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Soldier Mom
Son Writes Home: "It Was a Very Dirty Day"
By TRACEY CALDWELL 02/28/2007 12:45 PM ET
What my son wrote me this week reminded me of a summer day when he was a child.

Here in California, it can get warm early. I had taken the kids out back. They were playing in the sprinklers while I tried to clear the weeds from the vegetable garden. I heard a shriek and looked up. They had played long enough to turn the ground muddy. There they were, sitting in a puddle of mud, making mud pies. Giggling and groaning, tossing mud pies at each other. The mud pies were landing on their chest and in their hair. It wasn't long before they were covered head to toe with wet mud. Yuck! I turned the garden hose on them and they squirmed and laughed as the stream of clean water pushed the mud back into the ground.

My son had another encounter with mud this week. This time no garden hose could have washed away the mud.

The air assault mission commenced before daylight at 0430 in the morning. When my son's Chinook landed, they ran out the back of the helicopter onto marshy farmland. The helicopters left and his commander moved out. My son picked up his radio bag and started moving too. In the darkness, he could not see anything. He put on his NODs, night vision goggles, but with the goggles he has zero depth perception.

At first, it did not seem too wet, but he had only gone about ten steps when he sunk into a muddy mess up to above his knees. He said, "I tried to step out of this mud puddle and of course my other leg gets stuck as well. So I then try to pull myself out with my arm and that also gets stuck. I begin to think, I am going to die in this mud puddle?"

Fortunately for my son, the commander of the Iraqi company they are training came upon him. The commander said, "Mister, you need some help??" My son replied, "YES!! Please help me."

The Iraqi commander helped my son out of the mud and they began trying to make it back to the rest of his unit. Though only a short distance, this proved extremely difficult.

My son was wearing an IBA--bulletproof armor, two hundred and ten rounds of ammunition, a camelback holding three liters of water, an M-4 riffle and a thirty-pound radio bag. All of this gear made him so heavy that with each step he took, his feet sunk in about two feet. It took them about thirty minutes to trudge fifty meters to rejoin the unit.

My son simply said, "It was a very dirty day."

I remember as a child sitting with my grandfather listening to him tell stories that began, "During the war..." I imagine my son will sit someday with his own children, telling them his own war stories. Although by then the mud will probably have taken on epic proportions as it swallows each leg and then an arm, as he explains to them how it was not an IED, or a mortar round, but a mud puddle that nearly got the best of him.

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

Richard the Third in Arabic May Provide Insight for Iraq and U.S.
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/19/2007 2:26 PM ET

With the official announcement by the Royal Shakespeare Company that Richard III, an Arab Tragedy/url] will be staged in Arabic, it might be worth thinking of exactly how the tragedy and drama of Iraq can be captured for both policy makers and world leaders.

The project is directed by Kuwaiti, Sulayman Al-Bassam and has English subtitles. The text is heavily modified to represent modern day middle east. The BBC explains the modifications of the classic play (formerly called "The Baghdad Richard") to reflect current events in the Arab world.

According to the BBC story in one section Queen Margaret opens with a monologue written by Sulayman

"I would ignore myself if I could but my history will not allow me. We lost. I don't want your reconstruction grants, your loans, your pity but I just ask of you not to question my thirst for revenge."

The actors are dressed in arab style dress and even includes a setting in an al Jazeera style TV studio.

From the Press Release:

Set in the contemporary Arab world, this production of Richard III unfolds within the hothouse, feudal atmosphere of desert palaces in an oil-rich kingdom. In this world of tribal allegiances, family in-fighting and absolute power, the questions of leadership, religion and foreign intervention that are at the heart of Shakespeare's play, take on powerful new meanings in a modern Arab-Islamic context.

The production is a window into the often misunderstood world of the Arabian Gulf in all its richness: its social customs, musical heritage and some of its darker mystical rituals.

Richard III is about a complex leader who will do anything to hold on to power, something some people might see in the Rove/Cheney machinations to make Bush a "War President". Others may see the complex saga of middle east revenge and betrayal. Whatever the takeaway the arts community has been sadly lagging in helping define this war. The media is trying to compare Iraq to Vietnam and the current campaign in Baghdad to a potential Tet Offensive (in which an organized internal uprising shakes public confidence. Although there have been a surplus of documentaries dealing with the gritty realities there have been few if any meaningful attempts to capture the essence of this conflict in drama.

In a recent TV pitch meeting at Fox Television I was told that the attempt to fictionalize the Iraq experience in the drama "Over There" had shown that the American public was not ready for Iraq-based concepts. The word was out that "no Iraq, No Afghanistan' for any future TV pitches. The only previous successful Iraq-themed films have been "Jarhead" and "Three Kings" from the first Gulf War. Who can forget the impact of "Paths of Glory", "Catch 22", "MASH", "Apocalypse Now" and other films that captured the essence of a conflict. For now documentaries like the "Fog of War" (Robert McNamara talking about Vietnam, but sounding eerily like he is describing the war in Iraq) and Fahrenheit 9/11 come closer to capturing the blindness in rushing to war but for now the field is wide open for the definitive play, movie or TV series that can capture the Iraq War

IMDB's list of films on the Iraq War

1. 365 Boots on Ground (2005) 9.6/10 2. Maura's War (2006) 9.4/10 3. Beyond Iraq and a Hard Place (2003) (TV) 9.1/10 4. Between Iraq and a Hard Place (2003) (TV) " 5. Return to the Land of Wonders (2004) 9.0/10 6. Last Letters Home: Voices of American Troops from the Battlefields of Iraq (2004) (TV) 8.5/10 7. The Dreams of Sparrows (2005) 8.4/10 8. "Frontline" (1983) 8.3/10 - "Frontline: The Dark Side" (2006) " - "Frontline: The Lost Year in Iraq" (2006) - - "Frontline: Rumsfeld's War" (2004) - hide show more 9. Monde selon Bush, Le (2004) (TV) 8.0/10 10. The Liberace of Baghdad (2005) " 11. Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War (2003) 7.9/10 12. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) 7.7/10 13. Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004) 7.6/10 14. Soldiers Pay (2004) " 15. Occupation: Dreamland (2005) " 16. En Route to Baghdad (2005) " 17. Waiting for NESARA (2005) 7.3/10 18. One Weekend a Month (2004) 7.2/10 19. Declarations of War (2004) 7.0/10 20. About Baghdad (2004) " 21. Voices of Iraq (2004) 6.9/10 22. Gunner Palace (2004) 6.5/10 23. Embedded (2005) (V) " 24. Death of a President (2006) 6.3/10 25. Escape to Canada (2005) 6.1/10 26. American Dreamz (2006) 5.9/10 27. Tilbage til Bagdad (2003) (TV) 5.8/10 28. Rush to War (2004) " 29. The War Against Terror: The Musical (2004) 5.4/10 30. USA the Movie (2005) (V) 5.3/10 31. TV 2 003 - Året i ord og billeder (2003) (TV) 5.1/10 32. Fahrenhype 9/11 (2004) (V) 4.8/10 33. Home of the Brave (2006) " 34. Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain... Begins to Die (2004) 4.5/10 35. WMD: Weapon of Mass Destruction (2004) 4.4/10 36. Manticore (2005) (TV) 4.0/10 37. This Revolution (2005) 3.8/10 38. Back from Iraq: The US Soldier Speaks (2005) (V) 3.5/10 39. Freedom2speak v2.0 (2004) 3.4/10 40. Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America (2004) (V) 3.2/10 41. This Hollow Sacrament (2006) (V) 3.1/10 42. Familie i krig, En (2004) (TV) 3.0/10 43. American Soldiers (2005) 2.1/10 44. Duet (2006) - 45. "Ouafas fredsmission" (2006) - 46. Danske drenge i Irak (2004) (TV) - 47. "NewsNight with Aaron Brown" (2001) - - "NewsNight with Aaron Brown: (2005-04-25)" (2005) - hide show more 48. The Box (2006/I) - 49. A Line in the Sand (2006) - 50. "Boston Legal" (2004) - - "Boston Legal: Witches of Mass Destruction (#2.6)" (2005) - hide show more 51. Hartmann & Fjeldsted i Irak (2005) (TV) - 52. "Vredens ansigt" (2006) - 53. Two Days 'Til Iraq (2004) - 54. Just Another Day in the Homeland (2004) - 55. Sascha, Freya & Szhirley i Camp Eden (2004) (TV) - 56. TV 2 005 - Året i ord og billeder (2005) (TV) - 57. Losing Ahmad (2006) - 58. Ulla's vrede (2004) (TV) - 59. Not in Our Name! (2006) - 60. Dolphs nytårstale (2005) (TV) - 61. "Præsteliv" (2004) - 62. Farlig frihed (2003) (TV) - 63. Danmark i krig (2004) (TV) - 64. Iraq: The Cameraman's Story (2004) (TV) - 65. Irak: Krig eller fred? (2003) (TV) - 66. I rævens hule - Saddams Irak (2002) (TV) - 67. Hjælp krigens ofre (2003) (TV) - 68. Ellen et le terrorisme (2004) (TV) - 69. Where Is Iraq? (2005) - 70. Grace Is Gone (2007) - 71. Quest for Saddam (2003) (VG) - 72. Untitled Nick Broomfield/Haditha Documentary (2008) - 73. Delta Company (2005) (TV) - 74. Independent Intervention (2006) - 75. Untitled Kimberly Peirce Project (2007) - 76. Redacted (2008) - 77. "Love and War" (2004) - 78. PSA. 14 Target (2006) - 79. The Fall of the Warrior King (2008)

Richard III - an Arab tragedy runs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK from 8 - 17 February 2007, for 12 performances only.

Full Text
Talks About The "Protection Mandate" For Refugees
02/13/2007 5:11 PM ET
The UN HIgh Commission For Refugees is slated with a very difficult task with regards to Iraq: managing what many are calling an enormous humanitarian crisis. The UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller joined UNHCR on a short-term assignment in 1986. She stayed on and is now responsible for UNHCR's protection mandate, which she says is the heart and soul of the organisation. Feller talks about the meaning or protection and the situation in Iraq:

What does protection mean for UNHCR?

Protection embraces everything we do – whether it's the delivery of tents, the delivery of food, or whether it's putting in place primary education initiatives for young children, it delivers a protection outcome. It improves the environment that people live in. It contributes to their human dignity, it contributes to the realisation of their rights and their physical security. Protection is a responsibility which impacts everything we do; hence it has to be the driver behind everything we do.

Protection has a number of component parts. Firstly, it's something that we deliver directly in the field. It's an outcome that directly impacts on the well-being and the security of individuals. But it goes beyond that.... It's also an advocacy responsibility. UNHCR was created as an advocate for the rights of particularly vulnerable groups, or individuals. It's also a standard-setting task. There are a lot of instruments out there.... More are being drafted which bear in one way or another on the principles and the protection framework in which we work. Our role is to contribute here and to ensure that these statements ... are not something that takes it backward.

We also have a capacitating role because states are obviously not only our main partners, but they are also principally responsible for protection delivery. We cannot just bang the table and criticise states for not living up to the responsibilities they have assumed. Our task is also to help them assume and implement, in good faith, those responsibilities.

Who does UNHCR protect?

We protect people of concern to us. But who is of concern to UNHCR? Obviously refugees, but even that's an issue with a number of levels to it. We have a definition of who's a refugee in our statute and that person is classically defined as a victim of persecution.... However, more people today flee for physical security reasons which are not necessarily related to individual persecution, but more to widespread conflict, civil disorder, internal disturbances ... so-called victims of violence.

We know we have a mandate for these people.... Some states fully agree with us, others accept that we have a responsibility without necessarily seeing that responsibility as also theirs. A very few states contest.

We also have a very important mandate for stateless people.... I mean non-refugee stateless people without an effective nationality, who may be living as habitual residents in the country where they were born or the country where they've been brought up, but don't have any of the attributes of citizenship. They can get themselves into very, very difficult and vulnerable situations.

We are increasingly getting involved with people who are displaced inside their own country ... these are the so-called IDPs, internally displaced people.... We're currently discussing with our Executive Committee what is the scope of our mandate for IDPs, what are the protection implications of our role and how we can prevent our increased activities on behalf of IDPs impacting negatively on our responsibility for refugees.

Another group of persons are refugees who have returned to their countries of origin. Formally speaking, when they are back inside their countries they are no longer refugees, but it does not mean that there are no vulnerabilities for people when they go back.... And so for the period of their reintegration, to a point where they can genuinely be said to have accessed effective national protection, they remain of interest and concern to UNHCR.

There is another category of people for whom we have some responsibility to a certain point in time and these are asylum seekers.... Our role is to ensure that they have proper access to procedures to determine their claim and that until these procedures run their course they're allowed to stay in the country ... in conditions of dignity and hopefully self-sufficiency.

What challenges does UNHCR face in carrying out its protection work?

One of our key challenges is to preserve access to asylum, and on acceptable conditions, in a world marked increasingly by asylum fatigue. There are a lot of reasons for this. Obviously the global terrorism environment does not help. It's made a lot of countries much more wary about foreigners who arrive at their borders and make a claim to entry. It doesn't help also that many people arrive through less than legal means ... that puts a taint of criminality over asylum arrivals and it wrongly skews in people's mind the definition of refugee.

Another set of problems stem from the fact that many refugee situations don't have immediate, realisable solutions available. They constitute a long-term responsibility, particularly in states not so well situated to assume these responsibilities in the longer term. The longer refugees stay, and in the face of new emergencies, the more the donor community and others turn their attention elsewhere and countries who have been hosting generously for quite a while ... feel abandoned.... They are rethinking their own relationship to refugees and to the refugee populations they host, which for us create protection issues for people who are made more vulnerable because of border closures, refoulements, these sorts of happenings.

Another feature of today's world is a high degree of irregular migration. People are moving for a whole range of reasons. Some of them, perhaps the minority, have a protection concern at their base. But people with protection needs are moving side-by-side with people who are leaving for other reasons. And this mix of asylum and migration has led a number of countries to redefine the whole refugee problem ... to decide that the most appropriate way to deal with it is through migration-related responses which are applied indiscriminately.... Helping states to disentangle refugees.... That's one of our current priorities.

How are you helping countries identify refugees in the mix?

One thing we advocate are proper procedures. It doesn't help to stop people just arriving at borders or turn them round on the high seas ... it's not the way to manage the problem to try and erect barriers, which in themselves only encourage greater criminality.... We try and work with states to put in place such procedures.

We are trying to pioneer something called the 10-point plan, which we hope states will see as a positive contribution by UNHCR to their management of this mixed migration problem. The plan includes procedures to distinguish quite quickly between the different groups and to channel each group into an appropriate response mechanism.... We have a direct interest in seeing this managed in a way which respects the needs and the protection concerns of all people who are moving.

Do you have to compromise with countries over refugee cases?

Some countries have particular sensitivities about particular caseloads – particular groups of people of specific national origin.... Our first responsibility is to the people themselves, if they have protection problems, if they are in need of international protection, our obligation is to galvanise it.

However, we do not work in a vacuum. We are an apolitical organisation, a humanitarian organisation, but we work in a highly politicised environment.... For us to deliver protection, we have to be tactical. This means that we not only have to be aware of the interests that states themselves see impacted by the arrivals of certain groups of people, but we have to be sensitive to them when we decide what is the best way to deliver protection.

How can UNHCR protect IDPs in places like Iraq and Darfur?

I think it's pretty unrealistic to think you can protect civilians in Iraq. I think it's even pretty unrealistic to imagine that UNHCR can fulfil its protection responsibilities in Darfur. I've been to Darfur and the environment is not one where the protection activities that we undertake really make a big impact on the day-to-day security of large numbers of people who are in very insecure environments. That's not to underestimate what our colleagues are doing and under very difficult circumstances. But there are few of us, the area is huge, the conflict is ever changing. The security apparatus that's in place there is not such as to either protect the individuals or to protect the humanitarian workers to enable them to do their job.... It's not a reason not to try, it's not a reason to not continue to do what we're doing. And there are individuals at least who benefit ... that in itself is something.

In Iraq, it's worse to my mind. At least in Darfur we're present, we're not present in Iraq. We're trying to do protection by remote – it's a most unusual concept.... Obviously there are certain things we can do and we have had to very much reorient to strategically partnering, rather than being the deliverer ourselves.

I think because of our realisation that a/, it is virtually impossible to do what we would want to do inside Iraq and b/, the humanitarian crisis has now spilled over to the neighbouring countries and it is so huge there and there are so many people who are very much in need there, that we have to direct our efforts where they can make the most impact. So we've looked very directly at how we can work with the current host countries, particularly the countries neighbouring Iraq, to assist them to manage the evolving humanitarian crisis.

Identify US Officials Presenting Disputed Evidence Against Iran
By EASON JORDAN 02/11/2007 6:55 PM ET
Page from the US's Iran dossier
Dept. of Defense
Page from the US's Iran dossier
Why are US officials hiding behind the cloak of anonymity when presenting the most detailed evidence yet that Iran is supplying weaponry to anti-US forces in Iraq?

After weeks, if not months, of US official planning to present a damning "dossier" of incriminating evidence against Iran, and after this same US administration presented us with lopsided, erroneous information about the capability and evil intentions of the Saddam Hussein regime, the best the US government can give us today is incendiary evidence presented at a Baghdad news conference by three US officials who refuse to be quoted by name?

That's disgraceful and unacceptable.

The American people deserve straight talk from identified US officials.

Here are some of the reports today:
-- Washington Post
-- AP
-- Reuters
-- AFP

If US officials are so sure of themselves -- their evidence appears credible but is disputed by Iranian officials and others -- then they should agree to be identified publicly and appear on-camera.

Also, the voluminous photographic evidence shared with journalists at the Baghdad news conference should be posted in full on a US government Web site.

But, wait, one of the three supposedly unnamed US officials apparently has been outed by an Iraqi news service, Voices of Iraq, whose report on the Baghdad news conference identified one of the three speakers as Major General William Caldwell, whose portfolio includes public affairs and who holds frequent news conferences and grants one-on-one interviews. So, if the VOI report identifying Caldwell is correct, why did every other news organization apparently agree to grant anonymity to the general who's the official spokesman of the US-led Multi-National Force in Iraq? Why would Caldwell insist on not having his name associated with these allegations today?

After the bogus Iraq evidence debacle in 2002 and 2003 -- allegations that led to war, tens of thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent -- only a fool would accept as the gospel supposed evidence against another country that's presented by officials who insist on making their allegations anonymously.

We deserve better from the US government. We deserve better from the western news media.

02/09/2007 5:09 PM ET
Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor and Publisher, writes a piece today discussing a Washington Post opinion column about a contract interrogator who Mitchell says "confesses his sins." Mitchell discusses an earlier piece from a few months ago and how he wasn't quite ready to tell the whole story and asks "who Will join him now?"

From E&P: "As I write this, the most popular article at comes from an unusual source, a writer described as an Army veteran and Arabic linguist who worked in Iraq as a contract interrogator with the 82nd Airborne in early 2004. His name is Eric Fair, and the opinion piece is titled “An Iraq Interrogator’s Nightmare.” Beyond the chilling message of the column, what’s fascinating is the evolution of Fair’s decision to go public with what he saw, and did, in Iraq. Three months ago, he went part way in another op-ed, this one published on Nov. 19 in The Tennessean in Nashville. It opened much the same way as today’s Washington Post column. Fair identified himself as a civilian contractor and, vaguely, as an “intelligence specialist.” But that first column made no mention of his interrogation activities, focusing instead on Fair still being haunted by witnessing Iraqi friends killed in rocket attacks – and how such images must also disturb many other Americans who served or worked in Iraq."

Soldier Mom
Letter: No Preparation For Son Killed After Two Days in Iraq
02/09/2007 11:29 AM ET
I received a letter this week from a woman whose son died in Iraq. He was in the National Guard. It was his first mission, just two days after he had arrived. He was a gunner in an up-armored Humvee. The Humvee hit an IED (improvised explosive devices). The military investigation of his death found training "deficiencies" contributed to his death.

It is hard to know what to say to a mother in these circumstances. When your child has been in a war zone for a while, you begin to accept the dangers, the realities of life in a war zone. You know the strengths and weaknesses of our military. Things do not always go as planned; soldiers do not always get what they need. But your child's first mission, his second day, you have not had time to prepare.

You have not watched others deal with the knock on the door, the phone call; you have not had to go to the funerals. You have not had time to think about what you would do if the knock comes on your door; you get the phone call about your child. You have not had time to realize that whenever a soldier dies something went wrong. Better equipment, better training, there is always something that could have made a difference.

There are no easy answers. On January 15, I had written about an article in the Baltimore Sun that said soldiers are being sent into battle without the safest armored vehicles. I had said if there were safer vehicles, I wanted my son in them. My son was out of email contact at the time, so I was unable to ask him what vehicle he was riding in.

Well, he returned from his mission and read the column that I had written. He told me that vehicles being touted by the article as safer, had some problems of their own. The Cougar, while very good on paved roads, was a wide vehicle; its wider width meant it sometimes hit IEDs that Humvees missed. Its wide width also made it difficult to maneuver on the narrow canal roads. He said the vehicle was not well suited for the kinds of missions his unit was going on. He told me that while it was true that the MRAPs are built with a V-shaped hull that deflects the blast outward instead of upward. This could be bad for anyone moving outside of the vehicle.

He said, "You see, to prevent running over the IEDs (because we believe it to be better to not hit the IEDs at all), we have guys walk out in front of the truck to look for wires and signs of digging. But sometimes it is hard to figure out where they buried the anti-tank mines and the trucks set them off, only the engine is destroyed, but if the explosion were pushed outward the dismounted soldiers could be killed because they are protected by nothing more than IBA."

But there are advantages to an MRAP because it has a very powerful alternator and special vehicular batteries with a high capacity that last a very long time. This is very important if you want to hook up a lot of electronics in a truck. He also told me about a well-armored truck, the M1151 Humvee. He said he had seen this truck hit directly by an exploding artillery round and all they had to do was replace the tires, because they were full of shrapnel, and they continued on, as if nothing had happened. He felt this vehicle was not only safer, but met their tactical needs better. But they had trouble getting spare parts for this vehicle.

I suppose it very difficult to determine the best vehicle to perform the mission and keep our soldiers safe. We are one of the richest countries in the world; we have some best and brightest engineers. It would nice to think we could design a vehicle that would be perfect for every terrain and situation, that would keep every soldier perfectly safe, but I guess that is a tall order.

Getting the right vehicle, to the right soldier, for the right mission, to keep the soldier as safe as possible, is probably a logistics nightmare. And then you need to be able to quickly supply replacements and spare parts as needed; not an easy task in a war zone. My son told me they lost several vehicles on this last mission, fortunately, no "personnel" were seriously injured. He told me that the Mayor's office was in a nice building. He does that from time to time, commenting on some piece of scenery like it was an ordinary road trip, instead of a military mission. But then, in the next sentence, he will describe the insurgent hiding in the canals and I am reminded, this is no ordinary road trip, this is life in a war zone, and sometimes things can go very wrong. -----

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

Blair Says He Believed Ministry Of Defense Acted In Good Faith
02/08/2007 5:44 PM ET
Tony Blair has apologised in the Commons for the distress caused to the family of Lance Corporal Matty Hull by the delay to the inquest into his death by "friendly fire" from US warplanes in Iraq.

In an article in British paper the Telegraph by George Jones: "He told the Commons at question time that he believed the Ministry of Defence had acted in "good faith" throughout the process. But he promised to look again at the system to ensure that "in similar such circumstances we are able to deal with it in a better way".

Mr Blair was responding to concerns raised by David Cameron, the Conservative leader, after the leaking of a graphic cockpit video recording showing the attack by American pilots on British tanks near Basra during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Lance Corporal Hull, 25, from Berkshire, died in an attack.

Will Be Over $660 Billion Over Next Few Decades
02/05/2007 6:28 PM ET
Linda Bilmes of Harvard publishes a scathing opinion in today's LA Times about the cost of veteran's benefits, which is an alarming $660 billion in coming decades.

She writes: "The New Year brought with it the 3000th American death in Iraq. But what's equally alarming — and far less well known — is that for every fatality in Iraq, there are 16 injuries. That's an unprecedented casualty level. In the Vietnam and Korean wars, by contrast, there were fewer than three people wounded for each fatality. In World Wars I and II, there were less than two. That means we now have more than 50,000 wounded Iraq war soldiers. In one sense, this reflects positive change: Better medical care and stronger body armor are enabling many more soldiers to survive injuries that might have led, in earlier generations, to death. But like so much else about this war, the Bush administration failed to foresee what it would mean, failed to plan for the growing tide of veterans who would be in urgent need of medical and disability care. The result is that as the Iraq war approaches its fourth anniversary, the Department of Veterans Affairs is buckling under a growing volume of disability claims and rising demand for medical attention."

In addition, Web site Buzzflash gives a must-read overview of the story and some of the criticism surrounding Bilmes and links to other stories related to it, including the criticism from the Pentagon -- interesting, since this is where she got her numbers from.

Buzzflash also writes: "Shockingly, the Pentagon has also changed its posted data in a move eerily reminiscent of the "Records Department" portrayed in Orwell's 1984."

Defense officials are blasting her findings and even called Bilmes and her dean to complain, along with the LA Times after the paper published an op-ed Bilmes wrote on her findings.

Bilmes teaches public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is the co-author, with Joseph Stiglitz, of the report, "The Economic Cost of the Iraq War."

Bilmes' paper on the cost of veteran's benefits. rwp_07_001_bilmes.pdf

Cmdr. of Royal Irish Regiment: "Watada, No Comfort On Legal Grounds"
02/05/2007 12:15 PM ET
The Guardian Unlimited discusses soldiers and the opting out of going to certain warzones. The piece was written by Colonel Tim Collins, a commander of the Royal Irish Regiment in Iraq. It was prompted by today's start of the court martial of a US officer who has refused to serve in Iraq, offering instead to be posted to Afghanistan.

From the piece: "Last June, army lieutenant Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq on the grounds that he found the war illegal and immoral. In the UK, we have already jailed an RAF officer for the same thing. In the free world, the best armies are volunteer professional organisations. You join as a free person but submit to military law. When the commanding officer of a British unit calls the soldiers together to tell them where they are deploying, he does not expect any discussion. It is not a holiday: you don't get a choice of where to go. On rare occasions some have tried to avoid active service, but this tends to be one way of ensuring you are sent to the thick of it..."

Watada's mitigation that he would serve in Afghanistan instead holds no water. If only we could all pick and choose our battles. Were it so, such a military would be as much an army as a pile of building materials is a house. It is not about blind obedience; it is about duty and sacrifice and a cause greater than oneself.

U.S. News Owner Zuckerman: "Enemies Would Emerge With New Resources"
02/05/2007 11:40 AM ET
U.S. News and World Report editor-in-chief and owner of the magazine Mort Zuckerman publishes an opinion on why we can't leave Iraq.

An excerpt: George W. Bush bet his presidency on Iraq. And now he's betting his party's future on it. If the new troop "surge" fails, it will destroy the Republicans' reputation on national security for at least a generation.

The president said, "Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq." He's right. Abandoning Iraq would plunge the country we went to war to save into a grim horror movie. The Iraqi government cannot stop sectarian killing when it is able to call on the world's most powerful military. Who can expect it to do so if the Americans leave? Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals-physicians, academics, and the like-have divined the answer and fled to other countries.

Zuckerman goes on to state the unbelievable horrors if we do leave. He writes: "Of course, most Americans believe the nightmare in Iraq simply cannot get much worse. Wrong-it most certainly could. Advocates of a "phased" withdrawal of our troops must reckon with the certainty of a serial disaster: a full-blown civil war spreading a contagion of violence across the region, with Iran virtually uncontainable. Our enemies, as the president said, would emerge with new safe havens, new recruits, and new resources."

Lastly, "How the president must rue his idealized concept of the war, and his obstinacy in persisting with the "too little, too late" way it was conducted. The desire for democracy in Iraq is a noble one, but democracy is not achieved by a single election."

Soldier Mom
And Why Increasing Cash Bonuses for Enlistment Might be a Mistake
By TRACEY CALDWELL 02/04/2007 10:32 PM ET
I received an email from my friend David this week. He told me about two teachers at the school where he worked. They were dieting and exercising for the purpose of qualifying for another tour in Iraq, with an eye on the bonus they could receive. David was surprised that anyone would voluntarily want to go back to Iraq. David is not alone in his surprise that there are soldiers who want to go to Iraq. I am often asked why I would let my son join the military. Well, my son was twenty-one years old when he joined the military. You can't really tell a twenty-one year old that he can't do something. The decision was his and one that I have respected.

In theory, since we have an all-volunteer military, everyone in Iraq is a volunteer. Every soldier knows when he agrees to serve he may be asked to serve in a combat zone and may be asked to give his life for his country. Nevertheless, multiple deployments have taken their toll on the soldiers and their families, and many given the option would prefer to be home with their families. However, if you ask any soldier and he will tell you this is part of the deal, it is their job and they will serve, wherever and whenever they are asked. Economic incentives can be a strong motivator for serving in a combat zone. When my own son learned he would be deployed to Iraq again, his first response was, "I hope they send me some place where there is nowhere to spend money." If you are somewhere where you cannot spend money, it becomes easy to save a nice nest egg while you are in Iraq.

Soldiers join the military for many reasons, for some there is a tradition of service in their family. They see it as a civic duty, part of being a responsible citizen; wearing the uniform is a source of pride. They want to serve and protect their country. While many Americans admire this, they cannot understand how your love one to do something that might risk his life. Its fine for someone else kid, but not their own. Others join the military for the training and educational opportunities. The Army provides excellent opportunities to learn new skills. But multiple, back-to-back, deployments can make it difficult to complete a college education while in the military. For many the military offers the opportunity of full-time stable employment. For some, these opportunities would not be available to them otherwise. Some younger soldiers join to escape life at home with their parents; (a note to those who are thinking of joining for that reason: If you don't like Mom's rules, you probably won't like the military's rules). However, for many soldiers money is a strong motivator, enlistment bonuses, an inexpensive lifestyle can enable a soldier to save quite a bit of money. These soldiers stay in the barracks, not going out on the weekends. They are saving their paychecks for some future dream or are sending their paychecks home to support family.

I understand the arguments for a draft. It would bring diversity to the military. It would make Americans more cautious about going to war if their own loved ones might have to serve. Nonetheless, I do believe in an all-volunteer Army. I think it results is a better quality soldier. You spend less time on discipline and more time on training with a soldier who wants to serve. But getting soldiers to enlist when it almost certain they will go to Iraq, they will risk their lives, they will be away from their loved ones, can be difficult. Money is one way to attract soldiers. When it comes to re-enlistment, I do not think the bonuses can be too large, the service these soldiers have given is invaluable to our country. When they accept a bonus, they know what will be required of them. I worry more when large enlistment bonuses are thrown at young men and women. I worry the large sums of cash will attract kids who are not mentally and emotionally prepared for the trials of battle. Large sums of cash have a way of burning a hole in the pocket of young men and women. I would rather see enlistment enticements be things that will help a soldier throughout his life, things like college education, low interest home loans, lifetime health care. But these things don't always the appeal to a seventeen-year-old; and attracting seventeen year olds will be important if we are to increase the size of our military.

Attracting additional recruits can be done by increasing enticements or lowering standards. Americans are going to have to decide how they will attract new recruits for the larger military we now require. Are they willing to spend money for large enlistment bonuses? Do they want to lower the standards for becoming a soldier? These young men and women who serve in foreign lands represent America. They are often the first American that people in the world meet. When you lower the standards, you must increase training and discipline to maintain the quality we require of our soldiers. Money is still the best way to attract soldiers. A soldier, who reenlists, who is willing to return to a war zone, has a lot of experience to offer. But as you increase the frequency and duration of deployments, more will opt out unless the bonus ia quite large. I wonder at what Americans will begin to feel the bonuses are too large? Are they really willing to pay the price tag to support the troops that a larger military will require? ----- Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier in Iraq, Democratic Party Editor of, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at

U.S. Government | U.S. Military

Analysis: "Bush's Tough Stance On Iran Similar To Buildup of Iraq"
02/04/2007 1:34 PM ET
Tom Raum of the AP writes today that President Bush's tough new stance on Iran and his military buildup in the Persian Gulf recall some of the drumbeats that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. As then, the Bush administration is making allegations about Iran without providing proof.

He adds that: "It is suggesting Iran is sending weapons to Iraq, yet offering no evidence the supplies can be traced to Tehran. There are whispers, too, that Iranian intelligence agents were behind the recent abduction and execution of five U.S. soldiers."


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