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Entries tagged "Iraq War"

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A Stunning Victory

November 22, 2011 ·

Near the end of George Bush’s eight years in the White House, the president and his Iraqi counterpart, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, shared a big problem. Both of them wanted U.S. troops to stay in Iraq, but both faced widespread domestic opposition to the U.S. occupation.

Obama is bringing the troops home, but will he leave behind the military contractors? Photo by U.S. Army.

Feeling the heat, they settled on a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) calling for full withdrawal of all 150,000 or so U.S. troops and all Pentagon-paid contractors by Dec. 31. In his first 18 months in office, President Obama did significantly reduce the numbers of troops in Iraq, down to about 50,000 by August 2010. But there it stuck. A year later, more than 40,000 U.S. troops were still occupying Iraq. The number of Pentagon-paid contractors still there was even higher—as of March, more than 64,000.

Even worse, the Obama administration continued to pressure the weak and corrupt Iraqi government to renegotiate the SOFA and “invite” the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future: a permanent occupation in all but name.

At the end of the day, none of those efforts worked. The official reason for not agreeing to keep 5,000 to 10,000 troops in Iraq was the refusal of the Iraqi government to guarantee U.S. soldiers immunity from criminal prosecution, but the real reason was that anti-war public opinion in Iraq and the U.S. was simply too strong. Al-Maliki certainly hoped some U.S. troops would remain, to help his unpopular government stay in power; Obama was under pressure from some in the Pentagon determined not to “lose” the supposed “gains” the occupation had achieved. But neither Iraq’s parliament nor the American people were prepared to allow thousands of U.S. soldiers to continue occupying Iraq. It was a stunning victory for those who have fought for peace all these years.

But. We’re not out of the woods entirely. Remember those contractors? Turns out the SOFA drafters were cleverer than anyone knew. The agreement said all Pentagon-paid military contractors had to leave by the end of this year, but didn’t mention those paid by the State Department. So guess which U.S. government agency is taking over the check-writing to pay thousands of U.S.-hired mercenaries to stay in Iraq for the long haul?

President Obama campaigned on a promise to end the war in Iraq, calling it a “dumb war.” So why did his administration try so hard to continue the occupation? It seems the strategic reasons that began during the Bush administration—the real causes underneath the fallacious claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or responsibility for 9/11—didn’t go away. Control of oil contracts, strategic reach in a vital region, access to bases, surrounding Iran: All remain operative, whoever is in the White House.

The war cost way too much in Iraqi and U.S. deaths and in our tax dollars. We paid almost $50 billion just this year for this war. That’s enough to provide health care for 24 million children for a year, or to create and fund new, green jobs for a million workers—maybe including those thousands of soldiers supposed to be on their way home.

The U.S. role in the Iraq war has gotten smaller, but it sure isn’t over. We need to bring home all U.S. personnel and dollars. It’s really “dumb” if we don’t. And we still can’t afford dumb wars.

“Reprinted with permission from Sojourners, (800)714-7474, www.sojo.net." 

Occupy Wall Street: New Politics and New Milestones

October 31, 2011 ·

This is an extraordinary time. The astonishing Occupy Wall Street movement emerged as the heart of our 99%, claimed the little scrap of earth in Zuccotti Park on behalf of all of us, and created a live-in soapbox from which to challenge inequality — how the 1% controls our economy, buys off our government, imposes their wars, and avoids paying their taxes. It both reflects and marks an end to the popular desperation that had taken over so much of our political life — instead, it applied the lessons of the Arab Spring, unexpectedly shaping a connection reaching far beyond the activist core, quickly moving from Wall Street to Main Street to the small parks, the steps of government buildings, the public squares from Oakland, California to Ames, Iowa, from Chicago to DC, to cities and towns across the country.

Occupying Wall Street with Laura Flanders and Judith LeBlanc.The challenges facing this new and different movement are legion, but joining its pop-up iterations is an incredible gift to those of us fighting that same outraged despair that first brought this vast disparity of folks to occupy what is now the people’s squares. In New York City, I huddled with GritTV’s Laura Flanders and Peace Action’s Judith LeBlanc, in the driving rain at the smaller-than-usual general assembly at Occupation Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park the other night. It was hard to see over the sea of umbrellas, and the meeting was pretty short. But the people’s mic functioned fine in the rain, as folks discussed a variety of ways to act in solidarity with our Oakland contingent, who had faced a particularly brutal police assault, critically injuring a young Iraq War veteran from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.

A couple of weeks ago while speaking at several places in Iowa, I visited the activists of Occupy Des Moines, who had regrouped in front of the state capitol after bailing out 37 of their number who had been arrested by state troopers at the order of the governor. While they stood with their signs, the progressive mayor of the city pulled up, offering a nearby city park as an alternative site, one that would be outside the right-wing governor’s jurisdiction. After a consensus decision, they moved their encampment, demonstrating again how this movement is creating new divides among the powerful.

Occupying DC

In Washington, we have two Occupy encampments. Both have been amazing in bringing new permanence and new breadth to the political resistance long present/absent/present in this city. With other IPSers and a variety of close friends and comrades, we’ve marched with the Occupy folks to protest at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and elsewhere. We’ve done teach-ins on the Iraq troop withdrawal and the renewed threats against Iran. We’ve had amazing discussions with folks occupying the squares.

Spending a day with the Institute’s Letelier-Moffitt human rights awardees, representatives of Wisconsin's progressive movement, I hung out for a while at Freedom Plaza, one of the Occupy sites, talking with a brilliant homeless woman. She taught me more about homeless policy in DC than I had ever known. She described life in the shelters, saying that “yeah there’re bedbugs, and there’s no security and they’re way too crowded, but that’s not the real problem. The real failure is that the city government’s mandate is to advocate for our rights, and it’s the rights of homeless people that are being ignored. Their mandate isn’t just for charity, they’re supposed to be advocates for our rights.” She knew the details of the city mandate and what obligations were being ignored — I hadn’t had a clue. This is what this new movement looks like.

Occupying the Future

There are huge uncertainties, of course. Will the encampments figure out how to survive the encroaching winter? Can the iconic center, at Occupy Wall Street’s Zucotti Park, remain the symbolic heart of the national, indeed global movement, as its working groups and caucuses extend out into other parts of the city? Will the Occupy movement figure out how to balance the focus on new ways of living with each other, creating new democratic norms that are, in the new dictum, horizontal instead of vertical, while simultaneously figuring out how to escalate the challenge to power that the creation of the Occupy sites began?

We won’t know for a while. But we do know now, already, that Occupy Wall Street — and Occupy DC, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy Los Angeles and Chicago and Atlanta and Taos, New Mexico — have already shaken up our political stasis in a critically important new way. I’ve been thinking a lot about the first Palestinian intifada, the nonviolent, society-wide mobilization that transformed Palestine’s nationalist struggle beginning in the late 1980s. Palestinian activists chose “uprising” as the logical English equivalent, but intifada doesn’t really mean that — it means something closer to “shake-up” or “shaking out” — exactly what Occupy Wall Street has done to our body politic. It’s our intifada, and it’s shaking up that money-glutted, war-mongering, tax-avoiding 1 % like nothing in a couple of generations.

Milestones: Iraq Withdrawal, Qaddafi is Killed, Prisoners Go Free

In the meantime, the news is full of milestones. President Obama’s announcement that almost all of the U.S. troops still occupying Iraq will come home by the end of the year certainly counts as a huge milestone-to-come. It’s not complete, but it’s a huge victory for our U.S. and global antiwar mobilizations, and especially for the people of Iraq so desperate to see an end to eight years of occupation. It means almost all the U.S. troops, and all the Pentagon-paid contractors will leave by the end of this year — so even with the biggest U.S. embassy ever built, with 5,000 staff, and thousands of security contractors (paid by the State Department this time, abiding by the letter though clearly not the spirit of the get-them-all-out-by-the-end-of-2011 agreement) this is a huge tribute to our years of work. I talked about the troop withdrawal on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR, including some of the history of what the years of war and occupation, plus the 12 years of Washington’s crippling economic sanctions, have meant for the people of Iraq. Also on RT, I examined the consequences of the war for Iraqis.

And of course the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, after he was captured alive, marked another grisly milestone in the Libyan civil war. In my article on salon.com, I wrote about how vulnerable Libya remains: still oil-rich but more divided than ever, after Qaddafi’s death. Far from “liberation,” Libya continues to face a host of serious dangers.

We also had a nice victory for popular mobilization. CTV, the Canadian network that had given in to pressure and removed my interview on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian UN statehood bid, put it back on the website when they got enough letters of protest to decide they had to reverse their decision. And they just invited me back, this time to talk about the consequences of Qaddafi’s death. You can watch that CTV interview here.

Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine!

That’s the slogan coined by the BNC, the Palestinian leadership of the now-global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions — BDS — that challenges Israeli violations of international law and human rights. And we have yet another milestone, this one on the Palestine-Israel front, the prisoner swap that saw the first 400 or so out of a total of 1027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the one Israeli soldier held by Hamas. It was certainly a "win-win" at the human level, but of course there are political causes and consequences too. Here's the link to the "Inside Story" show I did on al-Jazeera English, discussing the prisoner exchange with my old friend and Palestinian civil society leader Mustafa Barghouti as well as an Israeli colonel. Al-Jazeera also published my commentary on the prisoner swap.

Just as this newsletter was getting ready to go to press, we also got word from Paris that UNESCO voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a full Member State. According to U.S. policy, that will trigger an immediate cut-off of U.S. dues to the UN’s cultural, education and science organization, as well as ending U.S. dues payments to (and perhaps thus voting rights in) several other important UN agencies — possibly including the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear production around the world. Stay tuned for more analysis next time…

Amazing Times…

The Occupy movement is bringing new energy, new activists, new ideas, new strategies into our movements for peace, justice and equality. One of the chants I heard last week, from folks at Brooklyn for Peace where I was speaking, seemed to capture the moment particularly well: “How do we end the deficit? End the wars and tax the rich!

It’s good advice. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get there.

Headlines or Not, the Iraq War is Not Over

September 7, 2011 ·

It might seem like there's a cause for celebration after reading the New York Times headline, "Iraq War Marks First Month with No U.S. Military Deaths." But the smaller print on the page reminds us why celebrating is not really in order: "Many Iraqis are killed..." The cost of this war is still way too high — in Iraqi lives and in our money.Out of Iraq Now!

With so much attention and so many billions of our tax dollars shifting from Iraq to the devastating and ever more costly war in Afghanistan, it is too easy to forget that there are still almost 50,000 U.S. troops occupying Iraq. We are still paying almost $50 billion just this year for the war in Iraq. And while we don't hear about it very often, many Iraqis are still being killed.

There's an awful lot of discussion underway about the massive cuts in the Pentagon's budget that may be looming as part of the deficit deal. But somehow few are mentioning that those potential cuts from the defense department's main budget don't even touch the actual war funding — this year alone it's $48 billion for Iraq and $122 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

Just imagine what we could do with those funds — we could provide health care for 43 million children for two years, or hire 2.4 million police officers to help keep our communities safe for a year. Or we could create and fund new green middle-class jobs for 3.4 million workers — maybe including those thousands of soldiers we could bring home from those useless wars.

Barack Obama, back when he was a presidential candidate, promised he would end the war in Iraq. In 2002, he called it a "dumb" war. The U.S. role in the war has gotten smaller but it sure isn't over. And it hasn't gotten any smarter. A year ago Obama told us that all combat operations in Iraq were about to end, that "our commitment in Iraq is changing from a military effort" to — what exactly? The 50,000 or so troops still in Iraq are there, we are told, to train Iraqi security forces, provide security for civilians, and, oh yes, to conduct counterterrorism operations. Apparently "counterterrorism operations" don't count as part of a military effort?

Even worse, the Obama administration, following its predecessor's footsteps, is clearly committed to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline agreed to by the Bush administration and Iraq back in 2008. That agreement was supposed to be absolute — it called for all U.S. troops to be pulled out by the end of this year. (There were loopholes, of course — the agreement said all Pentagon-paid military contractors had to leave too, but didn't mention those paid by the State Department, so guess which agency is taking over the check-writing to pay the thousands of mercenaries preparing to stay in Iraq for the long haul?)

But now the Obama administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Iraq's weak and corrupt government, pushing Baghdad's U.S.-dependent leadership to "invite" U.S. troops to stay just a little bit longer. Iraq's elected parliament, like the vast majority of the population, wants all the troops out. But democratic accountability to the people doesn't operate any better in Iraq than it does here in the U.S. So the Iraqi cabinet made its own decision, without any messy consultations with their parliament, to "open negotiations" with Washington over how many and how long U.S. troops would continue occupying their country.

Of course it's good news that no U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq in August. The bad news is that scores of Iraqi civilians were killed. We don't know exactly how many — the Pentagon says it doesn't do body counts. But we know some of them. According to IraqBodyCount.org, 36 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first five days of the month. Just on one day, August 15, the New York Times reported 89 Iraqis killed, another 315 injured in apparently coordinated attacks. And on the last day of the month, August 31st, at least seven Iraqis were killed, another 25 wounded. And those are just the ones we know about.

The Iraq War isn't over. It still costs too much in the lives of Iraqi civilians and in U.S. taxpayer dollars. We still can't afford dumb wars. We need to bring those 50,000 troops and those fifty billion dollars home. And the way to do that is to follow the money: keep the pressure up on the links between our economic crisis and the costs of these illegal, useless wars. It's really dumb if we don't.

Summer Doldrums and War Budgets

July 13, 2011 ·

The dog days of summer have socked in, with Washington’s heat and humidity made far worse by the hot air coming out of corporate board rooms and hearing rooms and White House and Capitol conference rooms, as DC’s powerful debate the budget crisis. One word, of course, largely unspoken: WAR. As in, the costs of:

  • The decade-long, disastrous war in Afghanistan - 98,000 U.S. troops and 100,000 U.S.-paid contractors at a cost of $122 billion just this year.
  • The continuing occupation of Iraq - 48,000 troops and administration pressure on Iraq to “request” they remain after the December 2011 deadline at a cost of $47 billion just this year.
  • The illegal and unacknowledged drone war in Pakistan — killing as many as 2015 people since 2004, of whom less than 2% are militant leaders — at a cost of at least $258 million just for the drone strikes themselves.
  • The overall Pentagon budget (which does not count the cost of the actual wars) at a cost of $553 billion just this year.

That's just for starters. Seems like some of those here in DC so desperate to figure out how to explain to their constituents why there are no jobs, why they’re losing their homes, and why grandma’s Medicare is being cut should really be apologizing instead for continuing to wage illegal, useless wars at a cost of now trillions of dollars.

In the meantime, just a few updates.

The Transnational Institute, IPS’s sister institute in Amsterdam where I spend time each year with an extraordinary gathering of public scholars and activists from around the world, has started a great project of getting Spanish translations of TNI fellows’ books on-line for downloading and/or use in kindles/nooks/e-readers etc. It’s pretty cool - the first one is my book Challenging Empire: How People, Government, and the UN Defy U.s. Power, for which Danny Glover, the great activist-actor, wrote the foreword. You can download it here - and please send the link on to Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues.

Some of you will remember the great supporter and critic of the United Nations, Erskine Childers. He was one of the earliest defenders of the UN’s independence and integrity, a fierce fighter against U.S. domination of the institution, and one of my close friends and mentors. He died too early, in 1996, and a new book takes a new look at some of his key speeches, with contributions by a host of his friends and comrades. If you want to take a look at my commentary, it’s here, and you can find the entire book on-line here.

And while we fight budget wars and fight the erosion of our democracy here, democracy seems to be doing a lot better in other parts of the world. Below is my article on Turkey’s recent elections and its rising role as a major economic and democratic power in the Middle East and beyond, “Turkish Democracy Gives Rise to Turkish Power.”

Hope you’re having a good summer, keep up the fight to stop the wars and bring the war dollars home.

Leon Panetta's Really Bad Day

July 12, 2011 ·

If his job was to reassure a population impoverished and outraged by war, brand-new Defense Secretary and just-resigned CIA Director Leon Panetta didn’t have such a great Sunday.

First, he repeated the long-discredited Bush lie that Iraq had something to do with September 11, telling U.S. soldiers in Baghdad that “the reason you guys are here is because on 9/11, America got attacked.”

It seems that Leon Panetta swore to blur any distinction between military and civilian control of U.S. wars. Photo by PACOM.

Then he joined others in the administration in escalating the anti-Iran rhetoric, claiming that weapons from Iran were being used to kill U.S. soldiers occupying Iraq. He actually said “the key right now is (…) to stop the Shia from using (those weapons),” apparently forgetting that the U.S.-installed and U.S.-backed Iraqi government just happens to be dominated by “the Shia,” who are the largest religious community in Iraq. Blaming Iran for Iraqi opposition to the U.S. occupation is an oldie but goodie for U.S. military spin-doctors.

This time it was part of a specific campaign aimed at pressuring the Iraqi government to “request” that the U.S. keep ten or twenty or thirty thousand of its current 48,000 occupying troops in Iraq after the end of the year – when the U.S.-Iraq agreement requires that they all be removed.

But now, with the new Pentagon chief coming straight from the CIA, and the new head of the CIA the same General Petraeus responsible for the Iraq and Afghan escalations, any distinction between military and civilian control of U.S. wars is hopelessly blurred.  Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that agreements to withdraw U.S. troops are being undermined, and that Bush-era claims about Iraq ties to 9/11 and about Iranian responsibility for “destabilizing Iraq” are making the rounds again.

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