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War in Iraq

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Hounding Private Manning.

“I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled– if not more troubled that me by what they saw.”

While pleading guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, Bradley Manning makes a long and detailed statement about why he gave classified documents to Wikileaks. “The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that– that this type of information should become public. I once read a, and used, a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.”

See also this on Gitmo: “[T]he more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would be released if they were still held in theater.”

I’m with Glenn Greenwald on this – Bradley Manning should be considered a hero, the Daniel Ellsberg of our day, and the real crime here is how terribly he’s been treated by the powers-that-be for a justifiable act of whistle-blowing. “He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.”

And, for this stand on idealism, we’ve kept Pvt. Manning locked in a cell for 23 hours a day and are (still) threatening him with life in prison. Meanwhile, this town is overrun with glib, useless assholes who don’t care about anyone but themselves, and those guys keep failing up. We hound and imprison our Swartzes and Mannings, while coddling and venerating the Dimons and Blankfeins of this world. Some system.

The War Bubble.

An executive at a small defense contractor recently joked to me, ‘Afghanistan is our business plan.’ I asked him what he would do if the war ended. He stared at me for a moment and said, ‘Well, then I hope we invade Libya.‘”

Proving Chalmers Johnson‘s maxim in Why We Fight that “when war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it,” PBS’s Joshua Foust looks at the economic implications of withdrawal in Afghanistan for our standing army of Hessians defense sub-contractors. “Ten years of war have established a discrete class of entrepreneurs, mid-level workers and administrators who are completely reliant upon the U.S. being at war to stay employed.” I somehow doubt we’ll be freezing their pay anytime soon.

Joe Wilson’s War (or: The Plame Game.)

Sean Penn and Naomi Watts reunite to tell the story of Valerie Plame and the imaginary yellowcake in the new trailer for Doug Liman’s Fair Game. Hmm, ok…but I’m getting a Lions for Lambs/Green Zone flavor from this trailer — edutainmenty and too little, too late. Still, it pretty much has to be better than 21 Grams.

The Press in the Tank.

From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002-2008…The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63).

By way of Greenwald and Sullivan, a Harvard study documents exactly how absurdly our national media carried water for the Dubya-era torture regime. “In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.

This story, along with Politico’s gaffetastic reaction to Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings doing real journalism on the McChrystal story — (“Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks” — See also Lara Logan) and Joke Line deeming Glenn Greenwald a traitor because he dared to call unrepentant Iraq war evidence-falsifier Jeff Goldberg a horrible journalist (“Greenwald…so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world.“) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about our broken and corrupt Village media. And this is all just in the past week. Rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. (Pic via here.)

The Deficit-Witchhunt: The Long Depression.


We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense. And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy.

They used to tell me I was building a dream…In the NYT, Paul Krugman calls out the deficit peacocks one more time before the wheels come off around the world. “[This is] the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times. And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.

In very related news, from the bowels of the Fed comes a taxpayer-paid response to Krugman, DeLong, and others sounding the alarm about the deficit witchhunt: Quiet, you nasty bloggers! You have not sufficiently mastered our economickal arts! “[W]riters who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy…[T]here is extremely low likelihood that the speculations of the untrained, on a topic almost pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects, will offer anything new.

Having spent much of the past decade in academe, I’d like to point out that this is a pretty classic overreach by the writer here. I mean, you spend all those years chasing down a degree that’s not particularly useful anymore…there must be some upside to it, right? Am I not now part of the intellectual — in this case, macroeconomic — Elect? No, Mr. Athreya, I’m afraid not. Sometimes people spend so much time examining, say, the myriad variances in an oak leaf (or worse) they miss the forest for the trees.

Update: In an attempt to move past the entitlement-cutting hysteria out and about in DC at the moment, the Center for Economic Policy and Research offers up handy tool: The People’s Deficit Calculator. “The budget options in the calculator include ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, adopting a carbon tax, reduction in the size of the health care subsidies created by the health care reform bill, progressive price indexing of Social Security, adopting a financial speculation tax and others.

Update 2: James K. Galbraith reads the riot act to the deficit witchhunt tribunal. “You are plainly not equipped, either by disposition or resources, to take on the true cause of deficits now or in the future: the financial crisis.

Meet the iRoach.


Right now, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have to lug around a huge amount of equipment, sometimes weighing over 100 pounds. But the soldiers of the near future may followed by a pack bot that can carry all their gear while gracefully stepping over obstacles. As for giving the robot the ability to lay down some suppressive fire, that’s something the military is understandably skittish about…You know, worldwide robot apocalypse when they inevitably turn on their fleshy masters.

With a word of warning from The Prospect‘s Paul Waldman, Popular Science takes a gander at Boston Dynamics’ LittleDog. “LittleDog doesn’t just traverse the terrain; it learns as it goes, noting what works and what doesn’t and incorporating that knowledge into its foothold scoring system.

The Tyranny of the Bullet (Point).

“‘When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,’ General McChrystal dryly remarked.” By way of a friend in the office, our military at the highest levels has apparently been infiltrated and subdued by Powerpoint groupthink. “‘PowerPoint makes us stupid,’ Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina…’It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,’ General [H.R.] McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.‘”

The first thing that came to mind when I saw that ungainly graph above: The Daughters of the American Revolution’s “spider chart” in the 1920′s, which aimed to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the women’s peace and disarmament groups of the time were in fact the fifth column of international socialism. What goes around, comes around, I guess.

Like a Bad Penny.


Decision Point: Is it a good idea for me to land on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit with a sign that says ‘Mission Accomplished‘? Key Decision: How is it not a good idea?” On the announcement that former President Bush’s forthcoming memoirs will be called, um, Decision Points, the wags at the Gawker crime lab have some fun with Photoshop. (Speaking of decision points, I will concede that it’s very smart of the GOP powers-that-be to wait until the week after Election Day to remind America of the Dubya years.)

It’s Not Easy Being Green.


On this St. Patrick’s Day, what better recent release to discuss here at GitM than Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone? Not only do we have two shades of emerald in that last sentence, but we’re now on the cusp of the 7th anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq. (It broke out, I well remember, just as I was heading to a March Madness weekend in Vegas.) Alas, I just wish I had a better sitrep to report.

I don’t mean to be too harsh — There’s nothing terribly wrong with this edutainment-y attempt to explain de-Baathification, highly dubious detainee procedures, and most notably the faked WMD casus belli to disinterested laypersons by way of action-thriller. And, in a way, I sorta admire the gutsiness of the the attempt. But, if you were already well aware of these grim developments, and I assume most GitM readers are, then it’s hard to escape the sensation that one is mainly just being talked down to for two hours. Wait, there were no WMD in Iraq? You’re kidding me, right? And, while I’m a great fan of Greengrass’ previous output — I said over and over again in this space that I wish he had stuck with Watchmen, and on the Top 100 films of last decade list, Bloody Sunday was #84, his two Bournes were at #49, and the exemplary United 93 was at #6 — The Green Zone feels quite a bit more leaden than usual.

As with the political edutainment project Greengrass aspired to here, I like the idea of fusing his highly visceral action work (the Bournes) with his fly-on-the-wall discursions into recent history (Sunday, ’93)…on paper. But The Green Zone gets lost somewhere in the interstice, and lacks the gripping power of either of these previous Greengrass grooves. Instead, Zone ends up mostly being two grainy hours of watching Matt Damon run around at night, as he tries to uncover an insidious government plot that our nation has been fully aware of for years…and has chosen to greet with a yawn.

More on that depressing problem in a bit, but, first, to bring y’all up to speed: Loosely based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction examination of Dubyaite imbecility and excess in post-war Baghdad, Green Zone begins with a brief sequence set amid the original Shock-and-Awe period of the war, followed by, a few weeks later, a tense raid on a possible WMD storehouse by American soldiers. Led by Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon), this crack MW2-ish assault ends up finding, well, bupkis, just like the time before and the time before that.

To Chief Miller, the problem here is obvious — the intel must be rotten. But, when he brings this up at the next briefing for high-level military muckety-mucks, he is basically told to shut up and do his job. Nonetheless, events soon conspire to introduce Miller to the “Jack of Clubs” in the Dubya deck, a Baathist general (Yigal Naor) with a still-clearly extant power base in Baghdad. And, when our hero digs deeper to figure out how this Jack might know “Magellan,” the top-secret source of all this lousy intel, he soon finds himself trapped — along with a very Judith Miller-y reporter (Amy Ryan) — in a power play between a slimy executive branch bureaucrat (Greg Kinnear, stuck no more) and a grizzled CIA hand (Brendan Gleeson), one that might just end up getting Miller fragged by the creepy Special Forces guy (Jason Isaacs, with great accent) who keeps popping up…

Along the way, there’s a digression into a detainee facility with all the makings of an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen, the tearful homecoming of the administration’s hand-picked Iraqi stooge (re: Ahmed Chalabi), some rather pained attempts to make the decision to de-Baathify an action beat…In other words, Green Zone is basically an attempt to dramatize the Iraq war for people who, for whatever reason, weren’t paying much attention the first time ’round. And, to be fair, it’s done with solid acting all around (including several folks recognizable from United 93), quality production values, and a reasonable degree of versimilitude throughout. (Note also the brief Paul Rieckhoff cameo, which should nip any IAVA whining about dramatic license right in the bud.)

But, for all its edutainmenty truths to tell, Green Zone still ends up feeling rather fake and film-ish to me, perhaps in part because — unlike Greengrass’ other recent histories — it seems to subscribe to a very movie-like All the President’s Men view of things, where, once word of misdeed gets out, justice will be done tho’ the heavens fall. Not to get all Debbie Downer up in here, but that’s not really the way the world works anymore, is it? One of the saddest and scariest moments in the recent and very worthwhile Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America is when Ellsberg explains how he thought everything would change once the Pentagon Papers got out…and then he finds that, in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence of government wrongdoing, most people just shrugged.

This is the uncomfortable horror that Green Zone almost seems willfully designed not to recognize. The whole premise of the movie seems to be that, if We the People knew what really went down in Iraq (or could just be taught via action-movie), we would be totally livid about the corruption involved. But, is the problem really that the American people don’t know what happened in the build-up to Iraq? Or is it that we know pretty well what happened and don’t much seem to care?

Just as with our indefensible dabbling in torture and indefinite detention in recent years, we have known about the lies and incompetence that fueled the Iraq fiasco for awhile now. And, alas, nothing ever happened. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the whole awful, lying lot are still deemed Serious People with Serious Opinions by the nation’s domesticated media watchdogs, who, by the way, have also been studiously ignoring the Blair hearings overseas. Our current president, elected with the largest mandate for change in a generation, has deemed all of this just the sins of the past and refused to “look backward” (or worse, made himself complicit in these Dubya-era crimes.) And life continues, much as it has this past age, with no sense of reckoning whatsoever for the Big Lies that were told.

One of the main reasons Bloody Sunday and United 93 work so well is that they offer complex, nuanced portraits of complicated times. But, as Green Zone moves along, it just ended up feeling more and more like a cartoon to me, and one predicated mainly on wishful thinking. Like I said, I guess I admire what Paul Greengrass & co. were trying do here, but Green Zone as an action film feels flat and mostly uninvolving. And Green Zone as a political enterprise — Iraq War: The Movie!, basically — often seems at best condescending and at worst dangerously naive.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo.

“‘This is probably the best example of violation of the separation of church and state in this country,’ said Weinstein. ‘It’s literally pushing fundamentalist Christianity at the point of a gun against the people that we’re fighting. We’re emboldening an enemy.’”

I like Saving Private Ryan as much as the next guy, but this, in a word, is ridicky-goddamn-diculous. Apparently, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are routinely outfitted with sniper rifles etched with New Testament verse. “Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon…said the inscriptions ‘have always been there’ and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is ‘not Christian.’

Newsflash: Given that we’re currently engaged in multiple wars and are strongly trying to avoid any appearance of being involved in any sort of anti-Muslim Crusade, arming our soldiers with “Jesus rifles” and crafting bible-thumping war reports for the Commander-in-Chief isn’t just catastrophically stupid. It’s basically writing the Al Qaeda recruiting posters for them.

Update: Also, “They started it!” is not an appropriate response to this dismal revelation.

Update 2: Trijicon stands down — Jesus rifles are hereby discontinued, most likely because of quotes like these: “General David Petraeus also addressed the scopes this morning, calling the matter ‘disturbing and a serious concern for me.‘”

Hard Times in the Emerald City.

Somebody was going to get to the bottom of this whole WMD thing eventually — it might as well be Jason Bour…Oh, wait, he’s not Bourne this time? Well, close enough for government work. Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass reunite in the new trailer for Green Zone, verrrrry loosely based on Rajiv Chandasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City and co-starring Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, and Greg Kinnear. Great cast, and Greengrass hasn’t missed yet — I’m in.

State of Play.

Some folks in this film would probably call me a right bleedin’ tosser (and much, much worse) for starting off this post as such. But Armando Iannucci’s hilarious In the Loop, which I caught Sunday morning, has only one real flaw — It feels like it’s coming out a few years too late. This faux-documentary-style disquisition into Britain and America’s joint lead-up to war in the Middle East, and the shrewd, venal bureaucrats who got us there, can’t help but feel very 2003. (Which is not to say Washington politics is now a beacon of optimism and good faith in the Obama era, only that the political zeitgeist has shifted some since the events depicted here.)

But, that one small caveat aside — and to be fair, In the Loop is apparently based on a British TV show (The Thick of It) that was more timely (and is going in the Netflix queue) — this is a gut-bustingly funny film. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard in a theater. (Alas, it was probably 21 Grams, and that was for all the wrong reasons.) True, given that this is a sharp-edged, basically anti-Dubya political satire that goes out of its way to reward pop-culture geekery (Frodo, Ron Weasley, and the White Stripes are all used as epithets at one point or another), I’m probably as close to a target audience for this sort of movie that’s out there. Nevertheless, if your sense of humor runs anywhere from squirmathons like The Office UK or Curb Your Enthusiasm to sardonic political comedies like The Candidate or Bob Roberts to the current-events commentaries of Stewart and Colbert, this movie is a must-see. (And if you don’t find hyperarticulate Scotsman Peter Capaldi spewing forth rococo profanities funny just yet, you probably will after watching In the Loop.)

Iannucci’s film begins with another day in the life of Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi), the tough-as-nails, take-no-guff director of communications at 10 Downing St. (Think Rahm Emanuel, but funny.) This particular morning, Tucker quickly becomes enraged by the latest slip-up by the seemingly ineffectual Minister for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander, best recognized in America from the Pirates sequels.) To wit, Foster responded to a direct press question about an impending Mideast conflict by blurting out that “war is unforeseeable.” This is not “following the line,” as Tucker puts it, but after a stern rebuke, the Minister — and his communications team, new guy Toby (Chris Addison) and competent veteran Judy (Gina McKee) — only compound the error. Foster gets completely lost in the thicket at a follow-up press avail, and soon manages to mangle his way through to an even more unwieldy soundbite: “To walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict.” (Tucker’s livid response to this policy breach: “You sound like a f**in’ Nazi Julie Andrews.“)

Nonetheless, this sort of Zen pronunciamento is exactly the sort of thing the big boys in Washington want more of, even if no one (least of all Foster) seems to know what exactly he was driving at. Soon both the Hawks (represented by a Rumsfeldian David Rasche) and the Doves (mainly State Dept. deputy Mimi Kennedy and peacenik general James Gandolfini) think they’ve found an ace-in-the-hole in the confused minister. Meanwhile, this being Washington, a town that’s “like Bugsy Malone, but with real guns,” there’s another tier of shenanigans brewing under the principals. State Dept. aide Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky) has penned a career-killing memorandum — soon acronymed, in DC fashion as “PWIP PIP” — that outlines the few pros and many cons of the imminent war. And Foster’s new man Toby has managed to inadvertently leak the real name of the War Committee to his friend at CNN — naturally, it was the committee with the most boring-sounding title.

Throw in a few more byzantine political subplots — more aides, committees, leaks, and whatnot — and simmer, and you have what amounts to the smartest, funniest political satire I’ve seen in a good long while. This is also clearly a movie that will reward repeat viewing, and I could see In the Loop someday being quoted as often and as lovingly in certain circles as The Big Lebowski. It may not be everyone’s cup of bile, I suppose, but if you’re generally a reader of this site, I’m guessing you’ll probably enjoy it as much as I did. So, if this movie is still playing in your area, go check it out…or brave the unholy wrath and frightening verbiage of Mr. Tucker. War may be “unforeseeable” — your enjoyment of In the Loop is not.

Hurts so Good.

Last of the past weekend’s offerings was Kathryn Bigelow’s lean, gripping The Hurt Locker. A taut, minimalist “men-in-combat” thriller that immediately goes up on the top shelf of Iraq flicks next to HBO’s Generation Kill (and, if you’re counting Gulf War I, Three Kings), The Hurt Locker is also that rare thing in the summer of Terminator: Salvation, Transformers, and GI Joe: a war movie for grown-ups. Very highly recommended.

As The Hurt Locker opens, we meet a three-man Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team out of Bravo Company doing what they do best: locating, examining, and disposing of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the streets of Baghdad. Even on a run-of-the-mill call like this, and despite the jaunty banter among team members — the temperature is rising, the tension is thick, and the situation is life-or-death. For the IED in question could blow at any moment and take out everybody around…or it could be triggered by any one of the onlookers gathered, perhaps innocuously, perhaps not, to watch the soldiers work. Well, in this particular case of somebody-setting-us-up-the-bomb, things happen to go terribly awry. And, only six weeks out from the end of Bravo Company’s deployment, a crucial spot opens up on this EOD team.

Enter Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), an amiable, reckless, possibly suicidal fellow who, not unlike Harry Tuttle, “came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there’s trouble, a man alone.” (It’s this same devil-may-care attitude and notable lack of self-protective instinct, presumably, that eventually got him reassigned to zombie-stricken London.) Particularly showing up as he does so close to Bravo Company’s ship-out date, James’ cowboy moxie in the field causes huge headaches for his teammates (Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty), who even at one point contemplate fragging the guy. But, just as Jimmy McNulty is startlingly good po-lice despite his many disastrous personal foibles, Staff Sgt. James turns out to be surprisingly in his element whenever the situation deteriorates. And, amid the alleyways, warehouses, dust, and rubble of the Emerald City, the situation tends to deteriorate pretty much constantly.

The Hurt Locker isn’t really a commentary on our Iraq excursion like other movies in the genre we’ve seen of late. (Grace is Gone, Lions for Lambs) Like Generation Kill, it aims mainly to recreate the visceral experience of the war by getting us into the headspace of the men on the front lines. Inasmuch as there is a wider moral to this tale, it’s found in the epigram — “war is a drug” — taken from Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. Or, if you’d prefer, the same point is found in the first ten minutes of Apocalypse Now: “When I was home after my first tour, it was worse…I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said ‘yes’ to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle.

Scratch a little deeper, tho’, and you can find glimmers of a wider critique of the Iraq fiasco in Bigelow’s film — indeed, you could argue that these moments have more force because they’re so throwaway. After a Iraqi cabbie breaks a cordon, stares down the EOD team for unclear reasons, and is summarily carried away after finally backing down, James quips, “Well, if he wasn’t an insurgent, he sure is one now.” Later, David Morse briefly appears as some high-ranking muckety-muck akin to Godfather who has little regard for Geneva niceties, and Ralph Fiennes and Jason Flemyng also show up as British operatives looking to make some easy quid as bounty hunters on the side.

These small moments notwithstanding, The Hurt Locker is mostly apolitical, focusing mainly on the men (and it’s just men here) who find themselves deep in the midst of the suck. And, on that level, it’s a rousing success. In all honesty, the film cheats a bit by giving this EOD team a wider set of experiences than I think is probably likely — at various points they are forced into sniper and resource extraction missions by the course of events. But, that’s a quibble — for the most part Hurt Locker is as tense a thriller as I’ve seen in years.

Bigelow understands intuitively what far too many action directors these days miss: It’s not the size of the explosion or the volume of bullets fired that determine the quality of an action flick, but the slow, remorseless buildup to the potentially deadly events. In vignette after vignette, The Hurt Locker ratchets up the suspense by degrees, until you find yourself — like the EOD team we’re following — living out each moment in a heightened state of tension, endlessly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s an impressive moviemaking feat, and it helps to make The Hurt Locker one of the best films of the year.

Fighting “Fighting the Last War.”

After Gates was confirmed as George W. Bush’s defense secretary in December 2006, he gave several speeches outlining major reforms that his successor should undertake–in weapons procurement, promotion policy, and the whole careerist culture inside the Pentagon. (With only two years in office, combined with a plateful of crises in Iraq and elsewhere, he knew he wouldn’t have time to take those steps himself.) When he stayed on at Barack Obama’s request, and thus became his own successor, many wondered whether he would turn his words into action. With this budget, he has begun to do just that.

A holdover from the bookmarks of last week: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan offers a concise overview of the proposed Obama-Gates military spending reforms. (These are not spending cuts, by the way, despite what you may have heard — just some much-needed and long-overdue reprioritizing over at the Pentagon. I also like the idea of phasing out defense contractors in favor of presumably much more cost-conscious civil servants.) “This budget will not go down easily in the Pentagon or in Congress. The F-22, the DDG-1000, and the Future Combat Systems are the favored systems by much of the Air Force, Navy, and Army brass, respectively…The F-22 in particular is also a favorite of many legislators — the result of politically shrewd subcontracting that spread out production of the plane to key districts in 46 states.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

I have often said that history will look back and determine that which could have been done better, or, you know, mistakes I made. Clearly putting a ‘Mission Accomplished’ on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake. I’ve thought long and hard about Katrina — you know, could I have done something differently…”

After eight long years, the end is in sight, and the Idiot Wind is at long last subsiding. For the 43rd president of these United States, George Dubya Bush, gave his final press conference today, during which he finally conceded that “there have been disappointments.” Why, yes, yes, there have. “Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were — things didn’t go according to plan, let’s put it that way.” Um, yeah.

At any rate, don’t worry: I’m sure we’ll be getting one last round of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 before closing time, when Dubya delivers his “farewell address” on Thursday. One can only hope that it turns out to be Eisenhoweresque, and not one more final, futile attempt to rewrite the history books. But I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.

A Shoe of Contempt.

I didn’t know what the guy said, but I saw his sole.” Say what you will about the 43rd president — and, no doubt, the history books will — the man has cat-like reflexes for his age. The story of the weekend was, of course, the shoe incident in Baghdad, which ended up clearly overshadowing Dubya’s remarks and reason for his visit — the signing of a Status of Forces agreement — and serving as an exclamation point of sorts for the president’s, shall we say, fraught relationship with the nation and people of Iraq. I have to give him credit, tho’ — Bush not only handled the incident with agility, aplomb and a surprising amount of sang-froid, but generally struck the right tone about it afterward. “Okay, everybody calm down for a minute. First of all thank you for apologizing on behalf of the Iraqi people. It doesn’t bother me. And if you want some — if you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw. (Laughter.) Thank you for your concern, do not worry about it.”

In the wake of the biggest shoe-related world incident since Nikita Khrushchev (or perhaps Richard Reid), there’s been some discussion of late about the legitimacy of shoe-throwing as a form of political protest. (Throwing shoes into machines, a.k.a. “sabot-age,” is already generally considered a no-no.) It’s not hard to understand, or even empathize with, the anger that drove Muntadar al-Zaidi to this act of protest. Here’s a journalist who’s been covering airstrikes and Abu Ghraib, who has seen the “collateral damage” of this war-of-choice firsthand, and who himself was briefly arrested by American security forces at one point. That being said, to my mind, any attempted act of physical violence against the president — even something as seemingly innocuous as shoe-throwing — cannot be countenanced. Now, I’m not saying the guy needs to rot in jail for the rest of his life — far from it — but let’s not start pretending that that this form of protest is “ok.” It’s not. End of story.

Plus, keep in mind that a horrible situation was averted by Bush here just by his underreacting estimably to the incident. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that al-Zaidi may have put his life in danger by making a threatening lunge at the president. The Secret Service are — and have to be — a hair-trigger bunch. Ok, al-Zaidi was only armed with a shoe…anybody ever heard of Amadou Diallo? All too often, tragedy results from a simple misunderstanding of intentions. Mr. al-Zaidi made his point, no doubt…but it was still a stupid and dangerous stunt, by any reckoning.

And besides, It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

The Senate: Never Again.

“‘The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own,’ the panel concludes. ‘The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” A new bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee lays the blame for detainee abuse squarely on Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputies. “Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

Also of note, the statement today by Sen. John McCain, the ranking GOP member who signed off on the investigation: “The committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.” It’s good to be on the same page again, Senator.

Oscar Mike at Last?

‘We have a text,’ Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.” How badly do the Republicans want to keep the White House? Apparently enough that the Dubya administration, contrary to its earlier stance (and to McCain’s promises of “100 years” in Baghdad), seems to be on the verge of signing a withdrawal accord with Iraq that would have all U.S. troops out by the end of 2011. (Not that we have much choice in the matter, given that Baghdad has already made it clear it wants us gone.) Well, however politically influenced, this is clearly a step in the right direction…but it’s way too late in the game to save the GOP now. It’s not like we’re all going to forget who started — and enabled — this disastrous sideshow.

Habbush%*t.

That it was a forgery can no longer be doubted; that it originated with the White House may be harder to prove. Two former CIA officials — Rob Richer and John Maguire — have gone on record as saying they were personally charged with carrying out the forgery, but their marching orders, if they existed, came directly from Tenet (who has fiercely denied the story). The closest thing Suskind has to a smoking gun is Richer’s memory, five years later, of ‘looking down at the creamy White House stationery on which the assignment was written.’

In his review of Ron Suskind’s The Way of the World, Salon‘s Louis Bayard tells the tale of the Habbush letter, a forgery fabricated by the CIA to tie Iraq to Al Qaeda (and, thus manufacture a casus belli for the War in Iraq.) In other words, George Tenet — perhaps on higher authority — signed off on an illegal black op aimed against the American people. If this goes up the food chain — and, at this point, who’d be surprised if it didn’t — this is definitely an impeachable offense. Where’s the outrage?

Update: Politico has more.

Al-Maliki: What Obama Said.

Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes…Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want.” While much of the nation watched The Dark Knight, Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki shook up our election considerably, perhaps even decisively, over the weekend by publicly backing Obama’s troop withdrawal plan in the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The Dubya White House immediately tried to lean on Al-Maliki to get him to walk back his remarks, but some hemming and hawing aside, they would seem to stand. In fact, they were reinforced today by Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraq’s government spokesman, upon Sen. Obama’s arrival to the region: “We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq.

In other words, even the Iraqis believe Obama is right and McCain is wrong on our future in Iraq. Which means the McCain campaign has just lost one of their critical tentpole issues, and has no place to go now except scream “surge, surge, surge.” “Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, ‘We’re f**ked.’

Of course, McCain’s bleeding on the Iraq issue might be better staunched if he didn’t publicly refer to the non-existent Iraq-Pakistan border

Phase II Complete.

“‘The president and his advisors undertook a relentless public campaign in the aftermath of the (September 11, 2001) attacks to use the war against al Qaeda as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein,’ intelligence committee Chairman John Rockefeller said in written commentary on the report. ‘Representing to the American people that the two had an operational partnership and posed a single, indistinguishable threat was fundamentally misleading and led the nation to war on false pretenses.‘”

In the stating-the-obvious department, the “Phase II” report by the Senate Intelligence Committee — delayed by the GOP since before the 2004 election — finds once again that the Dubya administration lied us into war. Y’know, back in the day, this would be considered an impeachable offense.

The Mouse that Roared.

“‘Over that summer of 2002,’ he writes, ‘top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war…In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage …What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.‘” The other big political story of my move week: In a new political tell-all, former Dubya Press Secretary Scott McClellan turns on his former White House masters, accusing them of ginning up the case for war and lying outright to him about the Plamegate affair. “Over time, as you leave the White House and leave the bubble, you’re able to take off your partisan hat and take a clear-eyed look at things…I don’t know that I can say when I started the book that it would end up where it was, but I felt at the end it had to be as honest and forthright as possible.’

Welcome to the reality-based community, Scott. In the meantime, the White House is claiming McClellan was motivated by “sour grapes” (whatever that means — why would he want to keep a gig he seemed to hate?) while other Dubya stalwarts, blindsided by the tome, have also gone on the attack. (But, don’t fret — of all people, McClellan knew what was coming.)

Our Five-Year Mission…

“Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Do you remember the Iraq War of 2003? Remember those heady days of euphoria when it ended two months later, with only 139 American lives lost? Journey back with me — TIME-LIFE style, if you will — to the scene of our triumph: “Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a ‘hero’ and boomed, ‘He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.’ PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was ‘part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.’ On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, ‘The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a — on a carrier landing. This must be very meaningful to the United States military.’

Well, today marks the five-year anniversary of our glorious victory, the day that “splendid little war” came to a close. Among those honoring the day, and the remarkable achievement of our Commander-in-Chief:

  • Sen. Barack Obama: “Five years after George Bush declared ‘mission accomplished’ and John McCain told the American people that ‘the end is very much in sight’ in Iraq, we have lost thousands of lives, spent half a trillion dollars, and we’re no safer. It’s time to turn the page on Washington’s false promises and failed judgments on foreign policy, so that we can finally ease the enormous burdens on our troops and their families, and end a war that should’ve never been authorized.

  • Sen. Hillary Clinton: “The fifth anniversary of President Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech comes the same week as a chief architect of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq conceded ‘We were clueless on counterinsurgency.‘ That statement confirms what we have all known: the planning and strategy was flawed. Our troops deserved and deserve better.

  • DNC head Howard Dean: “The real mission George Bush is trying to accomplish is passing the torch of his failed Iraq policy to John McCain, who has made it clear he’s willing to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years against the wishes of the American people. This November the choice will be very clear: if you want to get out of Iraq responsibly, save lives and invest in America, vote for a Democrat.

  • Sen. John McCain: “To state the obvious, I thought it was wrong at the time [SIC]…all of those comments contributed over time to the frustration and sorrow of Americans because those statements and comments did not comport with the facts on the ground. In hearing after hearing in the Armed Services Committee and forums around America I complained loud and long that the strategy was failing and we couldn’t succeed … Obviously the presidents bare the responsibility. We all do. But do I blame him for that specific banner? I have no knowledge of that. I can’t blame him for that.

  • The White House: “‘President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said `mission accomplished’ for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’ White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday. ‘And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.’

  • The American people: “A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 71 percent of the American public disapprove of how Bush his handling his job as president. ‘No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president’s disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark,’ said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

  • 3925 American lives: …

  • Petraeus: Same as it ever was.

    Judging from Gen. David Petraeus’ Senate testimony today, our military commitment to Iraq is open-ended and unconditional…Their unwavering stance amounted to this: Further pullouts might trigger defeat; the costs of defeat are too horrible to ponder; therefore, we shouldn’t ponder further pullouts.Slate‘s Fred Kaplan takes the measure of yesterday’s Petraeus hearings, and the performances of Senators Obama [transcript | video], Clinton and McCain respectively. “Near the end of the afternoon, Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee but a junior member of the foreign relations committee, finally got his turn to ask questions — and he homed in on one of the administration’s key conceptual failures…’I'm trying to get to an end point,’ he said. ‘That’s what all of us are trying to do.’ This is what many critics and thoughtful supporters of the war have been trying to do for five years now. The Bush administration hasn’t addressed the issue. And, ultimately, neither did Petraeus or Crocker today.

    The Blow-up in Basra.

    It’s not a case of good vs. evil. It’s just another crevice in the widening earthquake called Iraq.” As violence flares up in Iraq once more, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan summarizes the current situation: “[I]t is ‘a power struggle’ between rival ‘Shiite party mafias’ for control of the oil-rich south and other Shiite sections of the country. Both sides in this struggle are essentially militias. Both sides have ties to Iran. And as for protecting ‘the Iraqi people,’ the side backed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (and by U.S. air power) has, ironically, less support — at least in many Shiite areas, including Basra — than the side that he (and we) are attacking.

    Yoo Tube.

    The situational forces that were going on in [Abu Ghraib] — the dehumanization, the lack of personal accountability, the lack of surveillance, the permission to get away with anti-social actions — it was like the Stanford prison study, but in spades.” New scenes of vileness and depravity emerge from Abu Ghraib. NSFW, and, in any case, no way to start your day.

    RAND report? What RAND report?

    One serious problem the study described was the Bush administration’s assumption that the reconstruction requirements would be minimal. There was also little incentive to challenge that assumption, the report said…Another problem described was a general lack of coordination. ‘There was never an attempt to develop a single national plan that integrated humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, governance, infrastructure development and postwar security,’ the study said…The poor planning had ‘the inadvertent effort of strengthening the insurgency,’ as Iraqis experienced a lack of security and essential services and focused on ‘negative effects of the U.S. security presence.’

    The NYT reports that the Dubya Pentagon has systematically worked to bury an unclassified 2005 study critical of the Iraq war’s conduct by the RAND corporation (the former employer of my ex-wife during my DC days, RAND also receives a memorable shout-out in Dr. Strangelove.) “The report was submitted at a time when the Bush administration was trying to rebut building criticism of the war in Iraq by stressing the progress Mr. Bush said was being made. The approach culminated in his announcement in November 2005 of his “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.Update: Slate‘s Tim Noah wonders: “Isn’t this the story line of the Pentagon Papers?

    Shame of the Nation.

    Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ to use the constitutional standard.” Not to be lost in the New Hampshire shuffle: Former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern makes the case anew for Dubya’s impeachment.

    Bait and Switch?

    In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran…The President’s position, and its corollary — that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians — have taken firm hold in the Administration.” With that in mind, and with Secretary of State Rice citing Iranian “lying” about their nuclear program, here’s one from a week or so ago: The New Yorker‘s Sy Hersh evaluates the current prospects in the administration for a war with Iran. “I was repeatedly cautioned, in interviews, that the President has yet to issue the ‘execute order’ that would be required for a military operation inside Iran, and such an order may never be issued. But there has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning…’They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk,’ one recently retired C.I.A. official said.

    Congress in the Quagmire.

    More than nine months after taking power, about all that Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have achieved on the Iraq front is to unfairly share in the blame for mismanaging the conflict…Pelosi, in particular, erred in unduly raising antiwar expectations when she took over as the first Democratic speaker in a dozen years. It was the Gingrich Revolution in reverse, this time with Democrats failing to appreciate the balance-of-power realities of a congressional showdown with an unyielding president, however wounded.Salon‘s Walter Shapiro puts forth an explanation why Democratic attempts to change direction in Iraq have failed.

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