Monday, January 29, 2007

How a Baghdad apartment turns into a deathtrap for an American soldier

From the International Herald Times. A chilling glimpse into what our "surged" troops are getting into.

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By Damien Cave

Monday, January 29, 2007
BAGHDAD
Hector Leija, a staff sergeant, scanned the kitchen, searching for illegal weapons. One wall away, in an apartment next door, a scared Shiite family huddled around a space heater, cradling an infant.

It was after 9 a.m. on Wednesday, on Haifa Street in central Baghdad, and the crack-crack of machine-gun fire had been rattling since dawn. More than a thousand American and Iraqi troops had come to this warren of high- rises and hovels to disrupt the growing nest of Sunni and Shiite fighters battling for control of the area.

The joint military effort has been billed as the first step toward an Iraqi takeover of security. But in the two dark, third-floor apartments on Haifa Street, that promise seemed distant. What was close, and painfully real, was the cost of an escalating street fight that had trapped American soldiers and Iraqi bystanders between warring sects.

And as with so many days here, a bullet changed everything.

"Help!" came the shout.

"Man down."

"Sergeant Leija got hit in the head," yelled Specialist Evan Woollis, 25, his voice carrying into the apartment with the Iraqi family. The soldiers from the sergeant's platoon, part of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, rushed from one apartment to the other.

In the narrow kitchen, a single bullet hole could be seen in a tinted glass window facing north.

The platoon's leader, Sergeant First Class Marc Biletski, ordered his men to get down, away from every window, and to pull Leija into the living room.

"O.K., everybody, let's relax," Biletski said. But he was shaking from his shoulder to his hand.

Relaxing was just not possible. Four meters, or 15 feet, of floor and a metal doorjamb stood between where Leija fell and the living room, out of the line of fire.

Gunshots popped in bursts, their source obscured by echoes off the concrete buildings.

"Don't freak out on me, doc," Biletski shouted to the platoon medic, Private First Class Aaron Barnum, who was frantically yanking at Leija's flak jacket to take the weight off his chest. "Don't freak out."

Two minutes later, three soldiers rushed to help, dragging the sergeant from the kitchen. A medevac team then rushed in and carried him to a Stryker armored vehicle outside, around 9:20 a.m. He moaned as they carried him down the stairs on a stretcher.

The men of the platoon remained in the living room, frozen in shock. They had a problem. Leija's helmet, flak jacket, gear and weapon, along with that of at least one other soldier, were still in the exposed area of the kitchen. They needed to be recovered. But how?

"We don't know if there's friendlies in that building," Sergeant Richard Coleman said of the concrete complex a meter away from where Leija, an easygoing 27-year-old from Raymondville, Texas, had been shot. Biletski, 39, decided to wait. He called for another unit to search and clear the building next door.

The additional unit needed time, and got lost. The men sat still. Sergeant B, as Biletski's soldiers called him, was near the wall farthest from the kitchen, out of sight from the room's wide, shaded window. Woolliss, Barnum, Coleman and Specialist Terry Wilson sat around him.

Together, alone, trapped in a dark room with the blood of their comrade on the floor, they tried to piece together what had happened. Maybe the sniper saw Leija's silhouette in the window and fired. Or maybe the shot was accidental, they said, fired from below by Iraqi Army soldiers who had been moving between the buildings.

Woollis cited the available evidence — an entrance wound just below the helmet with an exit wound above. He said the shot must have been fired from the ground.

The Iraqis were not supposed to even be there yet. The plan had been for Leija's squad to work alongside an Iraqi Army unit all day. But after arriving late at the first building, the Iraqis jumped ahead, leaving the Americans and pushing north without searching dozens of apartments in the area.

An American officer later said the Iraqis were brave to push ahead toward the most intense gunfire.

But Leija's squad had no communication links with their Iraqi counterparts, and because it was an Iraqi operation — as senior officers repeatedly emphasized — the Americans could not order the Iraqis to get back in line. There was nothing they could do.

Barnum stood up, facing the kitchen, eager to bring back the gear left. One foot back, the other forward, he stood like a sprinter. "I can get that stuff, sergeant," he said. "I can get it." The building next door had still not been cleared by Americans. The answer was no.

"I can't lose another man," Sergeant B said. "If I did, I failed. I already failed once. I'm not going to fail again." The room went quiet. Faces turned away. "You didn't fail, sir," said one of the men, his voice disguised by the sound of a man fighting back tears. "You didn't fail."

The piercing cry of an infant was easily identifiable, even as the gunfire outside intensified. It came from the apartment next door.

With more than an hour elapsed since the attack, and after no signs of another shot through the kitchen window, Sergeant B agreed to let Barnum make a mad dash for the equipment.

Barnum waited for several minutes in the doorway, peeking around the corner, stalling. Then he dived forward, pushing himself up against the wall near the window to cut down the angle, pausing, then darting back to the camouflaged kit.

Crack — a single gunshot. Barnum looked back at the kitchen window, his eyes squeezed with fear. His pace quickened. He cleared the weapons' chambers and tossed them to the living room. Then he threw the flak jackets and bolt cutters.

He picked up Leija's helmet, cradled it in his arms, then made the final dangerous move back to the living room, his fatigues indelibly stained with his friend's blood. There were no cheers to greet him. It was a brave act borne of horror, and the men seemed anxious to go.

As Barnum gingerly wrapped the helmet in a towel, it tipped and blood spilled out.

Sergeant B sat down on a chair outside the two apartments and used the radio to find out if they would be heading back to base or moving forward. He was told to stay put until after an airstrike on a building 460 meters away.

A boom, then another even louder explosion hit, shaking dust from the walls. One of blasts came from a mortar shell that hit the building, the soldier said. For the Americans, it was time to go.

Over the next few hours, the platoon paired sprints across open alleyways with bouts of rest in empty makeshift homes. Under what sounded like constant gunfire, the soldiers moved behind the Iraqi soldiers, staying close.

Downstairs in the lobby of a mostly abandoned high-rise on Haifa Street, the sergeant and his men sat on the floor, exhausted. They were waiting for their Stryker to return so they could head back to base. In 14 hours, they had moved through a stretch of eight buildings on Haifa Street. They had been scheduled to clear 18.

A few hours later, the word came in: Leija had died.

Senators who voted to eliminate the Federal minimum wage

Here's a list of the 28 senators last week who voted to eliminate completely the Federal minimum wage, leaving that determination to each state. Notable on the list are Presidential candidates Sam Brownback (KS), "straight talkin'" John McCain (AZ), and potential candidate Chuck Hagel (NE). As passionate as Hagel is on the Iraq war, lists like this are a painful reminder of who he is outside of the war issue.

Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Lott (R-MS)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thomas (R-WY)

The effect of the GWOT on the soul of the nation

Nice, if a bit long and hyperbolic, piece by Robert Parry from Consortium News (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/47214/) on the childish simplicity of the President's SOTU speech on the "War on Terror," why it doesn't really address the underlying issues, and the long-term damage it does to the soul of our republic.

The two best points, I believe, in the piece, are:

1) The reminder that al Qaeda has said they would like to see the U.S. forces remain in Iraq, to help with their recruiting and motivation.

2) The irony that while the President tells us that this conflict is a simplistic "democracy v. evil" fight, in fact those he calls terrorists have already WON elections, and if free elections were held in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would win there as well.

This is clearly a dangerous world, and there are serious threats to the United States in the Middle East. But selling this conflict as a simplisticaly Orwellian "us good versus them evil" not only insults our intelligence, but makes our chances of success that much smaller, and allows this administration to keep stealing our freedoms. Thankfully, it appears the American public is finally, FINALLY, getting an inkling of the deception this President and his administration are capable of in an attempt to maintain control.
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From the beginning of the "war on terror," George W. Bush has lied to the American people about the goals, motivation and even the identity of the enemy -- a propaganda exercise that continued through his 2007 State of the Union Address and that is sounding the death knell for the Republic. Since 2001, rather than focusing on the al Qaeda Sunni fundamentalist terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks, Bush has expanded the conflict exponentially -- tossing in unrelated enemies such as Iraq's secular dictator Saddam Hussein, Shiite-led Iran, Syria and Islamic militants opposed to Israel, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

In effect, Bush has transformed what began as a definable military objective -- the defeat of "terrorist groups with global reach" -- into an endless war against what he regards as evil, a conflict so vague that it is claiming as collateral damage America's "unalienable rights" and the Founders' checks and balances on the powers of the Executive. In Bush's State of the Union speech on Jan. 23, there could be heard a requiem for the Republic.

"The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that's the case, America is still a nation at war," Bush told Congress. But that "evil" will always be "at work in the world," so America will always be "a nation at war" and thus, under Bush's theories of unlimited Commander-in-Chief powers, the American Republic will be banished permanently.

Bluntly put, Bush and his neoconservative legal advisers don't believe in the "unalienable rights" guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, including ones as fundamental as the habeas corpus right to a fair trial and protections against warrantless searches and seizures. The Bush administration may make grudging concessions in these areas when faced with determined opposition in the courts or from the public, but they hold these liberties to be subordinate to Bush's "plenary" -- or unlimited -- powers as Commander in Chief. Beyond this disdain for fundamental American liberties, Bush has contempt for any meaningful public debate. Though he talks about compromise and consultation, his view of national unity is to have everyone shut up and get in line behind him, "the Decider."

Since the 9/11 attacks, Bush has overseen a bare-knuckled political strategy of bullying anyone who disagrees with him and marginalizing their voices. From the Dixie Chicks to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, from France to United Nations weapons inspectors, those who have dared to cross the President have faced ridicule and reprisals.

These ugly attacks have become so much a part of the American political landscape that the news media treats them as unexceptional, as if it's normal for a President to coordinate with powerful media allies to silence dissent. For instance, there was no media outcry in April 2003 when Bush gave a wink and a nod to a retaliatory boycott against the three-woman Dixie Chicks band because the lead singer, Natalie Maines, had criticized the President. "They shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out," Bush said. "Freedom is a two-way street."

So, instead of encouraging a full-and-free debate about an issue as important as war and peace, Bush made clear that he saw nothing wrong with his followers punishing Americans who disagree with him.

"Democrat Party"

While Bush may have softened his belligerent style slightly since the Republican defeat in the November 2006 elections, he still couldn't muster enough politeness to refer to the "Democratic" Party in his State of the Union.

For years, tough-talking Republicans have made it a point of insult to drop the "-ic" and use "Democrat" as the adjective. This phrasing has become a mark of the swaggering Republicans who have dominated this era of U.S. politics. It's the partisan equivalent of willfully mispronouncing the foreign-sounding name of a disliked neighbor. So, even as Bush was supposedly trying to be gracious to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he couldn't stop himself from congratulating the "Democrat majority."

More significantly, however, Bush continues to demean the Constitution. Despite having sworn "to preserve, defend and uphold the Constitution" as his preeminent duty, Bush keeps insisting that the highest obligation of government is to keep the people safe.

He repeated that mantra in his State of the Union. "For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger," he said.

In other words, Bush believes security -- or at least his view of security -- trumps everything, including constitutional rights. But that concept turns upside down more than two centuries of U.S. history and tradition. Instead of Patrick Henry's exhortation of "give me liberty or give me death," the Bush dictum could be summed up as "just make sure I'm safe driving to the mall." Bush apparently sees the American people as a pudgy bunch of consumers as soft in the head as in their bellies. In the State of the Union, the President didn't hesitate to again lay out his distortion of the threat the nation faces. To heighten the fears of Americans, he again misrepresented the goals, capabilities and even the identities of the enemy. He blurred diverse and even antagonistic Muslim Sunni and Shiite groups, shoving them under the umbrella of "the Islamist radical movement."

"The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," Bush said. "Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale."

But this depiction is a continuation of Bush's tendency to misstate the key question of what's motivating Islamic militancy. In September 2001, Bush claimed that the motive behind the 9/11 attacks and other manifestations of anti-Americanism in the Middle East was that Islamic extremists "hate our freedoms." Now, he says they want to "kill" Americans, democracy and anything else that gets in their way. However, this distortion of what drives the swelling anti-Americanism in the Middle East is not only wrong, it's dangerous. It guarantees an expensive, bloody and endless war. It also could ensure eventual defeat for legitimate U.S. interests in the region.

Diverse Motives

The truth is that the motives of Islamic militants are much more complicated and diverse than Bush wants the American people to know. In Iraq, Sunni insurgents are killing Americans because the United States invaded their country and handed the reins of power over to rival Shiites, while Shiites are using "death squads" to consolidate their authority by killing Sunnis. Along the Mediterranean, other Islamic militants have fought against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and Lebanese land. Some Middle Eastern militants are resentful of U.S.-backed autocrats like those governing Egypt and Saudi Arabia; many object to the corruption that has surrounded the region's oil wealth; others want a return to more traditional Islamic religious values; some actually favor democratic elections because they expect to win and want to unseat corrupt pro-American leaders. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas did win an election. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is a powerful political force. In Iran, radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gained office through a limited democratic process. Even al-Qaeda has far more limited objectives than Bush has claimed. Despite Bush's oft-stated assertion that -- if the United States retreats -- al Qaeda will form a caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia, no credible analyst believes that.

Intercepted alQaeda documents actually reveal leaders fretting about how fragile their position in Iraq would be if the United States withdrew. According to one captured letter, "Atiyah," a senior aide to Osama bin Laden, stressed the need to exploit the continued American presence so al-Qaeda can put down roots in Iraq.

"Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest," Atiyah wrote.


Yet, even as Bush's Iraq War strategy plays into the hands of al Qaeda, the President told Congress and the American people that he intends to confront radical Shiite movements in the region with determination equal to that aimed at Sunni extremists. Bush said:

"In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken." But Bush left out the history about those American deaths. He was referring primarily to the 241 U.S. soldiers who died in 1983 when a suicide bomber destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, after the Reagan administration had intervened in Lebanon and taken sides in the civil war. By definition, terrorism is a violent attack on civilians to achieve a political end. Hezbollah's attack in 1983, therefore, was not an act of terrorism as lamentable as the military deaths were. Bush, however, blurs the point by associating the bombing with al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on civilian targets inside the United States.

Although the U.S. and Israeli governments list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the European Union does not. While some of its actions such as its missile attacks on Israel in summer 2006 could be categorized as terrorism because of the loss of civilian life, Hezbollah also is a broad--based political and social movement.

Guaranteeing Defeat

Lumping Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Iraqi insurgents and others together with alQaeda underscores the risks -- and almost certain futility -- of Bush's expanding "war on terror." With anti-Americanism across the Middle East often registering in the 90 percentiles, Bush's strategy is more likely to accelerate Islamic extremism than put a brake on it. Bush also finds himself caught in a contradiction between his rhetorical embrace of Middle East "democracy" and his reliance on "moderate" -- i.e. autocratic -- regimes that engage in political repression and have defied popular sentiment to cooperate with Bush. At one point in his State of the Union speech, Bush denounced extremists who seek to "overthrow moderate governments" but returned to his lofty rhetoric about democracy and freedom as vital components in defeating the extremists. "To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred," Bush said. "What every terrorist fears most is human freedom. ... The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must." Though a surefire applause line, Bush's praise of liberty represents possibly the most insidious lie from his "war on terror." As U.S. intelligence is well aware, free democratic elections in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would represent a disaster for U.S. foreign policy by likely putting into power Islamic militants like the Muslim Brotherhood. As was obvious during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to the Middle East, the U.S. diplomatic position is precariously dependent on kings, princes and despots who favor regional stability for reasons of their own self-interest. Bush's exhortations about human freedom therefore are galling to many in the world who see Bush himself as the world's most notorious autocrat, violating international law at his personal whim and overriding the constitutional liberties of Americans at home.

Bush is the personification of what recent polls of global opinion have registered as a leading complaint about America -- hypocrisy, espousing concepts of liberty while denying even basic human rights to suspects swept up in the "war on terror."

There is also no end in sight, Bush made clear. "The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others," Bush told Congress. "And that's why it's important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through." But the bottom line for Bush's "war on terror" is that it won't just cost countless lives and hundreds of billions of dollars; it also is doomed to fail, at least as presently constituted. If it lasts much longer, it is certain, too, to deliver a death blow to the noble American Republic.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A workable plan for Iraq?

A wonderful post on AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/47165/) done by Barry Posen of the MIT Center for International Studies. This article takes into account all of the different factions in Iraq, what their interests and abilities are, and proposes a political solution that bears the best chance to succeed.

After hearing the President's lectures on how the whole "Iraq thing" is about the bad-guy terrorists on both sides, to read an adult discussion of exactly who the parties in Iraq are, why they are doing what they're doing, and how to move them together, is as refreshing as it is rare. Enjoy.

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President Bush is renewing his effort to create an Iraq that can govern, sustain, and defend itself, and is throwing more resources at the project. The first priority must be governance, however, as administration and defense cannot happen without a functioning government. And government cannot function without a legitimate, broad-based, political consensus. Such a consensus has eluded Iraqis since March 2003, and the President's new strategy includes no political program to create such a consensus. Instead, he counts on creating a coalition of existing "moderates," which do not exist, as the intense violence within Iraq clearly demonstrates. Thus, the President's troop increases, economic assistance, and intensified training will likely prove futile.

Iraqi politics is presently at a stalemate. There are four main political factions in the country, and only two can agree on anything. This is not enough to govern. At least one of the other factions must change its position, and it will be a tall order to bring that about.

Four Factions and Their Interests

Iraqis divide along the issue of whether there should be a strong central state and weak regions, or strong regions and a weak central state. The United States should support the "strong regions" solution, but without encouraging or allowing a complete break-up of the Iraqi state. This outcome is best because none of the contending factions is strong enough to impose its authority on all of the others (as a strong central state would require), and because allowing Iraq to dissolve entirely will invite outside intervention and the risk of a wider war.

Those who agree on a strong central state, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs and the Shiites around the coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, and Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary followers and his Mahdi Army militia, themselves disagree on who should run that state. The Sunni Arabs oppose the notion that the Shia should run the new state and dominate its institutions. Without disproportionate weight in these institutions, the Sunni Arabs would be both unsafe and poor. Therefore, Sunni groups fight to prevent the consolidation of the current government's power, which they see as permanent Shia hegemony.

President Bush hopes that the Maliki government will appeal to Sunnis by offering them a share of the country's oil wealth, allowing more former Sunni Arab Baath party members the right to serve in government, and accelerating local elections, which would permit Sunni Arabs to govern their own communities. These changes are a step in the right direction, but they may not happen, and even if they do, they may not put real power in the hands of Sunni Arabs, and are thus unlikely to reduce significantly their support for the insurgency.

The Shia parties, having been repressed by the Sunni minority for decades, are not about to share power with them fairly, much less grant them a bonus for their minority status. At the same time, Sadr's supporters-who mostly inhabit the Shia slums of Baghdad-do not support a decentralized Iraq, because this outcome would permit the oil-rich northern and southern provinces to control the oil revenues, leaving the Shia in Baghdad as beggars in their own land. Maliki's Dawa Party will not abandon its alliance with Sadr, because Sadr can call on thousands of street soldiers, and Dawa lacks a party militia.

Sadr may also oppose decentralization because it leaves the Shia of Baghdad and central Iraq in the middle of the country mixed with a roughly equal number of Sunni Arabs. Though it seems implausible at this moment, they may fear that the Sunni Arabs might then be able to defeat them. It is noteworthy that the Shia-dominated Iraqi Army typically must call on U.S. support whenever the Sunni Arab insurgents choose to stand and fight. Why would Shia brothers come north to help in this fight, if they are comfortable and prosperous in their own oil -rich region?

The Kurds, and the Shia SCIRI party, with its competent and well organized Badr Corps militia, both want a weak central state, and decentralized power. SCIRI wishes to form a southern nine-province region, similar to the Kurdish region in the north. SCIRI is very close to Iran, which also does not want the re-emergence of a strong Iraqi central state. Both factions favor the current provisions in the Iraqi constitution that permit regionalization, and permit the regions to control oil revenues from future exploration.

What duties these parties would leave to the central government are unclear. The Iraqi Kurds need to maintain the appearance of an Iraqi central state to reduce the fears of Syria, Iran, and Turkey that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan would prove an irresistible magnet to their own Kurdish minorities. Turkey might well try to crush a fully independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

It is unlikely, however, that either the Kurds or SCIRI wants a strong, centrally controlled, Iraqi national army that could be turned against them. And their opposition may account for the fact that even after years of work, and millions of dollars, the Iraqi Army remains a weak force, unable to move its divisions around the country as needed, because in fact most divisions owe their loyalty to local political forces and not to the central state. The Kurds and SCIRI ought to be able to align to help produce the decentralization outcome, as decentralization leaves both of them wealthy and strong, and requires only limited active cooperation thereafter. Nevertheless, though the Iraqi constitution now permits a very high level of decentralization, in practice this cannot now be achieved without endless violence from the Sunni Arabs and the Shia of Baghdad-who believe that present decentralization plans leave them poor and insecure.

The Decentralization Option

Given this constellation of forces, it should be clear that the path of least resistance is decentralization of power. The Kurds have made it abundantly clear that they will fight any effort to erode their autonomy, as their dismissive reaction to the re-centralization plans of the Baker commission demonstrates. It is unlikely that SCIRI will give up its preference for an autonomous south, which it can probably dominate. A strong central state in Baghdad is too easily dominated by the political organization that holds the allegiance of the city's Shias-Sadr, his Mahdi Army militia, and his political supporters in parliament.

The problem, however, is getting either the Sadr/Dawa Baghdad coalition or the disparate constellation of Sunni Arab resistance fighters and legal political parties, to reverse course and actively support decentralization. Sadr's political appeal is based in part on his own appropriation of Iraqi nationalism, and his commitment to a strong, autonomous state. To change position is to lose his principal ideological source of power. And Sadr and his movement are probably too strong for the U.S. to destroy, even if the man himself were eliminated. Changing the position of the Sunni Arab groups, however difficult this may be, is the better bet. Once this occurs, Iraq's laws can probably be rewritten, and the weight of internal forces will leave Dawa and Sadr little room for maneuver.

The Sunni Arab insurgent groups are fighting for honor, power, and money. Is there a way to give them enough of each in the context of a weak central government to get most of them to support it? It must be admitted that thus far, efforts to woo the Sunnis have failed, so the difficulties here ought not to be underestimated. To address honor, the easiest thing the U.S. can do is tacitly admit that the Sunni Arabs have fought the U.S. to a standstill. The stain to their honor of the defeat of 2003 has been expunged.

The U.S. should set a date to disengage its forces from Iraq, a date that is soon enough to matter to the Sunni insurgents, and to focus their attention and that of other key Iraqi players on the need for compromise, but distant enough to permit some planning, diplomacy, and organization-eighteen months. The U.S. should offer to release the thousands of Iraqi prisoners (most of them Sunni) that it now holds, and to do it on a reasonable, graduated timetable. U.S. senior officers and political officials should meet with Sunni Arab leaders to institute a ceasefire. These things need not happen all at once, but they are critical to neutralizing the honor question.

The power question has to do with security. How can security be promised to the Sunni Arabs? This might be an issue that a regional diplomacy could address. But we should also accept that some part of the extant Iraqi security forces, especially Sunni Arab officers, could be allowed to organize local self-defense units in majority Sunni Arab areas. Extant self-defense militias should not be treated as insurgents, but should be co-opted. The U.S. could subsidize this to a limited extent. U.S. intelligence people now know a lot about the local Sunni notables, and the insurgent political leaders, and should be willing to make private deals with the more pragmatic among them to help them with local security. News reports suggest that this is tentatively under way in Anbar province. More should be done.

Finally there is the issue of money. If the Kurds and SCIRI see an interest in drawing the support of the Sunni Arabs-and this is a big if-they should be willing to rewrite the oil law of Iraq to ensure an equitable distribution of the revenues, as they are said to have promised President Bush. The promise of a date certain for the disengagement of U.S. forces may help them to see that compromise is a reasonable alternative to an escalation of the civil war that will likely follow the U.S. departure. Indeed, agreeing to rewrite the oil law in this way would send a powerful signal to the Sunnis that the Kurds and SCIRI might be willing to accommodate their other concerns. The three factions ought to have enough votes to rewrite this law. To guarantee this equitable distribution against cheating, a virtual U.N. trusteeship over Iraq oil revenues could be established. This trusteeship would collect the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales abroad, and write checks to the various parties in Iraq.

If this solution proves unachievable, a simpler one suggests itself. The oil-rich, Sunni-dominated Arab states could simply write their own checks to the Iraqi Sunni Arabs. At this time Iraq pumps about two million barrels a day, which at $60 a barrel could earn perhaps $40 billion a year. The Sunni Arabs represent about a fifth of Iraq's population, so a fair deal would give them $8 billion a year. The Arab oil producers ought to be able to find this kind of money to buy a little peace, especially if they understand that America is leaving Iraq-and one way or the other they will have to pay something to deal with the mess.

The Bush Administration has been unwilling to embrace clearly and publicly the decentralization of power as the desired end state in Iraq. It has offered no plausible strategy for how to achieve a political consensus in Iraq, and in particular how to elicit the cooperation of the Sunni Arabs. The path of least resistance to a political accommodation that can underpin any kind of working government in Iraq, however weak, is an agreement on the decentralization of power. The Sunni Arabs are the key party that must be drawn to alter its current position and support this solution. This is no easy task, because the Sunni Arabs appear to remain fixated on the fantasy of their return to power over a unified Iraq. This cannot happen, but a unified Iraq with a strong central state where they do not rule is a grave threat to their well-being, and some of them are beginning to understand this. In the end, only a true decentralization of power and an enforceable plan to ensure them a fair share of Iraq's wealth can practically serve their interests. If the Bush Administration wishes to stay in Iraq in pursuit of something that looks like success, then this is the only practical path.

Some things never change

Sure, we've heard what passes for contrition and humility from President Bush about how things have gone in Iraq. You know, the old "where mistakes have been made, I take responsibility," line which really doesn't acknowledge that ANY mistakes have been made.

The idea, evidently, is to lull the rest of the planet who can quite clearly see how bolluxed up this whole process has become into thinking that NOW the administration gets it, there's problems, and we need to re-think a "New Way Forward."

But, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Behold this exchange between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Vice President Dick Cheney about how things are going in Iraq.

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"If he [Saddam Hussein] were still there today," Cheney added, "we'd have a terrible situation."

"But there is," Blitzer said.

"No, there is not," Cheney retorted. "There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have in fact accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that's been here for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off." He added: "Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes."

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See! What's old is new again. Just like before, Cheney's telling us that things are great in Iraq, it's just that darn news media who isn't reporting all the good news out of there. If only the press would stop being so negative, everything would be great.

A nice, refreshing dose of reality in terms of what to expect from this administration until January 2009. And a sobering reminder of how much of a fight is left to defend the principles - and the very soul - of this nation from them.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The few, the proud, the convicted

Fascinating and disturbing article from Robin Morgan of the Women's Media Center, via AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/46922/) discussing the new "moral waivers" the Bush administration has put into place to allow people with criminal records and psychological problems to enlist in the armed forces. After all, y'know, this surge thing needs a lot of bodies, and evidently we can't be too picky about the folks we put in uniform.

The problem is, of course, what happens when you give someone a "moral waiver" -- and then an automatic weapon and the authority of the United States Government in a lawless environment? Evidently, at least in one instance, the rape and murder of a young girl and her family -- by a soldier who received a "moral waiver" due to a history of violent criminal behavior. Even worse, by a soldier who had requested psychological help prior to the incident, saying that his anger was such that he was worried he would commit acts of violence against Iraqi citizens. By a soldier who, after requesting such help, was still placed out in the field with nothing more than an admonition to "get some extra sleep."



Read on if you dare. But when you stack this story up with the torture done in our name, with the warrantless spying done in our name, with the lying and dissembling done in our name, you realize how much of this nation's soul is bleeding into the hot desert sand in Iraq.

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Brace yourself. Bush's Iraq escalation, euphemized as "surge," sends just over 20,000 more troops into that bottomless pit, and flirts with an invasion of Iran. But because Iraq has depleted our armed forces -- and recruitment levels plummet as our population wises up -- Bush's plan requires still more: the entire Army active-duty force must swell to 547,000 over the next five years (an increase of 39,000), and the Marine Corps grow by 23,000 (to 202,000).

Constitutionally, Congress must approve or disapprove the expansion -- but one never knows whether this particular executive branch recognizes that the legislative (or judicial) branches exist.

Meanwhile, Bush simply changes the rules to suit his mad plans, raising the enlistment age to 42, and removing the cumulative limit -- 24 months active duty in any five-year period -- for National Guard Reserve units.

Furthermore, the military will now mobilize units, not individuals, so soldiers who've completed their duty tours, but, perhaps, transferred to a new unit, will still be eligible. Never mind how destructive this is to "family values" or a "sound economy."

Then there's the still-astonishing "moral waiver" -- employed to produce more cannon fodder. In 2005, already desperate for fresh recruits, the Army started increasing, by nearly half, the rate at which it grants what it terms "moral waivers," permitting recruits with criminal records, emotional problems, and weak educational backgrounds to serve.

Afterward, if these recruits survive, they'll be called heroes and released back into society. One returned hero, who credited the military with having "properly trained and hardened me," was Timothy McVeigh. According to the Pentagon, waivers in 2001 totaled 7,640, increasing to 11,018 in 2005.

But those are numbers. How does this play out in lives?

We now know. In March 2006, five U.S. soldiers allegedly stalked, gang-raped, and murdered 14-year old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, slaughtered her family, and burned the bodies. The U.S. military managed to hush the story up until July, then detained the five, immediately scapegoating Pfc. Steven D. Green as the "bad apple" ringleader -- who'd conveniently already been discharged.

Then we learned that Green, a 19-year-old Texas high-school dropout, had enlisted despite three convictions: fighting, plus alcohol and drug possession. Once, the Army would have rejected him.

Now, he was accepted, under a "moral waiver." He got "born again" religiously while being trained to kill legally; got sent to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division's 502nd Infantry Regiment; got shot at; and got discharged for a "personality disorder" after allegedly leading the Abeer massacre.

Yet according to a January 9, 2007 Associated Press story by Ryan Lenz, three months before that massacre, an Army Combat Stress Team in Iraq had diagnosed Green as a "homicidal threat." (We assume they did not mean he was simply a well-trained soldier.) Green sought psychiatric help in December, 2005, pleading he was so angry about the war and so desperate to avenge his platoon friends' deaths that he felt driven to kill Iraqi citizens.

They told him to get some sleep.

According to medical records obtained by the AP, they also prescribed "several small doses of Seroquel -- to regulate his mood." Seroquel's website claims the drug is for "acute mania associated with bipolar disorder." The next day, Army shrinks sent him back to active duty in the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad.

Three months passed. No psychological follow-up. Then -- eight days after the Abeer atrocities -- Green was suddenly summoned for another exam, diagnosed with an "anti-social personality disorder," and swiftly declared "unfit for service."

An immediate discharge process began. He was shipped home in May, arrested in June, and moved to the U.S. marshal's custody in Louisville, Ky. (for proximity to Ft. Campbell). There, in November, he was arraigned on numerous counts, including premeditated and felony murder, which carry a minimum life sentence and possible death penalty.

Green's alleged "followers" face courts martial on various charges, and they may be allowed to plead to lesser counts and punishments; so far one has been convicted and sentenced. But Green's trial is federal, in U.S. District Court, since his well-timed discharge means he isn't the military's problem. In effect, Green seems to have been legally triaged.

As the WMC's on-site reporter noted, Green, who pled "not guilty," is represented only by the Louisville public defenders' office. Yet, oddly, the prosecution team includes Brian D. Skaret of the U.S. Department of Justice Domestic Security Section, in Washington, DC.--a section primarily charged with prosecuting smuggling, border violations, and foreign nationals accused of supporting terrorists.

Is Washington that eager to ensure that culpability for these crimes won't be traced back to the Pentagon or White House?

Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, psychiatry counsel to the Army Surgeon General, defends treatment policies for emotionally or psychologically distressed soldiers, but won't discuss Green -- nor will the 101st Airborne Division.

According to documents viewed by the AP, when Lt. Col. Elizabeth Bowler -- an Army reservist psychiatrist who took over the Combat Stress Team in January -- recommended Green's discharge, her final evaluation stated: "Green exhibited no traits that would indicate dangerously erratic or homicidal moods."

This was after the rape-murders-burnings, and despite Green's cries for help.

The military -- especially the Army and Marines, with the most personnel in Iraq -- has been criticized for sending troops diagnosed mentally and emotionally unfit back to combat duty, often under medication prescribed for too short a time to have taken effect.

As for moral waivers, instead of dropping them entirely -- as morality would dictate -- the Pentagon issued new guidelines in November. Some prevent personnel with certain "pre-existing mental problems" from deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan (but not elsewhere), and: "Mental illnesses that are not expected to be resolved in one year will be cause for discharge."

One year? Green was on active duty for less than one year.

Weep not only for Iraqi civilians. Weep for ourselves.

Social scientists have repeatedly charted how post-war domestic-violence rates soar, as returning vets (including those who started out sane) try to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder plus reflexes trained to react with lethal force. Spousal battery, marital rape, child sexual abuse, child battery, homicides, and suicides rise precipitously in the wake of wars -- especially those with intense ground combat and high casualties.

Less than a month ago, between Christmas and New Year's 2006, five U.S. soldiers committed suicide upon being informed they'd been ordered to serve an additional tour in Iraq.

Bush keeps warning, "If we don't fight 'em in Iraq, we'll have to fight 'em here at home." Presumably, he means the pre-U.S.-invasion, nonexistent terrorists in Iraq, not our own armed forces.

But given his escalation, his hunger to sacrifice more lives, his extended active-duty tours, and his continuing "moral waivers," what behavior might we really expect when those 547,000 GIs and 202,000 Marines eventually return home?

And long before then, who will listen to their cries for help, or monitor what acts they commit -- before they are triaged, discharged, and hung out to dry?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Iran = Armageddon?

Fascinating post on AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/46753/) from Sarah Posner. There is a slice of evangelical Christianity that insists on seeing the world through the lens of the Book of Revelation, and believing that we are living in the End Times and about to see the Second Coming.

This is really nothing new. Even the first Christians some 2000 years ago thought that they would see Christ return before they passed on. The success of Tim LeHay's "Left Behind" series of novels is just one example of the fascination people have with the thought that current events are playing out Biblical prophecy.

Unfortunately, it also leads to guys like Rev. John Hagee, who believe (or at least sell books claiming) that a coming conflict with Iran is the trigger for the Great Tribulation, Armageddon, and ultimately the establishment of the Second Jerusalem where God will rule over the Earth.

This puts a "Christian" minister in the otherwise-peculiar position of fanning the flames for a war that would kill millions of people. Much like the Inquisitors who burned "witches" believing that they were protecting their eternal souls, Rev. Hagee is proposing to give God a little nudge in the right direction to hurry this Armageddon thing up and get to the Millenial Reign of the Risen Christ.

As if God needed the help. As if the Bible didn't say about the Second Coming that "[n]o one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36, NAS). Or that "[f]or you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:2, NAS).

Saying that we're living in the End Times certainly makes life exciting and interesting. And it obviously sells a lot of books and makes some preachers a lot of money. But getting people all whipped up about it, even to the point of advocating a horrific war, is a real perversion of the message of Jesus. Perhaps Rev. Hagee should be reminded of this admonishment from Isaiah:

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil." (Isaiah 5:20, NAS)

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Christian Zionists are dancing the hora in San Antonio. Armageddon appears to be at hand.

As George W. Bush sets his sights on Iran, even Republicans are wondering how to constitutionally contain the trigger-happy king. But for an influential group of Christian fundamentalists -- White House allies that garner not only feel-good meetings with the President's liaisons to the "faith-based" community but also serious discussions with Bush's national security staff -- an attack on Iran is just what God ordered.

Biblical literalists, convened together through San Antonio megapastor John Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI), are now seeing the fruits of their yearlong campaign to convince the Bush administration to attack Iran.

Hagee came to Washington last summer on the warpath, and many Republicans -- and even a few Democrats -- welcomed him as an alleged supporter of Israel. More than 3,500 CUFI members fanned out across the Capitol to meet with their congressional delegations. Televangelist power brokers, like rising star Rod Parsley of Ohio, who serve as directors of CUFI, now proudly display photographs of their meetings with senators, brows furrowed over the seriousness of the task at hand. But probably Hagee's most important meeting was smaller and not public, at the White House with deputy national security adviser and Iran Contra player Elliott Abrams.

Did the two men talk dispensationalism or diplomacy? That the president's top national security advisor on Middle East policy met with the popular author of a best-selling book that claims that God requires a war with Iran demonstrates just how intensely politics trumps policy (and human lives) for this unhinged administration. Emboldened, Hagee returned to San Antonio fretting that "most Americans are simply not aware that the battle for Western Civilization is engaged" and "don't want to believe that Iran would use nuclear weapons against mighty America. They will!" As the bloody fighting between Israel and Hezbollah raged last August, Hagee organized a grassroots lobbying campaign to blitz the White House switchboard with callers opposed to a cease-fire. Members were urged to call the White House to "congratulate" Bush on using the term "Islamofascists" and on his "moral clarity."

Armed with blood-red rhetoric and the hubris of the politically connected, Hagee filled his 5,000-seat church for a weekend-long event culminating in his Night to Honor Israel in October. To an eager audience preparing for the end times, analogies to Hitler and denouncement of "appeasement" were flying. Anti-Muslim rhetoric was at a fevered pitch. All of it was dressed up as love and benevolence for God's chosen people. But what masqueraded as Biblically mandated generosity toward the Jews was nothing more than a political rally for a war not just against Iran, but against Islam, and for the dominance of Christianity (Hagee's brand, of course).

By the end of the year, Hagee was warning his followers that Iran was "reloading for the next war," claiming that he had "reason to believe that Iran will face a military preemptive strike from Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," and denouncing the Iraq Study Group as "anti-Israel." Although he had spent nearly a year claiming that Iran intended to destroy Israel, Hagee, in rejecting the ISG's recommendation to diplomatically engage Iran, fumed, "America's problems with Iran have nothing to do with Israel. Iran's president has said he intends to use nuclear weapons against the United States of America. My father's generation would have considered this statement a declaration of war and bombed Iran by this time."

Bush knows Hagee's minions are locked and loaded for a war to end not only all wars, but the world. He might have already signed a secret executive order authorizing military action against Iran. But last week Bush nonetheless lamely tried to bring the rest of the country on board with his tried (but by no means true) device of uttering the words "Iran," "nuclear weapons" and "9/11" in the same breath.

His saber rattling won't work for the majority of Americans outraged by his conduct of the Iraq war and opposed to its escalation. But for his listeners gearing up for the end times -- a segment of American evangelicals increasingly united around this issue -- Bush fired up the grandiose rhetoric of a final showdown: "The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time."

Finally, the President is being forced to fold his bad hands

Remember that old chestnut, the "terrorist surveillance program" that allowed the President to eavesdrop on any telephone conversation in the United States, at any time, with no oversight by a judge or any other body? Well, that's history. Here's how the President defended it before:

"The terrorist surveillance program is necessary to protect America from attack."

"[I]f the attempt to write law makes this program -- is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it ... Why tell the enemy what we're doing if the program is necessary to protect us from the enemy?"

(both from the President's press conference of January 26, 2006)

Now?

Amazingly enough, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has passed new rules that, according to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, "have met administration concerns about speed and agility when it comes to responding to bits of intelligence where we may be able to save American lives."

Gee, you don't think this announcement has anything to do with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy getting ready to have hearings on the consitutionality of the warrantless wiretaps, do you? Doesn't this smell just a little bit like when the Justice Department re-filed charges against Jose Padilla when it became clear that the terrorist allegations against him were going to blow up in the government's face in court?

We're seeing a consistent pattern now. When the illegalities of the President's behavior are going to be brought to account, he and his administration back down. The President and his administration has been using the cudgel of 9/11 to bluff the Congress and the American people into surrendering our liberties. Now, finally, the President's bluff is being called, forcing him to fold. We can only hope to see more folding in the coming months.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Can Congress stop the surge?

Some Democratic Congressional leaders have been advocating their "non-binding" resolution against the surge in part because they're saying that Congress doesn't have the Constitutional authority to actually stop or limit the President's actions. The following is a history of times where Congress has, in fact, put limits or conditions on the money authorized for military action.

There is a legitimate point to be made regarding whether Congress can limit money that has ALREADY been authorized, which clearly the President will be using to start the surge. But just as clear will be the need for the President to come to Congress and ask for more money to keep it up.

Here's the question. Will Congress give the President the money (attempting to hide behind the "we can't stop him" argument), let him fail, and reap the political benefits in 2008 -- at the cost of the American lives that will be lost in the surge? Or will Congress stand up now, make it clear that no additional support for the surge will be coming, force the surge to an end, and perhaps compel a saner solution to the bloody adventure that is Iraq?

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(From AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/46841/), citing the Center for American Progress. Pay special attention to the ones in the late nineties, where a Republican Congress attempted to control the Clinton administration's policies in the Balkans.)

Examples of Funding and Authorization Limitations Enacted into Law


January 1991. P.L. 102-1 - A joint resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Congress granted the president the authority to use force in Iraq but conditioned it on him first certifying that means other than war would not result in Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions.


October 1994. P.L. 103-423 - A joint resolution regarding U.S. Policy Toward Haiti. Congress supported a "prompt and orderly withdrawal of all United States Armed Forces from Haiti as soon as possible."


September 2001. P.L. 107-40 - A joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Afghanistan. The president initially sought authorization to use force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." The final resolution authorized "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the 9/11 attacks.


October 2002. P.L. 107-243 - A joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Like the Afghanistan resolution a year earlier, the Iraq resolution reflected some changes sought by Congress. For example, the president initially sought authorization to use force "to restore peace and security in the region." Congress succeeded in striking that provision, and made the exercise of the authority granted in the resolution conditional on the president certifying that Iraq would not harm the war on terrorism, but it failed in attempts to insert other limitations on the president.


Troop Caps Enacted Into Law


December 1974. P.L. 93-559 - Foreign Assistance Act of 1974. The Congress established a personnel ceiling of 4000 Americans in Vietnam within six months of enactment and 3000 Americans within one year.


June 1983. P.L. 98-43 - The Lebanon Emergency Assistance Act of 1983. The Congress required the president to return to seek statutory authorization if he sought to expand the size of the U.S. contingent of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.


June 1984. P.L. 98-525 - The Defense Authorization Act. The Congress capped the end strength level of United States forces assigned to permanent duty in European NATO countries at 324,400.


July 2000. P.L. 106-246 - Military Construction Appropriations and For Other Purposes - Personnel Ceiling in Colombia: "no funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this or any other Act (including funds described in subsection (c)) may be available for-- (A) the assignment of any United States military personnel for temporary or permanent duty in Colombia in connection with support of Plan Colombia if that assignment would cause the number of United States military personnel so assigned in Colombia to exceed 500; or (B) the employment of any United States individual civilian retained as a contractor in Colombia if that employment would cause the total number of United States individual civilian contractors employed in Colombia in support of Plan Colombia who are funded by Federal funds to exceed 300."


Funding Restrictions Enacted into Law


December 1970. P.L. 91-652 - Supplemental Foreign Assistance Law. The Church-Cooper amendment prohibited the use of any funds for the introduction of U.S. troops to Cambodia or provide military advisors to Cambodian forces.


June 1973. P.L. 93-50 - Supplemental Foreign Assistance, "None of the Funds herein appropriated under this act may be expended to support directly or indirectly combat activities in or over Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam by United States forces, and after August 15, 1974, no other funds heretofore appropriated under any other act may be expended for such purposes."


December 1982. P.L. 98-215 - Defense Appropriations Act. In what became known as the Boland Amendment, Congress prohibited covert military assistance for Nicaragua.


November 1993. P.L. 103-139. The Congress limited the use of funding in Somalia for operations of U.S. military personnel only until March 31, 1994, permitting expenditure of funds for the mission thereafter only if the president sought and Congress provided specific authorization.


September 1994. P.L. 103-335. The Congress declared "no funds provided in this Act are available for United States military participation to continue Operations Restore Hope in or around Rwanda after October 7, 1994, except for any action that is necessary to protect the lives of United States citizens."


June 1998. P.L. 105-85 - Defense Authorization Bill. The Congress prohibited funding for Bosnia "after June 30, 1998, unless the President, not later than May 15, 1998, and after consultation with the bipartisan leadership of the two Houses of Congress, transmits to Congress a certification-- (1) that the continued presence of United States ground combat forces, after June 30, 1998, in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is required in order to meet the national security interests of the United States; and (2) that after June 30, 1998, it will remain United States policy that United States ground forces will not serve as, or be used as, civil police in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina."

A brief history of "Iraq"

From AlterNet, by Barry Lando (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/46705/), an interesting history of the British experience in attempting to create the nation of Iraq, melding the Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds together in an attempt to maintain British control of the oil in the region.

It didn't work out too well for them, either.

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“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia [Iraq] into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information…..We are today not far from disaster.”

So wrote Colonel T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) in the London Sunday Times, August 1920.

Indeed, reviewing the historical record of British attempts to rule first Mesopotamia and then Iraq you get the feeling you’re watching an old Hollywood black and white classic that has been reshot for an American audience with digitalized sound, computer animation, and the “United States” substituted for “England.”

For instance, when British forces marched into Baghdad in 1917 they announced they had come not as “conquerors” but "liberators.”

In fact, they were no more interested in liberating the local inhabitants and their lands than were any of the conquerors who had preceded them, nor the one who followed. Their major concern was bases to support their sprawling empire and oil to fuel their economy and war-making machine.

As Rear Admiral Sir Edmond Slade wrote in a report to the British admiralty in 1918, “It is evident that the Power that controls the oil lands of Persia and Mesopotamia will control the source of supply of the majority of the liquid fuel of the future.” Britain must therefore “at all costs retain [its] hold on the Persian and Mesopotamian oil fields.”

Britain’s ruling classes spoke of a divine mandate to bring the obvious benefits of Western rule to peoples steeped in tyranny and darkness. As Arnold Wilson-- a prototype,one could argue, of Paul Bremmer in 2003—who was appointed to oversee Britain’s new holdings in Mesopotamia, declared in 1918. “The average [Iraqi] Arab, as opposed to the handful of amateur politicians of Baghdad, sees the future as one of fair dealing and material and moral progress under the aegis of Britain….The Arabs are content with our occupation.”

The Arabs, it turned out, were not content when they understood that Britain had no intention of liberating the conquered territories. On June 30, 1920, uprisings exploded across the country. The British then had 133,000 troops in the area—roughly the same number as the U.S. had after the invasion of 2003.

They fought back with armored cars, machine guns, and planes that could strike with impunity and terrorize the natives. They bombed the villages with everything from phosphorous to metal crowsfeet designed to cripple livestock and lay thousands of acres of crops to waste.

In six months, thousands of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were killed, many of them lined up and executed by firing squads. The British themselves lost more than 1,600 men and spent six times as much as they had spent on their entire Middle East campaign during World War I.

British political leaders and editorialists were up in arms, but government officials assured all that victory was just around the corner: the uprising was weak, composed of disaffected “remnants” who were being incited by outside forces.

Though Winston Churchill, who was then Home Secretary, instructed the RAF to consider using chemical weapons against the rebels, he had also concluded that Britain eventually had to extricate itself from the Mesopotamia quagmire. His communiqu├ęs to British Prime Minister Lloyd George could have been prescient memos to Tony Blair not to mention President George W. Bush. “Evidently we are in for a long, costly campaign in Mesopotamia which will strain to the uttermost our military resources,” Churchill warned. “It seems to me so gratuitous that…we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”

Churchill argued that Britain should give up its attempts to control Kurdish Mosul and Sunni-dominated Baghdad and retain only the Shiite province of Basra in the south, which was a strategic link to British possessions in Persia. If the British Cabinet had followed his advice, each of the principle peoples of Iraq—Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds—would have had its own government; the groups who were bound together as Iraqis might have had a much less tragic history.

Churchill, however, was overruled by Lloyd George, and as a loyal cabinet member he was obliged to continue publicly to make the case for a policy he privately argued was disastrous—that Britain should continue to rule Mesopotamia.

To govern the new state of Iraq they ultimately cobbled together in 1921, the British imported the Hashemite King Faisal, son of the Sharif of Mecca. Since they were handing him the crown, they presumed he would be compliant with the directives of a British High Commissioner. The fact that Faisal had never been to Iraq was considered an inconvenience, but one the British figured they could manage.

To man the government, the British continued to rely on the minority Sunnis; the majority Shiites naturally continued to view the Sunnis as an army of occupation. As an American missionary warned the British at the time, “You are flying in the face of four millenniums of history if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a ‘political entity!’ They have never been an independent unity.”

Prime Minister Lloyd George, however, would hear nothing of abandoning the venture. “If we leave,” he wrote in 1922, “we may find in a year or two that we have handed over to the French and the Americans some of the richest oilfields in the world.”

In fact, the British decided that very year to expand the artificial nation by incorporating the Kurdish lands of Mosul into Iraq. Sir Arnold Wilson had earlier warned London that the Kurds would “never accept an Arab ruler.” Subjecting them to King Faisal quickly proved a disaster.

At the end of World War I, the victorious allies, prodded by Woodrow Wilson, had promised the non-Arabic Kurds an autonomous state. The promise was never fulfilled. In return for a cut of the petroleum take, the other great powers—including the United States—acquiesced in the arrangement. Thus, the hapless Kurds would find themselves part of an ungainly ethnic jumble, a minority in an Arab country ruled over from Baghdad by Sunnis they detested. In 1923, their resentment exploded in uprisings that were brutally repressed by the Royal Air Force.

As Wing-Commander Sir Arthur Harris (who later became renowned as “Bomber Harris”, head of Britain’s WWII Bomber Command, that carried out the firebombing of Dresden), declared with obvious satisfaction in 1924, [T]he Arab and Kurd ... now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage; they now know that within 45 minutes a full sized village ... can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.” (This, by the way, was a 13 years before the Germans outraged the “civilized” world with their bombing of Guernica).

The “recalcitrant” tribes targeted for such treatment were not just those attacking British installations and personnel, but also those accused of harboring wanted rebel leaders, even refusing to pay taxes; they also had to be bombed into submission.

Over the following years, protected by the British and the RAF, King Faisal grew in his role as a monarch far beyond what the British had expected—or wished. He attempted to forge a sentiment of nationhood among the hodgepodge of peoples and tribes that made up his Kingdom. But he was constantly stymied by bitter internecine feuds and bickering, not to mention the corruption and penchant for intrigue that permeated Iraq’s political elite. His efforts were also subverted by the British. Their objective was not to build a viable state, but to preserve their sway over the region and its huge oil resources.

In a confidential memo a dispirited Faisal wrote shortly before his death, “There is still—and I say this with a heart full of sorrow—no Iraqi people, but an unimaginable mass of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever. Out of these masses we want to fashion a people which we would train, educate and refine…The circumstances being what they are, the immenseness of the efforts needed for this [cannot be imagined].”

Monday, January 15, 2007

So, this is the surge

So many ways to go, so many things to say about the President's plan announced last week.

First, the obvious. The President has only a handful of people left around him who believe that this escalation in troop level even has a potential for success. Sen. John McCain, who is betting his run at the presidency on the success of the Bush plan, is backing away by telling people there is no "guarantee" that the troop surge will be successful. Well, no kidding, Sen. McCain. Just about everybody else recognizes that it's far closer to a guarantee that this time next year, Iraq will be in the same clutches of violence, or worse. The only difference will be the higher casualty numbers for American soldiers.

And yet the President and his team continue the same song they've been singing since this whole mess started. Sen. Joe Liebermann (the "independent" Democrat) had the gall to trot out the old line that if the United States isn't successful in Iraq, that the terrorists that are fighting in Iraq now will soon be coming over to the United States.

Really, Sen. Liebermann? Like if that was true, there isn't a single thing stopping them from coming over here now? It's not like we've taken any action during this administration like, you know, implementing the 9/11 Commission reports, to increase our border security. Of all the specious arguments attempting to justify this bloody adventure in Iraq, the "fight them there so we don't fight them here" is the worst. Not only is it laughable in it's accuracy, it ultimately has the effect of deadening the American people to the effect of 9/11.

That's what finally struck me this morning as I was thinking about the events of the week. This President has used 9/11 as a cudgel so many times in an attempt to scare people into supporting him, or at least shutting up enough so he can get done what he wants. The PATRIOT Act. Guantanamo Bay. Warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. An endless, senseless, open-ended war. The ESCALATION of an endless, senseless, open-ended war.

So now, when the spectre of 9/11 is raised, I don't think with sadness and anger about how we as a nation came together to cherish our freedoms, honor our fallen, and hold fast to the principles that inspired the birth of this nation. Instead, I think of a president who has shamelessly, calculatingly, and methodically used the deaths of those people on that fateful day in an attempt to re-cast the United States in his own, neo-conservative image.

How dare you, Mr. President.

It doesn't stop there. One of the hallmarks of this administration is to fix a problem by renaming it. In yet another shocking display of hypocricy, the president who berated Bill Clinton for prevaricating on the meaning of the word "is" has given us the War on Terror, the Global War on Terror, the Global Struggle against Radical Extremism, has told us to stay the course, has told us that we never were staying the course, has told us the war in Iraq was like World War II, has told us the war in Iraq was never like World War II, has told us we were winning in Iraq, has told us that we aren't winning but we aren't losing in Iraq (evidently believing that we're now tied, or something).

And now, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice tells us that the additional 21, 000 American lives being thrown into the meat-grinder that is Iraq is not an escalation, but merely an "augmentation" of forces.

Seriously. The most recent public opinion surveys show that the President's approval rating on his handling of the war is at 27 percent, and what amazes me is that there still could be 27 percent of the country that has not seen through this calculated insanity.

We will never know if there is anything that could be done to actually stop this escalation of troop levels into Iraq. The Democrats have made a calculated decision to vote on a non-binding resolution to support or oppose the President's plan first, meaning that by the time they get to actually talking about funding, the troops will be there and the Democrats can say that they don't want to "take the bullets away from the troops on the ground."

The Democrats have decided to let the surge happen, and let the President take the fall when it fails. They have chosen the path of moral cowardice in favor of political expediency, and all that remains to be seen is how many American lives that decision will cost.

But while the failure of the Democrats to stand up and fight this evil is saddening, make no mistake. This is President Bush's war, and ultimately the souls of the slain Americans and the slain Iraqis will be on his conscience. The next generation of jihadists that have grown up during Bush's war will be his responsibility as they grow in the fertile soil of war, violence, tribalism, and death, to become the next generation of al Qaeda recruits.

In 2008, we will be choosing a new president. Heaven help that person, as the inheritance he or she will receive is a difficult one. Whoever takes the mantle of the presidency from George W. Bush will have a herculean task to restore the soul of America.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On the verge of the surge

Tonight, President Bush will apparently inform the nation of the worst-kept secret since Emmitt Smith won "Dancing With the Stars," namely that the United States will be sending in a significant number of additional troops to Iraq in an attempt to enforce stability and order in Baghdad. If all the reports are to be believed (and if internet reports about Apple's new iPhone being released on Tuesday can be accurate, then certainly these can too), then somewhere in the neighborhood of an extra 20,000 troops will be sent in with the express purpose of pacifying Baghdad. In addition, there will be wheelbarrows of money allocated for infrastructure creation and jobs programs to help rebuild Iraq and give the people there an economic future.

First, with regards to the "surge," which is a politically more palatable term than the "escalation" of the war which this troop increase so clearly is. After the November elections, the talk was how the President would be changed as a result, and how the elections would force him to re-evaluate his strategies and methods.

Well, that didn't work. Throughout his presidency, the one word that can describe President Bush is hubris. That can be good or bad, depending on your perception of his goals. But this surge is the greatest act of hubris yet from the president. After dodging questions since the war began about insufficient troop levels by saying that he "just does what his generals on the ground say is necessary," President Bush is now apparently going to take an action that his generals have said will not only be unsuccessful, but will make matters worse.

Of course, those generals are now no longer "on the ground" in Iraq. Amazingly enough, when they started telling the president things he didn't want to hear, the president replaced those generals.

So now, maybe 20,000 additional American soldiers are going to be thrown into the meat-grinder that is Iraq, in the hope that they can keep things quiet enough for the Iraqi government to forge enough of a political consensus to stop the insurgency.

Of course, you have the problem of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al Malaki, owing his political life to Muqtada al Sadr, the guy who is primarily responsible for the Shi'ite militias that are stoking the fires of at least one side of the insurgency. Is the president's plan to ask Malaki to go after Sadr militarily? Why would he do that? HOW could he do that even if he wanted to?

A few months ago, the US military "surged" into Baghdad with this exact same idea, to overwhelm the area with force and keep the peace. All it did was give the insurgents more American targets to kill. It will be interesting tonight to see if the president makes reference to that failed attempt as he justifies pouring more gasoline on this raging inferno.

As for the idea of spending the extra money on infrastructure and jobs programs, it's a wonderful idea ... in 2003. I thought all of the billions that we were spending was supposed to do that already. Of course, the money that we spent for that was allocated without any oversight or accountability. Those billions have disappeared into the pockets of the political appointees who were sent over, into coffers of companies like Halliburton.

Apparently, the surge is coming. Senator Ted Kennedy is trying to pass a bill that would require Congressional authorization of any troop strength increase, but it doesn't appear that Congress will have the mettle to be able to prevent this newest escalation of hubris.

So, the surge is coming. The violence is coming. The death toll increase is coming. And the hubris of one man means there's not a damn thing that will stop it.

I truly hope I'm wrong. I'm tired of seeing the stories about the local families dealing with the tragedy of their loved ones coming home in a vinyl bag. I'm tired of being lied to about the reasons they are dying. I'm just tired.

As a country, we stood up in November and demanded a change. Instead, we've gotten a magnification of what we already had. If this surge isn't a call to action for anyone who loves this country and the ideas it is supposed to stand for, I don't know what is.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The 10 worst civil liberties violations of 2006

OK, it's a little out of date, but it's a well-done piece by Dahlia Lithwick from Slate.com. Enjoy.

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The Bill of Wrongs
The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006.
By Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Saturday, Dec. 30, 2006, at 6:30 AM ET

I love those year-end roundups—ubiquitous annual lists of greatest films and albums and lip glosses and tractors. It's reassuring that all human information can be wrestled into bundles of 10. In that spirit, Slate proudly presents, the top 10 civil liberties nightmares of the year:

10. Attempt to Get Death Penalty for Zacarias MoussaouiLong after it was clear the hapless Frenchman was neither the "20th hijacker" nor a key plotter in the attacks of 9/11, the government pressed to execute him as a "conspirator" in those attacks. Moussaoui's alleged participation? By failing to confess to what he may have known about the plot, which may have led the government to disrupt it, Moussaoui directly caused the deaths of thousands of people. This massive overreading of the federal conspiracy laws would be laughable were the stakes not so high. Thankfully, a jury rejected the notion that Moussaoui could be executed for the crime of merely wishing there had been a real connection between himself and 9/11.
9. Guantanamo BayIt takes a licking but it keeps on ticking. After the Supreme Court struck down the military tribunals planned to try hundreds of detainees moldering on the base, and after the president agreed that it might be a good idea to close it down, the worst public relations fiasco since the Japanese internment camps lives on. Prisoners once deemed "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth" are either quietly released (and usually set free) or still awaiting trial. The lucky 75 to be tried there will be cheered to hear that the Pentagon has just unveiled plans to build a $125 million legal complex for the hearings. The government has now officially put more thought into the design of Guantanamo's court bathrooms than the charges against its prisoners.
8. Slagging the MediaWhether the Bush administration is reclassifying previously declassified documents, sidestepping the FOIA, threatening journalists for leaks on dubious legal grounds, or, most recently, using its subpoena power to try to wring secret documents from the ACLU, the administration has continued its "secrets at any price" campaign. Is this a constitutional crisis? Probably not. Annoying as hell? Definitely.
7. Slagging the CourtsIt starts with the president's complaints about "activist judges," and evolves to Congressional threats to appoint an inspector general to oversee federal judges. As public distrust of the bench is fueled, the stripping of courts' authority to hear whole classes of cases—most recently any habeas corpus claims from Guantanamo detainees—almost seems reasonable. Each tiny incursion into the independence of the judiciary seems justified. Until you realize that the courts are often the only places that will defend our shrinking civil liberties. This leads to ...
6. The State-Secrets DoctrineThe Bush administration's insane argument in court is that judges should dismiss entire lawsuits over many of the outrages detailed on this very list. Why? Because the outrageously illegal things are themselves matters of top-secret national security. The administration has raised this claim in relation to its adventures in secret wiretapping and its fun with extraordinary rendition. A government privilege once used to sidestep civil claims has mushroomed into sweeping immunity for the administration's sometimes criminal behavior.
5. Government SnoopingTake your pick. There's the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program wherein the president breezily authorized spying on the phone calls of innocent citizens, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FBI's TALON database shows the government has been spying on nonterrorist groups, including Quakers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Veterans for Peace. The Patriot Act lives on. And that's just the stuff we know about.
4. Extraordinary RenditionSo, when does it start to become ordinary rendition? This government program has us FedEx-ing unindicted terror suspects abroad for interrogation/torture. Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen, was shipped off to Afghanistan for such treatment and then released without charges, based on some government confusion about his name. Heh heh. Canadian citizen Maher Arar claims he was tortured in Syria for a year, released without charges, and cleared by a Canadian commission. Attempts to vindicate the rights of such men? You'd need to circle back to the state-secrets doctrine, above.
3. Abuse of Jose PadillaFirst, he was, according to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, "exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or 'dirty bomb,' in the United States." Then, he was planning to blow up apartments. Then he was just part of a vague terror conspiracy to commit jihad in Bosnia and Chechnya. Always, he was a U.S. citizen. After three and a half years, in which he was denied the most basic legal rights, it has now emerged that Padilla was either outright tortured or near-tortured. According to a recent motion, during Padilla's years of almost complete isolation, he was treated by the U.S. government to sensory and sleep deprivation, extreme cold, stress positions, threats of execution, and drugging with truth serum. Experts say he is too mentally damaged to stand trial. The Bush administration supported his motion for a mental competency assessment, in hopes that will help prevent his torture claims from ever coming to trial, or, as Yale Law School's inimitable Jack Balkin put it: "You can't believe Padilla when he says we tortured him because he's crazy from all the things we did to him."
2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006This was the so-called compromise legislation that gave President Bush even more power than he initially had to detain and try so-called enemy combatants. He was generously handed the authority to define for himself the parameters of interrogation and torture and the responsibility to report upon it, since he'd been so good at that. What we allegedly did to Jose Padilla was once a dirty national secret. The MCA made it the law.
1. HubrisWhenever the courts push back against the administration's unsupportable constitutional ideas—ideas about "inherent powers" and a "unitary executive" or the silliness of the Geneva Conventions or the limitless sweep of presidential powers during wartime—the Bush response is to repeat the same chorus louder: Every detainee is the worst of the worst; every action taken is legal, necessary, and secret. No mistakes, no apologies. No nuance, no regrets. This legal and intellectual intractability can create the illusion that we are standing on the same constitutional ground we stood upon in 2001, even as that ground is sliding away under our feet.

What outrage did I forget? Send mail to Dahlia.Lithwick@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless otherwise stipulated.)

Wishing you and yours a happy, and freer, New Year.

A version of this piece appears in the Washington Post Outlook section.
Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2156397/

Monty Python on the war in Iraq.

No, it's not even a joke. Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame has written a very nice piece in the Guardian, reminding us that the US has managed to spend about $1M for every Iraqi killed in this war. The piece is satire and dark comedy, but that number screams the truth of the magnitiude of what we have done in the last three years.
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They have made a killing

The US has spent a million dollars for every dead Iraqi - is that what they mean by value for money?
Terry Jones
Saturday January 6, 2007
The Guardian

Early this year the Bush administration is to ask Congress to approve an additional $100bn for the onerous task of making life intolerable for the Iraqis. This will bring the total spent on the White House's current obsession with war to almost $500bn - enough to have given every US citizen $1,600 each. I wonder which the voters would have gone for if given the choice: shall we (a) give every American $1,600 or (b) spend the money on bombing a country in the Middle East that doesn't use lavatory paper?
Of course, there's another thing that George Bush could have done with the money: he could have given every Iraqi $18,700. I imagine that would have reduced the threat of international terrorism somewhat. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't help thinking that giving someone $18,700 brings them round to your side more quickly than bombing the hell out of them. They could certainly buy a lot of lavatory paper with it.
In 2002 the house budget committee and the congressional budget office both guesstimated the cost of invading Iraq at approximately $50bn; $500bn seems a bit wide of the mark. What's more, with over half a million dead, it means that the world's greatest military superpower has spent a million dollars for every Iraqi killed. That can't be value for money!
So how on earth could such a vast overspend occur? After all, the US is the flagship of monetary common sense. Well, for starters, in 2003 the White House refused to allow competitive bidding for contracts in Iraq, which is odd for the champions of free enterprise. Then the White House ensured there would be no overseeing of what was spent. In the original Iraq spending bill, which earmarked the first $87bn to go down the drain, there was a provision for the general accounting office to keep a check on things, but that provision was stripped from the bill - even though the Senate had originally voted for it 97 to 0.
But what I want to know is: how do they actually spend all that money? Well the answer is: they don't. According to the website Halliburtonwatch, the Halliburton subsidiary KBR bills the US taxpayer for $50-$80 per day for labourers working for it in Iraq, but pays them only $5-$16 per day. It's the same with Halliburton. In December 2003 the US army discovered that the company had overcharged by $61m for fuel transportation and $67m for food services in Iraq.
Then there is good old-fashioned incompetence. Take the al-Fatah pipeline: KBR went through $75.7m of taxpayers' money, supposedly trying to replace a pipeline across the river Tigris that US forces had blown up. They never finished the job, but still got paid.
With all this double-dealing and incompetence, you'd expect that those responsible would have been penalised by now. But that's where the mystery deepens. Companies such as Halliburton and its subsidiaries have never had it so good. In January 2006 the Bush administration intervened in a dispute between the Pentagon and Halliburton, and agreed to pay the company $199m in disputed charges. On January 26 2006 Halliburton announced that its 2005 profits were the "best in our 86-year history". And to date KBR has received around $16bn from its contracts in Iraq.
Vice-President Dick Cheney, formerly CEO of Halliburton, has not had a bad war either. His tax returns for 2005 show that he earned $194,862 from his Halliburton stock options alone. Mind you, it's small change compared to his $36m payoff when he left the firm. Was that for his past role, or was Halliburton anticipating further services from the future vice-president of the US? Perhaps it's just as well that in 2003 the White House removed from the Iraq spending bill any provision to penalise war profiteers who defrauded US taxpayers.

· Terry Jones is a film director, actor and Python www.terry-jones.net

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Olbermann on "The Surge"

Very well executed Special Comment on the President's newest and most shocking act of hubris - to reportedly send 20,000 more American lives into the meat-grinder that has become Iraq.

Happy New Year.

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Olbermann: Special comment about 'sacrifice'
BBC reports Bush will reveal troop surge plan in sacrifice-themed speech

SPECIAL COMMENT
By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'
Updated: 9:16 a.m. CT Jan 3, 2007

If in your presence an individual tried to sacrifice an American serviceman or woman, would you intervene?
Would you at least protest?
What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them?
What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them — and was then to announce his intention to sacrifice hundreds, maybe thousands, more?
This is where we stand tonight with the BBC report of President Bush’s “new Iraq strategy,” and his impending speech to the nation, which, according to a quoted senior American official, will be about troop increases and “sacrifice.”
The president has delayed, dawdled and deferred for the month since the release of the Iraq Study Group.
He has seemingly heard out everybody, and listened to none of them.
If the BBC is right — and we can only pray it is not — he has settled on the only solution all the true experts agree cannot possibly work: more American personnel in Iraq, not as trainers for Iraqi troops, but as part of some flabby plan for “sacrifice.”
Sacrifice!
More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.
More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.
More American families will have to bear the unbearable and rationalize the unforgivable —“sacrifice” — sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever.
And more Americans — more even than the two-thirds who already believe we need fewer troops in Iraq, not more — will have to conclude the president does not have any idea what he’s doing — and that other Americans will have to die for that reason.
It must now be branded as propaganda — for even the president cannot truly feel that very many people still believe him to be competent in this area, let alone “the decider.”
But from our impeccable reporter at the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski, tonight comes confirmation of something called “surge and accelerate” — as many as 20,000 additional troops —f or “political purposes” ...
This, in line with what we had previously heard, that this will be proclaimed a short-term measure, for the stated purpose of increasing security in and around Baghdad, and giving an Iraqi government a chance to establish some kind of order.
This is palpable nonsense, Mr. Bush.
If this is your intention — if the centerpiece of your announcement next week will be “sacrifice” — sacrifice your intention, not more American lives!
As Sen. Joseph Biden has pointed out, the new troops might improve the ratio our forces face relative to those living in Baghdad (friend and foe), from 200 to 1, to just 100 to 1.
“Sacrifice?”
No.
A drop in the bucket.
The additional men and women you have sentenced to go there, sir, will serve only as targets.
They will not be there “short-term,” Mr. Bush; for many it will mean a year or more in death’s shadow.
This is not temporary, Mr. Bush.
For the Americans who will die because of you, it will be as permanent as it gets.
The various rationales for what Mr. Bush will reportedly re-christen “sacrifice” constitute a very thin gruel, indeed.
The former labor secretary, Robert Reich, says Sen. John McCain told him that the “surge” would help the “morale” of the troops already in Iraq.
If Mr. McCain truly said that, and truly believes it, he has either forgotten completely his own experience in Vietnam ... or he is unaware of the recent Military Times poll indicating only 38 percent of our active military want to see more troops sent ... or Mr. McCain has departed from reality.
Then there is the argument that to take any steps toward reducing troop numbers would show weakness to the enemy in Iraq, or to the terrorists around the world.
This simplistic logic ignores the inescapable fact that we have indeed already showed weakness to the enemy, and to the terrorists.
We have shown them that we will let our own people be killed for no good reason.
We have now shown them that we will continue to do so.
We have shown them our stupidity.
Mr. Bush, your judgment about Iraq — and now about “sacrifice” — is at variance with your people’s, to the point of delusion.
Your most respected generals see no value in a “surge” — they could not possibly see it in this madness of “sacrifice.”
The Iraq Study Group told you it would be a mistake.
Perhaps dozens more have told you it would be a mistake.
And you threw their wisdom back, until you finally heard what you wanted to hear, like some child drawing straws and then saying “best two out of three … best three out of five … hundredth one counts.”
Your citizens, the people for whom you work, have told you they do not want this, and moreover, they do not want you to do this.
Yet once again, sir, you have ignored all of us.
Mr. Bush, you do not own this country!
To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship — those bonded still, to this president and this administration, and now bonded to this “sacrifice” —proceed at your own peril.
John McCain may still hear the applause of small crowds — he has somehow inured himself to the hypocrisy, and the tragedy, of a man who considers himself the ultimate realist, courting the votes of those who support the government telling visitors to the Grand Canyon that it was caused by the Great Flood.
That Mr. McCain is selling himself off to the irrational right, parcel by parcel, like some great landowner facing bankruptcy, seems to be obvious to everybody but himself.
Or, maybe it is obvious to him and he simply no longer cares.
But to the rest of you in the Republican Party:
We need you to speak up, right now, in defense of your country’s most precious assets — the lives of its citizens who are in harm’s way.
If you do not, you are not serving this nation’s interests — nor your own.
November should have told you this.
The opening of the new Congress on Wednesday and Thursday should tell you this.
Next time, those missing Republicans will be you.
And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.
President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.
The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq.
It wants fewer.
Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.
Yet you Democrats must assume that even if you take the most obvious of courses, and cut off funding for the war, Mr. Bush will ignore you as long as possible, or will find the money elsewhere, or will spend the money meant to protect the troops, and re-purpose it to keep as many troops there as long as he can keep them there.
Because that’s what this is all about, is it not, Mr. Bush?
That is what this “sacrifice” has been for.
To continue this senseless, endless war.
You have dressed it up in the clothing, first of a hunt for weapons of mass destruction, then of liberation ... then of regional imperative ... then of oil prices ... and now in these new terms of “sacrifice” — it’s like a damned game of Colorforms, isn’t it, sir?
This senseless, endless war.
But — it has not been senseless in two ways.
It has succeeded, Mr. Bush, in enabling you to deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
It has gotten many of us used to the idea — the virtual “white noise” — of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague “sacrifice” for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrase “the war on terror.”
And the war’s second accomplishment — your second accomplishment, sir — is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers.
Because if you sell the Army a thousand Humvees, you can’t sell them any more until the first thousand have been destroyed.
The service men and women are ancillary to the equation.
This is about the planned obsolescence of ordnance, isn’t, Mr. Bush? And the building of detention centers? And the design of a $125 million courtroom complex at Gitmo, complete with restaurants.
At least the war profiteers have made their money, sir.
And we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.
You have insisted, Mr. Bush, that we must not lose in Iraq, that if we don’t fight them there we will fight them here — as if the corollary were somehow true, that if by fighting them there we will not have to fight them here.
And yet you have re-made our country, and not re-made it for the better, on the premise that we need to be ready to “fight them here,” anyway, and always.
In point of fact even if the civil war in Iraq somehow ended tomorrow, and the risk to Americans there ended with it, we would have already suffered a defeat — not fatal, not world-changing, not, but for the lives lost, of enduring consequence.
But this country has already lost in Iraq, sir.
Your policy in Iraq has already had its crushing impact on our safety here.
You have already fomented new terrorism and new terrorists.
You have already stoked paranoia.
You have already pitted Americans, one against the other.
We ... will have to live with it.
We ... will have to live with what — of the fabric of our nation — you have already “sacrificed.”
The only object still admissible in this debate is the quickest and safest exit for our people there.
But you — and soon, Mr. Bush, it will be you and you alone — still insist otherwise.
And our sons and daughters and fathers and mothers will be sacrificed there tonight, sir, so that you can say you did not “lose in Iraq.”
Our policy in Iraq has been criticized for being indescribable, for being inscrutable, for being ineffable.
But it is all too easily understood now.
First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.
Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego.
If what is reported is true — if your decision is made and the “sacrifice” is ordered — take a page instead from the man at whose funeral you so eloquently spoke this morning — Gerald Ford:
Put pragmatism and the healing of a nation ahead of some kind of misguided vision.
Atone.
Sacrifice, Mr. Bush?
No, sir, this is not “sacrifice.” This has now become “human sacrifice.”
And it must stop.
And you can stop it.
Next week, make us all look wrong.
Our meaningless sacrifice in Iraq must stop.
And you must stop it.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16442767/page/4/