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War in Iraq

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America’s Moral Collapse.

There are many reasons why I post less frequently at GitM these days, and a lot of them are the usual prosaic stuff — life is good, the days are very busy, my garrison isn’t going to build itself. But among them also is, quite frankly, it’s sometimes hard to see a purpose to it anymore, at least in GitM’s current incarnation. Case in point: this month’s CIA torture revelations.

Like countless others, I have been railing about the Bush-era CIA torture regime here for over a decade now. So this isn’t a breaking story. Still, the recent Senate Report — which the “most transparent administration in history” fought tooth and nail to buryably covers all we’ve known to date, and includes a number of horrifying new revelations.

For example, so it turns out that we — you and I — paid foreign governments $300 million to construct and maintain our dungeons.

We — again, you and I — also paid two psychiatrists $80 million to come up with more devastating torture techniques. (And their contract was originally for $180 million!)

These two assholes got on the payroll after Al Qaeda higher-up Abu Zubaydah was captured. Zubaydah was then waterboarded over eighty times, mainly so he and others would corroborate the false positive, demanded by Iraq War architects, that Iraq was involved with Al Qaeda.

We also tortured people for not calling CIA officers “sir,” or having a stomachache.

We even tortured our own informants.

We anally raped detainees with pureed hummus, causing anal fissures and a rectal prolapse due to “excessive force.”

We also may have raped detainees with dogs. And it sounds like a child was raped in our custody as well.

Another detainee froze to death during his Room 101 session.

Naturally, the CIA tried to cover all this up. First, they blatantly lied about the efficacy of their torture regime. (And, since it cannot be said enough, particularly in the wake of the CIA’s Zero Dark Thirty propaganda: Torture does not work.)

Then, they — with the full and active complicity of both the Bush and Obama administrations — blocked the American people from seeing the evidence of their depravities, including destroying torture tapes, repeatedly lying to Congress, and hacking into Senate computers.

And, still, over a decade later: Even though the Constitution bans torture, even though it is a crime to lie to Congress, even though it is explicitly a crime NOT to prosecute torturers, Nobody Has Gone To Jail — well, except the whistleblower.

And on top of everything else, Americans approve of all of this by 2-1.

So, what is there to say? The illegality here is black and white, the crimes abhorrent, the moral corruption pervasive…and yet we all just collectively shrug. The sad and hilarious thing about The Onion‘s recent minotaur video — “That hungry half-man, half-bull kept us safe from the terrorists!” — is this is basically the world we live in now.

Makes me sick, m*therf*cker, how far we done fell.

We Thought It Was So Reckless.

“Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war. It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

ISIS, oh ISIS – What drives us to you is what drives us insane: In Reuters, Middle East expert Andrew Bacevich has some serious doubts about a military solution to the newest Big Bad (who, let’s remember, are a threat at all precisely because of all the weapons we’ve already dumped in the area — Gee, it’s almost like our always getting involved makes everything worse.) “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”

He’s not alone. While they’ve been highly complicit in the collective freak-out over the past few weeks, the media — as welcome returning blogger Dan Froomkin notes — are starting to get skeptical too. “Allam notes that Yemen and Somalia are hardly examples of success; that the new Iraqi government is hardly ‘inclusive'; that training of Iraqi soldiers hasn’t worked in the past; that in Syria it’s unclear which ‘opposition’ Obama intends to support; and that it may be too late to cut off the flow of fighters and funds.”

Keeping in mind that Obama himself seems to think this is all a terrible idea, let’s recall what we’re really dealing with here, via the very worthwhile “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher: “ISIS, compared to any of the groups on that list, is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the Army, left totally undefended.”

Along the same lines, see Brecher on ISIS’s initial advance back in June:

“Actually, topography has everything to do with what’s gone well or badly for ISIS. in this latest push. If you know the ethnic makeup of the turf they’ve taken, their ‘shocking gains’ don’t seem so shocking, or impressive. After all, we’re talking about a mobile force — mounted on the beloved Toyota Hilux pickup truck, favorite vehicle of every male in the Middle East — advancing over totally flat, dry ground in pursuit of a totally demoralized opponent. In that situation, any force could take a lot of country very quickly…So this isn’t the second coming of Erwin Rommel by any means. Everything has conspired to push the Sunni advance, from the lousy opponent they’re up against to the terrain, which is a light mechanized commander’s dream.

Flat and dry is how a mechanized force commander wants his ground — and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kurdish mountains, you’re on a dried mudflat…This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land literally built by the sediment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s river mud, but nice and dry because very little rain falls,..On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quickly as the Sunni have. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats of insurgency, the place you go to set new speed records.”

The point being, we have to stop losing our minds and letting a hysterical media and the same gaggle of Neocon pricks who’ve been wrong about everything for two decades get us involved in every opportunity to make war in the Middle East. Are ISIS a bunch of Bad Men? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t make them an existential threat to the republic. So how about we all take a deep breath before, yet again, expending ever more blood and treasure in the region?

Same Old Hillary.

While working this week on my semi-regular project of fixing the archives around here (something I’d like to complete before GitM’s 15th anniversary in November, but it’s slow, tedious going), I came across this line, from a post on the very first Election 2008 debate back in May 2007:

“As for Clinton, well, it’s not entirely her fault, I guess — unlike Obama, she’s been with us for a decade and a half now, and is nothing if not a known quantity. But she came across to me as the same cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist she’s shown herself to be over the past fifteen years in public life, and it’s getting harder to imagine myself being anything but underwhelmed by her as a candidate in the general election.”

Of course, the 2008 primaries thereafter grew quite heated, and, suffice to say, I didn’t think HRC accorded herself very well. So instead of the cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist we knew, I and millions of others took a gamble on Hope and Change…and ended up with a cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist regardless.

So here we are six years later, with an American electorate that has moved demonstrably to the left, and the former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic nominee just held her first almost-a-candidate townhall on CNN. And what have we learned so far about the all-new, tanned, rested, and ready, 2016 iteration of Hillary Clinton?

1) She thinks Edward Snowden pals around with terrorists. “I think turning over a lot of that material—intentionally or unintentionally—drained, gave all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like. So I have a hard time thinking that somebody who is a champion of privacy and liberty has taken refuge in Russia, under Putin’s authority.”

2) Her favorite book is…the Bible. “[T]he Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.” Edgy!

3) She won’t take a position on Keystone. “‘I can’t respond,’ she said…’This particular decision is a very difficult one because there are so many factors at play.'”

4) She was actually against the Iraq War last time around, but just couldn’t come out and say it because she supports the troops. “[I]n fact, in the Democratic Party at that time, the smart political decision, as so many of my colleagues did, was to come out and say ‘Terrible mistake, shouldn’t have done it,’ and you know blame the Bush administration. I had this sense that I had voted for it, and we had all these young men and women over there, and it was a terrible battle environment…So I felt like I couldn’t break faith with them.”

5) By the way, those troops should still be in Iraq right now. “When — President Bush decided, before President Obama became president, that we would leave Iraq in 2011, the United States would end its combat mission, unless the Iraqi government agreed to ask us to stay, under the same conditions that we have all around the world. It’s called a status of forces ingredient. I was involved in a lot of the efforts to come up with what our offer would be. And we made such an offer to then Prime Minister Maliki. And he would not accept the status of forces agreement…[W]e knew Iraq would be quite dangerous for a long time, unpredictable, at the very least — you have to have the host government, in this case Iraq, say, OK, here’s what we want…We didn’t get that done. And I think, in retrospect, that was a mistake by the Iraqi government.”

6) She won’t come right out and endorse paid maternity leave in America. “I think, eventually, it should be, but, right now, we’re seeing some — some very good proposals being implemented in other parts of the country, so that we have answers…I don’t think, politically, we could get it now.” By the way, you know who else doesn’t have paid maternity leave? Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. That’s it.

7) She won’t come right out and say racism may be a factor in anti-Obama sentiment. “Well, I know that — I don’t want to — I don’t want to say that I verify that, because that would be generalizing too broadly. I believe that there are people who have trouble with ethnicity, with race, with gender, with sexual orientation, you name it. And therefore, they are not developing a reasoned opinion — even if it’s an opinion in opposition, but they are a reacting on a visceral stereotypical basis. And that’s unfortunate.” YES, Madam Secretary. The answer here is “YES.”

8) Her family is apparently shielding wealth from the estate tax, a tax both she and the former President support. A common move among 1%’ers, but nonetheless one that doesn’t inspire confidence.

And so on. Secretary Clinton has moved left on immigration (though she wouldn’t badmouth Obama’s draconian deportation policy), on marijuana (though she said medicinal marijuana “needs more research” and gave the “let the states lead the way” hedge on decriminalization), and on gay marriage (she came out in support…last year.) In all of these, she’s lagging behind the country as a whole, much less the Democratic Party.

TL;DR: Secretary Clinton is still, indisputably, the same cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist as ever. And yet, for some reason — even though it’s hard to think of a single solitary stance she’s taken that would move our party in a new and progressive direction — she’s not only the party of the left’s presumptive standard-bearer — For all intent and purposes, she’s running unchallenged!

Politics these days is depressing, and no mistake.

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.‘”

Doubling Down in Kabul.

“First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.

And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now — and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaeda from a distance — would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”

This is a bit late by now, but regardless: As you all know, President Obama made the case last week for sending 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan. At this point — and like Fred Kaplan — I’m conflicted about our continued involvement there…but I’m leaning toward withdrawal. Everything I’ve heard about the war lately has had that “Vietnam in ’66” sense to it: A corrupt government as our ally; trouble winning “hearts and minds”; The US stepping half-blindly into a conflict that’s been simmering for centuries (in Southeast Asia, it was the endless Vietnamese war against interlopers; here it’s long-simmering ethnic rivalries between the Pashtuns and everyone else.) And now, our new progressive-minded president tells us: If we just commit X more troops (where, now X=30,000), we can win, close up shop, and go home. Uh, really? I think I’ve already seen this movie a few times.

Obama’s shout-out above to basically token international support doesn’t assuage my fears. And, as far as the threat posed by Vietnam: True, Tonkin never happened, but obviously policymakers of that era were less sanguine about a Communist victory in South Vietnam than we are today — The threat of the Enemy can always gets unduly amplified in the heat of the moment. (Speaking of said Reds, it should sober us to acknowledge that all we’ve done so far in Afghanistan is basically manage to re-create the Soviet experience in the region. Iirc, that didn’t end so well.)

Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan, yes, and if we could weed them out and destroy their capacity to attack again, all the better. (And always remember: If Dubya, Rummy et al had just finished the job properly in 2002 rather than salivating over Iraq, we would be in a lot better position right now.) But Al Qaeda is also in Somalia, Tajikstan, Yemen, the Philippines, Kosovo…all over the place. We don’t have the resources to play whack-a-mole in all these nations anymore, particularly when every whack usually just works to create new moles. (You’d think we learn that the Hydra sprouts two more heads every time you cut off the wrong one.)

The biggest argument in favor of increasing our military position in Afghanistan would be the continued stability of neighboring Pakistan. (There’s Vietnam again — it’s another variation of the Domino Theory.) But, there’s a good amount of evidence to suggest that more troop increases by us will only inflame the situation and further destabilize Pakistan. In which case, I’m not sure what we’re doing over there, and what we could possibly accomplish in 18 months that we haven’t gotten done the last seven years.

In short, it seems to me like we had our shot in Afghanistan, and Dubya blew it. I could be wrong, of course. But, to my mind, now feels like a good time to recognize that fact and stop chasing good money after bad.

Paranormal Activity.

Less a scathing Catch-22-type satire than it is just a jaunty road movie-type yarn, Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats, which I caught last weekend, is basically a Coen-lite cinematic bon-bon for the fanboy-inclined. It’s never really laugh-out-loud funny, and something much more dark, resonant, and Strangelovian could (and probably should) have been made from this choice material, particularly as the story moves into Iraq mode. After all, this is basically the true story of how we, the United States of America, ended up torturing people with Barney the Dinosaur.

But however frothy about its subject at times, The Men Who Stare at Goats manages to sustain a low-key whimsy and amiable weirdness for most of its run. If anything it feels a bit like the much-maligned and underrated Ocean’s 12: a bunch of exceedingly likable actors — George Clooney, Ewan MacGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Root, Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick — all enjoying an extended goof. Consider it the Road to Iraq, Hope and Crosby-style. David Crosby, that is.

Loosely based on the book by British journalist Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stares at Goats begins with an ambiguous disclaimer (“More of this is true than you would believe“), a Kitty Pryde-experiment gone awry, and a voiceover by one Bob Wilton (MacGregor), a down-on-his-luck reporter for the Ann Arbor Daily-Telegram. (Wilton, unlike Ronson, is an American, although MacGregor’s scattershot accent may make you wonder. Ewan’s a fine actor, but, lordy, he can’t get the Yankee patter down to save his life — yes, it’s worse than Peter Sarsgaard’s British accent, although it’s still better than Don Cheadle’s cockney.)

Anyway, after a chance interview with a psychic hamster-killer (Root) and a falling-out with his cuckolding wife and their mutual boss, Bob alights to Iraq, where he presumes he’ll learn how to impress his now-ex with grim tales of life as a veteran war correspondent. But unfortunately, he can’t even get into the country…until he happens upon Lyn Cassady (Clooney). Disguised as your run-of-the-mill private contractor, Cassady in fact turns out to be a psychic spy, a master of the “sparkly eyes,” a, as he puts it, “Jedi warrior.” (To which MacGregor consistently responds, “Jedi?,” with an arched eyebrow. Like, who in their right mind would spend years doing that?)

Cassady, it turns out, was trained in the psychic arts by his very own Qui-Gon, Bill Django (Bridges). A Vietnam veteran who discovered his own psychic powers through a rigorous regimen of Hippie indulgence, Django managed to convince the Pentagon powers-that-be back in the day that the Age of Aquarius would soon eclipse the Atomic Age on the battlefield — we’re talking peace warriors, psychic samurai, astral projectors, the awesomely unstoppable power of good vibes, brah, you know? (Put simply: “This aggression will not stand, man.”)

Some of the brass (mainly Lang) become fervent believers in Django’s New Age warfare. Others figure, heck, if there is something to this paranormal business, we’d really hate to be on the wrong side of the ball when the psychic shooting starts — Let’s throw some money at it just in case the Russkies are reading our minds right now. And so the First Earth Battalion is born. (And, yes, it really was born — your tax dollars at work.) But, of course, problems emerge — Not all the recruits have Django and Cassady’s intrinsic shamanic gifts. And once the Jedi are founded, there is naturally a Sith waiting in the wings…and, he (Spacey) has no compunction about using the team’s psychic powers for evil. Ya fook one goat…

The rest of the story involves Wilton and Cassady having crazy misadventures in Iraq, while Lyn fills us in on the rise and fall of the First Earth order…which may or may not be gone for good. (After all, someone’s gotta put the psy- in psy-ops.) I presume much of the Iraq narrative was added by Heslov, and sometimes it’s a bit hit-or-miss, frankly. There are brief encounters with Iraqi bounty hunters, ne’er-do-well Blackwater types, and even the infamous Barney-fueled detention chambers, but the tone is too breezy to sustain any kind of edgy or cutting critique of this stuff — It’s more like Syriana on nitrous oxide. (There’s also a sequence involving a LSD-crazed soldier shooting up his army base, which feels more uncomfortable than probably intended, coming right after the tragedy at Ft. Hood.)

Still, while Syriana, or Three Kings, for that matter, — My, Clooney has done a lot of tours in the region now — offers more in the way of food for thought, The Men Who Stare at Goats has its own low-key charms. As I said, the actors are all top-notch and clearly having fun with this project. It’s always good to see the Dude again, even in passing. And the script is relentlessly witty, with wry jokes that slowly creep up on you like a psychic ninja — For example, Spacey talking about the power of subliminal messages, then being distracted by Twizzlers. Mmm, Twizzlers.

Speaking of subliminal messages, I’ve had Boston’s “More than a Feeling” stuck in my head for over a week now thanks to this movie, and I really can’t stand Boston. So, well-played, Jedi, well-played.

Omsbudsdog Emeritus

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