He thought, I thought

We had a young person in court a while back that didn’t treat the judge with much deference. In itself, that’s not saying much, but what really irked the judge was this: the person in front of him didn’t meet his expectations. The Judge expected more from a person in the military.

As far as the judge was concerned, he earned the right to be judgmental, and not just because he’s a judge… he’s a retired military man himself (30 years in the Marines).

I didn’t bother me much (the behavior), but not just because most folks are operating at less than 100 percent in court. The first thing that came to my mind was: “I wonder if this person has earned the right to be belligerent.” I know, there are probably lots of folks who are sent overseas and don’t come back assholes. But, if we look for them, we see articles like this a little too often: (Newsvine/AP)

While many Vietnam veterans began showing manifestations of stress disorders roughly 10 years after returning from the front, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown the signs much earlier.

That could also be because stress disorders are much better understood now than they were a generation ago, advocates say.

“There’s something about going back, and a third and a fourth time, that really aggravates that level of stress,” said Michael Blecker, executive director of Swords to Plowshares,” a San Francisco homeless-vet outreach program.

“And being in a situation where you have these IEDs, everywhere’s a combat zone. There’s no really safe zone there. I think that all is just a stew for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A part of me wonders if this person could detect something like pity in me, and it made the situation worse.


A day later, a little opinion

It’s widely assumed that the administration scheduled General Petraeus’ testimony before congress on 9/10 and 9/11 to emphasize “what’s at stake,” but to me, it only emphasizes why I can’t fully trust what I’m being told.

If the administration dishonestly linked 9/11 and Iraq to start a war, if they cherry picked or invented evidence to justify the war, if they strong-armed the White House press corps to suppress dissent on the war, how can we believe their evidence to justify continuing the war?

I want to trust someone. I want to believe General Petraeus is an honest, principled man. However, I can’t ignore what appears to be this administration’s tendency to surround themselves with “yes” men. Do we believe the general when he tells us Iraqi deaths are down, or do we believe some press reports which suggest they may still be trending up? (The AP suggests it’s still trending up, but some other surveys do tend to agree with the General’s assessment.) Do we believe the general when he tells us the progress in Anbar can be attributed to the surge, or do we believe common sense which tells us the violence started coming down several months before the surge started? Do we believe his comments that Anbar may be evidence of reconciliation, or do we share others’ fears that it is evidence of Sunnis consolidating their power for an inevitable clash with a Shiite dominated government in Baghdad? (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”) Do we celebrate the evidence that fewer people are being killed in Baghdad, or do we morn the evidence that there aren’t nearly so many Sunis left in Baghdad for Shiites to kill? Do we take the General at his word that the Iraqi security forces are getting better, or do we worry that the predominently Shiite Iraqi security forces seem to focus on Sunni militias? Should we be optimistic because of his reassurance that al-Quaeda’s presence in Anbar is declining, should we be wary because others feel al-Quaeda’s numbers are rising in Ninevah, or do we once again shout out in frustration that al-Quaeda may not have been there at all if not for this damn war?

I want to trust someone, but these days has to be earned. Thanks to Bush and Cheney it won’t come cheap.

BBC NEWS | US lawmakers’ plane evades shots

BBC NEWS | Middle East | US lawmakers’ plane evades shots

Three U.S. Senators were taking off at Baghdad.

The lawmakers said their plane, a C-130 Hercules, had to avoid three rocket-propelled grenades over the course of several minutes.

After taking evasive action, they safely completed their journey to Amman in Jordan.

“It was a scary moment,” said Republican Senator Mel Martinez.

I wonder if they think the surge is working.

A New York Times Op-Ed deconstruction

A week ago I wrote about an article I’d read about progress being made in Iraq. There was a New York Times op-ed by a couple folks from the Brookings Institution around that same time, with similar conclusions, which I had not read. I did read the press generated from the White House, holding this NYT op-ed by alleged “war detractors,” as real evidence of progress in Iraq.

The argument made a certain amount of sense… after all, it seems apparent the editorial board of NYT doesn’t carry a lot of love for the POTUS and his middle east adventures.

I was perusing a blog this evening, and I happened upon a link to this article at Salon.com.

Here’s a couple of interesting tidbits pointed out by the article (based on an interview with the authors of the NYT op-ed piece in question):

1. Both authors of the NYT piece were proponents of the war at it’s inception, AND were proponents of the “surge.” They were not, as the White House suggested, “war critics” through and through.

2. The observations made by the authors in the NYT piece came from extremely brief, arranged, and wholly controlled tours and interviews arranged by the Department of Defense.

To be fair, I wouldn’t be up for a self-guided tour of Iraq… but then, I’m not holding myself out to be an unbiased observer of events there. It’s seems to me the DOD just might have an agenda where Iraq is concerned.

What’s more likely? The DOD takes the press around detailing all of their failures and missteps, showing just how terribly things are going (contrary to the message being put forth by their commander in chief)… or they put their best faces forward, knowing General Petraeus is due to give his progress report to Congress… in a bout a month?

After all the recent events in the news, is it unreasonable to assume that the message from the DOD is politically polished, if not scripted by the White House?


With apologies to my wife…

I simply couldn’t resist…

If you think they hate us now | Salon.com Excerpts:

Even if George W. Bush is the most awful American president in modern times, as many historians believe, and even though he has brought the United States into unprecedented disrepute around the world, as opinion polls indicate, the bombastic tone of the candidates seeking to succeed him from his own party raises a disturbing possibility. If the next president is a Republican, this truly bad situation could become still worse.

The leading GOP contenders have all endorsed the current escalation of U.S. forces. They all share the president’s determination to keep our troops there indefinitely. They all insistently echo Bush by linking the invasion and occupation of Iraq with the attacks of 9/11.

… in his best moments after 9/11, he (Bush) has defended the rights of Muslim Americans to live here without suffering persecution or prejudice.

Perhaps Bush’s efforts deserve to be dismissed as little more than lip service, but semantics matter. The Republicans most likely to win their party’s presidential nomination constantly use language that is meant to inflame anger against Muslims for political advantage.

Who to believe?

I’m kicking myself for not saving an article written by an AP military writer sometime in the last week. The article discusses the author’s feelings that progress is being made in Iraq. A re-reading would make me more comfortable characterizing the article, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. From what I recall, the basis for this position was increasing cooperation from locals in the fighting against al-Qaeda, and a general feeling based on two weeks in Iraq.

At the time I was pleased to read something that trended optimistic… it was a nice change. At the same time, I would have felt better if something more concrete was offered as evidence. What was the frame of reference for the writer’s better than expected trip to Iraq? Was it expectation or previous experience? Knowing which it was would allow me to put the comments in context, and evaluate them appropriately.

As for the increasing cooperation of locals in the fighting against foreign terrorists, an article in the New Republic put a different spin on things:

U.S. forces collaborating with Sunni militants who have turned against Al Qaeda–seems likely to make any eventual reconciliation (with Shi’ites in Iraq) even more improbable. However useful these partnerships may be tactically, U.S. assistance to the Islamic Army and 1920 Revolution Brigade necessarily strengthens and legitimizes such groups. Whether intended or not, one result is to undermine the claims of Iraqi authorities in Baghdad to represent the nation’s sole, rightful government.

It’s the equivalent of the police arming the Crips to take on the Bloods. Here and there, gang violence might briefly subside, but the rule of law is unlikely to benefit. And, sooner or later, the Crips will turn their guns on the cops.

In the mean time, it seems the numbers on violence are holding steady. So much for optimism.


We’ll see you in September Iraqi leader tells Bush: Get Gen Petraeus out – Telegraph

Iraqi leader tells Bush: Get Gen Petraeus out – Telegraph:

“Relations between the top United States general in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, the country’s prime minister, are so bad that the Iraqi leader made a direct appeal for his removal to President George W Bush.Although the call was rejected, aides to both men admit that Mr Maliki and Gen David Petraeus engage in frequent stand-up shouting matches, differing particularly over the US general’s moves to arm Sunni tribesmen to fight al-Qa’eda.”

Over and over and over and over… we’ve heard George (president of the occupation optimists club) Bush tell us politicians weren’t going to make military decisions in Iraq, the generals were. It seems al-Maliki didn’t get the memo.

When the much bally-hooed September briefing premeires in Congress later this summer, no one better be telling me our working relationship with Iraqi leadership is peaches and cream.

McCain v. Reid – TIME

McCain v. Reid – TIME

In this piece, John McCain (and the author) engages the enemy at home… the 70% of American citizens also known as “defeatists.”

“He derided ‘the fanciful and self-interested debates about Iraq that substitute for statesmanship in Washington.’ And he suggested that the Democrats had decided ‘to take advantage of the public’s frustration, accept defeat,’ and hope that ‘the politics of defeat’ would benefit them.”

I’m not so naive to think Democrats aren’t staking a position on Iraq that is politically expedient, but I hope Mr McCain doesn’t really believe the public at large is “fanciful and self-interested.” (And it’s a good thing Republicans have never politicized the war.) The war in Iraq may be the most “convenient” war in U.S. history. How often has the U.S. military been deployed overseas in combat operations without some kind of draft, or rationing of resources back home? Were it not for the enterprising work of the various news organizations, we might not know there’s a war going on at all. Opposition to the war is hardly a matter of self interest for most Americans. We’d have to have some sense of consequence to be self interested. For most of us, life is completely unchanged.

I don’t often give the public a lot of credit, but it seems to me that the American people are frustrated because Republicans had a stranglehold on the Federal Government for six years… and screwed the pooch. Six years of Republican domestic agenda can be summed up in two words: “tax cut.” Six years of Republican foreign relations can also be summed up in two words: “cowboy diplomacy.”

As for the “fanciful” part… well, Mr McCain may be right there. Who can blame Americans for daydreaming about our prospects for the next election?

Vietnam versus Iraq

If you’re like me and you read the news in print, on the web; you listen to it on the radio, in the office; and you watch it (seldom) on TV, you may have heard comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. Although I’m rarely reading over your shoulder, or in shouting distance while you read these entries, I can hear a few of your responses:
“Please. Not another list.”
“What comparisons?”
“You can read news on the web?”
“Is he EVER going to go back to work full time?”

Well, I decided to do a little research… stressing “little.” Here’s some of the highlights (I use this term lightly):

Vietnam peak (number of U.S. troops: 1968 – 1969: 550,000
Private Contractors (approx 10%): 55,000
Total U.S. Personnel investment: 605,000
Total land area: 128,000 sq mi
Population: 41m (approx – in 1970)
Population density: 320/sq mi

Troops in Iraq (the U.S. contingent among the dwindling “coalition of the quasi willing”): 160,000
Private Contractors: 160,000
Total: 320,000
Total land area: 169,000 sq mi
Population: 27m
Population density: 171/sq mi

Taking the recent population totals for Vietnam and comparing it to the the number of troops there, you get a U.S. Personnel to Vietnamese ratio of 1 to 140. Looking at the total land area and the population density – along with a bit of reading about the country’s geography, there’s a fair bit of the country that his habitable.

Now that the “surge” is underway in Iraq, our U.S. Personnel to Iraqi ratio is 1 to 84. Furthermore, looking at the population density – along with a little reading about the country’s geography, there’s very little of the country that is habitable.

So… by my rough calculations (and with no military training or expertice whatsoever), it appears to me that we have almost twice as many U.S. personel commited to Iraq on a per capita basis as we did in Vietnam, to cover far less habitable territory.

Granted… we lost Vietnam, and since the mission was supposedly different**, the value of these numbers may be limited. (**Since the mission seems to be a moving target in Iraq, it’s difficult to determine just how “different” it really is.)

My point to this entry is that Iraq is not another Vietnam. In some respects this may be worse. Although the overall numbers are lower, you can make the argument that we’ve got a BIGGER investment of personnel in Iraq (when you consider the size and make-up of the objective) – and with all due respect to Mr Bush (which at this point isn’t much), we’re still losing.