Thursday, May 29, 2008

We're always fighting World War II

Speaking yesterday at the Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado Springs, CO, President Bush yet again compared the U.S. occupation of Iraq to the post-WWII rebuilding period in Germany and Japan. Though the White House has repeatedly compared the war in Iraq to the last "Good War" (and usually avoided the obvious comparison to Vietnam), President Bush did acknowledge at least one key difference in his speech.

From the AP:
The president acknowledged one of the many differences between the global conflict six decades ago and the ones that began under his watch: today's wars are not over.

``In Germany and Japan, the work of rebuilding took place in relative quiet,'' Bush said. ``Today we're helping emerging democracies rebuild under fire from terrorist networks and state sponsors of terror. This is a difficult and unprecedented task, and we're learning as we go.''

Now rewind to the summer of 2003, when the Iraqi insurgency first began taking off. At that time, both then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly compared the Iraq occupation to the post-WWII rebuilding period. But unlike Bush yesterday, both Rice and Rumsfeld made the comparison to explicitly argue that the Allied occupation of Germany was violent and tumultuous -- just like Iraq.

Consider these quotes compiled in an article from Slate at the time:
"There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes," [Rice] told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in San Antonio, Texas, on Aug. 25. "But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers—called 'werewolves'—engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them—much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants."

Speaking to the same group on the same day, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted,

One group of those dead-enders was known as "werewolves." They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted Allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces. Mayors were assassinated including the American-appointed mayor of Aachen, the first major German city to be liberated. Children as young as 10 were used as snipers, radio broadcasts, and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin Museum. Does this sound familiar?
Of course, both Rice and Rumsfeld were basing their comparisons on phony history that suited them at the times.

As the Slate article notes, "the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany — and Japan, Haiti, and the two Balkan cases — was zero."

The fact that the Bush administration is no longer drawing attention to the supposed violent similarities between the German and Iraq occupations is merely an admission that the argument is untenable and that the comparison was based on fictional history (i.e. lies).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Merida Initiative

My latest piece for Inter Press Service regarding the Bush administration's so-called "Merida Initiative" -- a three-year plan to further the "war on drugs" in Mexico and several other Central American countries through military training and equipment -- is now available online.

An excerpt:
WASHINGTON, May 19 (IPS) - Funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan may be temporarily stalled in the U.S. Congress, but last week lawmakers here did approve 400 million dollars in spending for another controversial war, this one aimed primarily at cutting off the transport of illicit drugs from Latin America into the United States.
Read the rest (subscription required).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In which I attempt campaign coverage...

I'm not one for horse race coverage of the Democratic presidential race, but for those keeping track at home, Barack Obama picked up support from another superdelegate today: Jim McDermott, a congressman from Seattle, Washington.

McDermott, a vocal opponent of the Iraq war and a member of the House Progressive Caucus, announced his decision in a press release I just received a few moments ago:
“I am proud to endorse Barack Obama today, because I believe he will bring us together to achieve the kind of change we need in this country moving forward. As Democrats, we are fortunate to have two very talented public servants running to be the nominee of our party, and I have great respect for Senator Clinton. But I believe now is the time to unite behind Barack Obama so we can be in the strongest place possible to win in November. Barack Obama has chosen to spend his career speaking out for those who need a voice and reaching across the aisle to bring change that matters in the lives of working families. I am confident that as president, Barack Obama will end the war in Iraq and bring our sons and daughters home, he will make universal health care a reality and he will restore our moral standing in the world. Barack Obama won the race in my home state by an overwhelming margin and I am thankful that so many new voters have become engaged because of the kind of campaign he has run, and I am happy to support him today.”
I don't think there was ever really any question as to who McDermott preferred in this race. As a strong critic of the attempt to demonize Iran and launch another preemptive war, one would have a hard time imagining him endorsing Hillary Clinton, who not only voted to have Iran's Revolutionary Guard listed as a "terrorist organization", but recently threatened that if Iran attacked Israel (the chances of that happening, it should be pointed out, is exactly "nil") she would "totally obliterate" the former and, presumably, its population of 70 million people. Not that Barack "all options on the table" Obama is a much better choice when it comes to foreign policy, but certainly, considering the options...

That said, as with John Edwards' endorsement of Obama yesterday, the only real question is: what was the wait all about?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


The Washington Post reports:
President Bush said yesterday that he gave up golfing in 2003 "in solidarity" with the families of soldiers who were dying in Iraq, concluding that it was "just not worth it anymore" to play the sport in a time of war.

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," Bush said in a White House interview with the Politico. "I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

The state of Intelligence

By now you're probably familiar with the sordid details of the Vito Fossella story; a moralizing (and married) Republican congressman from New York fathers a child with his mistress, former Air Force lieutenant colonel Laura Fay, with whom he leads a secret double life -- a fact revealed after Fossella was arrested for a DWI three miles from her house. But what stood out to me was this aspect of the story:
The two met while she was the Air Force's House liaison - a position she held from July 2001 until her retirement in September 2006.

Fay is an intelligence officer by trade; her last duty assignment was as chief of the intelligence applications division at the Pentagon.
Now, keep that part of the story in mind when you read this:
Fossella repeatedly lied to Fay, telling her he had separated from his wife, Mary Pat, his former high school sweetheart and the mother of his three children in Staten Island, a source said.

Fay only realized the extent of his deception when he confessed to fathering a love child last week, but made no mention of leaving his wife.
Catch that? A top Pentagon intelligence official apparently believed a congressman -- never a wise decision -- when he told her that he was separated from his wife, but made no attempt to research whether that was true. Of course, she very well may have known but doesn't want to admit it, but let's assume for a moment that this account is accurate and that she really was unaware.

Searching that top-secret research tool, Wikipedia, Fay could have learned this:
In 1990, Fossella married Mary Patricia Rowan. They have three children and live in the Great Kills neighborhood on Staten Island.
That information was freely available on Fossella's Wikipedia page earlier this year. And if Fay had been using her intelligence skills even earlier, she could have found out this interesting tidbit from an earlier version of the page:
In 1990, he married Mary Patricia Rowan. Their first son, Dylan Michael, was born on September 30th, 1995, their second son, Griffin Thomas, on November 21st, 1997 and their first daughter, Rowan Frances, on September 12th, 2003.
According to press accounts, Fossella and Fay's relationship really started developing in the summer of 2003 -- when Fossella's wife was pregnant with the couple's first daughter. The fact that Fay didn't know this is evidence of a startling naivety or willful ignorance.

Either way, does that not tell you everything you need to know about the state of the intelligence services in the United States?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Who can we invade next?

Time magazine, that establishment organ of respectable opinion, asks if the United States is "serious" enough to invade another country:
The disaster in Burma presents the world with perhaps its most serious humanitarian crisis since the 2004 Asian tsunami. By most reliable estimates, close to 100,000 people are dead. Delays in delivering relief to the victims, the inaccessibility of the stricken areas and the poor state of Burma's infrastructure and health systems mean that number is sure to rise. With as many as 1 million people still at risk, it is conceivable that the death toll will, within days, approach that of the entire number of civilians killed in the genocide in Darfur.


That's why it's time to consider a more serious option: invading Burma.


A coercive humanitarian intervention would be complicated and costly. During the 2004 tsunami, some 24 U.S. ships and 16,000 troops were deployed in countries across the region; the mission cost the U.S. $5 million a day. Ultimately, the U.S. pledged nearly $900 million to tsunami relief. (By contrast, it has offered just $3.25 million to Burma.) But the risks would be greater this time: the Burmese government's xenophobia and insecurity make them prone to view U.S. troops — or worse, foreign relief workers — as hostile forces. (Remember Black Hawk Down?) Even if the U.S. and its allies made clear that their actions were strictly for humanitarian purposes, it's unlikely the junta would believe them. "You have to think it through — do you want to secure an area of the country by military force? What kinds of potential security risks would that create?" says Egelend. "I can't imagine any humanitarian organization wanting to shoot their way in with food."
Notice the juxtaposition of the current situation in Burma with the deaths in Darfur, and not, say, the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe that is Iraq; the latter is directly linked to U.S. "humanitarian" actions ("liberating" Iraq from Saddam Hussein) that have resulted in several hundred thousand civilian deaths, while the United States has no responsibility for the killings in Darfur -- ergo, it is safe for a Time magazine reporter to draw the comparison. 

It's also revealing that the writer, Romesh Rotnesar, writes "Remember Black Hawk Down?", rather than, say, drawing the connection to the actual event in Somalia to which he is referring. The reverence the author has for U.S. military power is nothing if not based on fantasy, and as most of the public gets their view of war through entertainment (whether at the theaters or on CNN), it's understandable that one would want to draw the comparison to a Hollywood movie when advocating for war.

In contrast, connecting U.S. military intervention with its actual disastrous results is uncouth among the political and journalistic elite as it detracts from the neat little moral fable setup not just in the Time article, but in the national discourse over foreign policy in general: that the U.S. military is the world's benevolent guardian acting across the globe to promote human dignity -- and rarely in its base self-interest -- with the only question being whether our boneheaded politicians can react quickly enough (i.e. launch an invasion) to take advantage of the wonderful humanitarian tool of military interventionism.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Another "surge" in Iraq

Pleased with their success in spinning a failed troop escalation in Iraq as a successful "surge", Pentagon officials will be announcing another such "surge" this week. But as this poorly written press release announcing a news conference at the National Press Club makes clear, this time the military's press shop will be heralding Iraq's apparently vibrant economy:
Iraq's Economic Surge
Iraqi Minister of Industry, Fawzi Hariri and U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation and Director of the Task Force for Business and StabilityOperations, Paul Brinkley will announce and discuss a number of new contracts for private industry for business development in Iraq.

They will discuss the economic environment in Iraq and the positive impact that the recent and growing economic surge is having in Iraq and need to economic opportunity as it relates to long term security [sic]. They will outline the ongoing economic surge and business opportunities being developed in Iraq.
Of course, like tales of underreported "progress", this isn't the first time the "surge" in Iraq's economy has cited by the U.S. government. From a State Department press release in March 2007:
Washington -- An “economic surge” is accompanying the ongoing U.S. troop surge in Iraq, and the country could see results from this increased activity within a few months, a senior U.S. diplomat said March 9 in Baghdad.

“My focus is on now, and on what's going to happen in this period of surge, not only military surge, but also economic surge over the next four to six months,” Ambassador Timothy Carney, coordinator for economic transition in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters in a two-way teleconference.

Results from this increased economic activity should become apparent “within a relatively short time – I’m talking about a few months,” Carney said.
So what is there to make of the U.S. government's boast of "increased economic activity" and a rebounding economy? Certainly the war has been good for makers of coffins and body bags, but it would be hard to find any major industries that have benefited from the invasion. When it comes down to it, to what can supporters of the war point when discussing Iraq's surging fortunes? Oh:
BAGHDAD, Iraq: Iraq on Monday signed two deals worth US$5 billion (€3.23 billion) to buy 40 planes from Boeing and 10 planes from Canada's Bombardier to upgrade Iraqi Airways' aging fleet.

The deals were signed by Finance Minister Bayan Jabr in a ceremony attended by Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as U.S., British and Canadian diplomats.


Al-Maliki said the government was working to improve the country and called for investments in Iraq.

"Today, the process of developing economy has started," al-Maliki said in a speech during the ceremony.
Boeing, the Seattle-based defense contractor, saw first quarter profits rise 38% this year. While peaceful, productive enterprises will always be harmed by military conflict, war is certainly good for those with the right political connections.

Friday, May 02, 2008

We destroy, you rebuild... any questions?

Faced with a skyrocketing national debt and a looming recession, a U.S. Senate panel unanimously voted today to withhold funding for the occupation of Iraq.

Or not. From the WashingtonPost:
With energy prices soaring and the federal deficit approaching $400 billion, senators from both parties moved yesterday to force Iraq to shoulder morefinancial responsibility for its reconstruction and self-defense.
That's right. The U.S. Senate -- the same body that rushed through a resolution authorizing the illegal invasion of Iraq more than five years ago -- is now so concerned about the war's escalating costs that they want to cut out the least morally reprehensible aspect of an otherwise criminal war: reconstruction.
Granted, the reconstruction process in Iraq has been ripe with fraud and has been improperly cited by cheerleaders for the war as an example of the United States' bottomless benevolence. That said, the idea of reconstruction can at least be defended, in principle, as merely rebuilding that which the U.S. military destroyed. And after more than a decade of bombing and a crippling economic embargo, building a few schools and water treatment plants to replace the ones demolished by American weapons was the least the U.S. government could do as a gesture of reconciliation toward the Iraq people.

Of course, despite the rhetoric about "liberation" and promoting democracy, helping actual Iraqis was always the least of Congress' concerns. And forcing the Iraqis to foot the bill for the U.S. occupation of their country is something both Republicans and Democrats can wholeheartedly agree on. As Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) pointed out during the Armed Services Committee hearing where the vote to cut Iraq reconstruction funds occurred:
"This is the first significant bipartisan change in our policy toward Iraq."
Think about that anti-war Democrats: since Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid assumed the top leadership positions in the U.S. Congress nearly a year and a half ago, this is what they have to show for it. Remember all those impassioned exhortations in 2006 to elect Democrats in order to end the war? Well, not only has the war continued apace, it has escalated, and there are now more troops in Iraq then when Democrats took power in January 2007 on a pledge to bring them all home.

Yet instead of ending the war -- which Congress could do by simply not passing another Iraq war supplemental (don't hold your breath) -- Democrats in Congress are content on merely blaming Republicans for a policy they continue to support, all in the cynical hope that the American public will elect a President Obama or Clinton on, yet again, a promise to bring the troops home.

Consider Speaker Pelosi's comments in the Post article about cutting funding for Iraq's reconstruction:
"They have a surplus and we have a deficit," she said. "They have a windfall from the price of oil, and that price of oil is hurting our economy. We've spent a fortune on infrastructure in Iraq when we have deficits in infrastructure in our country."
So is Pelosi's answer to end the war in Iraq, which economists have predicted could end up costing more than three trillion dollars? Yeah, right.

Instead, Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues are willing to play into base nationalism -- blaming the U.S.'s failure in Iraq on those shifty, lazy Iraqis -- all to save a pittance. As the Post article notes about the move to cut the reconstruction funds, "In a war that has cost well over half a trillion dollars, the savings to U.S. taxpayers are likely to be relatively modest."

It's hardly a surprise that when it comes to the war on Iraq, spending on bullets and bombs far exceeds spending on paintbrushes and schools. It's also not surprising that when faced with a declining economy and a growing debt, Congress chooses to cut funding for the small number of reconstruction projects in Iraq, rather than for the occupation itself -- all while blaming Iraqis for doing too little to help themselves.

As for the occupation of Iraq, forget Democrats so much as even trying to force President Bush to agree to a timeline for withdrawal. In fact, as Pelosi made clear in comments this week, Democrats are chomping at the bit to give the president even more funds -- at least another $108 billion -- for a war they claim to oppose:
House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin are pushing to avoid a veto, while Senate Democrats continue to press add-ons.

"We would rather just save time and get it over with right from the start," Pelosi told reporters Thursday.
Got that? The Democratic leadership's priority is not ending the war (silly American public), but rather to get the funding "over with" as fast as possible -- just so long as they can attach a whole lot of unrelated domestic pork to it.

What did P.T. Barnum (supposedly) say about suckers?