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Archive: February 2007
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Soldier Mom
Lives Lost, Futures Unfulfilled, Dead Dreams
By TRACEY CALDWELL 02/23/2007 3:39 PM ET
In response to my last column, "It's Bull That You Would Send Your Son To War," I received an email from a soldier. He said, "Ma'am, I appreciate the point you are trying to make; however, your friend is better off keeping his son away from this mess. You are right, the country needs bright, intelligent, strong, young men to serve, but you'd be better off saying "to die.?"

He continued, "As for me, I would rather see these bright young intelligent men have a future." He signed his letter, a soldier in Iraq.

This soldier makes a point. If you choose to serve your country you might die. Any young person, who does not understand and accept that, should not walk into a recruiter's office. He is not ready to negotiate a future serving his country. It is because this kind of service to your country places you in such harm that so few choose to serve. It is also, why we have such high respect for those who do choose to serve.

In The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said, "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; it is the people who must run the government and it is the people, who must defend the country, so it does not perish from the earth. It is ordinary people like you, like me, like my son, that make this country great. Our national security depends on young people choosing to serve their country.

Our military is stretched to its limits. We can keep lowering the standards required to enter the military, but some jobs in the military require a higher aptitude and the ability to get a security clearance. We are maintaining soldiers in those positions through stop-loss orders and large re-enlistment bonuses. But no stop-loss order or re-enlistment bonus can keep a soldier that is killed; at some point you will need to fill these positions with new soldiers. Yes, if you enlist today, you will most likely see at least one deployment to Iraq under the management of the current Commander-in-Chief. We cannot allow our dissatisfaction with this war to let our military deteriorate to the point it jeopardizes our national security. My son has seen multiple deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq. This is his second time in Iraq. He has come home each time, but this is no guarantee that he will come home this time.

I will never forget the handwritten letter that arrived from my son on a previous deployment. It was on notebook paper torn out of a spiral bound notebook, it looked so much like the homework he used to do in school. But what it said was very different from any school assignment. It said, "Due to the escalating severity of danger in my present situation, I feel I must write my final words and wishes now, so here it goes..." And what followed was his thought on the war, on the soldiers he served with, the enemies they were fighting, the people who lived there. What he thought was right and wrong. He wrote about facing death and destruction, both necessarily, and unnecessary -- and what was motivated by revenge. He talked about what he wanted for this world. And how much his family meant to him. He told me that he wanted to donate his organs to save other lives. He told about the funeral he wanted and the song he wanted me to play at it. These are things he has thought about because he went to war; these are things he would not know about himself, if he had not gone to war.

My son has had to think about the big issues in life in a way many young men have not. War does that; it clarifies so many things. The conversations we have had throughout his multiple deployments have let me see a man who knows what he wants from life. While I would not have chosen for my son to spend these years being redeployed over and over to war zones, I can say that the path he has followed has helped to make him the man he is today.

He has been shaped by those experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has seen people live in poverty. He has learned to interact with people from other cultures. Having had to face fear and death, he has done a lot of thinking about his future. Moreover, I have had the fortune of getting to know my son in a way I never would have, if he had not gone to war. I know what his future holds for him, and what will be lost if this war takes him. For that is the real cost of war. The real cost of the war is the loss of these soldier's futures and it can't be measured in dollars and cents. The future we will never see; what they would be doing today if this war had not taken them; how the world would be a better place if they were still here.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com

Commentary
Pat Lang Blames Culturally Naive American People for Current Chaos
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/19/2007 3:15 PM ET
Time magazine declared You the person of the 2006 because of the way MySpace, YouTube, and Wikipedia are changing the balance of power between the dominant few and the teeming masses. Now in the pages of Foreign Policy, Pat Lang also blames You for the failues in Iraq:

How did the highly educated, wealthy, and powerful American people make such a horrendous, catastrophic series of blunders? As Pogo, the cartoon opossum, once famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Yes, that’s right: We, the American people—not the Bush administration, nor the hapless Iraqis, nor the meddlesome Iranians (the new scapegoat)—are the root of the problem....

To be blunt, our foreign policy tends to be predicated on the notion that everyone wants to be an American. In the months leading up to the start of the Iraq War, it was common to hear seemingly educated people say that the Arabs, particularly Iraqis, had no way of life worth saving and would be better off if all “that old stuff”—their traditions, social institutions, and values—were done away with, and soon.

Lang does have a point, and reminds me of the something a former CIA analyst told me once: "Bush thinks American-style democracy is a program that can be saved on CD-ROM and downloaded in whatever country he chooses."

According to Lang, this type of culturally-ignorant Amero-centric thinking has infected every step of planning and execution of the war, and can be blamed for a large portion of its failures. The most obvious way this handicap continues to influence American planners is in the way they continue to unrealistically hold on to dreams of Iraqi multi-ethnic unity.

We are still acting out our dream, insisting that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite sectarian government “unify” the state, imagining that Maliki is a sort of Iraqi George Washington seeking the greater good for all. He is not that....

The entire piece is a worthy read. You will have to click through to see what Lang writes to correct what he claims is the typical too-hopeful American impression of Maliki. (Ouch.)

Commentary
Another Contradiction for Sunday's Official Presentation of Proof
02/16/2007 1:08 PM ET
US troops reportedly raided a Baghdad machine shop back in November, uncovering a cache of 5-inch diameter copper disks--EFPs--obviously being produced as part of an ongoing operation. If true, this makes another pretty big hit against Sunday's presentation of evidence that Iran's Qods Force is providing "EFP kits" to insurgents.

According to Andrew Cockburn's op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times:

"This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs. The truth is that EFPs are simple to make for anyone who knows how to do it. Far from a sophisticated assembly operation that might require state supervision, all that is required is one of those disks, some high-powered explosive (which is easy to procure in Iraq) and a container, such as a piece of pipe. I asked a Pentagon analyst specializing in such devices how much each one would cost to make. 'Twenty bucks,' he answered after a brief calculation. 'Thirty at most.'"

Compare this unsourced assertion to that of the anonymous military official in Baghdad last Sunday. As reported in the New York Times:

The precise machining of the EFP components, the officials said, is another feature that links the weapons to Iran. "We have no evidence that this has ever been done in Iraq," the senior military official said.

Regardless of whether or not the anonymous official was lying when he said the US had no evidence of EFP's being made in Iraq, Cockburn makes a good case that the production is not as complicated as the military "experts" made it seem.

Commentary
Kwiatkowski: "Alternate Universe of Propaganda Was Necessary"
02/15/2007 08:17 AM ET
A former colleague of Doug Feith's is heaping on more criticism of the way the former undersecretary of defense helped create intelligence assessments that urged an imperative of war.

Karen Kwiatkowski, retired USAF lieutenant colonel, worked May 2002 through February 2003 in the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Near East South Asia and Special Plans (USDP/NESA and SP) in the Pentagon. She retired from the military in late 2003, not long after becoming disillusioned with the intelligence asessments produced by Feith's unit.

She has written a new commentary piece on LewRockwell.com, demonstrating that she has not mellowed in her opinion of Feith in the years since her retirement.:

"An alternate universe of propaganda was necessary, and Feith worked hard to make it happen. The propaganda machine was emplaced, and any CIA intelligence that did not fit this normative agenda was 'criticized.' Further, this critique (alternate universe style) was provided to willing (if often passive) partners in the executive branch, the media, and Congress as if it were valid and validated. Yes, inappropriate in the eyes of some, illegal, immoral and impeachable offenses to others. But history, Feith feels, will prove the wisdom of this Feith-based initiative, a.k.a. 'Pimp Your War.'"

See here for an alternate view of Feith analysis from his successor as Under Secretary of Defense, Eric Edelman.

For further reading, in recent days I have posted a piece quoting former CIA offical Michael Scheuer's views on the Feith assessments, and the letter fromSenators Hoyer, Reyes, and Skelton asking Robert Gates what measures he proposes be put in place to prevent the kind of flawed assessments the DoD's IG report found came from Feith's unit.

Commentary
Neither Recommends Military Action Against Islamic Republic
02/14/2007 5:58 PM ET
IraqSlogger generally holds a high bar in the acceptance of anonymity for sources, but in the case of incisive commentary by former officials with pertinent expertise, exceptions should be made.

Ken Silverstein over at Harper's blog is doing a three-part series of expert opinions on the possible role of Iran in the Iraq conflict, and the prospects for a widening war. In today's second edition, he runs the views of two anonymous former CIA officials.

Too often, when current or former officials take a controversial stand, they're punished severely in the loss of income potential and job opportunities. Many former officials have gone into a private sector beholden to government contracts. I have heard more than one story of job offers being rescinded after a particular firm got a phone call from "a major client" informing them that their prospective employee would not be a politically-palatable choice for the opening. (Sorry I can't share any more details.)

The truly free exercise of speech can have the effect of making one the victim of a longterm vendetta--at least until 2008 for those currently suffering. I've actually had discussions with a soon-to-be-former CIA official about writing a book, and his main hesitation results from having seen the punishment meted out against former colleagues.

It's a shame since he has 20+ years of experience, deep knowledge of U.S. successes and failures in the war on terror, and a viewpoint that deserves to be heard.

Public discourse generated by the expert opinion of such knowledgable authorities, even if they criticize the reigning powers, can only be good for a nation constantly striving to achieve the Jeffersonian ideal of democracy.

Sorry, that took a long time to justify why I was citing the anonymous opinions of two former CIA officials, but here are two of their most pointed comments. The rest deserves to be read at Washington Babylon.

Former CIA official, stationed in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War and in Iraq after the 2003 invasion:

"I don't think the administration is about to carry out military action. The military does not want to do this. We will lose planes if there is a massive air strike over Iran, we'll have pilots killed and captured. Iran has a lot of ways to hurt us. If they decide to come after uniformed personnel in Iraq, or more easily, civilians and contractors, things could quickly get out of hand. You could have kidnappings or a mass casualty attack—they drove us out of Lebanon in the 1980s; a mass casualty attack like the Marine barracks bombing would likely be the end in Iraq."

Former senior CIA official with broad experience in the Middle East:

"Despite differences between Shiites and Sunnis, a U.S. attack on Iran would be viewed in the region as the fifth in a series of American wars against Islam—after Afghanistan, Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Iran and its supporters will seek to respond, including through attacks on Israel. An American strike poses a huge threat to Israel, which I'm not sure the administration has thought through. It will also destabilize pro-American regimes in the region, solidify the jihadists in Iraq, and unify Iranians around their government."

Video
Impersonator Advocates "Patton Plan" for Iraq
02/09/2007 5:52 PM ET

You Ship 363 Tons And What Do You Get?
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/08/2007 3:58 PM ET
Those following the bouncing bankroll during the Waxman show yesterday forgot to cheer when Rep. Henry Waxman and his Oversight Committee forced the U.S. Army to save them $19.6 million dollars. Ka-ching.

That was the money that KBR spent on unauthorized security when they subcontracted their LOGCAP contract to people like Regency and ESS--both providers of catering services that ended up hiring Blackwater.

And of course the decision was made to dock KBR just before the hearings.

Also, the sharper TV watchers would have heard Blackwater's lawyer say that they actually weren't paid much for the ESS/Regency contract that led to the murder of four of their employees in March 2004. So there might be a double hit here if KBR isn't paid and Blackwater wasn't paid...where did the money go?

Tina Ballard looking and acting about as bureacratic as you can get estimated that the "cost of security" on government contracts was between 9.5 and 12.8%. That sounds very official (I've been told you always put a decimal point on any number you make up), but in truth the use of a centralized single contractor is not supposed to have a security cost.

The U.S. military is supposed to provide security for contractors, according to the Army FM 3-100.21 "Contractors on the Battlefield"fm3_100x21.pdf , specifically in Chapter 6 it says, "Protecting contractors and their employees is the commander's responsibility."

That wouldn't leave much work available for the private security firms that now populate Iraq, would it?

In the Fallujah incident, it's clear Blackwater was providing security to a convoy of trucks moving kitchen equipment from one military base to another. Blackwater insists they were working for the U.S., but are really working for Kuwaiti and German companies instead?

The answer begins in 1992 when then-SecDef Dick Cheney hired Brown & Root (now KBR) to figure out how private industry could support U.S. expeditionary needs in a post-Soviet drawdown.

LOGCAP was born with the idea that the military could divest itself of its large support brigades and focus on war fighting, thus reducing the overall required size of the standing army. Mundane things like potato peeling and latrine cleaning would be done by civilians. For example, the first people on the beach in Somalia were KBR contractors. And they were the last ones to pack up and fly out.

That ability to "outsource" was put to its maximum usage when the Bush administration decided to fight a war while trying to rebuild a country. It might be considered noble to both destroy and rebuild at the same time, but the grand idea was short circuited by the insurgency.

Bremer's 363 tons of cash were not to tossed in the air to reach the hands of hungry Iraqis, or used to reopen Iraqi factories or construction firms, it went into Western corporations building things that would soon be destroyed, protecting facilities and people that were under constant attack--playing an endless game of build it/blow it up.

Then there was the corruption--soldiers, Iraqis, contractors, politicians and others--simply saw mountains of cash available and absconded with it. Others used so many layers of subcontractors--or spent so much on security--that their projects never achieved completion.

When Ms. Ballard mentioned that using layers of subs was just like the construction trade, she must have been joking.

The construction trade applies a 10 or 15% markup on each level (and sometimes an architect adds another 10 or 15%). But the person marking up the subs manages the project for that money, and they know exactly how many subs they have, where the money goes, and if the work is satisfactory.

Ms. Ballard seemed put out when asked to deliver the number and cost of contractors. But she was never asked why anyone would invest in building something they knew would have a truck bomb driven into it after completion.

I spent time last July with security contractors guarding gravel that had to go from the Green Zone to a police station being built in Taramiya, just north of Baghdad. Every person knew that not only would they be attacked every night on the road, but that once the building was complete it would flattened. ˜ Kudos to the men that can risk their life for that, but its an appropos example of where the reconstruction money goes.

Every contractor is trackable by three different methods. First they are paid, second they must have an ID card issued with their photo and critical data, and finally they are insured through DBA or Defense Base Act insurance.

The big question that no one in government wants to answer is: How much is the TOTAL cost of the war (both short term and long term) and when can we start spending it on domestic items that are both trackable and beneficial.

The bottom line? Taxpayers are starting to get a clearer focus on how the administration has backdoored its responsibility by hiring "for profit" entities. Iraq is a fiscal disaster and hopefully these types of hearings will prevent future abuses from happening.

Insight
White House Has Ways To Slip Budget Through Congress' Oversight
02/04/2007 1:41 PM ET
As the debate over troop surge rages in Congress, Iraq funding will still be very hard to cut, says Gordon Adams in New York Newsday.

Excerpt: The surge in Iraq is coming, and so are big expenses for Iraq and the broader war in Afghanistan and elsewhere (what the administration calls the global war on terror).

Congress will get an "emergency" funding request for more than $100 billion this week just for the war on terror, most of it for the Defense Department. We've already spent more than $500 billion on this war. This year, we will spend $14 billion a month, or $3.3 billion a week, 75 percent of it for Iraq. Some members of Congress, notably Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), are seeking ways to stop the escalation and reverse the policy by putting ceilings on the forces, setting deadlines for withdrawal and, potentially most powerfully, just cutting off the money.

The Constitution gives them clear authority to do so, and the historical precedents are fairly clear. In 1970, by overwhelming margins, Congress cut off funds for the Cambodian incursion, and in 1973, they blocked any funding for further U.S. military activity in Vietnam. The funding died and the action stopped. At that time Vietnam War budgets were included in the regular defense budget. But today it's more difficult for members of Congress to figure out exactly what spending they would be stopping - thanks to the Pentagon's persistent use of "emergency" funding to pay for the war on terror.

Some members of Congress, notably Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), are seeking ways to stop the escalation and reverse the policy by putting ceilings on the forces, setting deadlines for withdrawal and, potentially most powerfully, just cutting off the money.

Gordon Adams is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. From 1993 to 1997, he was associate director for National Security and International Affairs at the White House's Offi

Full Text
Releases Report: Terrorism, A Brief For Americans, Given To Senate
02/01/2007 5:53 PM ET
Steve Clemons of the Washington Note has an enlightening post today about Richard Vague, one of the country's powerhouse CEOs: in it Clemons discusses Vague's efforts to try to educate Americans and the war in Iraq, and his approach to some of America's foreign policy problems. It's refreshing to look at the war in Iraq from a different vantage point, and one can certainly be impressed at this kind of commitment coming from someone in the private sector.

Richard Vague
Richard Vague
By way of background: Vague is known for building First USA Bank, a firm he co-founded and then chaired as CEO, into the largest credit card operation in the United States. He is a conservative and now is CEO of Juniper Financial Corporation which is that huge building one sees from Amtrak when training by Wilmington, Delaware.

Clemons writes: Vague, in my view, is an extraordinary guy, too extraordinary as I wish there were many more CEOs like him -- because he has invested a lot of his time and funds in trying to get fellow Americans to understand that the Iraq War and America's current vector in foreign policy is not only boneheaded but actually undermining the economic fundamentals of the country.

Vague is no liberal. He's a tough minded economic conservative who believes that America has a much better face and soul than it has been showing the world.

He thinks that we are creating conditions that are cultivating terrorism and terrorists and are doing little to actually help others in the world get ahead, particularly economically.

I like his material and his original approach to these problems -- and I have been engaged with him for some time in working with him to get his thoughts written not as a stiff policy wonk but as a CEO, down on paper and on the web -- in a way that folks like him in Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, folks looking for their second or third homes, or just scraping to get by -- could hopefully connect with a guy who came to oppose this war and to worry about its consequences without the policy elites in Washington framing it for him.

I hope you find this worth a read -- and it's going out to 50,000 people today and over the next week.

The best link to download the pdf of the report (please note that there will be some modifications to columns, etc. and minor adjustments over the next couple of days) and html links are here.

TerrorismReport.pdf

Note: Clemons has also posted the sections as well within his entry (if you click his link at the beginning of this post, you'll get his entry and can click directly to the entries below):

Terrorism: A Brief for Americans The Scope, Causes, and Means for Reducing Terrorism, Including Commentary on Iraq

by Richard Vague

Introduction What is Terrorism? What Causes Others to be Influenced by Terrorists?

Why They Hate Us

How to Reduce Terrorism

What We have Wrought in Iraq

What We Should Do in Iraq

Thoughts on Palestine, Hizbollah, and Iran

How We Should Conduct Relations with Islamic Countries Going Forward

The Current Administration's Position on Iraq and Terrorism & Objections to Our Thesis

Conclusion:

Clemons adds: We are releasing this report this morning in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 628 in the Senate on Capitol Hill. We will meeting at 9 a.m.

New America Foundation Fellow and American Way of Strategy author Michael Lind, former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, and New America Foundation fellow and Soul of Iran author Afshin Molavi will be joining me to make a few comments about Richard Vague's paper and the broad subject of how to turn wrong-headed approaches into our responses to terrorism towards a different course.

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