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Robert Kagan Sees No Iraq War Hit to American Supremacy
08/29/2007 10:27 AM ET
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty

"The world has become normal again," according to Robert Kagan, prominent neocon thinker whose co-founding of the Project for the New American Century more than a decade ago created a locus for intellectuals and policymakers advocating the forceful overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In Kagan's view, the 90s was an unsettling time, with the end of the Cold War creating a seismic disruption to the bi-polar global power structure that had persisted for five decades. With the downfall of the Soviet Union, the US moved into a position of unprecedented unipolarity, an unbalancing of power that realist theoreticians predicted would not endure as other nations or consortiums, such as the EU, leveraged their own resources to provide a counterweight with which to reign in America's ability to act uncontested.

Many predicted the Iraq war would mean the end of the United States' position of supremacy, much like overextension of resources in a bloody war in Afghanistan helped hasten the downfall of the USSR. Overreach has been the catalyst for the downfall of many great powers, from the Hapsburgs to Rome, but Kagan sees no danger of that for the United States. He writes in the Hoover Institution's latest Policy Review that the United States remains at the top of the unipolar pile, a position he says it will, and should, occupy for some time to come.

The Iraq War has not had the effect expected by many. Although there are reasonable-sounding theories as to why America ’s position should be eroding as a result of global opposition to the war and the unpopularity of the current administration, there has been little measurable change in the actual policies of nations, other than their reluctance to assist the United States in Iraq. In 2003 those who claimed the U.S. global position was eroding pointed to electoral results in some friendly countries: the election of Schröder in Germany, the defeat of Aznar’s party in Spain, and the election of Lula in Brazil.13 But if elections are the test, other more recent votes around the world have put relatively pro-American leaders in power in Berlin, Paris, Tokyo, Canberra, and Ottawa. As for Russia and China, their hostility to the United States predates the Iraq War and, indeed, the Bush administration. Russia turned most sharply anti-American in the late 1990s partly as a consequence of nato enlargement. Both were far more upset and angered by the American intervention in Kosovo than by the invasion of Iraq. Both began complaining about American hegemonism and unilateralism and calling for a multipolar order during the Clinton years. Chinese rhetoric has been, if anything, more tempered during the Bush years, in part because the Chinese have seen September 11 and American preoccupation with terrorism as a welcome distraction from America’s other preoccupation, the “China threat.”

The world’s failure to balance against the superpower is the more striking because the United States, notwithstanding its difficult interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, continues to expand its power and military reach and shows no sign of slowing this expansion even after the 2008 elections. The American defense budget has surpassed $500 billion per year, not including supplemental spending totaling over $100 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan. This level of spending is sustainable, moreover, both economically and politically. 14 As the American military budget rises, so does the number of overseas American military bases. Since September 11, 2001, the United States has built or expanded bases in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in Central Asia; in Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania in Europe; and in the Philippines, Djibouti, Oman, and Qatar. Two decades ago, hostility to the American military presence began forcing the United States out of the Philippines and seemed to be undermining support for American bases in Japan. Today, the Philippines is rethinking that decision, and the furor in Japan has subsided. In places like South Korea and Germany, it is American plans to reduce the U.S. military presence that stir controversy, not what one would expect if there was a widespread fear or hatred of overweening American power. Overall, there is no shortage of other countries willing to host U.S. forces, a good indication that much of the world continues to tolerate and even lend support to American geopolitical primacy if only as a protection against more worrying foes.

Predominance is not the same thing as omnipotence. Just because the United States has more power than everyone else does not mean it can impose its will on everyone else. American predominance in the early years after the Second World War did not prevent the North Korean invasion of the South, a communist victory in China, the Soviet acquisition of the hydrogen bomb, or the consolidation of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe — all far greater strategic setbacks than anything the United States has yet suffered or is likely to suffer in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor does predominance mean the United States will succeed in all its endeavors, any more than it did six decades ago.

By the same token, foreign policy failures do not necessarily undermine predominance. Some have suggested that failure in Iraq would mean the end of predominance and unipolarity. But a superpower can lose a war — in Vietnam or in Iraq — without ceasing to be a superpower if the fundamental international conditions continue to support its predominance. So long as the United States remains at the center of the international economy and the predominant military power, so long as the American public continues to support American predominance as it has consistently for six decades, and so long as potential challengers inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbors, the structure of the international system should remain as the Chinese describe it: one superpower and many great powers.

This is a good thing, and it should continue to be a primary goal of American foreign policy to perpetuate this relatively benign international configuration of power. The unipolar order with the United States as the predominant power is unavoidably riddled with flaws and contradictions. It inspires fears and jealousies. The United States is not immune to error, like all other nations, and because of its size and importance in the international system those errors are magnified and take on greater significance than the errors of less powerful nations. Compared to the ideal Kantian international order, in which all the world ’s powers would be peace-loving equals, conducting themselves wisely, prudently, and in strict obeisance to international law, the unipolar system is both dangerous and unjust. Compared to any plausible alternative in the real world, however, it is relatively stable and less likely to produce a major war between great powers. It is also comparatively benevolent, from a liberal perspective, for it is more conducive to the principles of economic and political liberalism that Americans and many others value.

American predominance does not stand in the way of progress toward a better world, therefore. It stands in the way of regression toward a more dangerous world. The choice is not between an American-dominated order and a world that looks like the European Union. The future international order will be shaped by those who have the power to shape it. The leaders of a post-American world will not meet in Brussels but in Beijing, Moscow, and Washington.

Soldier Mom
Break-Ups Become Harder to Handle in a War Zone
08/22/2007 10:26 AM ET
Suicides are up in the military. The Pentagon says that very often, a young soldier gets a Dear John letter, and with his weapon sitting next to him, kills himself in an impulsive act. Today's Dear John letters can be sent off in just a moment with an email. For a young soldier this may be his first broken heart. If he is in Iraq, thousand of miles away from his girlfriend, there is nothing he can do.

A young girl thinks she knows what it will be like when her boyfriend, fiance, or husband goes off to war. But of course she is no more prepared to be left alone and so outside the life he is living, than he is ready for living life on a battlefield. Those messages from home become his lifeline, but she still has much of the same life she had before he left. Some young women are cut out to be military wives and girlfriends, some are not.

It won't take long for a young girl to move on if the life is not for her. Most figure it out in a few months. I used to advise young girls to wait until their soldier came home to tell him they were moving on. But with extended deployments, it's hard to ask a young girl to put her life on hold. For them fifteen months seems a lifetime.

And while I fear the young soldier will turn to the weapon next to him, I also know he is serving with men who understand what he is going through and who can help him deal with the loss, if he will let them. Plenty of military suicides are happening after a soldier comes home, when he doesn't have the same support network he had on the battlefield. It would be nice to think that having his family around would help, but clearly is some cases that hasn't been so.

So is there a good time to send a Dear John letter? Probably not--all we can hope is that the young soldier receiving it has a strong support network and feels free to talk to his family, friends and fellow soldiers about what he is going through. With longer and more frequent deployments ahead, our soldiers need partners who are strong and able to bear the stresses that a military life brings. If she is not the one, we have to hope he has the support network around when he learns that.

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

Forces Overstretched, Repeatedly Deployed, Puts National Security at Risk
By TRACEY CALDWELL 08/15/2007 1:46 PM ET
War Czar Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, mentioned the draft the other day, but politicians avoided addressing the topic as best they could. But Lute has a point--the military has to meet the demands of the nation's security one way or another.

A large peacetime army is expensive. A small all-volunteer army offers the opportunity to select only the best people, and provide them with only the best equipment. But a small army can't fight a war with for long. We are already seeing the stress on our troops, as the deployments get longer, and time at home shorter. Our young soldiers are watching their domestic lives suffer from all the time spent away from home. And the stress of battle doesn't just evaporate when they return home; the war is never far from their minds.

The few months at home can't make up for the time they have missed with their children. Their children are growing up, accepting that their soldier-parent will not be there. They have learned to live without daily hugs. Lute noted that the health of the all-volunteer army relies on the decisions that those families make in conversations around the dinner table.

Lute also raised the concern that when the system is under this kind of stress, we have to worry about the kind of decisions these young soldiers might make. For young adults, the twenties are a formative part of life, when they are making their first adult decisions without their parents' day-to-day guidance. I know from own son that military training, traveling to other countries, living and serving in a war zone has formed the man he has become. Our soldiers are having their worldview shaped by very different forces than their generational counterparts at home. We can't begin to know the long-term impact their experiences will have on them and our country. We can keep redeploying our soldiers until we completely destroy the army, or we as a nation can begin to seriously think about alternate solutions for strengthening the military. No politician is going to suggest a draft; it would be political suicide. A population that has already indicated it has lost support for the war is not going to accept a draft. But if we are not going to have a draft, what are we going to do?

Looking at the recruiting numbers for the last few months makes it obvious how hard it is to recruit soldiers during wartime. The Pentagon could retain current soldiers under stop-loss orders, but for how long--one year, five years, ten years? Is it still a volunteer army when they are being forced to stay in the military after their term has finished? Recruiting is difficult now, but even fewer young people would sign up knowing they might be required to serve years beyond their original commitment. I don't have the answers to these questions, but I do know we as a nation need to figure them out--not just for this war but for future conflicts as well. If we want the peacetime benefit of a small army, we need to plan how to increase that force size when circumstances require.

Catastrophic Flood Could Put 70% of Mosul Underwater
Water rushing out one of the chute spillways at the Mosul Dam. The concrete-lined chute exits to a ski jump section for energy dissipation.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Water rushing out one of the chute spillways at the Mosul Dam. The concrete-lined chute exits to a ski jump section for energy dissipation.

The marls, soluble gypsum, anhydrite, and karstic limestone providing the foundation for the largest dam in Iraq are eroding at a rapid pace, raising the terrifying prospect that the Mosul Dam could give way, drowning the surrounding area and lands to the south.

"It could go at any minute," a senior aid worker who has knowledge of the struggle by US and Iraqi engineers to save the dam told the UK Independent. "The potential for disaster is very great."

Flood waters resulting from a dam breach could destroy 70 percent of Mosul and inflict heavy damage 190 miles downstream along the Tigris. The humanitarian disaster that would result represents a nightmare scenario for the Iraqi and US government, as lack of disaster-response capability would make search and rescue extremely difficult.

In 2003, experts from the Corps of Engineers laid out a scenario equal to a decent disaster movie and one that may evoke memories of Hurricane Katrina:

"(Collapse of the Mosul Dam) would set in motion a cascade of catastrophe, unleashing as much as 12.5 billion cu m of water pooled behind the 3.2-km-long earth-filled impoundment thundering down the Tigris River Valley toward Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The wave behind the 110-m-high crest would take about two hours to reach the city of 1.7 million."

The Mosul dam holds back upwards of 12 billion cubic meters of water for the arid western Ninewah Province, while creating hydroelectric power for the 1.7 million residents of Mosul
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Mosul dam holds back upwards of 12 billion cubic meters of water for the arid western Ninewah Province, while creating hydroelectric power for the 1.7 million residents of Mosul
Patrick Cockburn writes for the Independent:

The state of the two-mile long earthfill dam, which holds back some eight billion cubic metres of water in Iraq's largest reservoir, has recently been deteriorating at ever-increasing speed. According to one source, the chance of a total and immediate failure of the dam is now believed to be "reasonably high" at current water levels and "most certain" within the next few years.

The effort to prevent the collapse of the dam is overseen by the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources. The US Army Corps of Engineers has made continual efforts to monitor the deterioration and undertake remedial action. But a US report, obtained separately from the embassy statement, says that "due to fundamental and irreversible flaws existing in the dam's foundation, the US Army Corps of Engineers believes that the safety of the Mosul Dam against a potential catastrophic failure cannot be guaranteed".

The US State Department advertises that it supplies the Iraqi government with $20 million dollars worth of grouting equipment for the Mosul dam through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. But grouting the dam can only provide temporary relief, and does nothing to reconstruct the failing infrastructure that threatens to turns large swaths of Iraqi land into a watery graveyard.

Though the US maintains the Iraqi government holds responsibility for the dam, its failure would most certainly be blamed on both. Making a serious commitment to secure the Mosul Dam appears the only way to ensure the city--one rare beacon of semi-stability in the country--does not become a disaster area.

Soldier Mom
Customer Service Creates Hassle for Soldier Serving in Iraq
By TRACEY CALDWELL 08/08/2007 11:17 AM ET
BOLINGBROOK, IL - JUNE 9: A car drives past a sign for the Sprint Customer Care Center June 9, 2004 in Bolingbrook, Illinois.
Tim Boyle/AFP/Getty
BOLINGBROOK, IL - JUNE 9: A car drives past a sign for the Sprint Customer Care Center June 9, 2004 in Bolingbrook, Illinois.

Have you ever had problem with one of your bills? Have you spent hours on the phone with customer service trying to resolve the problem? As frustrating as that can be, it's much worse for a soldier trying to manage accounts from a battlefield in Iraq. Soldier don't have time to spend hours on the phone with customer service.

My son has had repeated problems with his (now former) cellphone provider, Sprint, during his deployments. The company has a military deployment plan, which is supposed to suspend payments on the account until they return to the States. It's a helpful offer to permit soldiers a break in their contract for the time when they are serving the country on the field of battle, but six months in to my son's deployment, Sprint bounced him from the program and started charging him the full bill.

This had happened on previous deployments, so I expected a hassle. Sprint's customer service representative knew nothing about the military deployment program, and attempted to connect me to a supervisor, losing my call in the process. I called back in and we repeated the process several times before a representative was able to connect to a supervisor who did know about the deployment program. The woman said she could get my son back on the deployment program, but he would have to come, in person, to one of their stores to show his deployment orders.

I patiently tried to remind her he was in Iraq; they don't have a cell phone store on the battlefield. She informed me those was the rules; there was nothing she could do. After some debate, she finally relented and agreed I could bring the orders into a store myself.

My son emailed me the PDF of his orders, and I printed them and took them to the local Sprint store. The young man working that day stared at them blankly, and excused himself to call someone. The person on the line asked him to read some information off the orders. He did, and then hung up the phone and informed me everything was fixed now. Relieved, I went home.

Then my son came home on his mid-deployment leave. I hadn't wanted him to turn on his cell phone for the three weeks he would be home because I knew it would lead to hassles with his cellphone provider again. But the military needed to be able to reach him at all times, and he didn't want to be tied to a land line.

When he went back to Iraq, he called Sprint and placed his phone back on deployment status. Then he sent them a check for two thousand dollars, telling me that even if they didn't switch him back to deployment status, that would cover the bill until he came home. He didn't want to have to worry about it in Iraq, and he didn't want me to have to bother with it if something went wrong. It was worth two thousand dollars to him to just not have to deal with it.

A few weeks after he left, the bill came. Everything looked ok; they had gotten his two thousand dollar payment and had actually put him back on deployment status. Then the next month the bill came with an early termination fee of one hundred and fifty dollars. I called customer service to find out why his service had been terminated and why he was being charged the one hundred fifty dollar fee. The young girl could tell me nothing. There were no notes in their system. She attempted to transfer me to a manger and lost the call in the process, of course.

I called back in, waiting twenty minutes before Jason, in Canada, took my call. Jason also could not tell me why my son service had been terminated. When asked if we could get the service restored, he said no, the phone number could not be recovered. When asked why my son was charged one hundred and fifty dollars for their unexplained decision to terminate his account, Jason had no answer. He also was not authorized to refund the hundred and fifty dollars, so I asked if he could at least arrange to refund the balance of my son's account. No, he was not authorized to do that either, so I asked for a manager.

After waiting five minutes, he told me he had a manger available and transferred me to a line that went unanswered. At this point I had no more patience for their customer service, and tracked down a number at their corporate office.

The nice woman at headquarters expressed what sounded like sincere surprise that I was having such problems. A week ago, she asked me to give her a day to look into the problem. I have heard nothing from her since.

My son has told me not to worry about it. He would pursue getting the balance of his account refunded when he finally comes home. He had given them the two thousand dollars because he did not want me to have to worry about the bill. He has no bills, so he could afford to do that and he can afford to wait to get the refund. A lot of soldiers are not that lucky. They have no one at home who can spend the hours on customer service. They can't afford to put extra money on the account to avoid problems. They can't afford to wait for refunds. Billing problems should be the last thing a soldier needs to worry about on the battlefield.

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

Why TNR's "Baghdad Diarist" Got it Wrong: Heroes Overlooked and More
By MATT SANCHEZ 08/02/2007 11:58 PM ET
Matt Sanchez
Baghdad - Both sides of the ideological split have drawn a line in the sand over what a soldier's story really means - that is if the tales of Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp are just a story or a state of mind.

On the left, the dramatic details Beauchamp described were a confirmation of the argument that an unjust war will numb a man into a callous monster.

On the other side, critics accuse Private Beauchamp of disparaging his fellow soldiers and distorting reality.

One side stands opposed to the other and like watching a dog chase its tail, everyone will spin in circles convinced one good bite will eventually be worth all the fuss.

Contrary to popular belief, blogging is not illegal or frowned upon.  There are many milbloggers who send real life reports to both major media outlets and their own circle of friends.
Photo by Matt Sanchez
Contrary to popular belief, blogging is not illegal or frowned upon. There are many milbloggers who send real life reports to both major media outlets and their own circle of friends.
Private Beauchamp said he wanted Americans to, "have one soldier's view of the war in Iraq." Unfortunately, the Private didn't limit his views to himself, but did limit accusations of potential misconduct to the men serving with him. Although he insisted he wanted to be "discreet," publishing his work in a national magazine meant, on some level, he hoped his experiences would inform and convince the readership. Private Beauchamp had a cause and that's something to be respected.

When I embedded with the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I had a cause too. It seemed that whenever the media spoke about what was going on in Iraq, they always let some talking head in a suit behind a desk do all the commenting. My cause was to go to directly to the source, the troops on the ground themselves.
I don't know anyone who used heavily up-armored vehicles to purposely run over dogs in Iraq, but there is Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman who bent all the rules and created a few new ones to get a stray dog, Lava, out of the Anbar province and back home with him to Santa Monica. In a country where dogs are considered expendable, Colonel Kopelman wrote From Baghdad with Love to explain the illogic of his attachment to an animal he had pledged to save. In Afghanistan, I met a major who had just sent a battered and abused puppy back home to Long Island, because he was inspired by Kopelman's book.

Driver Ferguson and driver Meier are the real troops of Baghdad.  They run long patrols and probably know the streets of Dora better than FOB Falcon.
Photo by Matt Sanchez
Driver Ferguson and driver Meier are the real troops of Baghdad. They run long patrols and probably know the streets of Dora better than FOB Falcon.
I met and interviewed and spoken to 100's of servicemen and women from different states, cultures and even in different languages. Despite the broad swath of personalities I've met, I seem to be in a different universe than Beauchamp, even though I spent some time at FOB Falcon, where he is stationed. I had never seen a soldier humiliate a disfigured woman, much less a soldier who couldn't distinguish between an officer and a civilian, but I do know my buddy Sgt. Garth Stewart (Army) who stepped on a mine during the initial push into Iraq. Garth is currently attending Columbia University, has enormous passion for life and is one of the first recipients of a high-tech robotic ankle. Despite his injuries, Garth wanted to come with me back to Iraq. Meditative and focused, it's obvious that Garth's experiences here, in the "sandbox" have changed him in ways that are far more complex than his wounds.

This former Iraqi colonel has two stores and wants to open up a third.  He sympathized with Lieutenant Colonel Crider because he knew that soldiers are away from their families.
Photo by Matt Sanchez
This former Iraqi colonel has two stores and wants to open up a third. He sympathized with Lieutenant Colonel Crider because he knew that soldiers are away from their families.
Private Beauchamp questioned the criticism of those who had never fought in Iraq, but Nate Fick fought both in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Fick asked just as many question as Beauchamp and humbly left plenty of the big questions unsolved. Fick risked his life and that of his reconnaissance unit to provide medical attention to a young Iraqi girl because he knew his humanity was in the balance, and not just the life of a stranger. Nate Fick not only wrote about his experiences, in the best selling book One Bullet Away , but his story will endure as required reading for any young man aspiring to become a Marine. Fick may not have set out to write an iconic work of the complexity of the warrior, but sometimes the written word can have unintended consequences--Private Beauchamp can attest to that.

It's a hot day, but the softball matches are popular here on FOB Falcon.
Photo by Matt Sanchez
It's a hot day, but the softball matches are popular here on FOB Falcon.
I've met plenty of troops who question the reason, logic and futility of being in Iraq, but I met no one who said the experience has left them less of a human being. Those who read the misadventures of Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and shook their heads in pity felt a false kinship with a caricature that devolved. The reality is quicksilver complex, where hardship and discouragement meet duty and resolve. Despite the heat, horrors and hardship of Iraq, the honest lesson is not that war turns men into monsters, but that men go off to war and often come back even better men.

Matt Sanchez is the recipient of the Jeane Kirkpatrick Award for Academic Freedom and a freelance journalist embedded with the United States military. He hosts the radio programs "In their Own Words" and "Hometown Heroes," and his Web site can be found at

Soldier Mom
Planning Families Around Deployments Adds Stress to Circumstances
By TRACEY CALDWELL 08/01/2007 1:49 PM ET
Some months ago, a young woman wrote me. At that time, her fiance had been deployed for six months. She had nightmares every night, fearful he would not make it home safely from Iraq.

She wrote to ask me how I dealt with having my son on a battlefield. Wasn't I afraid he would die? I told her that if she was going to be a military wife, she would have to accept that her husband had a dangerous job and could be killed, advising her to make every moment they had together precious. I told her to focus on the future, instead of wasting all the phone calls and e-mails on her worrying and him reassuring her.

She did come to terms with it, and started putting all her energy into planning an elaborate wedding. Having chosen the perfect date, she placed deposits with the church, photographer, caterer and others. Then her soldier heard, like so many others, that his deployment was being extended. She was devastated. They could pick a new date for the wedding, but she is afraid. What if his deployment is extended again? Welcome to military life, where the inability to make long-term plans has become the norm.

I had suggested she plan the wedding for six months after the date he is scheduled to be home, which would allow some time for another extension, and still allow them time together as man and wife before he can be deployed again. But she doesn't want to wait that long. She wants to be married right away, and is hoping that she can conceive and give birth to her first child before he is deployed again.

I am not sure she will fit it all in. With many soldiers redeploying with less than a year at home, she could be having her first child with him on a battlefield. And with deployments being extended longer and longer he may also miss, not just his child's birth, but his first birthday as well. But she is afraid if she doesn't have child when he is home this time, something could happen and she may never have the opportunity again. I would hate to try planning a family around deployments, yet young military couples are facing just that.

While I understand her desire to start her family with the man she loves, I worry about all he will have to deal with during his time home. Coming home from the battlefield and readjusting to life back home has it own stresses. Add to that a big wedding and a new life as a married man and that's a lot for a young adult to deal with. Then there will be the pressure to conceive right away, then a pregnancy, and hoping he won't be redeployed before his child is born.

On top of everything, time home is not a vacation. He will be training and preparing to redeploy again. Long hours and weeks in the field will be required of him. I just think it will be more difficult than she thinks it will be. I am glad it is not my son dealing with all that during his time home.

My own son has chosen to avoid a serious relationship while in the military because he has seen the complications it brings to your life. But young people do fall in love, get married, and want to have families. The frequency of deployments makes this a complicated process. There are benefits to the military when a soldier marries. A married soldier is less likely to get in trouble and more likely to re-enlist, but I wonder how many young couples will survive these kind of stresses? We are asking a lot of our young military families.


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