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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "Iraq War"

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Pentagon Papers 2.1 - Wikileaks Iraq War Logs Make Accountability Harder to Deny

October 25, 2010 ·

The Iraq war logs released by Wikileaks over the weekend do not, as far as we can tell so far, contain much evidence of things we didn’t already know.  The revelations are not surprising – but they are shocking nonetheless. Partly because of the scale – 15,000 more civilian casualties than we had known about before. (And remember, this is the very narrow definition of war casualties – including only those killed directly by weapons of war, not the hundreds of thousands more killed by the effects of the war – those unable to find treatment because hospitals had been destroyed, those children dying of once-vanquished diseases because the water treatment systems had been destroyed, and so much more.)

This latest trove of Wikileaks war documents is important not because it holds any new revelations of how the U.S. has and continued to wage war against Iraq, but rather because it reminds us of exactly how that war was and is being waged, and crucially, who is responsible. The significance has everything to do with accountability. 

It is unlikely that this latest exposé will have much impact in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East – the brutality, illegality, immorality and inhumanity of the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq are already all too well known there.  (Despite fevered Washington outrage, the “revelation” that Iran is paying huge amounts of money to buy influence in Baghdad should come as no surprise – isn’t that what the U.S. has been doing since 2003? Except Iran isn’t also militarily occupying and bombing its neighbor.)  The impact of the documents will be much more important here in the U.S., where economic crisis and intractable joblessness have, however understandably, diverted public attention from the horrors of war.  It is much more important here because despite a partial reduction of troops, there are still 50,000 re-named combat troops and 75,000 U.S.-paid military contractors occupying Iraq.  The war continues.

The actions recounted in the Wikileaks seemingly endless list of documents – attacks on civilians, airstrikes ordered by Pentagon legal advisers on Iraqis trying to surrender, attacks at checkpoints against Iraqi families who had no reason to understand the language or handmotions of occupying soldiers – represent war crimes.  And as long as there is no accountability – at the highest levels – for the policies that put these potential war crimes in motion, there is no reason to believe they will stop.  These documents do not tell us anything we didn’t already know – except for the details of who did what, who died, and crucially, who gave the orders.

It will not be enough to hold accountable those individuals at the end of the chain of command who pulled the trigger. First we must hold accountable all of those – in the Pentagon, the White House, the Justice Department and beyond – who gave the orders, who wrote the policies, who approved the airstrikes.  Then, and only then, we might be in a position to claim that we are trying to end the war.

What We Didn't Hear from Obama on Iraq

September 2, 2010 ·

Above: Contrary to appearances, this really is Phyllis on Fox News, 8/31/10.

President Obama’s speech on the partial draw-down of U.S. troops in Iraq had one surprising moment. He admitted that the Iraq War as a “trillion dollar” war. That’s huge. I’m pretty sure he’s the first U.S. official to acknowledge that horrifying reality.

But what he left out was more significant. Just on the cost of war, while acknowledging the overall cost, and speaking separately about job loss and the economic crisis in the U.S., he didn’t make the crucial link between the two. He didn’t say, for instance, that the cost of keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq another year and a half, more than $12 billion, could instead pay for 240,000 new green union jobs back home – and still have funds left over to begin paying for real reconstruction and reparations in Iraq.

What else didn’t we hear? We didn’t hear that the 50,000 troops in Iraq now ARE still combat troops — even if the Pentagon has “re-missioned” them for training and assistance.  We heard about the 4th Stryker Brigade leaving Iraq, but not about the 3,000 new combat troops from Fort Hood in Texas, from the Third Armored Cavalry — combat troops — who just deployed TO Iraq 10 days ago.

Above: Same thing on Real News Network. Obama only seems ubiquitous. 9/1/2010.

We didn’t hear about the 4,500 Special Forces among them. That group has two jobs: continuing their “counter-terrorism” operations, which means running around the country with a “capture or kill” list, authorizing those U.S. soldiers to do just that to anyone named on the list. Who knows what corruption, settling of old scores, or other factors led to some of those names? Their second job is to train their Iraqi counterparts, the Iraqi Special Operations Force, which seems to be becoming an El Salvador-style death squad. It’s accountable only to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, not to the Iraqi government as a whole. The U.S. officer who set it up, Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, laughed while telling the Nation’s Shane Bauer that “all these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day.”  The U.S. head of the training unit, Brig. General Simeon Trombitas, who said he was “very proud of what was done in El Salvador,” also announced that the U.S. training in places like El Salvador and Colombia (he served in both) was “extremely transferable” to Iraq.

We didn’t hear much about that.

And, at the end of the day, we didn’t hear much about the 50,000 troops remaining. We didn’t hear about how the State Department is bringing in 7,000 armed security contractors, planes, surveillance drones, armored vehicles, and a “ready reaction” force of its own, to protect the 5,000 diplomats anticipated in the giant (Vatican City-sized) new embassy after the December 31, 2011 deadline for all U.S. troops and all of the Pentagon’s military contractors to leave Iraq. Thus instead of replacing U.S. power with independent and sovereign Iraqi power, the real transition underway is from the Pentagon to the State Department. Instead of replacing military force with diplomacy, the U.S. is just militarizing U.S. diplomacy.

And one more thing we didn’t hear. We didn’t hear Obama remind us of what he once understood so clearly: that Iraq is a “stupid war.” Instead, we heard a near-reiteration of George Bush. The war never was about “Iraqi Freedom.” But it sure doesn’t sound like a “New Dawn” either.

You can also listen to me debate the subject with Ret. General James Dubik and Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran on The Diane Rehm Show. And before the speech I was on Al-Jazeera English.

Withdrawal from Iraq: Remembering the Quaker's Colonel

August 31, 2010 ·

Earlier this month, long time FPIF senior analyst, Col. Dan Smith (Ret.) passed away. Dan worked at the Friends Committee for National Legislation and the Center for Defense Information after 26 years of military service which ranged from the war in Vietnam to the Gulf War in Iraq.

It’s fitting to think about Dan today as President Obama makes his official speech marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Dan wrote more than 70 articles for FPIF and blogged regularly at The Quaker’s Colonel on the Iraq War.

With 50,000 troops still on the ground inside Iraq, and many military brass and diplomats arguing that the final withdrawal date of December 2011 should be pushed back, the war is anything but over.

Pundits and politicians, such as John Boehner are focusing on the narrow issue of if the surge worked. Lost in the mix is the question of how we got into war in the first place, what the effects have been on our military readiness, and what has been the true economic, political and human toll to the United States and more importantly Iraq. Juan Cole has a must-read speech that Obama should give tonight where he touches on many of these critical issues.

Looking forward, Anne Applebaum writing in The Washington Post argues that despite the debate over the “success” of the war, it’s too soon to know the result. Applebaum is sadly wrong here—we do know the answers. Dan was writing about them before the war even began: we are weakened in our ability to organize coalitions, influence the Middle East, and have largely failed to care for our veterans. If things get better for Iraq, it will largely be in spite of the war, not because of it.

Dan wrote about many of the speeches President Bush gave on Iraq. He often chided Bush for declaring success where there was none. In reaction to a speech given at the Pentagon by Bush in 2005, he wrote:

Even the most casual review of the past five years substantiates the opinion of the majority of Americans that Bush administration claims of victory in Iraq are false. They don’t pass the sight, sound or scent tests – which is to say they don’t look like a duck, quack like a duck, or smell like a duck.

So why is the president still calling it a duck by giving victory speeches?

Obama will be careful not to declare victory tonight but he’ll likely be using the speech as a marker of progress and as a strong signal that it’s time to move on. I’m pretty sure Dan would argue that still doesn’t pass the sight, sound or scent tests.

I’ll be thinking of him when I’m listening.

From the Frontlines: May 10th, 2010

May 10, 2010 ·

BP oil spill. From the Seattle Times.The seven stupidest statements made about the BP oil hemorrhage.  

BP's first plan to contain the spill failed, but Alabama and Mississippi lawmakers still support offshore drilling.  

Glenn Greenwald has an impressive roundup of articles questioning Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's credentials. But another Salon author wonders if the "liberal case against" Kagan is overblown.  

In Iraq, at least 65 people were killed and 243 injured in a series of attacks. And the Taliban announced a new offensive starting today, against foreign troops, security contractors, and the Afghans that work with them.  

Community health care clinics are a main source of care for the U.S. poor. With the reform bill's passage, what is their future?  

Left-wing parties celebrate victory in Germany.  

In Greece, protesters focus their wrath on the IMF, as a "majority of Greeks not only see it as the harbinger of harsh economic reforms but the symbol of foreign occupation."

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