Elvis Has Left The Building

September 15, 2012 at 11:24 am | Posted in Foreign Affairs, Obama!, politics straight up, Reality Bites, State Department, terrorism | Leave a comment
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When I saw the story teaser — “Why Can’t Muslims Remain Calm?” — I was expecting more “they’re subhuman” bullshit that’s popular again after the killings of Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and three members of his staff. The teaser misled me. This is the gist of the author’s argument:

Tombs of the Mamluk Sultanate (photo c1867-1899, courtesy of Library of Congress)

“This week’s events have certainly reminded us that there are Americans who hate Muslims, and there are Muslims who hate Americans. And if friendship between Egypt and the United States is contingent upon no American ever saying anything that will offend the religious sensibilities of Egyptians, then it is time to declare that friendship dead. President Obama can no more control anti-Muslim bigotry in America than President Mohammed Morsi can put a lid on anti-Americanism in his country. But the haters don’t have to win the day. In this, Egyptians (and, more importantly, their political leaders) could take a lesson from the United States.”

While I believe the author is correct that the American government led by President Obama has reacted in a measured way to recent events, he gives Americans too much credit. America only appears to be better behaved.

Just as politicians and political actors in Egypt and Libya are playing on emotions to control power, the Bush/Cheney administration used the emotions of the American people after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to justify what turned out to be an enormously expensive (both in money and lives) yet ultimately failed attempt to move Iraq’s assets into the hands of a small group of people. Americans aren’t marching in the streets, throwing rocks at foreign embassies, but we don’t have to. We outsource the violence. We can — and do — sit comfortably in our Barca loungers while drones drop bombs on the people we hate. Americans are, in the end, no more adult than Egyptians or Libyans. We are just as easily manipulated by those who foment hate as a means to their particular end.


Chilcot Hearings on Iraq War

January 29, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Bush, Foreign Affairs, Historical, terrorism, torture | Leave a comment
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Ctesiphon, the imperial capital of the Arsacids and of the Sassanids, was one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia, now Iraq. c1932 (Library of Congress)

Wufnik at Scholars and Rogues has been doing regular posts on the goings on at the Chilcot hearings on the Iraq war that are well worth a read.

The first post in which Wufnik talks about the inquiry is Christmas music (9)–Best English folk/indie/whatever Christmas album, then Stout Denial, More Chilcot, Blogging Blair and Blogging Blair (2).

The British Government has a website for the Iraq Inquiry that has video, transcripts and background documents.

Your Tax Dollars At Work: War On Terror Edition

September 1, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Posted in Reality Bites | Leave a comment
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As of October 27, 2007:

The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $2.4 trillion through the next decade, or nearly $8,000 per man, woman and child in the country, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate scheduled for release Wednesday.

What are we spending all that money on?

The number of military contractors in Afghanistan rose to almost 74,000 by June 30, [2009] far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point. As the military force in Afghanistan grows further, to a planned 68,000 by the end of the year, the Defense Department expects the ranks of contractors to increase more.

We heard about this situation in Iraq in July 2007:

More than 180,000 civilians — including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis — are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense Department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Including the recent troop surge, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.

Of course, with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the numbers are only becoming more skewed.

President Obama has been replacing soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with private contractors—some 250,000 are currently deployed overseas—including Blackwater (operating under another alias.)

These private contractors are paid substantially more than Americans who voluntarily join the military to serve their country because they’re serving in a war zone. “It pays quite well. There’s a lot of contracts that pay anywhere from $350 a day to $1,500 a day,” said Chris Boyd of Kroll-Crucible Security.

Meanwhile, that patriotic American who has volunteered to serve his or her country?

A member assigned to or deployed to a combat zone receives “combat pay” (officially called “immiment [sic] danger pay”) at the rate of $225.00 per month.

This is what $350 a day to $1,500 a day buys:

Guards have come to POGO with allegations and photographic evidence that some supervisors and guards are engaging in near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates. Witnesses report that the highest levels of AGNA management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observed—or even engaged in—these activities, but have done nothing to stop them. Indeed, management has condoned this misconduct, declining to take disciplinary action against those responsible and allowing two of the worst offending supervisors to resign and allegedly move on to work on other U.S. contracts. The lewd and deviant behavior of approximately 30 supervisors and guards has resulted in complete distrust of leadership and a breakdown of the chain of command, compromising security.

Numerous emails, photographs, and videos portray a Lord of the Flies environment. One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are “peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity….” (Attachment 2) Photograph after photograph shows guards—including supervisors—at parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors.

Some of “the boys” at play:

Employees of ArmorGroup North America—a unit of contracting giant Wackenhut, private contractors who guard State Department employees in Kabul, Afghanistan,.

Employees of ArmorGroup North America—a unit of contracting giant Wackenhut, private contractors who guard State Department employees in Kabul, Afghanistan,.

This is just so wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start, but when I look at these pictures, I see the private contractors as our for-profit healthcare industry and our volunteer military as “government-run healthcare.”

Explain to me how “private enterprise” provides essential services more economically and of better quality than the government.

Iraq Signs for its new sofa.

November 28, 2008 at 12:48 am | Posted in Foreign Affairs | Leave a comment
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Close view of circular sofa and fireplace in the Blue Room of the White House, Washington, D.C. (1910-1920)

Close view of circular sofa and fireplace in the Blue Room of the White House, Washington, D.C. (1910-1920)


Steve Benen over at Political Animal does the heavy lifting to bring us this report:

IRAQI PARLIAMENT APPROVES SOFA…. Just 10 days ago, Iraq’s cabinet overwhelmingly approved a security agreement with the U.S. that calls for a withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The measure then went to the Iraqi Parliament for approval, but success was not a given.

As it turns out, it passed rather easily.

Read the rest.

(Photograph courtesy of The Library of Congress, Reproduction No. LC-USZ62-97362)

Iraq Gets A New Sofa

November 18, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Foreign Affairs, Office of the President | Leave a comment
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I always laugh when I read about the “status of forces agreement,” because “SOFA” brings to mind a big, old, worn-in davenport.

The Iraqis seem to like their new SOFA. The Iraqi Cabinet passed it on a vote of 27-1 in favor and the Parliament will vote on it somewhere a week from now when it is expected to also pass.

According to Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell, in a New York Times article, “The proposed agreement … not only sets a date for American troop withdrawal, but puts new restrictions on American combat operations in Iraq starting Jan. 1 and requires an American military pullback from urban areas by June 30.”

Importantly for Iraqis, their country will have at least some jurisdiction over serious crimes committed by Americans who are off duty and not on bases.

Things are tricky in Iraq and it’s possible that it won’t pass the vote in Parliament. Keep your fingers crossed that it does, and that the agreement is as it should be, and wish the Iraqi people good luck as they move forward.

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