Posted January 7, 2015 on 9:13 pm | In the category Iraq, Obama, syria, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Why was Iraq in 2003 not a “vital American interest” while in 2014 it is. Bush certainly made an awful mistake in his judgment, no doubt aided by lousy advisors, but the US is once again attacking in Irag – and Syria -, and did not leave Afghanistan during most of the Obama presidency – and actually still hasn’t. This time it is on Obama’s orders. How come Bush was a fool while these military actions are (still?) supposed to be considered wise diplomacy?

Comment to earlier blog from Flaming Bombadier

Hey Flamer: Whoa!! take a deep breath and sit down. Fan yourself and relax. And consider some history and some contemporary events.

1. Iraq invasion in 2003 was an illegal invasion of a country, based on fabricated intelligence which led to the dismemberment of an (unpleasant, but recognized) government to satisfy the wet dreams of Dick Cheney and possibly W. Bush. It involved over 200,000 American troops, killed nearly 4000 of them, added hundreds of thousand of Iraqis to the death list, sent some 4 million Iraqis to refugee camps and cost the U.S economy between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. In terms of national interest it was an enormous deficit and we continue to pay the price., Which brings us to number:

2. U.S. troops sent into Iraq by Obama were and are sent specifically to support the currently existing Iraq government – not a terribly difficult to understand difference from sending in troops to overthrow a government – but it is a government produced by the Bush/Cheney war. It is a great example of the consequences of stupidity, but Obama has sent 1500 – soon to be 3000- and maybe more later – in response to a real threat. Ask The Parisians. Ask London, Ask Madrid. There is – in my view- a threat to not only our national interest, but the interests of all Western liberal democracies iby a theocratic, existential movement opposed to Western ideals and our right to hold them.

3. It has taken a long time (too long) to get out of Afghanistan, but to say the U.S. is ttacking Syria is a rather bizarre comment. Obama has been butchered in the U.S. by McCain, Lindsey Graham and their ilk for not invading Syria. He is holding back and resisting anything more than plane attacks on ISIS. And it is very hard to argue in favor of letting ISIS go its merry way unmolested.

It is an ugly world out there and today’s murder of journalists in Paris, and the beheadings of American and British journalists and the random bombings of innocent people every day, yes, every day, makes this battle one of national interest for us all.

Obama has been criticized for 6 years for being who he is – a thoughtful, careful, rational leader who has led America out of most of their foreign battles. It has become easy to just criticize him without thinking about what came before, what he was left with and what he has accomplished. Perhaps Flaming Bombadier would have been happier with a McCain or a Chamberlain, but I think not. There are always disappointments but in these issues Obama has acted wisely and with restraint.

Maybe Flaming Bombardier has some thoughts on how best to negotiate with ISIS, Al Queda, et alia and how to bring diplomacy to the process. if not maybe a bare chested Putin can do it. We shall see. But probably not


Canada joins up

Posted October 12, 2014 on 5:52 pm | In the category Canada, Iraq, Taxes | by Mackenzie Brothers

No doubt it was no big story out in the big world when Canada’s ruling conservative government – with both main opposition parties opposing – announced last week that they would seven jets to the Middle East, as well as small number of elite troops as advisors,  to join the US-led t multi-national attempt to stop ISIS from taking control of a large swath of the Middle East, murdering many thousands of civilians on their way. After all a number of other NATO countries had already done so, some middleweights – Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, along with Australia, and a number of smaller Middle East countries,- along with supposed NATO heavyweights like Germany, the UK and France, even Turkey, although its motives seem very complicated and unclear.

A number of these countries, including Canada, refused to join the US campaign in Iraq 15 years ago, and it seems certain that none of them regret that decision. So what has changed , since it’s also clear that, at least in Canada, a majority of the pubic support the decision to send in jets against ISIS in 2014?   It seems certain that the main difference is that, while  for many back then there was wide-spread skepticism (as it turned out completely justified) about US claims that the Iraqui government had devastating weapons that it was ready to employ, while there is no question at all about whether ISIS has tremendous military and monetary resources – much of it stolen from deserting opposition armies – and is capable of using it in the most brutal fashion. There is also a religious element this time – ISIS threatens and kills the remaining Christians and other minority religious and ethnic groups.  This time is also a domestic one – ISIS ha successfully recruited its killers in all the western countries involved in the coalition and has threatened violence against these same countries. Canada is in this one, whether it like it or not.


The Slandering of Chuck Hagel

Posted February 17, 2013 on 11:33 pm | In the category Iran, Iraq, Israel, McCain, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The United States Senate, once known as “the world’s greatest deliberative body”, has become a stage for narcissistic Republican poseurs and clowns. The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense has produced one of the most embarrassing episodes in the ongoing saga of the dumbing down of the Republican Party.

The rookie, Deb Fisher, a Sarah Palin pal from Nebraska who finds Hagel; “too extreme – far to the left of Obama” – whatever that means.. (Her refusal to refer to “President” Obama a pathetic reminder of her connections to the Nebraska Tea Party). That Hagel had the good sense to endorse her opponent, Bob Kerrey, in her election campaign apparently fueled her ire but so what? This is about the Secretary of Defense not about Fisher’s feelings.

Noted global warming denier and biblical scholar Senator James Inhofe (R from Oklahoma) found that Hagel was an “appeaser” without specifying why other than to refer to a statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister describing Hagel as someone with whom they might be able to talk.

Noted Chicken Hawk Saxby Chambliss, Republican Senator from Georgia and previously a slanderer of Senator Tammy Baldwin who had lost both legs piloting a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq, found that Hagel’s commitment to the concept of international negotiation was really simply a commitment to “appeasement” – again, whatever that means.

Senate newcomer and Tea Party pet Ted Cruz of Texas decided to become the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, raising the suspicion that Hagel has been paid by enemies of the United States for speeches, questioning the patriotism of a battlefield decorated marine with a mythical list hidden away in his pocket.

But the main attractions in the early hearings – before Inhofe and Cruz pushed the process over the Crazy Cliff – were Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Noted poor loserJohn McCain got all red-faced with anger when Hagel refused to concede that McCain had been right in his support of the Iraq War “surge”, the grand strategy that delayed the inevitable U.S. withdrawal from a war that almost no one ended up supporting. His emotional, post-adolescent demand that Hagel agree that McCain was right and Hagel wrong on the surge was a sad display by a once admired Senator known now chiefly for his unwillingness to accept that he lost an election.

As for Senator Graham, what can be said about his obsession that Hagel is soft on support for Israel, or that he once said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here, I’m not an Israeli Senator I’m a US Senator, this pressure makes us do dumb things at times”? Or that he is somehow responsible for telling us what went wrong with Benghazi?

It is depressing enough to see a major political party sink into a cesspool of gratuitous innuendo verging on slander without watching the national press serve as a largely unquestioning conduit of cheap shots, distortions and outright lies. Where is Edward R. Murrow when we need him?

How long will we have to avoid the Sunday talk shows as they wheel in McCain so they can help him lick his wounds from a defeat that is now 5 years old? Or watch the likes of Dick Gregory sidle up to Lindsey Graham without calling him on what has become a bizarre personal vendetta against one of the few Republican Senators to have had the good sense and political courage to admit that President George W. Bush’s Iraq war turned out to be a bad idea, poorly implemented.

As for the soft on Israel charge? Do we elect Senators to act in the national interests of the United States or of Israel? When they come in conflict – which they occasionally do – can we have an adult conversation in the press – as they do in the Israeli press? Or do we continue to put up with a national press unable or unwilling to consider the real implications of blindly following the lead of a foreign leader like Benjamin Netanyahu?

As the Republican Party moves toward reconsidering their “message” after a serious defeat at the polls last November, will they finally – at long last – have the decency to accept that President Obama is indeed the President and that the American people expect them to behave with respect to the office and to the national interest?

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IRAQ: Dreams vs. Realities

Posted September 6, 2010 on 3:15 pm | In the category Economy, Iraq, Press | by Jeff

In Iraq, brief triumph subsided through criminal incompetence into fractured mayhem, leaving more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead and concluding in the fluid uncertainty of sporadic violence and democratic deadlock. No intellectual contortion – even with important stirrings of political give-and-take in Iraq – can ever inscribe Operation Iraqi Freedom in the annals of U.S. victories. — Roger Cohen, NY TIMES, 9/2/10

Cohen says what most media analysts avoid saying as they celebrate a self defined   “success” in Iraq. The war began on a lie, proceeded to kill at least 100,000 Iraqis and some 4000 American soldiers, spent and committed over $3 trillion, in American tax payers’ money, enhanced Iran’s influence in the region, left over 35,000 American soldiers seriously wounded, tarnished America’s reputation, debased our politics and exposed the American media as gung-ho cheerleaders for a war we chose to start on non-existent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Much of the analysis has focused on the “success” of the surge. While the surge contributed to controlling the security needs, most reporting – as compared to op ed analysts – noted the more significant contribution made by buying the Sunnis’ support by paying the “Sons of Iraq”, the Sunni militia that turned against al-Queda in Iraq in 2006.  Unfortunately, as Uthman al-Mukhtar reports in the Eurasia Review, “…pro-government Sunni militias have accused Iraq’s national leaders of leaving them in poverty and vulnerable to violence. The warnings come as al-Qaeda employs a mix of intimidation and enticement to lure Sunni fighters to joint the insurgents.” Having played a major role in bailing out the failed U.S. effort in Iraq they are now left to their own devices to deal with a political stalemate that has proven to be unable to even form an operating government and that has left the Sunnis out of the functioning economy.

Sunday’s Washington Post carried an op ed by Nobel Prize economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, and his co-author and researcher Linda J. Bilmes, that updates his earlier estimates of the true cost of the war to America. Their piece – “The True Cost of the Iraq War: $3 Trillion and Beyond” –  is depressing but essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the true costs of the Iraq adventure.

But the major issue that seems never to really get addressed is: Was it worth it? Or put another way, was it in our national interest to spend that much money and human resource on a war that has given us an Iraq that is almost totally dysfunctional, an Iran with more influence in Iraq than before the war, an Afghanistan too long neglected and now significantly controlled by the Taliban, an American deficit that eliminates the political possibility of stimulating the economy further, 100,000 Iraqi dead, some 4 million Iraqi refugees, the disillusionment of many of our allies, and a war that continues even as we partially depart. We got rid of Saddam and his sons and gave ourselves a pat on the back. But was it really worth it?

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Robert Byrd, RIP

Posted June 29, 2010 on 10:51 am | In the category Iraq, Robert Byrd, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“If I wanted to go crazy, I’d do it in Washington, where they wouldn’t know the difference.” Senator Robert Byrd

Robert Byrd was a man of considerable contradictions. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, he voted against major Civil Rights legislation in the 60s and voted against confirmation of Thurgood Marshall for the Supreme Court. But later he became a prime fighter against the Republicans’ farce of the day – its “Contract with America”.  He collected billions in “pork’ for his state of West Virginia and   remained a social conservative for much of his tenure.

But this writer’s only personal memory of Senator Byrd is more than enough for him to have earned my enormous respect. During the Democratic Convention held in Boston in 2004 Byrd spoke at the First Parish Church in Cambridge and riveted the crowd with a powerful speech in opposition to Bush’s rush to war in Iraq. His principled opposition failed to carry the day but for at least one hour we had the opportunity to hear a man of conscience deplore an already planned war that would lead to hundreds of thousands of American and (mostly) Iraqi deaths, millions of Iraqis forced from their homes, and actual and committed costs to America of up to $3 trillion, all leading to a semi-free Iraq closely aligned with Iran.

America’s rush to an unnecessary war has left us militarily and economically weaker  with our national reputation sullied. Byrd predicted this and spoke forcefully in opposition to the war, no doubt aware that his was a lost cause. One excerpt from his speech that day catches the full flavor of his remarks that turned out to be, alas, prophetic:

“The foundations of our government have suffered. The liberties enshrined in the  constitution of the United States have  now  been designed by a presidency that is bent on a ruthless pursuit of power. A President that sees himself above the law … a presidency that relies on secrecy and manipulation in order to advance its own partisan agenda. It is the Constitution of the United States that has been undermined, undercut, and is under attack. It is the American people’s liberties that are in jeopardy.”

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Campaign Update: The Candidate of Sarcasm

Posted July 24, 2008 on 3:59 pm | In the category Election 2008, Iraq, Politics, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

As the campaign continues its endless stroll through the backwaters of American thought, the contrasting styles of the Obama and McCain campaigns is striking. While Obama tries to discuss serious issues in a serious manner McCain has decided to release his nasty, ill-tempered psyche from the trunk of the Straight Talk Express. At every opportunity he snivels and whines about Obama’s popularity, blaming the press for Obama’s political successes and continually sneering about how wonderful the Surge has been for the Iraqi people. He does not remind us of how incredibly destructive of the U.S. national interest the war has been focusing instead on his narrow definition of success in Iraq. A success so far not experienced by most Iraqis – including especially the dead ones and the millions of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan. Nor, apparently, does he have the sophisticated intelligence to identify the role played in Iraq by the Sadr militia’s unilateral truce and the U.S.’s bribery of Sunni tribes to fight with the U.S. troops. The question for McCain is “are we doing better now than last year?” – the Obama question is, “why the hell did we invade in the first place and was it worth wrecking the U.S. armed forces and economy?’

McCain has in recent weeks blamed Obama for the price of oil, and snidely talks about Obama’s relative youth – an issue one would think McCain might wish to avoid. He (and most of the press) touts his “experience” in foreign affairs and the press allows him to invent a non-existent Iraq-Pakistan border and discover in 2008 the country Czechoslovakia – a country that has not existed since 1992. But in the end it is his unattractive persona that turns McCain into one of the least attractive of American types: the smug, manipulating, nasty know-it-all with no real substance – only the greed to be president.

In their anger the McCain campaign’s operatives sarcastically refer to Obama as “The One”. Were I in Obama’s campaign I would have to refer to McCain as “The Zero”. It is a perfect reflection of his level of intelligence, honesty and grace. That the press is still sucking up to him is to their shame.

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Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Senator McCain

Posted February 27, 2008 on 5:02 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Election 2008, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Recent and ongoing events in Pakistan and Afghanistan highlight in new ways the disastrous effects of the United States’ misguided Iraq invasion and the delusionary nature of Senator McCain’s commitment to continuing a bankrupt policy in Iraq.

The War in Afghanistan is not going well. The Taliban is back in force, the poppy fields are again feeding America’s cocaine habit, America’s allies are beginning to question their willingness to continue in Afghanistan, violence against civilians is on the increase and the U.S. cannot bring enough force to bear because its military is bogged down in Iraq.

If there is a failure in Afghanistan – which appears possible, if not likely – the blame can go directly to the Bush decision to commit to an unnecessary war in Iraq. By not committing the needed forces to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan in favor of invading Iraq, Bush allowed the Taliban to withdraw into Pakistan and form a new commitment to take Afghanistan back. This in turn led to a stronger terrorist structure in Pakistan which has destabilized much of that country and which runs the risk of leading to the loss of major portions of Pakistan to the Taliban and its Al Queda allies. This is doubly worrisome given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Afghanistan was a major training ground for Al Quada and the opportunity to eliminate that from happening again now seems lost.

Which brings us to Senator McCain’s delusions. His campaign is based largely on his belief that the so-called surge has worked and that victory is in sight. While those are extremely questionable opinions, it is clear that even were they true any such victory would come at terrible cost – in human life, American treasure, diminished American influence in the world, increased Iranian influence in the region, a destabilized Pakistan and in all probability a failed state of Afghanistan.

The U.S. president has enormous powers in foreign affairs – reviewing the disastrous impact of President Bush’s foreign policy reminds us of that. And it reminds us that choosing the next president can send the United States further into decline if it sends into office a man (or woman) unable to understand the difference between genuine American national interest, and jingoistic political slogans. Senator McCain clearly is determined to wage a campaign aimed at continuing the failed Bush policies in Iraq and the voters will need to decide whether it wants what would amount to a third Bush term.

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Posted January 24, 2008 on 6:00 pm | In the category Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

‘Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it’s gonna happen?” Mrs. Bush declared. ”It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” – Barbara Bush, commenting to Dianne Sawyer in March 2003

Conservatives, neo-cons, and ordinary journalists have recently flocked to flack the success of the “Surge” in Iraq.  Columnists like the NY Times’ new neo-con voice of balance, William Kristol and the Boston Globe’s neo-con voice, Jeff Jacoby, are among those declaring the U.S. winners in Iraq in a print replay of Bush’s  2003 “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier speech. And recently more serious analysts who applaud the surge and ignore history have joined their voices.

The success of the surge is a 4th quarter field goal in a game being lost by 30 points. Makes you feel good to get on the scoreboard, gives the kicker a moment of pride and the cheerleaders a chance to strut their stuff. But the game is lost and most of the crowd has left the stadium.

The war began in 2003 on a lie –no weapons of mass destruction – certainly no nuclear threat. When no WMD were found, the rationale shifted to “spreading democracy” in the region. When it became apparent that that was bogus it shifted to going after Al Quada whose existence in Iraq was a direct result of the U.S. invasion.

The Times’ Kristol views the war as virtually won, writing in the Times that. “…Because the U.S. sent more troops instead of withdrawing — because, in other words, President Bush won his battles in 2007 with the Democratic Congress — we have been able to turn around the situation in Iraq…”. Jacoby writes in the Globe ”THE NEWS from Iraq has been so encouraging in recent months that last week even the mainstream media finally sat up and took notice…” And in fact, the “mainstream media” (whatever the hell that is) in general views the surge as proof that the war is being won.

Well, hold on there. Looking at costs and benefits– something the administration and the press are loathe to do – reminds us of the long term and continuing damage done to legitimate and serious national interests. The sole benefit to the Iraq fiasco might be the removal of Saddam Hussein from the scene. While this is a potential benefit to the Iraqi people as a whole it is not clear that it benefits the United States other than the psyches of our President, his Vice President and the neo-con chicken hawks.

Saddam’s secular Iraq was not available to Al Quada and served as a buffer to Iran. Al Quada now operates in Iraq, Iran is joining forces with the Iraqi government and a once-secular country is taking on the face of a fundamentalist Islamic country. This is not good news for the U.S. It is simply not easy – if even possible – to find a single major benefit from the adventure.

Costs are a different story:

•    4000 (and growing) American lives;

•    Somewhere between 150,000 and 600,000 Iraqi lives (this latter figure is tough to pin down but assuming the lowest number – the equivalent toll in the U.S. would be 2 and quarter million civilians dead!);

•    An estimated 30,000 seriously wounded Americans (not including those troops coming home with serious mental injuries);

•    Hundreds of thousands of wounded Iraqis;

•    2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries;

•    2 million additional refugees within Iraq;

•    The likelihood of a Civil War if and when American troops leave;

•    The sullying of America’s reputation throughout the world;

•    Iran’s increased influence in the region;

•    Over $2 trillion of U.S. taxpayers’ money spent and committed without increasing taxes to pay for it – leading to an economy in which the dollar is in the toilet, oil is approaching $100/barrel, the U.S. deficit is out of control and the U.S. economy is heading towards a recession (for a discussion of the economic effect of the war see this article from the Milken Institute Review);

•    An over-extended U.S. military with seriously reduced recruitment standards;

•    National embarrassment and shame.

The surge has succeeded in reducing current casualties to a point that apparently is acceptable to the American people and much of the press. Commentators like Kristol and Jacoby do serious damage to their country’s national interests when they promote the continuation of such a disaster.  We deserve better.

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Posted December 16, 2007 on 1:35 pm | In the category Economy, Election 2008, Iraq, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

A fire in Gloucester, Massachusetts last night destroyed an apartment building and a synagogue and killed a 70-year-old disabled man. The fire broke out across the street from the city’s fire station and the initial response was only one fireman at least partially because the department has been understaffed since the city’s voters refused to vote for a tax increase in 2004. Another Gloucester resident died in a fire a year ago when it took 11 minutes to respond because the nearest fire station had been closed for budgetary reasons.

This is not an isolated incident – throughout America voters have opted to reduce the quality of basic services in order to reduce their tax bills. At the same time the federal government has provided huge tax breaks to the wealthy thereby reducing funding for local and statewide services. As governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney consistently bragged about reducing the cost of services in the state by simply reducing their quality. This allows him to take credit for holding the line on taxes but also the blame for deteriorating services throughout the state.

We are a country of bridges that collapse, schools that don’t provide arts education, libraries with reduced hours, lousy train service, spotty public transportation services, deteriorating medical services, etc. According to the United Nations World population Prospects Report the U.S. ranks 32nd in infant mortality behind virtually all Western democracies as well as Cuba, S. Korea, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Japan and Singapore. The country ranks 38th in life expectancy behind such countries as Cuba, Chile, Costa Rica, Malta, Martinique and Japan.

For years politicians have promised lower taxes without mentioning the corresponding guarantee of reduced quality of life for the vast majority of Americans. And the American people have been willingly seduced by the promise of lower taxes while ignoring the ugly reality of what shortsighted policies have produced for coming generations. We are literally scared into spending trillions on a senseless war in Iraq yet cannot find the resources to fight fires, repair bridges, provide well rounded education to our young and improve health care for all at home. Shame on us.

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A Trip to Bush’s Fantasy Land

Posted November 9, 2007 on 5:13 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Iraq, The Bush Watch | by Jeff

Here is a kind of scary excerpt from a George Bush interview with German TV:

Q Do you think there’s a point where you’d say only a military option is a possibility for us?

THE PRESIDENT: I would never say that. I would say that we would always try to try diplomacy first. In other words, I — I’ve committed our troops into harm’s way twice, and it’s not a pleasant experience because I understand the consequences firsthand.

Firsthand???? When and where was that? Cheerleading for Yale at Harvard?

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