Saturday, April 08, 2006

John Kerry on Fire

John Kerry responds to Colorado Senator Wayne Allard's attack on Kerry's demand for deadlines in Iraq:

...I’m not going to listen to the Senator from Colorado or anyone else question my motives when young Americans are dying on a daily basis or losing their limbs because Iraqi politicians won't form a government from an election that they held in December. That is just inexcusable; let me ask the Senator from Colorado, it is okay by him that young Americans are dying right now while politicians in Baghdad are frittering away the time and the opportunity that our soldiers fought to give them? Does he think that's a plan that's working? Does he think that's serving the needs of the American military?...

And I’m not going to listen to the Senator from Colorado or anyone else questions my motives when young Americans are dying on a daily basis or losing their limbs because Iraqi politicians won't form a government from an election that they held in December. That is just inexcusable; let me ask the Senator from Colorado, it is okay by him that young Americans are dying right now while politicians in Baghdad are frittering away the time and the opportunity that our soldiers fought to give them? Does he think that's a plan that's working? Does he think that's serving the needs of the American military?...

You want to run down the list of things that are egregious with respect to this war? I tell you one thing I know well, and I’ll remind the Senator from Colorado, half the names on the wall of that Vietnam Memorial, half the names on that wall became names of the dead after our leaders knew our policy wouldn't work. Well, our policy isn't working today, and I’m not going to be a United States Senator who adds to the next wall wherever it may be put that honors those who served in Iraq so that once again people point to a bunch of names that are added after we knew something was wrong....

I have never in my life seen a war managed like this one where there has been zero accountability at the highest levels of civilian leadership and people have been able to make mistake after mistake after mistake, and people want to come to the floor and defend it as somehow justifiable.... We're on the wrong course. And the plan needs to be changed.

Right on, John.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

One Night

February 1971. This is the spookiest it’s been since I arrived in Vietnam. Every day we find evidence of NVA activity: food caches, footprints on roads and trails, fleeting light after dark, movement. Bravo Company was ambushed not long ago. So was a patrol from my company. I’ve been in the field less than a month and don’t really know what I am doing. I mainly just follow the guy in front of me and try not to act scared. I expect the world around me to explode any moment now.

I am laying on my air mattress in the dark. Nothing to do but try to sleep until it’s my turn for watch and hope to God we don’t get hit tonight. So far nothing’s happened. I can’t believe I’ve been so lucky. Nor can I believe that my luck will hold much longer. I mean, this is a real fucking war. All this weaponry that I carry–my rifle, bullets, grenades, claymore mine–is the proverbial gun in the first act of a play. Sooner or later, someone will die. I don’t want that someone to be me but there’s really nothing I can do one way or the other except keep my head down and try not to fuck up.

The night is pitch black. I can’t even see the guys next to me. I am wrapped in my poncho liner. It’s not cold or anything but somehow the cover comforts me. I try to think about what my life used to be, about what it will be when I go home. I try not to think about now or tomorrow. Reality these days offers little hope or consolation. I guess the fact that I am still alive after three weeks in the field is something. But it’s a long, long way to December when my tour will be complete. Way too much can happen before then.

A sound! Rustling brush in front of me. Must be my imagination. I hear it again. It’s real. Holy Jesus Fuck! It’s closer. Someone’s coming toward the perimeter. I think. Not sure. I mean, he would have to have gotten past the trip flares in front of our claymores. Hard to imagine but I remember the demonstration of a sapper crawling through what seemed to be an impossible tangle of concertina wire. Getting over a single trip wire would be no difficulty. I tell myself it’s a small animal but am petrified with fear.

That sound again. I grab my rifle. I should alert the guys only a few meters away on either side of my position but it’s probably nothing. I keep quiet. I don’t want everyone to think I’m a flake. I am a new guy which is bad enough but a false alarm would just cement my reputation as fuck up. Closer now. Finger on my trigger, looking down rifle sights. I can almost see someone slowly crawling toward me. Almost, but not really. I want to open up on the dark, to blast whoever this is into eternity. I hold my fire, straining to see what’s out there, to find a definite target in the dark. The last thing I want is to open up on nothing. Everyone will know for sure that I am a flake.

The sound moves closer. A pause, then closer again. Will I be too scared to fire when I see him? I should shoot now. Light that fucker up. But where is he? I still can’t see anything. My head is pounding with fear. I imagine a body leaping toward me, hoping I can get a shot off before he plunges a bayonet into me. If I just fire now, I’ll throw him off, maybe even kill him. Unless there’s really nothing there. Nobody else seems to hear anything. No one’s given me a heads up, so it must be nothing. Yeah, right.

Now I don’t hear anything at all. The silence screams into my brain, “SHOOT! SHOOT! God dammit!” Just pull that fucking trigger! Why the fuck didn’t I alert anyone. When the shit hits the fan, they’ll know I’m a fuck up.

But wait. I hear it again, this time moving away? Really? I listen hard. Maybe, maybe. Hope, hope. It’s definitely not closer. Yes! Yes! It is moving away. Most likely a small animal. Maybe an NVA just fucking with us. Probably not, though.

I lay awake, looking down my rifle sights into the blackness for what seems like an eternity before relaxing my grip. Even then, I am alert, waiting for the slightest sound. Silence. Nothing.

Morning dawns. I wake up cradling my rifle. No sign of anything. I didn’t fuck up. Did I?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Iraq: Speculating the Cost

At his press conference a few weeks ago, BushCheney said that the presence of American forces in Iraq would be decided by “future presidents”. By this admission, we are assured that US troops will be in Iraq until at least January 20, 2009 and quite possibly well beyond. The massive bases now under construction by the US suggest that the American presence in Iraq is planned “well beyond” 2009.

All of which leads me to speculate about the additional costs. Using the Iraq Coalition Casualty website, I did a little ciphering to estimate the additional costs in American blood through the end of BushCheney’s watch. Since the “end of major combat operations” on May 1, 2003, US forces have suffered about two fatalities per day. Non-fatal casualties have totaled 16,111, or 7.4 wounded for each fatality. Being conservative and knowing BushCheney will do everything to reduce casualties to avoid further undermining public confidence in the war, I estimate future casualty rates at a high of 1.5 per day which is less than the actual rate in all but seven months since the invasion. My low estimate is one fatality per day.

That means we can expect between 1,025 and 1,538 more Americans to die in Iraq while BushCheney remains in office with another 7,585 to 11,381 Americans wounded. Added to the already dead and wounded, I estimate that between 3,357 and 3,870 Americans will have died in Iraq by the time BushCheney scuttles into the sunset. Between 24,034 and 28,238 will be wounded.

The financial costs are a bit murkier but the best number I’ve seen at Cost of War which uses the Congressional Research Service estimate of $251 billion as of 31 March 2006, an average of $6.97 billion per month. Unlike the casualties, I don’t expect this average to decline. Most observers expect US air strikes to increase as ground combat declines. These operations are likely to be more costly than ground forces, so I estimate that any savings from reduced ground operations will be eaten up by air operations. Thus, I project future cost based on the current average. That means another $230 billion through the end of 2008 for a total of $480 billion.

Keep in mind that these costs in blood and money only get us to the next president who will decide on the future of American forces in Iraq. Even if that president decides to withdraw all American troops, that action will not occur immediately. Any redeployment will incur additional costs.

These estimates project only the direct costs of the war to the United States. One estimate of the total long term costs to the United States is $2 trillion. Nor have I even considered the costs in Iraqi lives and infrastructure.

In the end all this is speculation. All anyone, including me, can say is that the Iraq war is very, very costly.

But, hey, we got rid of Saddam Hussein, destroyed his weapons of mass destruction, eliminated his support for al Qaeda terrorist training camps and liberated Shi'ite militias.


Sunday, April 02, 2006


When you need just the right insult, this is will be invaluable. Thanks to Skippy for the link.

Sacrifice in a Time of War

At his press conference the other day a reporter asked BushCheney the following question:

What, sir, do you think the impact of the discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office, and to the nation during a time of war, and in the context of the election? (emphasis mine)

The phrase “time of war” comes up a lot these days, no doubt because the US has forces engaged in combat. It conjures up images of sacrifice necessary to ensure victory. The question itself suggests that wartime exigencies require patriotic Americans to refrain from questioning our leaders since that presumably puts American forces at greater risk. BushCheney calls himself a “war president”, likening himself to Lincoln defending the Union or FDR fighting Japan and Germany.

Observing American life in the fifth year of the Global War on Terror, little seems to suggest a nation at war. Other than surrendering Constitutional rights to an increasingly powerful executive, Americans are being asked to make few sacrifices. Certainly not financial sacrifices in the form of higher taxes that this nation saw during World War II (although future generations will no doubt sacrifice to pay off the debt we are currently running up). Not conscripted military service to ensure that the nation has sufficient manpower to meet its military requirements. Not energy or material conservation. Nothing about the current war suggests that this nation is really in “a time of war”.

The lack of sacrifice suggests the war is of little consequence to most Americans. The Constitutional rights that are being abrogated are largely abstract; most people don’t really think that they are affected. Only the military and its families are truly sacrificing; they suffer the death, disability, separation and financial loss in this war. The rest of us go on with life as if nothing has changed even as BushCheney constantly bruits out that 9-11 “changed everything”. The lack of shared sacrifice was noted in an article I saw last year about soldiers returning to the States only to wonder a how little the war seems to affect the nation (sorry, I haven’t been able to locate the link). This, of course resonates with me since I experienced the same feeling when I came home on leave halfway through my tour in Vietnam and when I came home at the end of my tour.

Nothing I saw then suggested that Americans really paid much attention to the war. My sacrifices, those of my buddies seemed so far away from the everyday life of most people. I encountered very few, if any, other veterans. I had little in common with the VFW and American Legion types who so strongly supported the war. No one wanted to hear me talk about an experience that was at the same time profoundly frightening and fantastic, the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me. Life seemed to have just continued while I was away and whatever I had done in Vietnam just wasn’t part of daily life in the nation I was supposedly defending. I wanted to scream out that there was a real war going on where real people where getting killed. I wanted to shatter the complacency I saw all around me.

Not that I expected any gratitude or thanks. I knew that whatever sacrifices I made in Vietnam would do little for the nation. Still, I wanted some recognition, some acknowledgment of my experience. That never happened. Even my friends were at best tolerant of my obsession with Vietnam and I soon learned not to talk quite so much about it, although I never really shut up about the war. I may not have believed in my war but it affected me deeply. That my countrymen did not share those feelings angered and frustrated me.

Reading that Iraq war veterans wonder if they aren’t bearing the full brunt of sacrifice in this war, rekindles those longstanding emotions. I recognize their frustration. Perhaps the difference is that, going in, I knew that my service was pointless, that Vietnam was no real threat to this nation. These days, our volunteer military believes the rhetoric so the discrepancy between their sacrifice and the lack of same on the home front is so much more jarring.

Of course, both wars were/are based on lies. If either Lyndon Johnson or BushCheney had told the country what the real situation was or honestly indicated what the costs would be, neither war would have been launched. Looking back on Vietnam, I think Johnson’s lies resulted from his insecurities and cold war ideology. BushCheney, on the other hand, is a cynical lackey of the military-industrial corporate state. That’s why he will never be honest about the war or ask for real sacrifice from Americans. That would wake up the nation and drain what little support remains for the Iraqi quagmire. Instead he conjures up the specter of an all-encompassing terrorist threat to scare Americans into submission and to create an enemy for our military to fight. First Iraq, now Iran. All in the name of fighting terrorism, the war against an abstract noun.

BushCheney said at that same press conference that American forces will be in Iraq until after he leaves office, which means another two years of carnage, cost, intrigue and sacrifice for our military. The rest of us can just go about our business.