Tag Archives: Iraq

Iraq War #20

Originally posted November 20, 2005

I used to follow any number of blogs, but as time passed it became apparent you could pretty well guess the manner in which the different blogs would be discussing the issues of the day. So recently I’ve only been following a few. One of them is obsidianwings.blogs.com, which is mostly written by “Hilzoy”, her real name, a bioethicist from New England. She just produced what I consider a real masterpiece, at: Failures of Will.

One of the discouraging things about the current U.S. political scene is the endless partisan bickering. I lay most (but certainly not all) of the blame on the republicans, who have made a fine art out of polarizing the country just so they can get their 51% in Ohio. This leaves nobody to discuss the various issues in a serious fashion. Our future in Iraq is a deadly serious issue that has been treated as though it were a cartoon. Whatever happened to the difficult and tedious discussions of exactly what our goals there were, how do we obtain them, and is the price worth it? That we’re mired in Iraq is disappointing enough, but the circumstances by which we got there are truly worrisome. And the circumstances include not just the administration (who certainly carries the bulk of the blame), but the congress, the parties, the media and the electorate as well.

Iraq War #19

Originally posted October 4, 2005

Recently I had an interesting exchange with another blogger, named avedis, on Eric Martin’s tia blog, http://tianews.blogspot.com/. It started with our discovery of a web site named http://www.nowthatsfuckedup.com/, which originally was mostly amateur porn, pictures of girl friends and so on. Due to the large number of servicemen in Iraq that visited it, soon there were pictures of dead Iraqi’s, often with laughing GI’s joking about the demise of the “insurgent”. Pretty sickening. So avedis and I had the following conversation, avedis going first.

It’s been observed by many combat veterans that the American 18 year old, when trained, armed and placed in combat, is as barbaric and as brutally savage as any 18 year old that rode with Ghengis Khan’s hordes.

The trading of pictures is just another form of trophies of war behavior. Again, standard stuff down through the eons.

Liberals like to deny this reality by citing works like one discussed here a while back wherein the author (himself not a combat vet) attempts to prove that most troops won’t engage the enemy with aimed fire and that killing is traumatic to most, etc, etc.

Conservatives don’t face up by 1) denying that it ever happened 2) relying on their security in knowing that we are the good guys so what ever….

Both camps are wrong. War is brutal and it brings out the worst in all who participate (though it can also bring out the best in those who participate as well, regardless of side).

And those participate generally adapt to the environment by becoming modern day savages.

Good on them. Their human.

A curse on the flag wavers and politicians who want to sell us the idea that we are different and that war is noble.


I’ll agree that war is hell, and humans (especially young males) can be brutal. In the proper circumstances, almost all of us could become so. I’m not concerned by the gore, nor even at the display of trophies. Like you said, avedis, normal combat stuff.

My concern is that this graphic violence is so well accepted, encouraged, even celebrated by what appears to be a larger and larger part of our military and even civilian populations. Tens of thousands look at this site every day, and has anyone in the government or the military said anything against it? A small point, but it sure looks to me like the Geneva Conventions are being violated. As Billmon wrote, at what point does the “brutality mentality” needed to win in Iraq spill over to here at home? It’s the occupier/occupied variation of an old theme, Lincoln expressed it, that slavery enslaves not just the slaves, but the slaveholders as well.

This is one more straw to add to our occupier’s burden. At what point does the load become just too much? Transport yourself back to 2002 and the runup to the invasion. Would you have said at that time that all the “compromises” to our self-image that we’ve since seen would have been acceptable, or even possible? Or is the slowness of the descent hiding just how far down we’ve gone?


I share your concerns. We are losing even the veneer of civility.

But then I don’t even know what that means.

I came from a sub-culture where people sit around the country club in the evening, having a few drinks, and discussing – with an odd glee and pride – how they were going to screw someone out of their money.

I mean, is that civilized? But that’s how business has been done in America – at the higher levels – since day one.

Since the 1960’s our culture has been becoming more crass. This is due, I suppose, in large part to the proliferation of mass media as a huge business enterprise and the need to appeal to the masses, who – and pardon the snob in me – are crass.

Shakespear said that, “Men love not to hear of the sins they love to commit.”

But the masses find such sins entertaining and they lack the formal upbringing that teaches that such sins should be kept hushed.

So I think all of that is an influence in creating the conditions and circumstances that concern us.

Also, I see the US as undergoing a transformation of conscience that resembles that of Germany circa 1935.

We are allowing the dark forces of the psyche to take the lead. I don’t know why. I’m not sure anyone does, but the rightwing has recognized this shift and is riding it.

This thing has a momentum and a life of its own. I’m afraid it will have to live out its natural life span before the pendulum swings the other way; which it will, eventually.

I only pray that the destruction wrought by this zeitgeist will be reparable.


Iraq War #18

Originally posted July 25, 2005

Another of the blogs I check regularly is Billmon. One of today’s entries was inspired by 3 articles: a New York Times article written July 24 by John Burns; a South African Sunday Independent article written July 24 by Patrick Cockburn; and a NY Review of Books article written by Peter Galbraith.

The gist is that Iraq continues to slide into civil war and that the Bush administration is some combination of helpless and hopeless to do much about it. I can’t add much to Billmon’s writing, so please travel over there and read it for yourself. The only comments I can add are the following. Were we so stupid that we didn’t think this was going to happen? Or too arrogant to listen to all of us who happened to have triple-digit IQ’s? And I wonder what excuses Bush’s supporters will have for their failure. You can look at my entry #17 for some early ideas.

I’ve tried to be optimistic that maybe somehow we would be successful there. Right now the odds look increasingly bleak, and as my legion of readers know, I’ve never been very hopeful.

Iraq War #17

Originally posted June 15, 2005

One of the blogs I check regularly is Legal Fiction at http://www.lawandpolitics.blogspot.com/. Every now and then there’s a real gem of an entry and a resulting set of comments. This original entry was published on June 17, 2005, and asked why we ever went to war in Iraq. Among the comments were these two related entries, and the answers they provide make a lot of sense to me. To sum it up, they think the main reason Bush invaded was a combination of the neocon’s beliefs, GW Bush’s ambitions, and the opportunity supplied by 9/11. I’ve always tried to give the President the benefit of the doubt about why he started the Iraqi war (I try to be skeptical, but not cynical), but the ideas expressed below certainly provide a much more believable scenario than anything I’ve heard, either from the wingnuts or from the administration.

The first comment referenced a report by Mickey Herskowitz, written by Russ Baker, at: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1028-01.htm.

“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father’s shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “Suddenly, he’s at 91 percent in the polls, and he’d barely crawled out of the bunker.”

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”

Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.”

In the same comment section, on “Fledermaus” added the following relection on the above quotation.

Herskowitz rings true to me for Bush. But he had his little war for Political capital – Afganistan. If he had gone in seached the place from top to bottom and came back with Osama’s head. He would have had more political capital that even he would know what to do with. So why Iraq?

I think that Iraq made the “perfect storm” of various conservative interests. I think you’re omitting a few key players. Cheney wanted to show the world that we could go out and kick some ass world opinion be damned (nearly every nation supported Afganistan). The corporate interests were salivating at the oil and rebuilding contracts (Afganistan didn’t have a whole lot to rebuild). Rove and the domestic political operatives wanted something to tar the Democrats with (Afganistan too bipartisan). The Heritage Foundation wanted to create some Rand-esque free market/corporate paradise to prove their theories (not enough existing infrastructure in Afganistan).

Enter the PNAC who had been working on Iraq War II for years with a ‘perfect plan’. All the interests above jumped on board and worked to lobby Bush. Bush meanwhile had no love for Saddam (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a vendetta, but close). Here were all these smart, loyal people telling him how easy the whole thing was going to be – Chalibi in charge, oil paying for rebuilding, rose petals and cheers and statues of Bush erected Bagdad, six months tops.

And Bush thought, wow here is a chance to do some good and gain political capital. I’d be a fool not to jump at it – now how do we get everyone else on board? And then everyone settled on WMDs and 9/11.

Unfortunatly PNACs rosy plans turned out to be less thought out than a food order at McDonalds. Everyone above jumped on board because the PNAC plan was assumed to be well founded. Now that this premise is shown to be invalid the only thing to fall back on is “democracy” and no one can be against a war for democracy, right?

But, of course, democracy can only come from within, it can’t be advanced at the point of a gun, as Vietnam showed. Alas it seems that BushCo has forgotten that lesson.

So anyway after it was discovered that this wasn’t going to be a short war all the interests suddenly were not there anymore. With the exception of Cheney all of the above interests depend on a stable Iraq. It was assumed by PNAC that the all Iraqis would tolerate invasion. But that is not the case. Now we’re stuck and wondering exactly why we’re there.

As for Cheney, he has shown that the US can go out and kick ass without world opinion on our side. He just hasn’t shown that it can be done successfully. I think that that is why he is still the biggest cheerleader, the first to shout “last throes” he still has money on the table there.

The rest can simply walk away with their interests intact muttering “if only Bush had stabilized Iraq, oh we would have shown them”

Oh, except Halliburton, of course – they get paid win or lose. (OK I’m done now).

Iraq War #16

Originally posted June 7, 2005

It’s been 3 months since I’ve written anything about Iraq. Not much new to say. The insurgency continues. The body count, especially of Iraqis, seems to be climbing at an increasing pace. The Bush administration keeps claiming that victory over the insurgents is just around the corner. For those of us who remember Vietnam, this is not a comforting sign.

If the establishment of a liberal secular democracy in Iraq is our goal there, I remain convinced that the odds are much against us. No word yet on how long our troops will have to stay there. There doesn’t seem to be much political pressure to do anything about bringing them home, so I’m guessing Bush will keep them there indefinitely. After all, it is mostly Iraqis getting killed, and that doesn’t seem to get much notice in this country.

It’s still unclear who is running the country, and I’ve been reading disquieting reports that not only is no one really running the country, no one even knows what is going on in the country. As an example, are the insurgents mostly sunnis, ex-baathists, or jihadis? Or some combination? I’m not sure if a full force civil war will break out there, but maybe what we are now seeing is a limited force civil war, with the sunnis etc. knowing that as long as our troops are there it would be suicidal to start anything major.

In the meantime, I haven’t heard of much progress on the new Iraqi constitution. Maybe it is coming along just fine, but behind closed doors. It will be really interesting to see how strong the forces for an Islamic constitution are, and it would be even more interesting to see how we’d respond to that eventuality.

As you can see, I don’t have much to offer, just some random thoughts, which is why I haven’t written anything for quite some time; and probably won’t again until something interesting happens.

Iraq War #15

Originally posted March 1, 2005

I’ve been reading various reports, most recently in Newsweek, that women in Iraq are facing increased pressures to revert to Muslim traditions. These traditions include extraordinary modesty (the face masks and coverings), not being able to go to school, not being able to go out without a male relative, being treated differently by the courts (inheritence, divorce and custody) and on and on. As an aside, I can come to terms with a lot of different customs, but I cannot come to terms with the way the Muslims treat their women. To a lesser extent Christians and Jews have some of the same issues, but the Muslims stand alone. While it is not yet certain what sort of country Iraq will end up with, the Shiite victory would lead me to think the odds of an Islamic society are pretty high. Such a society would almost certainly lead to a degradation in the status of the female half of the population. So that’s what our treasure (now getting close to $300B) and lives (about 1500) was spent on? Enslaving women? Nice work. If that happens (and I’d bet money it does), I wonder what our response will be. Let me propose the following rationalizations.
1) It’s their country, they can run it anyway they want. That may be true, but we generally don’t like voting majorities running over other’s rights. We certainly don’t let our majorities run the U.S. anyway they like.
2) Islamic women prefer it this way. Probably some do. That isn’t the point. The point is that they have no choice. Raw informal violence is used to keep them down.
3) The women aren’t treated that badly. As long as they obey the men, that is partially true. Still, make no mistake, the men run things the way they like, and often women are treated badly.
4) It was worse under Saddam. Sorry, no way. Women did pretty well under Saddam, going to schools and working at a large number of different jobs. That’s one of the ironies of our invasion – we overthrew the most secular government in the Middle East, and are likely to get a theocratic government in its place.

One response I don’t think we’ll have the courage for is to tell them they can’t treat their women like this.

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Iraq War #14

Originally posted February 4, 2005

The elections were held several days ago, and the results are still being tabulated. So far, the Shiite list approved by Sistani is holding a large lead over everyone else. No surprise there. It is unclear how many Sunnis took part in the vote. Overall, the voting process was a success. I didn’t have any expectations about how much violence would occur on election day, but thankfully it wasn’t very much. And it was certainly heartening to see the lengths the Iraqis would go to in order to cast their votes.

What is now unclear is what the presumed Shiite majority will do with its new-found power. So far, Sistani and the other leaders associated with him have been saying the right things – that the rule of law will be upheld, a secular government will be established, Sunni rights will be respected and so on. My bet is that a significant struggle will now start inside the Shiite leadership to see how Iraq’s government will form. Al-Sadr still has his militia and his theocratic ambitions. Iran still has agents and friends all over the place. Sistani may be bright and well-read, but he hardly ever leaves his house. Allawi may be hesitant to turn over power.

In short, the election was a necessary step for us to take. It is still unclear if our Iraqi experiment will end up producing a friendlier, more democratic government or not.

Iraq War #13

Originally posted January 5, 2005

I haven’t written much on Iraq for several months now. I didn’t see the use. The insurrection is unfolding pretty much as I had predicted. The attacks on our troops and Iraqis who are working with us are growing in frequency and I think in effectiveness. The elections are in about 3 weeks, and Bush is promising that they are still planning on holding them. It seems a great amount of importance is being placed on these elections, mostly by American politicians who are eager to (1) get out of there, and (2) want to demonstrate that we are the good guys.

Perhaps the elections will come off just fine. Personally, I think the odds are that they won’t. Most of the country is relatively quiet, and the Administration points to that calm as a sign that most Iraqis support the U.S. and the election. My take on it is that the majority Shiites are poised to take over the government and see no reason to get impatient and cause problems for a force that is, after all, beating the bejesus out of their adversaries the Sunnis. All the Shiites have to do is to win the elections, then they can either tell us to get out or they could continue using us to fight the Sunnis. When Shiite keader al Sadr was making trouble for our forces, I can just imagine the conversation the Sistani’s representatives had with him. Something like, “What are you, an IDIOT? Let the Americans do our dirty work as long as we can get them to do it. Use this break to organize and equip your militias. As long as they keep killing Sunnis, we let them. When they are no longer useful, we tell them to get out. If they don’t leave, we kill them.”

About a month ago while contributing to a blog, I presented some potential results that would serve as indicators that things are not going well there.
1) The elections are not held. This would likely anger the majority Shiites, as they then have to wait a little longer for power, plus they start to suspect that maybe we have no intention of ever turning power over to them.
2) The elections are held, but there’s not much participation, especially from the Sunnis. This is the most likely scenario, and plays right into Shiite hands.
3) The elections are held, but Sistani says they are not legitimate. Perhaps he thinks we rigged them to put US-friendly leaders into office. Our position would likely become untenable pretty quickly.
4) The elections are held, and the Shiites gain the power they’re after. They decide Sharia looks pretty good, universal suffrage is not such a good idea, maybe the mullahs should run things, and ties with the Shiites in Iran would be a good thing.

I’m sure I could come up with other scenarios, most of them bad. As I said earlier, maybe this will all turn out ok. Maybe Bush has this all figured out. My bet ise that we have wasted a fair amount of treasure and lives, and will have made the world worse for it. As always, time will tell.

Iraq War #12

Originally posted September 17, 2004

I was in the library yesterday, and came across an old Judy Collins album, “Forever”. It’s a collection of her favorite songs, in 2 CD’s. If you’re a JC fan, it’s quite nice, well recommended. Anyway, one of the songs on the album is Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”. It was written during the Vietnam conflict, and captures some of the anger that many young people felt toward the government. As it happens, I personally wasn’t so angry at the time, even went into military, but never made it to Vietnam.

What struck me about the song is how amazingly topical it remains. As I listen to it I remember, as best I can, the anger a lot of us felt and try to compare it to what I see today. In some ways it was a sharper anger; the draft was on and a fair number of young men found themselves over there against their will. Also the body count was much higher. But in other ways it didn’t seem so hopeless. Both political parties were still fundamentally honest, and could (and did) come out against their own party leaders if warranted. I doubt that would happen today.

A lot has been written about how Vietnam and Iraq are not the same war. Indeed they are not (Germany’s invasion of Yugoslavia during WWII may be militarily more instructive) but there are too many similarities for those of us who lived through that period. We remember how the government lied to get us into Vietnam (google “Gulf of Tonkin”) and how they lied about our situation once the war started. I often comment to friends who experienced the war that 300,000 men on the ground may have known the war was screwed up; unfortunately that didn’t include the military leaders – like Abrams, Westmoreland, McNamara and the Presidents.

Just FYI, this is an mp3 file, about 3 megabytes, it will take a while to download if you’re on a dial-in connection. Have a Listen

Iraq War #11

Originally posted April 22, 2004

As of this writing, the occupation of Iraq continues. Within the last few weeks minor uprisings have occurred in Fallujah and Baghdad, and Najaf is still a stand-off. It is becoming more apparent that many Iraqis have been very unhappy with the occupation, and are starting to actively resist it. I don’t know how widespread the anger at the occupation is. Generally the U.S. government is saying things are going well, while most of the reports I hear from non-governmental sources are more pessimistic. Given my mistrust of the government, I’m inclined to pessimism.

One disturbing statement has come from the British commander, complaining that many Americans, and particularly American soldiers, see the Iraqis as “untermenschen”, and thus care very little about damage to Iraq lives, property or pride. As an example, Fallujah initially welcomed the soldiers in. Then there was a demonstration (April 28, 2003), the soldiers panicked, and 15 Iraqis ended up dead. Things have gone downhill there since. The administration keeps blaming the problems in Fallujah on Baathist and Al-Qaeda elements, but I’m wondering if our treatment of the city is the bigger problem. And so it seems to be going with the rest of the country.

A number of people have commented that they are surprised how difficult the transformation of Iraq has been, and how nobody forsaw this difficulty. I can only shake my head at this. Millions of people foresaw exactly how difficult this would be, and demonstrated to that effect before the war. And a year after the invasion, we still haven’t gotten to the hard part yet! We’re still working on basic security. We have barely started down the road to getting the institutions in place to allow the different groups to live together in a stable, peaceful Iraq.

Trying to look inside GW Bush’s mind is a scary prospect, but let me propose this line of thought. He isn’t much affected by polls, given that he has a direct link from God who tells him what to do. He isn’t likely to admit, even to himself, that he has made a terrible mistake. He would be even less willing to admit that God made a terrible mistake. In spite of all the political pressures that might arise to get us to abandon Iraq, I wonder if he would hang in there for a very long time, in spite of the hopelessness of the cause.

I certainly hope the previous paragraph is in error, and I still think we will declare victory, leave, and blame it on someone else when Iraq falls apart. Probably when Carl Rove tells him that domestic politics requires it. I have no idea what happens if Kerry wins. He might be able to gather more international support, and that remains our best hope for salvaging this thing. My money is still on Bush’s re-election.

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