Image Wikipedia Commons

Al Qaeda seizure of Falluja throws U.S. attitudes toward Iraq into sharp relief

U.S. Marines react to loss of Falluja to al Qaeda affiliate ISIS.

Image Wikipedia Commons

Image Wikipedia Commons

After the fall of Falluja to al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, disappointment was expressed by many U.S. Marines who fought to wrest it from Iraqi insurgents. In a New York Times article on January 9, Richard Oppel quoted Kael Weston, who he described as “a former State Department political adviser who worked with the Marines for nearly three years in Falluja and the surrounding Anbar Province.”

Though he would not send troops back, Mr. Weston, the former State Department official, said it was “almost immoral for us to say, ‘It’s all up to them now, we’re out of there.’ ” Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

The outstanding bill for Iraq

A couple of weeks ago Larison reminded us that the costs of Iraq are still with us. Citing a new report on a new study about Iraqi war deaths, Max Fisher of the Washington Post and Larison both come to the same conclusion—the war was worse for the Iraqis than we’ve been told. Rather than getting better as the war went on, things didn’t get that much better at all, at least in terms of mortality. And what other measure is there, really? Continue reading


Syria and chemical weapons attacks: “Just trust us,” says everybody.


Today, as covered by nearly everyone, Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”

Mr. Kerry alleges that the Assad regime destroyed evidence:

“Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them,” Mr. Kerry said. “Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence.”

Evidence, of course, is forthcoming. Until then, just trust us.

 In the coming days, officials said, the nation’s intelligence agencies will disclose information to bolster their case that chemical weapons were used by Mr. Assad’s forces. The information could include so-called signals intelligence — intercepted radio or telephone calls between Syrian military commanders.

Meanwhile, Walid Shoebat, who claims to be a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, presents some kind of evidence that it was the rebels that used the chemical weapons, not Assad. Was Shoebat a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? Confirmation is needed, but how rigorous would the confirmation need to be for it to be accepted as fact? Would it matter if he were? As for the evidence he presents, how good is it? Is it merely circumstantial? Taken out of context? Entirely fabricated? Who should judge?

Meanwhile, Russia, likely to veto any UN Security Council measures against Assad, claims that there is no evidence that Assad did use chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, Assad denies using chemical weapons.

The drums are beating for war, and all too many, some perhaps with dubious motives, are eager to get the jump on Assad. How about we wait until the UN inspectors actually have a chance to report on the evidence, if any is found?

Meanwhile, speaking of obscenities committed with chemical weapons:

“They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.”


“The declassified CIA documents show that Casey and other top officials were repeatedly informed about Iraq’s chemical attacks and its plans for launching more. “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border,” the CIA said in a top secret document.But it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.”

Surprising no one, Mr. Kerry didn’t mention this bit of our history.


Image credit: US Army Materiel Command Licenced under Creative Commons

CATEGORY: ForeignPolicy

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in pieces

As if Iran Isn’t Noticing

[Philip Coyle of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation] worries that the overall effect of the White House’s about-face on nuclear weapons policy could prove counterproductive. “We don’t want more nuclear weapons in the world,” he says. “We’re asking North Korea to stop its program. We’re asking Iran to stop its program. And in the same breath we’re gutting our nuclear nonproliferation by 15 or 20 percent. That would send a confusing message to the rest of the world.” 

How Obama Learned to Love the Bomb, Erika Eichelberger and Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones

Arms Race Gives Way to Network Race

The fundamental dynamic of the Cold War was an arms race to build nuclear weapons; conflict today is primarily driven by an “organizational race” to build networks. Terrorists, insurgents, and other militants focus on the creation of dispersed cells. … Intelligence, law enforcement, and military organizations strive to network their information flows, the aim being to mine “big data” to illuminate enemy cells, then to use this knowledge to eliminate them. In Boston last week, both aspects of this organizational race were evident – the small cell and big data – and both had their innings.

Small Cells vs. Big Data, John Arquilla, Foreign Policy

NORK: We’re Not Chumps

[North Korea] is well aware of the fate of the “axis of evil”: Iraq was invaded and occupied, and Iran is suffocating under the weight of economic sanctions and facing a possible Israeli or U.S. attack. From North Korea’s point of view, the only thing that Iraq and Iran have in common is that neither of them developed nuclear weapons.

Breaking Out the Bush Playbook on Korea, Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus

Nuclear Energy: Just a Few Degrees of Separation From Nuclear Weapons

… the Western approach toward Iran is that it does not make the necessary conceptual distinction between an indirect or latent nuclear capability and a drive to create nuclear weapons. Like other countries that possess a nuclear fuel cycle, such as Japan, Iran today has a latent nuclear capability that is a byproduct of its NPT-based nuclear progress, rather than a deliberate (i.e., illegal and clandestine) proliferation march. The mere suspicion that Iran’s capability will be misused in the future and bring Iran to the weaponization threshold cannot be the basis to deprive a country of its nuclear rights. … the West should focus on … on persuading Iran, through incentives and lack of security threats, to keep its indirect nuclear capability dormant indefinitely.

A proposed endgame for the Iranian nuclear crisis, Kaveh Afrasiabi, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The Word Terrorism Increasingly Applied to Muslims Only

… preconceived notions [hold] that terrorists or “jihadists,” a term often used interchangeably with the word “terrorist,” can only be Muslim. This is also akin to saying that other criminals or terrorists who are of other faiths cannot be true terrorists or that their criminal acts — such as mass shooting in a movie theater, or in a school, or a in a Sikh Temple, where scores of innocent people were massacred — cannot be described as terrorism.

Try Boston Marathon Bomber for His Crimes, Not His Religion or Nationality, Ali Younes, Focal Points

Did It Arrive on Pallets Like in Iraq?

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader. … Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords. … “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan, Matthew Rosenberg, the New York Times

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Ten years ago this week the Dixie Chicks controversy erupted: I’m still not ready to back down

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. ― Theodore Roosevelt

On March 10, 2003, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre in London, Natalie Maines stepped to the microphone and said this:

Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.

As our old friend Greg Mitchell notes, “It was a little more than a week before their fellow Texan launched a war based on lies.”

When word of Maines’s comment made it back to the US, what ensued was…well, what ensued was an infuriating look at the festering soul of Bush-era America and an illustration of the good, bad and ugly of how free speech works. Predictably, the hillbilly right closed ranks around the president and his WMDs-are-real cronies. Country & Western stations purged their playlists of Dixie Chicks music, records were burned, fatwas were issued, and the Chicks’ career Mark 1 was effectively destroyed. The message – for the Dixie Chicks and anybody else out there with a brain and a conscience – was more than clear: if you value your career, shut up and sing.

In some respects, the controversy was really useful. For instance, the president responded by saying:

The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.… they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out.… Freedom is a two-way street ….

The remarkable thing about this is that Bush, a man renowned for being wrong on just about everything, was actually right for once. Free speech does not imply a freedom from backlash, and if you’re an entertainer people who disagree with you are perfectly within their rights to boycott. What’s good for Hank Williams, Jr. and Mel Gibson is good for The Dixie Chicks.

Granted, you also have the right to be hateful and ignorant, and it’s certainly true that the Dixie Chicks backlash had more to do with the gleeful exercise of these rights than it did any informed understanding of how free speech was intended to work by the Framers. But that’s another argument for another day.

Now, how you feel about President Obama?

In April, 2009, S&R honored The Dixie Chicks as the 25th addition to our masthead hall of fame. I wrote, at the time (and while I was extremely angry):

History will validate, with a minimum of controversy, the sentiments Natalie Maines expressed at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre on March 10, 2003. Hopefully the record will point to our present moment and note that already the momentum had shifted and that within a generation people would have an impossible time imagining how such an affront to freedom was ever possible. Hopefully.

For the time being, “mad as hell” doesn’t begin to describe the indignation that those of us working to move this culture forward by promoting genuinely intelligent and pro-human values ought to feel, even now. I won’t tell you how to think and act, of course – you have a conscience and a brain, and you can be trusted to take in the information and perspectives around you and form an opinion that you can live by.

But for my part, I have a message for the “shut up and sing” crowd: I’m not ready to back down and I never will be. Your values are at odds with the principles upon which this nation was founded and true liberty cannot survive if your brand of flag-waving ignorance is allowed to thrive. You will not be allowed to use the freedoms that our founders fought for as weapons to stifle freedom for others.

You have declared a culture war, so here’s where the lines are drawn: I’m on the side of enlightenment, free and informed expression and the power of pro-humanist pursuits to produce a better society where we all enjoy the fruits of our shared accomplishments.

What side are you on?

Natalie and her bandmates lost tons of money over the past decade, but they’ll get by. In the end, it seems like they got a pretty good deal. In exchange for all those millions, they earned the right to a special place in the American soul. Justice matters. Facts matter. Humanity and compassion and freedom matter. Integrity matters more than money.

Looking back, I think the lesson to take away is a simple one. Our freedoms are important, but they’re empty and sterile and prone to corruption in the absence of an enlightened, intelligent embrace of the responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.

In the words of another of our musical heroes, George Clinton, “Think. It ain’t illegal yet.”

Journalistic framing in the spotlight: The Atlantic covers UNESCO coverage by The Daily Show

President Obama: AbsurdityFrom Wednesday, March 21, 2012:

‘The Daily Show’s’ Advantage Over the MSM: An Eye for the Absurd

Political satirists sometimes enjoy wider latitude than journalists. It’s a distinct and vital genre for a reason. The press would nevertheless do well to step back, if only occasionally, and to look at the world as its [sic] seen from the Daily Show writers room, or the Onion headline writing desk. Satirists have a knack for hitting on angles that reporters miss due to excessively narrow framing. And deliberate temperamental irreverence is helpful if your job is to dispassionately observe.* In the aftermath of The Daily Show’s UNESCO piece, its angle and value added has been praised in numerous journalistic outlets. Going forward, the press should try to recognize absurdity ahead of the satirists, and bring to ensuing coverage the rigor that is the journalistic comparative advantage. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

The lesson that bin Laden learned from Reagan

There is a particular narrative about Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War that has always struck me as compelling. I bought the argument at the time and I think I still do, to some extent, even though I’m hardly a Reagan fan.

The story goes like this: Reagan was able to finally win the Cold War and drive a stake through the heart of the Evil Empire because he realized that the Soviet economy was already badly overextended trying to prop up the war machine. All he had to do was accelerate the arms race, dramatically increasing military spending (while also amping up the sabre-rattling rhetoric) and that would force the Russkis to bankrupt themselves trying to compete. Continue reading

Would America have been better off with President McCain?

by Guy Saperstein

As we think ahead toward 2012, ponder this: Consider the possibility that we would be better off if John McCain had won in 2008. Heresy?

Yes, but think about a few important points.

Although TARP was passed during Bush’s Presidency, it really was the beginning of Obama’s term, as it could not have passed without Obama’s strong public support and, indeed, as many books, such as Joseph Stiglitz’ Firefall, have outlined, he was intimately involved in the decisions which led to TARP, particularly the decision to pay Wall Street 100 cents on the dollar for toxic assets at a time when the private market was paying 20 cents, and decisions not to put strings and conditions on the money, such as requiring that 80% of the TARP money be lent out, not used for mergers and acquisitions, which have now enabled even greater concentration in the banking industry, thus putting the economy at even greater risk in the future. Continue reading

Israel's 1981 Osirak attack poor precedent for attacking Iran

Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor is, along with other episodes such as the Six-Day War and Operation Entebbe, is the stuff of Israel’s military legend. Some are citing it as a precedent for attacking Iran’s nuclear-enrichment facilities. As Bennett Ramberg wrote in 2006 for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a pay wall) about the Osirak attack’s applicability to Iran:

A dramatic military action to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, the June 7, 1981 strike left a legacy that echoes today in the “all options are on the table” drumbeat emanating from Washington and Jerusalem. The seemingly straightforward message to Iran and other would-be proliferators: Abrogate nonproliferation pledges in this post-9/11 era and risk being “Osiraked.” Continue reading

Why Obama went after Osama, really

Like most people, I’m mostly glad that Osama is dead. He directly caused the deaths of thousands of people, and indirectly led to the deaths, displacement and exile of millions more. Would Sparky have launched the grand $3 trillion and yet-to-be-paid-for invasion of Iraq if Osama hadn’t leveled the Towers? No, of course not. So Osama had a lot to answer for, and while I would have preferred to see a trial, this will do. What I’m having some trouble with are the responses from the right, the ones that question Obama’s timing of this exercise. Many of these have been neatly summarized over at Alicublog, where Edroso has his usual fun with the lunacy that emanates daily from the cognitively impaired (check out his Voice column too). Drudge seemed to think it was to do something bad to Donald Trump, that sort of thing.

What is being overlooked here is the obvious, as usual. Much has been made here of the failure of the Royal Wedding planners to invite Gordon Brown and Tony Blair to the wedding of the century, or the millennium, or something. Many commentators seem greatly troubled by this. If that’s true, imagine how Obama must feel. This is hugely embarrassing. So, clearly Obama went after Osama at the point that he did in order to distract attention from his grievous failure to receive an invitation to the Royal Wedding, and remove all that Royal Wedding coverage off the front pages of the world’s newspapers. And he’s been remarkably successful. Simple, really.

Chilcot redux

The UK’s Inquiry into the Iraq war and the UK’s role in it kicks off again this week. Technically known as TheThe Iraq Inquiry but more conventionally known as the Chilcot inquiry (since it is being chaired by Sir John Chilcot), this series of hearings has produced occasionally riveting theatre. In some respects this has been turning out better than expected, because we have learned quite a few things we didn’t know before, especially on that pesky little matter of Tony Blair’s duplicity.

Anyway, the hearings start up again this week with a couple of military and Cabinet Office guys, and then on Friday we get the return of Tony Blair. As usual, people signed up for tickets, which is what occurred last time, but I’m going to be home watching it on BBC. There’s quite a lot that the Committee could be asking Blair about, in fact. Continue reading

Who's serious about reducing the deficit?

Cut Medicare payments and tweak Social Security. Cut defense spending by directly reducing spending and getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Raise income, corporate, and payroll taxes. These issues essentially define what it means to be serious about eliminating the federal deficit, because all of them need to happen before the deficit can truly be brought under control. Serious people can debate how much of each is necessary and where to make the largest changes, but anyone who rejects even one of the issues is either ignorant of the scale of the problem, blindly beholden to their preferred ideology, or lying.

Yesterday we discussed these issues. Today we look in greater detail at the public statements of various individuals and organizations to see if they are actually serious about cutting the deficit, or if they just claim to be serious.

The Republican Party

Since President Bush II presided over a massive expansion of government during his eight years in office, the GOP has, in most respects, become the party of “spend and don’t tax.” Continue reading

How to tell who’s serious about reducing the federal deficit

The federal deficit is a major topic of conversation these days, both in the media and around the nation’s water coolers and copiers. In fact, many freshmen Republican Representatives and Senators believe that they have been sent to Congress specifically to shrink the deficit and the related national debt. But it’s become clear to me from reading and having multiple discussions about the deficit that not everyone is serious about actually addressing the problem. Sure, most citizens think they’re serious about eliminating the deficit, but because they don’t have any clue about the scale of the actual problem, they offer up “solutions” that aren’t even tenth-measures, never mind half-measures. And given the positions of the political parties and various politicians, it’s difficult to see how they might even think that their positions amount to a serious attempt to eliminate the deficit.

So how can we tell whether someone is serious about addressing the federal debt? Continue reading

America vs. the Terrorists, 9/11/10: a status report, nine years on…

In September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger jets. They flew three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth was retaken by the passengers and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. These things we know. Since then, much has transpired. For example:

  • The US invaded Afghanistan, the nation that had harbored the terrorists and their mastermind, Osama bin Laden. The war has not been uniformly well managed and attempts to install a stable self-government have so far failed. Many experts argue that our efforts there have been woefully counterproductive. Continue reading

Biden embraces myth that surge turned Iraq into good war

by Gareth Porter

In an interview on the PBS NewsHour last Wednesday, Joe Biden was unwilling to contradict the official narrative of the Iraq War that Gen. David Petraeus and the Bush surge had turned Iraq into a good war after all. That interview serves as a reminder of just how completely the Democratic Party foreign policy elite has adopted that narrative.

The Iraq War story line crafted by the Petraeus and the new counterinsurgency elite in Washington assures the public that U.S. military power in Iraq brought about the cooperation of the Sunnis in Anbar Province, ended sectarian violence in Baghdad and defeated Iranian-backed Shi’a insurgents.

In reality, of course, that’s not what happened at all. It’s time to review the relevant history and deconstruct the Petraeus narrative which the Obama administration now appears to have adopted. Continue reading

Tony Blair tries to explain himself, and gets some help

Tony Blair’s political autobiography, A Journey, went on sale in the UK and the US today, and has prompted, if not a firestorm, a huge amount of media and political shouting over a number of points raised in the book—particularly Blair’s ongoing feud with Gordon Brown, and Blair’s continuing justification for the invasion of Iraq. (For the record, and to get it out of the way, Blair calls Brown “a disaster” and claims Brown tried to blackmail him, among other charges.) This is all great fun, and will be going on for weeks. Both The Guardian and The Independent (and the rest of the British press) have extensive articles summarizing the current state of play. This will of course evolve as people get around to actually reading the book, in which, among other things, he apparently has kind words not only for George Bush, but also Dick Cheney. Andrew Sparrow over at The Guardian is live-blogging both his reading of the book and what people are saying about it. Read the book if you want. I’m not bothering. Nor am I buying a copy, even though Waterstone’s is selling it for half price, and Amazon has marked it down further than that, and even though Blair made a big thing of donating the advance for the book (and profits, if any) to the Royal British Legion (for which Blair will receive a substantial tax break).
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Bring Back the Draft–the All-Volunteer Military Should be Retired

The United States gave up universal conscription in 1973. The Draft, as we all knew it, had been in effect since 1948, when President Truman and Congress re-introduced it. It was the main source of troops during the Vietnam conflict, which also ended up killing it. But I’ve always believed the main problem with the draft was the Vietnam War itself, not the principle. And this is true even though I was drafted as potential fodder for that colossal waste of people and resources. And I believe it’s time to bring the draft back—and it’s not just for reasons of giving young men and women something to do in economic hard times, although that’s a side benefit. The US military should not be a social engineering project, although it becomes one occasionally as a by-product of more direct concerns. In any event, there are more compelling arguments for bringing back the draft, arguments that I think go to the heart of whether America will survive as one nation, or will continue to fracture along the seismic fault lines that are becoming all too evident. We need to get rid of the all-volunteer army.
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