Monday, March 31, 2008

$295Bn in overruns!

This is delightful:
GAO Blasts Weapons Budget
Cost Overruns Hit $295 Billion
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Government auditors issued a scathing review yesterday of dozens of the Pentagon's biggest weapons systems, saying ships, aircraft and satellites are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

The Government Accountability Office found that 95 major systems have exceeded their original budgets by a total of $295 billion, bringing their total cost to $1.6 trillion, and are delivered almost two years late on average. In addition, none of the systems that GAO looked at had met all of the standards for best management practices during their development stages.
That's $295,000,000,000!

I've stated previously that we - the taxpayers - probably wouldn't mind paying taxes if we thought we were getting value for $$$.

Reports like this fuel our resentment. Reports like this confirm our vague suspicions that our hard-earned $$$ are being thrown away. For what?

Personally, I object to year-after-year $600Bn dollar Defense budgets when it's clear the Pentagon - alone among Govt agencies - is getting a free pass. I do NOT believe we need tons of expensive high-tech weapons systems. Who are we fighting?

I note that the nominally strongest military in the world is being defeated by third-world insurgents, on two front: Iraq & Afghanistan.

If we were getting value for $$$, this would NOT be the case!

Stop the madness!

Holding them to their words

On Friday, 28 March, W declared
"Any government that presumes to represent the majority of people must confront criminal elements or people who think they can live outside the law," Bush said at the White House. "And that's what's taking place in Basra and in other parts of Iraq. I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."
On Saturday, 29 March, Maliki
promised to "stand up to these gangs" throughout Iraq and called Basra "a decisive and final battle."
Now, where I come from, "defining moments" define something, and "decisive battles" decide something.

Given that the recent violence has abated only because al Sadr has reined in his Mahdi Army - after they successfully battled Iraqi forces & withstood U.S. air assaults in Basra - it's hard to see any other interpretation than that al Sadr won.

What was defined? Al Sadr's continuing role as a powerful player in Iraqi politics.
What was decided? Al Sadr's Mahdi Army supremacy over the Iraqi Army.

Will either W or Maliki admit these conclusions, and move forward by engaging al Sadr politically?

[I know where I'm putting my money on this question... but, hey - I could be wrong!]

Stop the madness!

A cynical prediction

Last week I noted that
Iran could do more to help end violence in Iraq, the US military said on Wednesday, calling on Tehran to use its influence to help end lawlessness in the southern city of Basra.
[Wish we could make up our mind, AQA, 27 March]
Well, guess what?

Al Sadr's latest call for the Mahdi Army to lay low was apparently brokered by Iran.

My cynical prediction:
W's Administration and the U.S. military in Iraq will now use Iran's "interference" in Iraq as justification for demonizing Iran and promoting military action against the Tehran regime.
I could be wrong, but I'm willing to stand by my predicition.

I will acknowledge my error if anti-Iran rhetoric based on recent intervention is not forthcoming within - what's a reasonable timeframe? - two weeks? one month?
I'll give 'em - W and his minions - 3 weeks. If no bellicosity directed towards Iran for interfering in Iraq within that span, I'll apologize.

Stop the madness!

In memoriam: Dith Pran

The Last Word: Dith Pran
Dith Pran, 1942-2008
Survivor and witness, Cambodia's Killing Fields.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A nice summary of our political wisdom in Iraq

The following AP article provides a quick synopsis of our latest brilliance dealing with al Sadr & the Sadrists:
ANALYSIS: Iraq fighting a reality check
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
Sun Mar 30, 2008
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi capital locked down by curfew. U.S. diplomats holed up their workplaces, fearing rocket attacks. Nearly every major southern city racked by turmoil. Hundreds killed in less than a week.
All signs indicate that the crackdown was directed primarily at the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of al-Sadr's political movement.

The Sadrists believe the goal was to weaken their movement before provincial elections this fall. Al-Sadr's followers expect to make major gains in the regional voting at the expense of al-Maliki's Shiite partners in the government.
Last August, al-Sadr proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire nationwide in an effort to reorganize the force and rein in factions that had branched out into crime.

U.S. commanders acknowledge that truce helped bring down violence in Baghdad.
Nonetheless, U.S. and Iraqi forces continued to chip away at the Sadrists with raids and arrests in Baghdad and elsewhere.
American officials insist the target was not al-Sadr's movement but Iranian-backed renegades who did not abide by al-Sadr's cease-fire.

Al-Sadr's followers didn't see it that way.

Once the crackdown began in Basra, they rose up all over the Shiite heartland, launching rockets into the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad, firing on American patrols, burning offices of al-Maliki's political party and attacking government installations.

The fact that al-Maliki apparently miscalculated the response casts doubt on his judgment and raises serious questions about his commitment to the U.S. goal of national reconciliation.
"Casts doubt on his judgment" indeed!

This end was foreseeable.

Let me remind my readers: I am NOT a professional political analyst, or a professional diplomat, or a professional soldier... I'm just a guy observing the news, with what I hope is some basic common sense.

Last February, I wrote:
Uh, guys... you sure you want to do this?
Troops Seize More Than a Dozen Suspects in Raid on Baghdad's Sadr City
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 8, 2008
BAGHDAD, Feb. 7 -- U.S. and Iraqi soldiers raided the Shiite district of Sadr City on Thursday and arrested 16 people. The U.S. military said later that one detainee died from wounds received during the operation.
Is this such a good idea?

The reason I ask is that, well... one of the reasons the surge seems to be "working" is that "influential Shi'ite cleric" Moqtada al-Sadr has been keeping his Mahdi Army under control, having declared a formal cease-fire last August. Do you really want to upset him & his followers?
Sadr tells militia to maintain Iraq ceasefire
By Aseel Kami, Reuters
Thu Feb 7, 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his feared Mehdi Army on Thursday to maintain its six-month ceasefire as members of the militia clashed with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad.

Shi'ite Sadr's spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said the ceasefire, which expires later this month and has been vital to cutting violence in Iraq, should continue to be observed until militia members are told it is over or has been renewed.
But strains are showing among al-Sadr's followers...
Some members of Sadr's bloc are pressuring him not to extend the August 29 freeze on the Mehdi Army's activities.
A new report by the International Crisis Group think-tank said the respite offered by the ceasefire was "exceedingly frail" and that Sadrists -- many of whom complain they are targeted by security forces -- remain extremely powerful.

"Among Sadrist rank and file, impatience with the ceasefire is high and growing," the report said.
Again: is it really such a good idea for the U.S. Army to be conducting raids in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army's backyard?
It really didn't take any specific expertise to recognize that our military & police actions against al Sadr & his followers were - to put it gently - really stupid!

If al Sadr's Mahdi Army obeys his latest order to abandon armed resistance, will we finally decide to engage with him in dialog? Or will we again take advantage of his "weakness" - as evidenced by his willingness to forego armed conflict - to continue attaking him, and allowing Maliki & the Iraqi army to attack him?

An aside: does it strike anyone else as just a bit odd that al Sadr is the party continuing to seek a political solution via dialog, while we - the U.S. and our Iraq Government allies - always want to duke it out?

Another aside: here's a fun idea for some aspiring journalist - or maybe just a high school or college student looking for a topic for a history/political science paper. From CPA days till now, construct a timeline of epithets used to describe al Sadr. The common ones are
radical Shiite cleric
anti-American Shiite cleric
influential Shiite cleric
nationalistic Shiite cleric
prominent Shiite cleric
I'm sure there are more. Trace the trajectory of the war using the media's descriptors of al Sadr. I'm thinking it'd make an interesting read. Up until the latest violence, he'd recently been known in the media as "influential" or "powerful" or "nationalistic".

With the latest "anti-militia" campaign, his political rehabilitation in the media ended, and he became again, "radical" or "anti-American".

Note: for further observations regarding our dealings with al Sadr, see, e.g., Our Creature lives!

Stop the madness!

Who's in charge?

Iraq's Sadr orders followers off streets
By Khaled Farhan, Reuters
30 March 2008
NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers on Sunday to stop battling government forces after a week of fighting in southern Iraq and Baghdad threatened to spiral out of control.

Events may well prove me wrong, but I'm guessing that al Sadr's Mahdi Army by-and-large observes the cease-fire order.

Makes you wonder who's in charge in Iraq. The Government or al Sadr?

In the best of all possible worlds, if a cease-fire holds, we - the U.S. military & our official Iraqi Government allies - will use al Sadr's generosity to our advantage to begin brokering a permanent settlement with al Sadr that includes political recognition and participation. Of course, this is bucking recent history. Al Sadr's August cease-fire was met with increased military pressure on his organization. This eventually led to the current mess.

Out now!

Stop the madness!

another "final and decisive battle"...

Al-Maliki vows to remain in Basra
Sat Mar 29, 2008
BASRA, Iraq - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is vowing to remain in Basra overseeing operations against Shiite militias until security in the city is restored.
He promised to "stand up to these gangs" throughout Iraq and called Basra "a decisive and final battle."
25 Jan 2008:
KARBALA, Iraq (AFP) — Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a major offensive against Al-Qaeda on Friday, promising a "decisive battle" after dozens of people including a police chief were killed in bomb attacks in Mosul.
How many "decisive battles" till a decision?

Stop the madness!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Things I learned during Earth Hour

1. Even with Daylight Savings Time, there's not much natural light at 8 p.m. in late March.
2. Oil lamps provide very little light.
3. Sleep is a good leisure-time activity.

Just for fun: Earth Hour

Just for fun -really! - I'll be observing Earth Hour at 8 p.m. MDT today.

I doubt that satellite image of NM will resemble that of North Korea for that hour, but I hope it'll be relaxing to live by natural light, oil lamp, and candle for a brief 60 mins!


"Blast from the past" from Associated Press

'Standing up' Iraq army looks open-ended
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
Sat Mar 29, 2008
Iraq's new army is "developing steadily," with "strong Iraqi leaders out front," the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators.

I'm reminded of an old Miller Beer commercial:
"It doesn't get any better than this!"
...unless, of course, you really expect anything resembling progress in Iraq.

Though, given the complete absence of any U.S. "strategic objective", it's difficult to say just what might constitute "progress" in this open-ended engagement.

The AP article goes on to note that
Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, freestanding Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

Earlier, in January last year, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007. Four months past that deadline, they control only half the 18.
Gentle reminder (stated often, ad nauseam, to the point of numbness):
We've achieved ALL original war aims:
1. Iraq has no WMD
2. Saddam has been deposed, tried, and executed.
3. The foundations of "democracy" have been established
a. An Iraqi Constitution has been drafted and adopted
b. National elections have been held
c. An elected government is in place
No, Iraq is not a "beacon of democracy" in the Mid-East.
Was that an original war aim?
I remind those who cite the continuing anarchy as a reason for us to stay that SecDef Rumsfeld would disagree:
"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things…"
As I've stated frequently before, from this perspective
the Iraqis are exercising their freedom with a vengeance!
News stories about Iraq from 3+ years ago can simply be transcribed, quotations and all, and reprinted today.
This is "progress"???

Out now!

Stop the madness!

Light posting next several days

Opera Southwest's production of Tosca opens a week from today.

Rehearsal schedule likely to consume any and all time usually devoted to blogging.

[Given that good news just continues to roll in on both Iraq & domestic economic fronts, I'll likely sacrifice some sleep to keep engaged. Daily visits to AQA - al Qaeda in Albuquerque - may still be rewarding!]

Friday, March 28, 2008

High-tech thugs

US forces launch airstrikes in Iraq
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
Fri Mar 28, 2008
BAGHDAD - U.S. forces stepped deeper Friday into the Iraqi government's fight to cripple Shiite militias, launching airstrikes in the southern city of Basra and firing a missile into the main Shiite stronghold in Baghdad.

When the "bad guys" attack, we describe it thusly:
"The attacks show the indiscriminate violence these groups carry out in Iraq as the major loss of life yesterday was to innocent Iraqi men, women and children," [Rear Adm. Gregory] Smith said.
[US blames rocket attacks on militias, AP, 24 Mar 2008]
Anyone want to guess the number of "innocent Iraqi men, women, and children" killed by our air strikes?

We have lost our moral bearings.

Air power - even high-tech, targetted air-power - is a very blunt instrument. It may take out some bad guys. It also, invariably, inevitably, necessarily, takes out "innocent Iraqi men, women, and childen".

We don't care.

When we inflict casualities on innocents, it is "collateral damage".

When the "bad guys" - those we choose to designate as "bad guys" - inflict casualities on innocents, it displays their depravity.

For folks - Republicans - who abhor moral relativism, this is simply baffling.

Stop the madness!

A "defining moment"

Defining what, exactly?
Bush: Iraq violence a defining moment
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
28 March 2008
WASHINGTON - President Bush declared on Friday that Iraq stands at a defining moment as it struggles to put down heavily armed Shiite militias in new flare-ups of violence that threaten to undercut security gains and sway his decision about U.S. troop drawdowns.
If the objective is to promote democracy, why are we targetting selected subsets of Shiite militias, while supporting others?

We have long since lost whatever reputation we may have had as an honest peace broker. We are now just thugs - one group of thugs among many. (See next post)

We support the militias of Maliki (aka, the Iraqi Army) and the Sunni Awakening Councils to win. It's not clear to anyone just exactly how we envision both of these mutually antagonistic groups "winning", but that seems to be our aim.

We want al Sadr to "lose" - tho' he has the support of a substantial - if minority - proportion of the population.

What are we doing?

Can W or any of his minions describe a desired end-state that is in any way achievable?

Stop the madness!

Just in time! (part 3, I think)

Bush seeks financial regulation overhaul
28 March 2008
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the way the nation's financial industry is regulated.

Gee, I thought government regulation was uniformly bad!

"Military intelligence" has long been the exemplar of an oxymoron.

I'd like to suggest another exemplar: industry self-regulation.

There is nothing wrong with a focus on the bottom line, but this focus is not compatible with "self-regulation". There is, in fact, a "greater good" - involving societal stability. The lone company - financial, food services, semiconductor, textile,... whatever - has NO incentive to behave rationally with respect to anything other than the bottom line.

Free-market collections of local optima need NOT lead to societal optima.

"To promote the general welfare" is one of our country's strategic objectives. This may sometimes entail regulating private enterprise.

Milton Friedman was wrong.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

At first I thought this was good news...

... then I read the article.
Baghdad's highway of death takes on new life
by Bryan Pearson
Wed Mar 26, 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) - The sale in Baghdad of peaked caps boasting "I survived Route Irish" have slumped -- reaching the capital's international airport is no longer the perilous dash it used to be, and the slogan is losing its relevance.
Hey, this sounds encouraging!... Then I read the rest of the article.
"We are turning it into an impregnable security corridor. No one will be able to penetrate it to be able to plant roadside bombs," Colonel Asadi told AFP, while inspecting one of the endless checkpoints set up along the four-lane highway.
"We started out with 150 men and our numbers have since increased to 425," said the round-faced colonel, sitting at his desk in a dilapidated roadside building, midway between the highly secured Green Zone and the airport, that now serves as battalion headquarters.

Patrolling continues day and night, starting each morning with a foot patrol. This is followed by continuous sweeps through the area by police armed with AK-47s and Austrian Glock pistols, riding aboard Chevrolet Lux 4WD pickups mounted with Russian DKC machine guns.

Iraqi and US troops have also felled the date palms that once lined the road, cleared away refuse, moved guardrails and cut back vegetation to make it difficult to conceal roadside bombs.

Now, according to Colonel Hamid, the aim is to clear the dense neighbourhoods through which the airport highway passes of Al-Qaeda fighters.

[emphasis added]
Yes - the highway is now safe. We've turned it into a heavily fortified "impregnable security corridor", with wide "No-Man's-Lands" flanking it on either side, patrolled constantly by a very large force... and we're about to complete the devastation by destroying any remaining neighborhood through which it passes.

We've established "security" in Baghdad by transforming neighborhoods into walled enclaves, surrounded by concrete barriers.

This is not my image of a secure, stable country.

Stop the madness!

Wish we could make up our mind!

W's Administration and his Generals in Iraq are usually quick to condemn Iran's interference in Iraq.

It therefore comes as something of a surprise to see this:
US says Iran could do more to help end Iraq unrest
by Bryan Pearson
Wed Mar 26, 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iran could do more to help end violence in Iraq, the US military said on Wednesday, calling on Tehran to use its influence to help end lawlessness in the southern city of Basra.
So... we don't want Iran meddling in Iraq, except when we do want 'em meddling in Iraq?

Which is it? We really can't have it both ways.

Stop the madness!

"America's commitment is not open-ended"

President's Address to the Nation
10 Jan 2007
I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act.
Dear Mr. President: You were absolutely right. America's commitment is not open-ended. The Iraqi government will lose the support of the American people, and the support of the Iraqi people.

Your Administration will also lose the support of the American people.

You make a show of promoting democracy around the world. Do you know the meaning of the word? Do you know what it entails? Things like dialog and compromise. Sitting down with your opponents, not for photo ops, but to resolve problems in some mutually satisfactory way - with no side getting all or exactly what they'd hoped for, but all sides willing to abide by the decisions made. Relying on political process - not raw military strength - to achieve progress.

"Democracy" implies a whole lot more than folks proudly holding up purple-ink-stained fingers.

It implies a willingness to talk with - not just to - your political opponents. Sure, you hate their guts, and they hate yours... but if you can't get past the hate there's no hope.

Our tactics - your tactics - have done nothing to promote reconciliation among the warring factions. Instead, the U.S. military has become just another competing militia, one among many. We support our "friends" and attack our "enemies"... and the designations "friend" and "enemy" are amazingly fluid and situational. We arm and finance the Sunni Awakening Councils, whom we used to fight; they are now - for tactical military reasons - our "friends", tho' they used to be our "enemies".

We long ago lost whatever credibility we had as an honest, neutral arbitrator.

We responded to the Mahdi Militia's very generous unilateral cease-fire by targetting its leaders. Ever since Bremer's disastrous decision to shut down his newspaper we've viewed al Sadr only as an "enemy" - though he has made it clear that he wants to participate in the political process. The Mahdi Militia has been providing basic social services to Sadr City since the invasion - when our ineptitude and incompetence destroyed whatever existing government-based services had existed before.

We have adopted what has been called a traditional Iraqi mindset: only strength is respected. Dialog, compromise, and other concommitants of political process we now view in ourselves as weakness.

All originally stated war aims have been achieved. Saddam has been deposed, tried, and executed. Iraq has no WMD. A framework for government has been established.

Our continuing presence does nothing to promote the development of a stable Iraq. Indeed, our continuing presence can easily be construed as contributing to Iraq's continuing instability.

Iran is not destabilizing Iraq.
We are.

It is time to leave.

Stop the madness!

So wrong, on so many levels...

... and so typical of W's "MBA Presidency"!
Supplier Under Scrutiny on Arms for Afghans
Published: March 27, 2008
This article was reported by C. J. Chivers, Eric Schmitt and Nicholas Wood and written by Mr. Chivers.
Since 2006, when the insurgency in Afghanistan sharply intensified, the Afghan government has been dependent on American logistics and military support in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur.
... and it just goes down-hill from here.

You won't be ready for this, I promise.
With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.

Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.

[emphasis added]
Yep - we're supplying our Afghan allies with 40-year-old munitions from the former Communist bloc, which have been determined to be "unreliable and obsolete".

... Provided by a company whose 22-year-old leader figured it would just be cool to get into the international arms trade.

It gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective):
In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

Moreover, tens of millions of the rifle and machine-gun cartridges were manufactured in China, making their procurement a possible violation of American law.

[emphasis added]
"How could this happen?" you ask.

Here's where W's gutting of basic government capability comes into play:
AEY is one of many previously unknown defense companies to have thrived since 2003, when the Pentagon began dispensing billions of dollars to train and equip indigenous forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its rise from obscurity once seemed to make it a successful example of the Bush administration’s promotion of private contractors as integral elements of war-fighting strategy.

But an examination of AEY’s background, through interviews in several countries, reviews of confidential government documents and the examination of some of the ammunition, suggests that Army contracting officials, under pressure to arm Afghan troops, allowed an immature company to enter the murky world of international arms dealing on the Pentagon’s behalf — and did so with minimal vetting and through a vaguely written contract with few restrictions.

[emphasis added]
Yes, folks, we awarded a $300,000,000 arms contract to a start-up company, and provided no oversight!

I think I have a solution to current economic problems: let's all get U.S. Government contracts! Heck, you can get millions from DoD alone! - No experience necessary. No one will notice! No one will care!!!

Every American on unemployment to be awarded a $100,000 contract from DoD.
It doesn't matter what the contract is for: all the unemployed will now have 6-figure incomes! Republicans don't like the idea of welfare, but they apparently don't mind handing out multi-million dollar defense contracts to anyone who can draw a breath.

It's becoming more and more obvious that W's business failures weren't an aberration. He truly is clueless about business. Can Harvard rescind that MBA?

Republicans - following St. Reagan - continue to proclaim that Government is never the solution. Then, when they get into positions of power, they proceed to demonstrate Government's ineptitude - a very nice self-fulfilling prophecy!

I suppose folks with Harvard MBAs don't see the point of writing basic controls into contracts. You know, little provisions that provide some assurance that we'll get what we pay for, and that we won't be charged exhorbitantly for products & services provided.

My bet is that Circle K has better, more reliable procurement systems, with much tighter & more effective financial controls!

Why couldn't we have contracted with American munitions manufacturers to produce ammo for the Afghans? This would have provided jobs for Americans, promoted industrial development,... and, last but not least - actually given the Afghans decent bullets!

How are our Afghan allies taking this?
“This is what they give us for the fighting,” said the colonel, Amanuddin, who like many Afghans has only one name. “It makes us worried, because too much of it is junk.” Ammunition as it ages over decades often becomes less powerful, reliable and accurate.
[emphasis added]
Where else are the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on defense being thrown away?

Stop the madness!

Anti-American chants begin

Below I noted that initial demonstrations in Sadr City included chants of "Yes, yes for Iraq!" and "Yes, yes for law!"

I suppose that was too good to last. The latest chants?:
Iraq cleric's followers march as battles rage
By Aseel Kami and Wisam Mohammed, reuters
27 March 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched in Baghdad on Thursday as a crackdown on his followers raged in southern Iraqi towns and rockets and mortars exploded across the capital.

In Sadr City, the vast Shi'ite slum named after Sadr's slain father, enormous crowds of angry men jammed the main circle chanting and shouting slogans calling for the ousting of U.S.-backed Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
On the plus side, the demonstrations have apparently been peaceful - a fact which the Pentagon might spin to suggest that Baghdad is no different than an American city facing citizen protests! (... you know, if you ignore the rockets & mortars raining on the Green Zone.)

Iraqi prime minister says no retreat
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer
27 March 2008
BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister vowed Thursday to fight "until the end" against Shiite militias in Basra despite protests by tens of thousands of followers of a radical cleric in Baghdad and deadly clashes across the capital and the oil-rich south.
Why am I not heartened by Maliki's vow to fight "until the end"? Whose end?

I note also that al Sadr's rehabilitation in the press has definitely ended. He is again a "radical cleric".

Quite some time ago I suggested a fun game:
Take any MSM article on Iraq. Replace all references to "insurgents" or "militias" with the terms "nationalists", or "patriots", or "freedom-fighters."

The substance of the article will not change, but the tone will, dramatically.
I'd now add,
... and replace all references to U.S. forces with the phrase "occupation forces", and all references to the Iraqi govt with "the U.S. puppet government".
Again, the substance of the article will not change, but the impact of the article will.

Stop the madness!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No matter the evidence...

You can't make this stuff up!
Pentagon says new Iraq fighting arises from surge's success
26 March 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a "by-product of the success of the surge."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.
In more than one previous post I've noted that it really doesn't matter what the facts are: any and all facts always support the same conclusion:
Everything is just peachy!
Would it be too much for a brave White House correspondent to ask what, exactly, the "facts on the ground" would have to be for this Administration to admit that there might be some problems?

Yet another previous post notes that the public soured on Viet Nam when LBJ & Nixon continued to spout success stories when Walter Cronkite kept showing more and more nastiness on the ground. The phrase then was "credibility gap". It's time to resurrect this handy shorthand!
Credibility gap
Credibility gap is a political term that came into wide use during the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, it was most frequently used to describe public skepticism about the Johnson administration's statements and policies on the Vietnam War. Today, it is used more generally to describe almost any "gap" between the reality of a situation and what politicians and government agencies say about it.

Coinage of the term is uncertain.

"Credibility gap" was originally used in association with the Vietnam War in the New York Herald Tribune in March 1965, to describe then-president Lyndon Johnson's handling of the escalation of American involvement in the war. A number of events—particularly the surprise Tet Offensive, and later the 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers—helped to confirm public suspicion that there was a significant "gap" between the administration's declarations of controlled military and political resolution, and the reality.
The Administration does itself no favors by spinning the news to support the narrative, "the surge is working".

There are limits to the American public's credulity.

Stop the madness!

Oh, good: Others are noticing the same thing!

Iraqi PM Gives Basra Gunmen Ultimatum
Rocket Attacks Hit Green Zone
By Sholnn Freeman and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
BAGHDAD, March 26 -- Clashes continued Wednesday between Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki laid down a deadline for gunmen to surrender and fresh rocket attacks hit Baghdad's Green Zone.
It was unclear why U.S. forces would take part in a broad armed challenge to Sadr and his thousands-strong militia on the eve of Petraeus's assessment, which the Bush administration has said would greatly influence its decision on whether to draw down troop levels. ...

[emphasis added]

"Unclear" indeed!

Spencer Ackerman notes that:
Now, some Iraq-watcher friends of mine point out that this is absurd. "Sadr is, of course, a thug," they say, "but he's a nationalist. And he's far less beholden to Iran than the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Maliki's Da'wa Party -- both of whom we're supporting! And most importantly, Sadr remains perhaps the most popular figure in Shiite Iraq. Petraeus can do business with him. This doesn't make any sense!" And they're right. It doesn't. But as long as we sponsor the Iraqi political process -- and a Sadrist doesn't actually become premier himself -- this will keep happening.
[emphasis added]
So there you have it. We are, in fact, just one more militia among many, supporting our favorites against the others.

Whence "reconciliation"? Whence "unification"?

From the WaPo article:
But many Sadr followers view the offensive as the latest attempt by the United States and Sadr's Shiite rivals, who run Iraq's government, to take advantage of Sadr's cease-fire to weaken his movement politically ahead of provincial elections that could take place this year.

"We are really scared," said Aahad Hamid, 27, a Basra University employee whose voice quivered on the phone as Iraqi attack helicopters flew over the city. "We can hear the voice of the bullets."
What a charming but effective metaphor:
... the voice of the bullets
This would make a good book title!

In yet more signs that "the surge is working" (again from WaPo article):
By Tuesday evening, Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias had also clashed in the cities of Kut and Hilla, as well as outside Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City. Dusk-to-dawn curfews were imposed on at least six cities in southern Iraq, police said.

In addition to resisting with arms, Sadr's movement led a labor strike for a second day in many parts of eastern and central Baghdad on Tuesday, demanding the release of Sadr's jailed followers and an end to Iraqi government raids. Sadrist leaders ordered stores to close and taxi and bus drivers to stop operations. Many neighborhoods turned into virtual ghost towns, their usually busy streets all but empty. Parents kept their children home from school.
Again - and this can't be over-emphasized - our tactics were apparently designed to deliberately provoke al Sadr's followers. Their view that the U.S. and the Iraq govt took advantage of the cease-fire to weaken al Sadr politically is perfectly rational based on our actions.

... and, for what it's worth: the U.S. is now playing by traditional Iraq rules - acting as if the only thing that persuades is force! If we do not attack we will be perceived as weak - this seems to be the mindset of our Generals.

This is not an attitude that promotes reconciliation and unification. This is not a mindset that promotes the give-and-take dialog that characterizes a vibrant democracy.

Our own actions undermine our stated objectives in Iraq.

Stop the madness!

Just in time! (again)

Paulson reviewing financial regulation
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
26 March 2008
WASHINGTON - The crash of Wall Street's once mighty Bear Stearns underscores the need to bring investment houses under the kind of federal oversight that has long been given to commercial banks, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Wednesday.

In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Paulson said the Bush administration will soon release just such a blueprint in an effort to promote a smoother functioning of financial markets.

What happened to "the market works perfectly" and "regulation stifles innovation"?

Hasn't Paulson heard? Republicans don't like government regulation. St. Reagan proclaimed government is never the solution. Is he now an apostate? Will he be formally excommunicated? Will his future rehabilitation require penance?

... and what about mark-to-market accounting? Doesn't Paulson realize that it's the root cause of all the trouble?

Poor W has quite a lot to do in his last 10 months in office. He might have to start working weekends!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Psy-Ops: free advice for the CIA (continued)

A previous post suggested the CIA start forging messages from bin Laden, exploiting his hatred of the Saudis to portray his descent into madness.

Well, the Saudis just provided a good opening for such a gambit:
Saudi King calls for interfaith dialogue
By DONNA ABU-NASR and ABDULLAH SHIHRI, Associated Press Writers
25 Mar 2008
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The Saudi king has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews — the first such proposal from a nation with no diplomatic ties to Israel and a ban on non-Muslim religious services and symbols.
"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates Monday night at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."
The call — the first of its kind by an Arab leader — was significant. The Saudi monarch is the custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, a position that lends his words special importance and influence. Abdullah said Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light — crucial backing in a society that expects decisions taken by its rulers to adhere to Islam's tenets.

It also raises the possibility that a religious dialogue could have a political impact in the Middle East, easing tensions between Arabs and Israelis in a way that years of off-and-on negotiations and political conferences have failed to do.
We could not ask for a better opportunity to exploit bin Laden's hatred of the Saudis!

So... if any of my myriad readers has CIA connections (Richard, you know who you are!), please encourage them to take advantage of this gift!

More commentary on Mahdi Army & another militia

When the Sadrists took to the streets of Baghdad in protest, what did they chant? Down with America? Death to Maliki?
"Yes! Yes! for Iraq.
Yes! Yes! for law.
No! No! for arrests,"

shouted the demonstrators in the Al-Amel district of southwest Baghdad.

[Sadr followers stage Baghdad protest, AFP, 25 March 2008]
Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army isn't the only militia in town. Michael Schwartz over at Tom Dispatch reports:
The Battle of Baghdad
Iraq's Most Fearsome Militia, the U.S. military, on the Offensive
Over the course of five years, Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, has been transformed from a metropolis into an urban desert of half-destroyed buildings and next to no public services, dotted by partially deserted, mutually hostile mini-ghettos that used to be neighborhoods, surrounded by cement barriers reminiscent of medieval fortifications. The most prominent of these ghettos is the heavily fortified city-inside-a-city dubbed the Green Zone, where Iraq's most fearsome militia, the United States military, is headquartered. It is governed by the Americans and by the American-sponsored Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
Read the full article. It provides a devastating analysis regarding the putative success of the "surge", and the effect of successive American mis-steps.

From this perspective, Maliki's vow to rid Basra of "militias" can be viewed as just a battle between the "official" militia (Iraqi & U.S. forces), and one among many alternative militias deemed bad by the nominal government. We're simply fighting on one side of a multi-sided civil war.

If the side we support wins, I guess that'll be "success".
But what if one of the other sides wins?

Yes - the problems facing Iraq are at heart political.
Why do we keep applying military "solutions"?

What did the Sadrists marching in Baghdad want?
Death to America? No!
"Yes! Yes! for Iraq.
Yes! Yes! for law.
No! No! for arrests."
Sounds like we oughta be reaching out to these guys, not demonizing them.

Stop the madness!

Maliki, al Sadr, the surge, and other stuff...

Battles wrack Basra, threatening success of U.S. surge
By Leila Fadel and Ali al Basri | McClatchy Newspapers
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
BAGHDAD — Bloody clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi government forces paralyzed the southern port of Basra Tuesday as the Iraqi government swore that it would cleanse the city of militia influences.

Residents of Basra cowered in their homes as Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi security forces battled across the second largest city in Iraq. Some 15,000 Iraqi Army and National Police were brought in to the city to take control. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, as well as the country's defense and interior ministers, were in the city to oversee the effort.

Note: this is the same Iraqi govt and the same Maliki that two months ago gave us:
KARBALA, Iraq (AFP) — Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a major offensive against Al-Qaeda on Friday, promising a "decisive battle" after dozens of people including a police chief were killed in bomb attacks in Mosul.
[Iraq PM promises 'decisive battle' against Al-Qaeda, AFP, 25 Jan 2008]
Meanwhile, our creature, Moqtada al Sadr, is once again an "anti-American" cleric. For a while there he'd been rehabilitated, as an "influential" cleric, or a "nationalistic" cleric, or a "prominent" cleric. Guess he just didn't know his place! A quick re-cap of recent action:
US, Iraqi troops battle Shiite militia
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
25 March 2008
BAGHDAD - Iraq's leaders faced their gravest challenge in months Tuesday as Shiite militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr battled government forces for control of the southern oil capital, fought U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad and unleashed rockets on the Green Zone.
As noted below, we - U.S. & Iraq govt - continue to attack political problems with military solutions, tho' all agree that the problems are not amenable to a military solution!

Stop the madness!

McCain fingers culprit for economic crisis!

Ya ready for this?
From Think Progress:
"First, it is time to convene a meeting of the nation’s accounting professionals to discuss the current mark to market accounting systems."
[John McCain, addressing Orange County Hispanic Small Business Roundtable]
Ah, yes! Mark-to-market accounting: the root of all evil.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that McCain thinks convening a meeting of accounting professionals is the solution to the current mess, are we otherwise expected to take him seriously? Mark-to-market accounting is the culprit???

Please: any and all Dem candidates for any and all offices - USE McCAIN'S WORDS in your campaigns! This is the quality of Republican "analysis".
I'm serious. If you're a Democrat running for Municipal Dog-Catcher, cite McCain's words as evidence that your respected Republican opponent hasn't the foggiest notion how to run anything. The "party of fiscal responsibility" doesn't have a clue!
My respected Republican opponent vows to bring order to our Animal Control Center. I remind you, the voters, that the Republican candidate for President believes that mark-to-market accounting is responsible for our country's economic crisis.

"We'll deal with the contingencies of the 'what if' when it occurs"

As noted in a previous post, the U.S. military in Iraq apparently saw no reason to develop a plan in case al Sadr's ceasefire ended:
"We'll deal with the contingencies of the 'what if' when it occurs," U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith told reporters on Wednesday. "As of today the ceasefire remains in place and we would hope and expect it to continue."
Here are recent relevant headlines:
Sadr militia battle troops in four Iraqi cities
Iraq's Sadr threatens civil revolt after deadly clashes
Sadr followers stage Baghdad protest
So... NOW are the Generals addressing the contingencies of the 'what if'???

You know, as opposed to - oh, I don't know - pursuing policies that directly provoke al Sadr's followers?

Aside: Over and over we are told by just about everyone that Iraq is not a problem that can be addressed militarily; that it requires a political solution.
... and over and over we see both U.S. and Iraqi forces pursuing military solutions! The latest great tactic - leading directly to the revolt of al Sadr's Mahdi Army - has been targetting leaders of the Mahdi Army.

I realize that this reflects the worldview of W and his minions - that diplomacy, dialog, and negotiation just "reward bad behavior". Besides, it's a lot more fun to fight - and it's so much more manly and romantic!

BUT: how long can our country survive this? (For that matter, how long can the Iraqis survive this?)

Stop the madness!

Monday, March 24, 2008

My 2 cents: Iran? Yes!

W's Administration is terrified of Iranian involvement in Iraq.

I can understand why, from W's perspective, this is a bad thing.

On the other hand, if one refuses to accept W's foreign policy assumptions - and, let's face it, these assumptions are absurd! - getting Iran engaged could be a good thing.

Not just Iran, but also the Saudis (our friends!), and Syria (more bad guys, from W's perspective).

These countries all have a vested interest in a stable Iraq. Maybe not in a stable, powerful Iraq, but at least in a stable Iraq.

If we walked away, Iraq would effectively become their problem.

Let's engage 'em now, today. All of 'em. Even the evil Iran & Syria. Let 'em know we're leaving, and leave it to them. (Note: I'd also include the Iraqis in this discussion!)

The path we're on is a dead-end.
Something must change.

Using the simple formula, "If W's fer it, I'm agin it! If W's agin it, I'm fer it!", just might lead us to a more-or-less positive outcome.

I entertain no illusions that post-U.S. Iraq will be an Eden.

On the other hand, eventually there will be a post-U.S. Iraq. Today, tomorrow, next year, 10 years hence.

Why not today?

Stop the madness!

"Know your enemy"

As suggested by immediately preceding post, I wanted to find source for the military maxim, "Know your enemy."

Turns out it's Sun Tzu's Art of War, and is expressed somewhat more verbosely:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Why did I seek this maxim?

The good Gen Petraeus!
Gen David Petraeus told the BBC he thought Tehran had trained, equipped and funded insurgents who fired the barrage of mortars and rockets.
[Iran 'behind Green Zone attack' ]
All news stories related to the Green Zone attack acknowledge that it was carried out by core members - not splinter groups - of al Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Al Sadr is fiercely nationalistic - his Mahdi Army is not allied with Iran.

What evidence has Petraeus to support his belief that the attackers were "trained, equipped and funded" by Iran?

Short answer: none.

Why did he make this claim?

Short answer: it pleased his political masters.

Of the frequently identified Shiite militias, the one generally associated with Iran is the Badr Brigade, associated with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC).
[I'd post Wikipedia links, but you all can look it up for yourselves... I'm tired.]

Petraeus's attribution of Iranian influence to al Sadr's Mahdi Army is not quite the gaffe that McCain's claim that Iran trained al Qaeda was, but it's close.

Both demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the enemy.

["Outside agitators" are a favorite scapegoat of those in power. Somehow it is easier to blame them for problems than to admit that - in this particular case - Iraqi nationals object to our presence!
("Outside agitators" were a favorite scapegoat of Administrations during the Viet Nam debacle. Those in power simply could not admit that their own constituents could possibly object to U.S. policy - it had to be "the other".)]

And, in this particular case, blaming the Iranian bogey-man serves an additional political purpose: it helps set the stage for future action against Iran.

Okay, I'm ready to launch into my naked conspiracy theory again, so it's clear that I need to stop typing!

Stop the madness!

Voting for McCain looks more & more palatable...

... not because I like McCain, but because I really don't want to foist this mess on either Democrat - it just seems too cruel!
Bush Given Iraq War Plan With a Steady Troop Level
Published: March 25, 2008
WASHINGTON — Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as at any time during five years of war, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said.
... and besides,
McCain says US succeeding in Iraq
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
24 March 2008
CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Fresh off his eighth Iraq visit, Sen. John McCain declared Monday that "we are succeeding" and said he wouldn't change course — even as the U.S. death toll rose to 4,000 and the war entered its sixth year.
Seeking source for basic military maxim ("Know your enemy") I came across a rich vein of military advice: Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

Here are a couple of gems:
2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

[emphasis added.]
Wonder if Rummy ever read this treatise, required of all U.S. military junior officers. Petraeus? Presumably, yes.

I note in passing that the most common figure recently cited regarding cost of the war is $600Bn. This is more than the cost cited by my favorite source, The National Priorities Project, which currently gives cost as $505Bn.

Stop the madness!

I'm getting tired of being right all the time

Back on 8 Feb, I asked the question,
Uh, guys... you sure you want to do this?,
referring to news that,
U.S. and Iraqi soldiers raided the Shiite district of Sadr City on Thursday and arrested 16 people.
The post noted that al Sadr's Mahdi Army had declared and observed a ceasefire since August, contributing to the success of the "surge", and suggested that maybe - just maybe - deliberately provoking the Mahdi Army's ire was not such a great idea.

Well, guess what? Today's news regarding the Sunday shelling of the Green Zone notes that,
Green Zone shelling mirrors militia ire
By HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers
24 March 2008
BAGHDAD - Rocket attacks on the U.S.-protected Green Zone may carry a message with implications across Iraq: rising anger within the Mahdi Army militia.
The latest rumblings in the Mahdi Army are provoked by the belief that the Americans and their Iraqi allies abused the cease-fire by conducting raids that have targeted hundreds of al-Sadr's backers and aides.

Militia commanders told The Associated Press they viewed the arrests as a move by Shiite rivals to deny them a prominent political voice. They also cited al-Sadr's statement this month that his cease-fire did not preclude his followers from self defense.
Good job, guys! Anger the folks who've helped you keep the lid on things!

Well... other than that, the Mahdi Army has been pretty quiet, really... right?
Iraq cleric's militia starts protest, shuts stores
By Ahmed Rasheed and Waleed Ibrahim, Reuters
Mon Mar 24, 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia ordered shops to close in some Baghdad neighborhoods on Monday in what they said was the start of a "civil disobedience campaign."
In related news, the always reliable Gen Petraeus knows who the real culprits are!
Iran 'behind Green Zone attack'
BBC News
24 March 2008
The most senior US general in Iraq has said he has evidence that Iran was behind Sunday's bombardment of Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Gen David Petraeus told the BBC he thought Tehran had trained, equipped and funded insurgents who fired the barrage of mortars and rockets.

He said Iran was adding what he described as "lethal accelerants" to a very combustible mix.
Don't take your eye off the ball: IRAN!

Let's forget that al Sadr is fiercely nationalistic. That's beside the point.
It's Iran's fault!

Let's ignore that our policy has directly provoked the Mahdi Army.
It's Iran's fault!

[Note: Petraeus cites no evidence of Iranian involvement, simply asserting that the weapons used came from Iran. Who knows, maybe he's right. So what? I'm betting that there've been numerous cases in which U.S. troops have been attacked with U.S.-supplied weapons. That doesn't imply that the U.S. is "behind" these attacks - only that the bad guys are using whatever weapons they can get. From Iran? No problem! al Sadr & his Mahdi Army are generally considered unlikely allies of Iran - al Sadr has presented himself as being a fierce Iraqi nationalist. The Shiite militia most closely associated with Iran is generally taken to be the Badr Brigade.]

Stop the madness!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fun with language: headline writer steps up!

US ponders: How deep is economic abyss?

This is a delightful headline - not for the dismal news it presents, but for its use of words.

These are words and connotative expressions one doesn't see often in simple headlines:
What a wonderful verb! It carries with it not just the notion of intellectual contemplation, but a weightier concept. The word itself conveys heaviness. Ponder. It is derived from a verb meaning, "to weigh".
How deep is... abyss?
The abyss: the title of a horror film! Unfathomed depth, dark, mysterious... replete with danger! How deep is it? The unknown!

Simply from the perspective of language this is an effective, memorable headline.

Tip o' the hat & a toast to the anonymous writer!

Iraq headlines

US wants Britain to lead 'surge' in southern Iraq

US death toll in Iraq war hits 4,000

54 killed in Iraq bloodshed

The surge is working so well, we really need more of it... but we've not the manpower, so we implore the Brits to do their part... in the south - which, you may recall, once upon a time was the peaceful part of the country.

The surge is working so well that American troops continue to die.

The surge is working so well that the insurgents can launch attacks at will... against the Green Zone - the only patch of territory we presumably control!

Oh - I almost forgot: they're not insurgents!
Rumsfeld: Don’t call Iraqi enemy ‘insurgents’
Defense secretary says he had ‘epiphany’ about semantics of war
Associated Press
Nov. 29, 2005
WASHINGTON - More than 2½ years into the Iraq war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided the enemy are not insurgents.

“This is a group of people who don’t merit the word ‘insurgency,’ I think,” Rumsfeld said Tuesday at a Pentagon news conference. He said the thought had come to him suddenly over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“It was an epiphany.”
Religious metaphor somehow seems appropriate to Iraq: ya gotta believe!

Stop the madness!

Friday, March 21, 2008


For us baby-boomers, the word "balkanization" was meaningful only metaphorically, and harkened back to WWI, when the nationalistic sentiment unleashed during the 19th century plunged the Western world into the "Great War".

In the post-Tito era, the literal meaning of the word has reasserted itself, with the Balkan peninsula once again descending into nationalistic chaos.

Still, the media's metaphorical resort to the word is disconcerting. While speaking of the perhaps imminent disintegration of Iraq, and the U.S.'s current dependence on Sunni "Awakening Councils" or groups of "Concerned Local Citizens" (CLCs), dday at Hullabaloo ably criticizes our current "strategy":
The Shiites in power are afraid of incorporating the CLCs into the Iraqi security forces. It has been alleged that the CLCs include former insurgents and rogues, and they are primarily interested in 1) receiving money, and 2) defending their corner of Iraq from all invaders, foreign and domestic. This is not a path to national reconciliation but balkanization.
Let's not go there!

This is the fear I entertain whenever the media dwell on "identity politics": that We the people will forget that we are first and foremost Americans, and that we are hyphenated-Americans only secondarily.

We do not need to become a Balkanized nation.


OK, maybe I have a warped sense of humor, but this headline from Think Progress just tickles me:
81% of Americans say government should pay attention to polls

Thursday, March 20, 2008

light posting next few days...

I've friends coming to town Friday & Saturday.
I need to learn music for OSW production of Tosca... hope to be studying Sunday.
Easter. [I sing in a church choir.]
IRS - doing taxes: mine & Mom's.

Expect light posting till... oh, I don't know... mid-next-week?

Psy-Ops: free advice for the CIA

(... and worth every penny!)

Admission & disclaimer: this advice was sent via email to the CIA in early 2002, via "contact us" link on CIA website.
Needless to say, CIA has not yet adopted this "brilliant advice".

bin Laden publishes at will, on his own schedule.
The typical avenue by which he disseminates his statements is the news outlet, al Jazeera. A tape - either audio or video - mysteriously appears at al Jazeera. They publish it.

Brilliant advice:
The apparently random timing of bin Laden's communications presents an opportunity which we have yet to exploit:
Forge him!
Produce forged tapes of bin Laden - both audio and video.

Surely the CIA has sufficient archived bin Laden material & the technical resources needed to produce a pretty decent forged message! [... not to mention: after al Jazeera publishes the message, the CIA can issue its authentication a few days later!]

I'd advocate a series of messages suggesting that bin Laden is slipping into madness.

For example, if he were to begin hinting that he is Allah's next Prophet - replacing Mohammed - that might drive his religiously-inspired followers away.

Were he - in the role of Allah's Prophet - to propose fundamental changes to Islam, this would also be good. His hatred of the Saudis is well-known. This could be portrayed as morphing into a hatred of the Arabian holy places in Mecca & Medina. He could present himself (in these forgeries) as establishing a new central shrine, perhaps in Pakistan.

The messages ought be timed to correspond both to events in the Islamic calendar, and to significant secular anniversaries based on the lunar calendar.

This tactic assumes that the CIA has the technical resources to accomplish such a feat - and I've little doubt that they do!

Allowing bin Laden to continue to choose the timing of his messages is simply absurd - and we have the ability to thwart him! If nothing else, this tactic may provoke him to issue messages denying that these CIA-generated messages are his.
[This is simply a variant of LBJ's time-tested "make him deny it!" tactic.]

... and this, too, provides us opportunity: surveille al Jazeera offices, the intent being to intercept a genuine message from bin Laden. This is currently impractical because we don't know when bin Laden will choose to speak. But, if we provoke him to respond, we can be prepared to intercept the courier, and perhaps use this as a toe-hold on the way to the summit!

This could turn into a fun game, pitting bin Laden against his CIA surrogate! It might just put him on the defensive (and therefore more likely to blunder!).

Just a free suggestion, worth every penny!

What killed the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union collapsed abruptly in 1991.

Many factors contributed to its rapid downfall.

Among these factors?
The cost in "blood and treasure" it paid for a ten-year losing engagement in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan broke the Soviet Union.

Will a ten-year U.S. engagement in Iraq break us?

Stop the madness!

Viet Nam analogy, pursued

I've stated previously that I am not all that happy with the "Iraq as Viet Nam" analogy. I'm still not... but I'm going to adopt a couple of items from the late 60s for this post anyway.

item 1: the "domino theory"... and W's current version, which I'll characterize as a "domino theory on steroids"
(Ah! you see, I can adapt to modern times - by adopting a familiar sports-image recently in the news: bulking up on steroids!)
W's speech on 18 March, in which he painted his most nightmarish picture to date of the consequence of "failure" in Iraq, is a "domino theory on steroids".

Not only will al Qaeda win in Iraq, but it'll explode across the Mid-East & south-central Asia - taking down everything in its path, creating a new Caliphate intent on the West's destruction, fueled and funded by oil! If we leave Iraq, we guarantee this result!

The "on steroids" bit?
The original "domino theory" predicted only that losing Viet Nam to the evil Commies would lead to the Commies taking over Laos, Cambodia, and maybe Thailand. There was no "existential threat to Western Civilizatin" involved.

W's vivid rendering of the future if we leave Iraq is considerably more threatening: not only would al Qaeda take over Iraq, but also Syria, Jordan, Arabia, Iran (?), Afghanistan, all the other -stans, and probably India, and they would launch and win a war of the worlds against the West.
I don't think this mis-characterizes W's stated opinions.

item 2: "Out now!"
This is the simplest anti-war chant from the Viet Nam era.
Simple, short and to the point.
It is no less relevant today.
You need a simple slogan? Here 'tis: "Out now!"

I note in passing that the neocon/chickenhawk crowd now proclaim that 50 years from now we'll see the benefit of our continuing engagement in Iraq; but that only 35 years after we vacated Viet Nam, that country is now one of our beloved trading partners. [The Fortune 100 company which employs me is building a factory in Viet Nam!]

Stop the madness!

Debating tips for W (seriously!)

If you want to win the war of words, don't deliberately enhance your opponent's reputation among his would-be followers.

Every time W cites al Qaeda as the meanest, baddest boy on the block, bin Laden gets publicity he couldn't ever hope to buy:
"See - I'm the meanest, baddest boy on the block - even the President of the U.S. says so! Y'all oughta join my gang!"

The same observation applies to Iran's Ahmadinejad.
Every time W cites Iran as the next meanest, baddest boy on the block, Ahmadinejad's credibility and prestige are enhanced.

In a rational world, these guys are flies - maybe tsetse flies, but flies, nonetheless.

Citing 'em in speech after speech as the most dangerous threat to Western Civilization that has ever existed does nothing except enhance their reputations among their constituents. They are now not flies, but important men on the world stage. They terrify America!

I don't mean to imply that bin Laden & Ahmadinejad ought be ignored, only that the attention W gives in speech after speech is really not helpful.

I'd prefer that W devote his time to reducing these guys' influence. So far I've seen no evidence that this notion holds W's interest - it's a lot cooler to talk tough and strut!

Stop the madness!

... and again today: bin Laden calling

Bin Laden urges jihad for Palestinians
20 March 2008
CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden lashed out Thursday at Palestinian peace negotiations with Israel and called for a holy war to liberate the Palestinian lands.
Bin Laden added that Palestinians who are unable to fight in the "land of Al-Quds" — a Muslim reference to Jerusalem — should join the al-Qaida fight in Iraq.

"The nearest field of jihad today to support our people in Palestine is the Iraqi field," he said.

He also called on the people of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to "help in support of their mujahedeen brothers in Iraq, which is the greatest opportunity and the biggest task."

Yeah - the guy who really did have something to do with 9/11 is still around, six-and-a-half years later. Heckuva job, W!

Stop the madness!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

He's still here? W's failure.

Bin Laden slams EU over prophet cartoons
"THE PRESIDENT: They will try to hide, they will try to avoid the United States and our allies - but we're not going to let them. They run to the hills; they find holes to get in. And we will do whatever it takes to smoke them out and get them running, and we'll get them."
[President Urges Readiness and Patience, Remarks by the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft
Camp David
Thurmont, Maryland, 15 Sep 2001]
... answered shortly thereafter by
"[Mullah] Omar: I am considering two promises. One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God's path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected... The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled."
[Mullah Omar - in his own words,
Wednesday September 26, 2001
The Guardian]
Why, six-and-a-half years after 9/11, is bin Laden still making news?

Hint: W!

Stop the madness!

W admits failure!

I'm pretty sure that isn't what W intended when he painted this nightmarish picture:
"If we were to allow our enemies to prevail in Iraq, the violence that is now declining would accelerate and Iraq could descend into chaos," Bush said. "Al-Qaida would regain its lost sanctuaries and establish new ones fomenting violence and terror that could spread beyond Iraq's borders, with serious consequences to the world economy.

"Out of such chaos in Iraq, the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened with new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America," Bush said in his remarks. "An emboldened al-Qaida with access to Iraq's oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations. Iran could be emboldened as well with a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East. And our enemies would see an American failure in Iraq as evidence of weakness and lack of resolve."

[Bush says Iraq war was worth it, 18 Mar 2008]
... but is there any way to read this as something other than a damning indictment of W's failed policies?

W here confesses his belief that after six-and-a-half years in the so-called GWOT, and five years fighting on the central front of the war on terror (that would be Iraq for those of you not paying attention), Iraq is a failed state, and the enemy is more powerful than ever and threatening to become more powerful still!

W's own words convict him.

Stop the madness!

A deal for Saddam: What might have been

Suppose that 5 years ago today, 19 March 2003, the Congress had voted to strike a deal with Saddam:
We'll buy all Iraq's oil for $90/bbl, starting immediately - 20 March 2003.

The going price was ~$30/bbl.
This proposal would have represented about a 200% mark-up over then-current market price.

Would Saddam have accepted the offer?
For a 200% mark-up over market, I'm betting, "yes".
We might even have been able to throw in a couple of provisions:
- Give U.N. weapons inspectors full access.
- Devote at least 1/3 of the $$ to improving infrastructure.
- Act bellicose towards Iran.

Iraq's pre-war production was about 2.5Mn bbl/day. Let's be generous and say it was 3Mn bbl/day.

To date we would have paid (20 March 2003 - 19 March 2008):

What has the war cost to date?
[as of about 10 p.m. MDT, Tues, 18 March 2008. Click link for current estimate.]

The $90/bbl deal would have cost about $8Bn dollars less than the war so far.
(... and war costs are accelerating!)

Saddam might have given us a big bear hug in return for our largesse.

AND: we'd have the oil! - paid for with U.S. taxpayer $$.
We could have simply GIVEN IT AWAY to Exxon-Mobil, or any other of W's oil-patch buds.

They'd have had to pay for shipping & handling, but paid $0 for the crude!

What might have been.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Recycling & Truth in Advertising

Many of the posts for 18 & 19 March are recycled versions of previous posts, in honor of the March 19 Iraq War Blogswarm.

This blog is a listed participant, along with zillions of others.

(On the bright side, the name "al Qaeda in Albuquerque" appears near the top of the alphabetized list; currently #14 - but this may change!)

I fully support the stated purpose of the March 19 Iraq War Blogswarm:
Statement of Purpose

This blogswarm will promote blog postings opposing the war in Iraq and calling for a full withdrawal of foreign occupying forces in Iraq. Five years of an illegal and catastrophic war is five years too many. On the March 19 anniversary of the conquest of Iraq by the Bush Administration, there needs to be a loud volume of voices countering the pro-war propaganda from far too many politicians and corporate media outlets.
I encourage you to visit other blogs on the list!

Stop the madness!

Lost before it began...

Folks, I don't know how to break this to you gently, so I'll just be blunt:
We lost this war before it began.
We chose the timing.
We were not responding to an attack.
We were not pre-empting an imminent attack.

W and Rummy decided the year, the month, the day, the hour to start the war.

In the early days of the war we heard a military maxim repeated ad infinitum, a variant of von Moltke's adage:
"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."
[Helmuth von Moltke the Elder]
Our fearless leaders inferred from this that planning is pointless.

I'm not sure Aristotle would approve the implied syllogism.

"Yes, but what if...?" No one ever considered contrary contingencies.
"…my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
[VP Cheney, Meet the Press, 16 March 2003]
And if we're not? Pish-tush! Such a pessimist you are!

Our brave men in uniform have been paying for this folly ever since.

W is still in office.

Rummy, not quite disgraced, is gone to a peaceful private life.

Our soldiers and Marines are still dying.

Stop the madness!

"Do you want to win this war?" (2)

"We've already lost!"

Before getting too far into the details of this response, I’d like to introduce you to a movie, Other People’s Money. The movie tells the tale of a Wall Street hustler, Lawrence Garfield (played entertainingly by Danny DeVito), and his effort to gain a controlling interest in a company whose physical assets are worth more than its market capitalization. The climactic scene is the annual shareholders’ meeting, at which will be decided whether or not Mr. Garfield can acquire, and then liquidate, the company.

The opposing side is represented by the company’s president, Andrew Jorgenson (played by Gregory Peck). Mr. Jorgenson is allowed to speak first, and delivers an impassioned plea to keep the company running, citing a number of economic factors that might result in its rejuvenation.

When “Jorgy” is finished, Mr. Garfield takes the stage, and proceeds to offer, “Amen, amen, and amen!” explaining that where he came from, you always said ‘amen’ at the end of a prayer, and that what “Jorgy” had offered the stockholders was just that: a prayer. He goes on to identify this particular prayer as a prayer for the dead.
“This company is dead. I didn't kill it. Don't blame me. It was dead when I got here. It's too late for prayers… Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the DECENCY to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.”
This is the basis of the response, “We’ve already lost in Iraq.”

We lost it the day that Secretary Rumsfeld chose to make light of the riots and looting in Baghdad, rather than take the steps necessary to restore civil order quickly and effectively. What did Secretary Rumsfeld say about the rioting and looting? “Stuff happens.”

We had a brief window of opportunity to restore civil order, to show that we were serious about governing, about rebuilding, about restoring Iraqi society. Our response?
“Stuff happens.”
The bad guys – all those dead-enders Cheney & Rummy kept referencing – saw this and seized the opportunity which we squandered.

Don’t blame me - Vice President Cheney, President Bush, Bill O’Reilly, or William Kristol – I didn’t lose the war. It was lost when I got here.
It was lost before it began!

It’s too late for prayers.

Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate.

Do I want to win the war? We’ve already lost!

Stop the madness!

"Do you want to win this war?" (1)

“We’ve already won!”
All stated war aims have been achieved:
1) Iraq has no WMD
2) Saddam has been deposed
3) Democracy has been established in Iraq
a. Constitution written and approved by electorate
b. Parliamentary elections held
c. Government formed
Some might suggest that the continuing daily violence throughout Iraq somewhat diminishes the claim that “democracy has been established in Iraq.” Or perhaps they would argue that, yes, democracy has been established, but a stable government has yet to achieve control of the country – but this was never stated as an aim of the war.

With respect to the violence in particular, I believe a counter-argument is ready to hand, courtesy of former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld:
“Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things…"
From this perspective,
Iraqis are exercising their freedom with a vengeance!
Stop the madness!

The next badder bogey-man

Bush says Iraq war was worth it
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
18 March 2008
WASHINGTON - President Bush says he has no doubts about launching the unpopular war in Iraq despite the "high cost in lives and treasure," arguing that retreat now would embolden Iran and provide al-Qaida with money for weapons of mass destruction to attack the United States.

"Provide al-Qaida with money..."???
The logic here is impeccable!
"If we were to allow our enemies to prevail in Iraq, the violence that is now declining would accelerate and Iraq could descend into chaos," Bush said.
"An emboldened al-Qaida with access to Iraq's oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations."

Let's ignore for a moment the conflation of AQI (the "al Qaeda" in Iraq) with bin Laden's al Qaeda.

Just how would al Qaeda gain control of Iraq's oil revenues? Seriously!

W also accuses war critics of changing horses mid-stream:
"War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq, so now they argue the war costs too much."
This from the fellow who first gave us Saddam = 9/11, then WMD & mushroom clouds, then liberating the oppressed people of Iraq, then Iraq as bright beacon of democracy, then ridding the world of an evil dictator, then... oh, nevermind.

And today? Today he paints the most graphic "bad things will happen, be very afraid" picture yet!
"If we were to allow our enemies to prevail in Iraq, the violence that is now declining would accelerate and Iraq could descend into chaos," Bush said. "Al-Qaida would regain its lost sanctuaries and establish new ones fomenting violence and terror that could spread beyond Iraq's borders, with serious consequences to the world economy.

"Out of such chaos in Iraq, the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened with new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America," Bush said in his remarks. "An emboldened al-Qaida with access to Iraq's oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations. Iran could be emboldened as well with a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East. And our enemies would see an American failure in Iraq as evidence of weakness and lack of resolve."
With each anniversary the threats to America get amplified, the shouting louder & louder.

Don't you wish W'd exercised his vivid imagination before invading, perhaps envisioning some of the consequences of his actions?

Strategically, the bad guys get everything they could hope for from our continued presence:
- the destruction of our military
- the bankrupting of our economy
- the degradation of our reputation in the international community
Keeping us in Iraq is a victory for both AQI and bin Laden's al Qaeda - at minimal cost to them!

... and, for what it's worth, yes, war-critics CAN still credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq. Among these would be the near-deified Gen Petraeus.
Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services.
[Washington Post, Petraeus: Iraqi Leaders Not Making 'Sufficient Progress', 14 march 2008]
(Guess he won't be around very much longer!)

Every day we remain in Iraq diminishes our national security.
It's time to leave Iraq. Today.
"When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission."
[President George W. Bush]
Stop the madness!

Different headline, same news + a twist!

Divisions mar Iraq unity meeting
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer
18 March 2008
BAGHDAD - Major Sunni and Shiite political blocs Tuesday boycotted a national conference aimed at reconciling Iraq's rival communities — underscoring the deep divisions tearing at the country despite a decline in violence.

This story adds that al Sadr's Shiite bloc also walked out.
(Aside: this is the first story I've seen in quite a while to identify al Sadr as "anti-American". The "anti-American" tag, prevalent during the first 3-4 years of the war, had recently morphed into something more concilialtory, like, "powerful" or "influential" or, occasionally, "nationalistic". I'm a bit surprised to see the return to "anti-American"... we owe this guy a lot! He's kept his Mahdi Army under a more-or-less well-enforced cease-fire since last August!)

Meanwhile, the putative Republican nominee continues to insist that,
“Anybody who believes the surge has not succeeded, militarily, politically and in most other ways, frankly, does not know the facts on the ground.”
... and somehow hasn't noticed that the near-deified Gen Petraeus is among those woefully misinformed miscreants:
Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services.
[Washington Post, Petraeus: Iraqi Leaders Not Making 'Sufficient Progress', 14 march 2008]
Today McCain revealed his profound mastery of all things Middle Eastern by asserting that it is
“common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known."
... somehow forgetting that Iran is a Shi'ite theocracy and al Qaeda (even the so-called al Qaeda in Iraq) is a fundamentalist Sunni organization... and that Shia & Sunni don't get along all that well.

For what it's worth: this is exactly the kind of illegitimate, uninformed certainty that W and his minions displayed when assuring us that Saddam was behind 9/11.

It is of a piece with the "logic" that allows W and his minions - and the putative Republican nominee - to conflate al Qaeda with AQI.

It is the same ignorance that allowed Wolfowitz to assert - without challenge - that "Iraq has no history of ethnic strife."
This last is perhaps the weirdest willful ignorance diaplayed by any of W's minions:
- the great Shi'ite shrine to Imam Hussein in Karbala memorializes the central battle in Islam that defined for once and all the Shia-Sunni rift
- one of the counts against Saddam was that he used poison gas on Iraqi Kurds
- following the Gulf War, Bush I encouraged the Shiites in the south to rise up against Saddam, then sat back and watched as Saddam brutally suppressed the uprising
Stop the madness!

Will this work?

Fed cuts rates by 3/4 percentage point
Associated Press
18 March 2008
WASHINGTON - The Federal Reserve on Tuesday slashed a key interest rate by three-fourths of a percentage point, moving aggressively to contain a credit crisis threatening to push the country into a severe recession.

Wow! None of your piddling 0.25% cuts for this Fed! 0.75%!
The stock market retreated after the news, apparently having hoped for a full 1% reduction!

Fed fund rate now stands at 2.25%.
Yes, it can go lower, but at what price? Inflation is threatening - the weak dollar keeps oil pricey. Refined products follow.
Owing to some reporting legerdemain first proposed in 1975, food & energy are excluded from "core" inflation numbers... but high energy prices will almost certainly flow through the supply chain, down to the consumer. $4/gal diesel makes transport expensive. Planes, trains, and automobiles run on petroleum products - any business that relies on these will see higher costs, presumably passed on to customers.

The Fed is betting heavily that it can get the economy moving quickly. Otherwise looming inflation will necessitate higher Fed funds rate before recovery begins... This is not fun to contemplate. As noted previously, American households at all income levels (up to the 95th percentile) have experienced 0 growth in real income during W's tenure. Inflation will drive this down to negative growth - for those still employed!

Forgetting about politics for the moment: I really hope the Fed's move works!

What would failure look like?

Iraq invasion was "successful endeavor": Cheney
By Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters
Mon Mar 17, 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday declared the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a "successful endeavor" in a visit to Iraq that was overshadowed by a suicide bombing that killed at least 25 people.

On one level I suppose Cheney is correct. The invasion was successful: we weren't repulsed at the border!

What, exactly, would the situation look like for Cheney to recognize it as a failure?

Seldom has an Administration been so willfully dismissive of reality - as perceived by the rest of us.

No matter the reality, no matter the evidence, the conclusions are always the same: things are just peachy!
[Okay, quoting myself isn't quite legit, but I say such brilliant things!]
When attacks rev'd up in 2005, Cheney cited this upsurge as evidence that the insurgency was in its last throes.

What evidence, exactly, would lead this Administration to conclude that its Iraq policy has failed? Maybe some brave White House correspondent could ask Dana Perino this question. It sure seems like there are no circumstances which would lead this Administration to admit defeat. This is not a good.

Stop the madness!