside the Green Zone in Baghdad for Asia Times Online:
The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed since April 2003, the more than 4 million exiled and internally displaced, the overlapping ethnic cleansing neighborhood by neighborhood, the abysmal impotence of the Nuri al-Maliki government to seriously work with the Sunni Arab elite, the American imposition of the Baghdad gulag: all these factors dissolve in the deadly daily embrace of the Red Zone - where a human life means absolutely nothing and to stay alive in one piece is a victory to be earned minute by minute.

The Red Zone soundtrack is the hum of the power generator, punctuated by Kalashnikov shots, explosions, bombings, the sirens of police cars and ambulances and the roar of US choppers flying almost at roof level.

The air is heavy, dusty and the sun usually does not shine through the thick haze - a Hollywood-like special effect. The Baghdad gulag has the feel of an eerie version of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles - dusty and dead instead of glitzy palm trees, living-dead characters covered by a thick layer of sand and soot. The urban tissue is of a dissected cadaver - filthy, exposed parts separated from one another, fear and loathing impressed on blood, sweat, tears and viscera.

This is the real face of Bush's surgeland.


Unclusterfucking Iraq

Very thoughtful article on the upcoming conference on Iraq and regional security at PostGlobal:

The first order of business is to build an on-going, results-oriented process that includes all the pivotal players. Iraq and its neighbors have been holding regular ministerial meetings since 2003 as part of a Turkish initiative, but without the United States. The key international and regional players convened in late 2004 at Sharm el-Sheikh, but with little follow-up. Summit meetings should punctuate rather than define the process.


This new diplomatic initiative could also be used to generate regional support for Iraqi political reconciliation. It is a collective opportunity for the neighbors to signal unambiguously to the various Iraqi factions that reconciliation is a regional priority. But the key ingredient is for the Iraqi government to start a serious process of reform and reconciliation, and to demonstrate its effectiveness and credibility at home so that the neighbors can then provide more political backing.


On the question of the U.S. military presence, there is no way to satisfy the expectations of all sides without declaring definitively that the United States will withdraw: not precipitously, but responsibly. A precipitous withdrawal would accelerate unilateralist impulses in the region, further imperil Iraq, and raise the prospects of a regional war. But digging in heels is also problematic, since it will impede the drive for greater regional diplomacy. Regional players—whether they want the United States to leave or to stay—need to be convinced that they will have more influence by acting within a process than by challenging it on the battlefield.


Skeptics in the United States would argue that regional diplomacy and high-level engagement with Iraq’s neighbors is itself a concession, but the situation in Iraq is too desperate to cling to high-minded notions at the expense of pragmatic solutions. Hard bargaining and multilateralism have produced results elsewhere, from Afghanistan to the Balkans.

This emerging process could provide a framework to ease tensions in the region and deliver practical solutions for Iraq. Moreover, if this process succeeds it could provide a major boost to American credibility, at a time when the gap between U.S. power and influence seems so wide.

That would certainly be a victory, a success, something that CheneyBush has so visibly failed to achieve in Iraq. Oh wait, he pulled down Saddam's statue and has his pistol. Not much for all the death, destruction and cost.

I sure hope America sends adults to Sharm el-Sheikh.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Another Assessment

"The Iraqi army, as far as capability goes, I'd stack them up against just about any Latin American army I've dealt with," he said. "However, the politicization of their officer corps is the worst I've ever seen."

Col. Ehrich Rose, chief of the Military Transition Team with the 4th Iraqi Army Division


More Good News From Iraq

The good news is that the United States has a Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The good news, in turn, offers a sober assessment of American reconstrution efforts: projects completed, targets met or not met.
The report found that almost all of the nearly $20 billion in reconstruction funds appropriated by Congress in 2003 has been allocated. More than half of the projects to be undertaken with that money have been completed, and many more are underway. In the medical field, for example, only 15 of 141 primary health-care centers have been completed -- and only eight of those are open to the public -- but 126 projects are slated to be finished by the end of the year.


The United States has spent almost $2 billion to provide drinkable water and improve sewer systems. The goal of reconstruction was to bring clean water to 8.4 million Iraqis, but with 88 percent of potable water projects complete, the current figure is 5.6 million, according to the report.

In other areas, the report cites success. Bank officials were trained in distributing small-business loans. Automated tax-collection and accounting systems were installed. Veterinary clinics were renovated. And 114 border forts have been completed.

Bowen, the inspector general, said there have been significant achievements in reconstruction and that much of the responsibility for sustaining progress is gradually shifting to Iraqis. "The U.S. mission in Iraq was to make an important and robust start in the recovery of national infrastructure with Iraq having to complete that mission," Bowen said. Iraqis must curb corruption, he said, and better spend their own money allocated for reconstruction.

The report is a quarterly assessment of efforts and results and can point to some real successes, the kind of projects soldiers show off as proud achievements that make their mission worthwhile. The also notes that lack of security severely hampers reconstruction efforts and even compromises its successses when children cannot attend the newly renovated schools for fear of death.

The Inspector General's report is welcome objectivity in an area where clear thinking and assessment is in short supply. Of course, I'm partial to inspectors general and performance auditors generally since I spent most of my career as an auditor-evaluator and appreciate what thoughtful, objective review and oversight can contribute to public management. So I am pleased to see my colleagues working in Iraq to keep our efforts as on track as possible. No doubt it is dangerous work but without it, how would we know?

The military effort could use a similar evaluation. Most recently a Lieutenant Colonel published an article strongly criticizing the failure of the Army's general officer corps to meet its obligation for realistic, clear assessment and advice to civilian policy makers on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The critique is not as official as the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, but it is serious and sober. Dave at The Galloping Beaver has some good commentary on the article and its meaning.


Keep in mind, that reconstruction is only one step.



If you add all the miitary and security forcefatalities listed at the total comes to 11,128. Almost 60 percent are Iraqi, 30 percent American. Plus more than a half million civilian deaths. Each is a wound that ripples through a family and community, always leaving grief,loss and, sometimes. hate in its wake.