War News for Friday, June 17, 2005
Bring 'em on: Twenty-six Iraqi soldiers killed by suicide bomber near Khalis
Bring 'em on: Five US Marines killed by roadside bomb near Ramadi
Bring 'em on: Eight Iraqi policemen killed, 25 wounded by car bomb on Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Iraqi woman killed by mortar fire near Kirkuk
Bring 'em on: One US sailor killed by small arms fire near Ramadi
Bring 'em on: Iraqi judge assassinated in Mosul
Bring 'em on: Five Iraqi soldiers wounded by car bomb in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Seven Iraqis killed, 15 wounded by mortar fire in Tal Afar
Bring 'em on: Heavy fighting reported near Qaim
Bring 'em on: Seven Iraqi civilians killed in fighting near Qaim
Bring 'em on: Pirates attack supertanker off Basra
Bring 'em on: Three Iraqis killed by roadside bomb near Baquba
. "Insurgents have taken over much of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and used it to launch attacks against US forces while terrorising the population with public beheadings. A huge bomb killed five American marines yesterday and showered body parts on to rooftops, fuelling suspicion that armour-piercing technology is being developed and tested in Ramadi. US troops recovered the remains and withdrew to their base outside the Arab Sunni stronghold, leaving masked gunmen to erect checkpoints and carry out what residents said was the latest of many executions. A man described as an Egyptian spy was beheaded and his body dumped on a busy shopping street. Warned by the killers to leave it for five days, shoppers pretended not to notice the figure in the brown robe, its head resting on its back. Four days ago two suspected Shia militiamen were beheaded in the marketplace in full view of traders, said a senior police officer who asked not to be identified. Two boys played football with one of the heads, he added."
. "The United Nations World Food Programme, which monitors the distribution of rations, recently reported 'significant countrywide shortfalls in rice, sugar, milk and infant formula'. Families in Baghdad have received no sugar or baby milk since January. Newspapers have also begun reporting that the tea and flour hand-outs contain metal filings and that people have fallen ill after consuming food rations."
. "The U.S. military launched a major combat operation with 1,000 Marines and Iraqi soldiers in northwestern Iraq on Friday, officials said. Operation Spear started in the pre-dawn hours in restive Anbar province. The soldiers will hunt for insurgents and foreign fighters. The province, which straddles the Syrian border, is where the military said it killed about 40 militants in airstrikes on June 11."
. "Martinez, of Troy, N.Y., is thought to have used some kind of explosive device, possibly a grenade, military officials said on condition of anonymity because the matter was under investigation. Martinez was charged with two counts of premeditated murder, said a statement by the Multinational Task Force in Iraq. Martinez is at a military detention facility in Kuwait. His motive was unclear, military officials said."
. "Kurdish security forces have seized scores of minority Arabs and Turkmens in Kirkuk and secretly transferred them in violation of Iraqi law to prisons in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq, US officials said on Wednesday. The prisoners have been captured in operations by Kurdish intelligence agents and a Kurdish-led unit of the Kirkuk Police Department, sometimes with the support of US forces in the region, the officials said. The Kurds maintain broad autonomy in northern Iraq, and their intelligence agents are fiercely independent of Iraq's fledgling national intelligence service. US military and State Department officials, while condemning the transfers, said US troops had not been involved with them, and when made aware of the practice, had sought to stop it."
The president's assessment represents either ignorance or optimism — perhaps both. But it is hardly helpful to recite yet again, more than two years after the war began, the sorry litany of the Bush administration's failures in Iraq. What's needed is a clear timetable of goals and a specific set of consequences.
The Bush administration should publicly set a target for the number of Iraqi soldiers and police who will be trained, equipped and capable of defending their country by July 1, 2006. That means troops able to protect their positions and go on the offensive against their enemies, with enough guns, bullets and tanks to do the job. If the objective is not reached, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should be fired, along with the top U.S. military commanders in Iraq.
No one has been held accountable for the blunders, from the bad intelligence before the war to the failure to provide sufficient troops during the conflict and since. Fixing responsibility is long overdue.
This is preferable to a precise timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, as two Republicans and three Democrats in the House called for in a resolution introduced Thursday. That could encourage the insurgents simply to wait it out. And definite, public targets allow for more accountability than the current strategy, which amounts to "when they're ready, we'll come home." The quote is from Bush, and the "they" he is referring to is the Iraqi army.
Among the rationalizations for the Iraq invasion that Bush had to gin up after no weapons of mass destruction were found was that a free and democratic Iraq would make Americans safer. But more than half of Americans (52 percent) polled don't believe the war in Iraq has contributed to the long-term security of the United States. That's a significant drop from the 62 percent surveyed in 2003 who said the war would increase homeland security.
Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that the invasion of Iraq has increased America's vulnerability. The occupation is clearly a galvanizing force in the recruitment of terrorists worldwide, as well as for the internal insurgency in Iraq. Outright hatred of the United States has never been higher in the Arab world and is reinforced with every revelation of prisoner abuse or inadvertent killing of Iraqi civilians.
As far as global security is concerned, the United States has 17 brigades tied down in Iraq. If another conflict erupted - with Iran, North Korea or even China over Taiwan - the U.S. military would be dangerously over-stretched.
Of more immediate concern is the disastrous impact the Iraq war is having on military recruitment. The Army has failed to meet its recruiting quotas since February. In May, it fell 25 percent short of a goal it had already reduced from 8,050 to 6,700.
The National Guard and Reserve, which provide more than 40 percent of the Army forces in Iraq, are doing even worse. The National Guard has reached only 76 percent of its recruiting quotas for the first five months of 2005.
Bush's response to all this? "Timetables send the wrong message." The United States will "finish the mission" and remain in Iraq "as long as necessary."
That open-ended dismissal isn't working for the American people any more. It's an especially inadequate response to the concerns being expressed by more and more families of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The failure of the president's policies in Iraq are great enough on their own that it isn't necessary to invoke British memos or conjure up plots in order to demand that he commit to a timetable for troop withdrawal. If Bush, who is famously incapable of admitting mistakes, continues to stubbornly stay the course, Congress must find the courage to save him from himself.
For an administration that places great emphasis, at least rhetorically, on listening to the opinions of the military leadership, the George W Bush administration appears remarkably tone deaf when it comes to Iraq.
Some high-ranking officers in the past were quite critical of both the decision to go to war - Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, retired, former commander in chief, US Central Command - and how the war was conducted - former army chief of staff Erik Shinseiki, who famously estimated in 2003 that a postwar occupation force would likely need to be several hundred thousand troops in size.
Zinni was retired when he made his criticism and Shinseiki was forced to retire not long after making his remarks; a move that did not go unnoted in the officer corps. That would explain why active-duty military personnel have been fairly restrained in their public comments on the outlook for the war as the insurgency in Iraq has gained strength since the end of major combat operations in 2003. "Nobody likes to be forced to fall on their sword," according to Colonel Dan Smith, US Army, retired, fellow on military affairs for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "If you are going to speak your mind you want to stay in the service to fight another day."
But in recent months that self-restraint has eroded as American soldiers continue to be steadily killed and strains in the military establishment become ever more obvious.
This goes beyond controversies over issues such as insufficiently armored vehicles to protect soldiers against improvised explosive devices or problems with private contractors. Military officers are speaking up more because of "what Iraq is doing to the military" said Smith. For them, the "metrics" on Iraq, to use a word favored by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are increasingly negative.
Excuse me if I'm confused, but didn't the men (and one key woman) of the Bush administration pride themselves in having learned "the lessons of Vietnam" (which, as it happens, they played like an opposites game until the pressure began to build when they suddenly began acting and sounding just like Vietnam clones)? Isn't our president the very son of the man who, when himself president and involved in another war in the Gulf, claimed exuberantly, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." Well, here's a news flash then. In Washington today, they're mainlining Vietnam.
Maybe we should really be examining the later history of the Vietnam War for hints of what to expect next. Certainly, as in Vietnam, we can look forward to withdrawal strategies that don't actually involve leaving Iraq. In Vietnam, "withdrawal" involved endless departure-like maneuvers that only intensified the war - bombing "pauses" that led to fiercer bombing campaigns, negotiation offers never meant to be taken up. Or how about ever more intense and fear-inducing discussions of the bloodbaths to come in Iraq, should we ever leave?
For years in Vietnam, the bloodbath that was Vietnam was partly supplanted by a "bloodbath" the enemy was certain to commence as soon as the United States withdrew. This future bloodbath of the imagination appeared in innumerable official speeches and accounts as an explanation for why the United States couldn't consider leaving. In public discourse, this not-yet-atrocity often superseded the only real bloodbath and was an obsessive focus of attention even for some of the war's opponents. In the meantime, the bloodbath that was Vietnam continued week after week, month after month, year after year in all its gore. Or how about the development of right-wing theories that the war in Iraq was won on the battlefield but lost on the home front; that, as in Vietnam, we were militarily victorious but betrayed by a weak American public and stabbed in the back by the liberal media? Watch for all of these, they're soon to come to your TV set.
Our most recent exercise in hubris is by far the worst, the most irresponsible, the most appropriate to indict those responsible as war criminals. We could knock over Saddam Hussein with a small army, the locals would dance in the street and strew flowers on our tanks. Secretary Rumsfeld, the Robert McNamara of our day, repealed the Powell Doctrine that we should attack only with overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy. Colin Powell must have known that this was folly but, good soldier that he is, he did not resign or become the Deep Throat of the present administration. However, good soldiers can also be war criminals. Both Rumsfeld and Powell were criminally negligent in their failure to consider the obvious possibilities for catastrophe after a quick and easy military victory.
The president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the coterie of "neocon" intellectuals around them, desperately wanted a war with Iraq even before the World Trade Center attack. The neocons whispered that the way to Jerusalem was through Baghdad, never thinking that suicide bombings could migrate from Jerusalem to Baghdad. None of these wise men bothered to worry about the aftermath of the war. The president is a risk-taker, we are told now, as he battles for his harebrained plan to reform social security. The invasion of Iraq was a risk, a big risk the potential costs of which were never seriously estimated. That's what happens when you have a reckless Clint Eastwood type for president. Are not the president and his immediate advisers war criminals for rashly plunging the country into the Big Muddy once again?
John F. Harris in his book Survivor describes in detail President Clinton's agonizing reluctance to engage in military action overseas. There were so many contingencies, so many things that might go wrong. The current administration has never worried about such problems. Convinced of our indomitable might, ignorant of the lessons of history, unconcerned about what might go wrong, it plunged blithely into the Bid Muddy. The rationalizations of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's involvement in the World Trade Center attack were false.
Now the president, dismissing the revelations about the weapons of mass destruction (the vice president apparently still believes them) is content to say that he still thinks the United States has done "the right thing." However, the majority of Americans and even some Republicans want the United States out of Iraq. The military says it will take four years to train an effective Iraqi army. The Big Muddy gets deeper.
NYT Letters to the Editor
Local story: Two Ohio
soldiers killed in Iraq.
Local story: Two Texas
Marines killed in Iraq.
Local story: Florida
Marine killed in Iraq.
Local story: Kentucky
Guardsman killed in Iraq.
Local story: South Carolina
soldier killed in Iraq.
Local story: California
Marine killed in Iraq.
Local story: Nevada
Marine killed in Iraq.
Local story: Nevada
soldier killed in Iraq.
Local story: Mississippi
Guardsman killed in Iraq.
Rant of the Day
I didn't post yesterday. Sometimes, I just have to walk away from it, especially when I read blather like this from Tom Friedman
Ever since Iraq's remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don't want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up - this is still winnable - but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point - the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power - when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
I once took a course on Greek mythology. I was always amazed that the Greek gods were a bunch of petty, vindictive, deceitful, adulterous, childish, immature and power-mad bastards. "They're just like some people I know," I thought to myself. "Really rotten people."
Cassandra was a beautiful Trojan woman, the daughter of King Priam. Apollo, struck by her beauty, promised to give her the gift of prophesy in exchange for sexual favors. When she rejected him, Apollo gave her the ability to see the future together with the curse that nobody would believe her. Until I started this blog, I never realized what a monstrous piece of fuckery Apollo inflicted on Cassandra.
Tom Friedman was one of the media celebrities who supported this war. It's impossible to read his stuff today without remembering that we who opposed the war desperately tried to talk about Iraq before the war started. We asked for a debate, we wrote letters to newspapers, we demonstrated, and our voices were stifled by media celebrities like Friedman.
It's not like there wasn't anything to debate before the war started. There was plenty of evidence to indicate the Bush administration fabricating intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq. Flag officers, active and retired, sounded off. Diplomats resigned in protest. Intelligence analysts complained of high-level pressure to find non-existent Iraqi links to Al Qaida and WMD stockpiles. We knew about PNAC and their crazy schemes.
We didn't get to talk about Iraq before the war. People who questioned the war were shouted down by the Bush administration. We were called "unpatriotic" and worse. Media enablers like Tom Friedman helped stifle discussion and pushed Bush administration distortions and falsehoods.
The Iraq War isn't "winnable" (whatever that means - the administration has never provided a specific set of war aims.) The Iraq War is lost, and the incompetent, arrogant bunglers who rushed us into this war are the same people who lost it. Every prediction made by those of us who opposed this war has happened, which is why I feel such sympathy for Cassandra, and every prediction made by Friedman and his ilk has failed to materialize.
I resent the accusation that deep down, I don't the Bushies to succeed. I don't want my country to fail at any endeavor. But the fact of the matter is that the Bushies have established a pattern of failure at every undertaking. The administration's long chronicle of miserable failure is too extensive to review here, but it's important to note that nobody in the administration has ever been held accountable, the worst bunglers have been rewarded, and the administration itself is incapable of recognizing their own failures. Under these circumstances, Friedman is simply delusional if he expects the administration to succeed at anything.
We don't need to talk about Iraq because the time for that discussion has long since passed.
This is the time to talk about accountability. We need to talk about how we got into this mess. We need to discuss responsibility. But most of all we need to talk about culpability. We need a thorough examination of the circumstances of how the Bush administration pushed America into an unjustified, aggressive war of conquest, and then brought misery and death to hundreds of thousands of people by bungling the aftermath.
And we need to hold the war-mongers, the torturers, the incompetents and the greedy accountable for their actions.
We won't get that discussion from Friedman. I kinda feel sorry for him, though. I suspect Friedman's actually a decent man who is having a real hard time getting his mind wrapped around the fact that he bears responsibility - and culpability - for the consequences of his actions. There will be a reckoning for the disaster in Iraq, and that notion may be finally penetrating Friedman's thoughts. I certainly hope so because that would mean the man has a conscience.
Some days I look at this blog like Sisyphus looks at his rock. But unlike Sisyphus, I can walk away and take a break. I want to thank all the readers who post links in comments when I don't turn up. You all are great.