Monday, June 18, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 18th edition

June 18, 2003: A soldier from 1st platoon, 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, A Company, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), scans above during house to house cordon and search operations in Mosul

June 18, 2002:

Stop distorting facts, Mr Bush

A history professor of mine once returned essay exams with the comment that some students’ attitude seemed to be, “Don’t bother me with the facts—II’m going for the bigger picture.”

George W. Bush wasn’t in that class, but I thought of the professor’s sardonic comment as I read the commencement address the president delivered at West Point earlier this month.

In addition to restating the Bush Doctrine (the United States has the right to destroy any society anywhere for whatever reason it chooses regardless of international opinion, law, or basic morality), Bush at West Point used one of the popular contemporary buzz phrases, “moral clarity.”

Given that no one really argues for moral unclarity, claiming moral clarity is really just a cheap way to dismiss other points of view without providing a compelling argument or dealing with the messy world of facts. The West Point speech shows just how morally murky the president is.

In that speech, for example, Bush endorsed John F. Kennedy’s and Ronald Reagan’s refusal “to gloss over the brutality of tyrants” during the Cold War. That’s accurate, if Bush meant the brutality of tyrants on the other side. American leaders have always been quick to condemn the crimes of enemies, which is perfectly appropriate.

But the United States has not only glossed over the brutality of tyrants on our side; it has often actively supported and funded such brutality. Where was the moral clarity when Kennedy backed an authoritarian regime in South Vietnam that had almost no support among its people? Where was it when Reagan supported vicious military dictatorships in Central America that killed tens of thousands of innocent people? In both cases, some moral clarity on the part of US leaders would have saved lives.

“Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong,” Bush continued. No disagreement there, but what about the US military’s direct attack on the civilian population of Vietnam through massive bombing and chemical warfare, or Reagan’s support for the Contra army in Nicaragua that focused on what were called “soft targets” (undefended civilian targets)?

Or, what about the record of Bush’s father, our commander in chief during the Gulf War? The US military deliberately destroyed much of the civilian infrastructure of Iraq, including sewage- and water-treatment plants and electrical-generation facilities far from the supposed battle theatre in Kuwait. The military itself predicted such attacks would kill civilians, as they were designed to do and did. The resulting civilian deaths continued long after the war, exacerbated by the cruel economic sanctions the United States demanded.

The point is simple: Calls for moral clarity, if they are to be more than empty rhetoric, require that we bother ourselves with the facts and pay attention to history.

Great powers have always gone about the business of conquest while explaining it was in the interests of the conquered. So, when the British ravaged India and extracted much of its wealth, it wasn’t described as greed but as the grand enterprise of bringing civilization and religion to the natives—the white mann’s burden. The United States used similar rhetoric in its nearly complete extermination of indigenous people in the conquest of North America.

These days, we no longer talk of civilizing the natives, but about bringing freedom and democracy. Such a goal, if pursued in humane and lawful ways under the appropriate international institutions, would be to the good. But simply because politicians say that is their motivation for foreign and military policy does not make it so.

Upon examination of those messy facts, it becomes clear that the United States goes to war for the same reasons great powers have always fought—to secure markets and resources, to extend and deepen domination of strategic regions of the world. Old-style colonialism and conquest have been replaced with new modes of control through economic domination and the selective use of military power, but the goals remain the same..

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the Middle East and Central Asia. Although sold to the public as a war on terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and the war the Bush administration is planning against Iraq are about control of those strategically crucial, energy-rich regions. The United States seeks not to own the oil outright, but rather control the flow of oil and oil profits.

The plans for Iraq make this painfully clear. Given that no one has produced evidence connecting Iraq to al-Qaida, it’s hard to understand how Iraq is the next phase in the war on terrorism, as Bush officials proclaim. While it is true that Saddam Hussein’s regime is brutal and repressive, he was every bit as brutal throughout the 1980s when he was our valued ally (because he was waging war on Iran, our enemy at the time). Officials warn that Hussein is a threat to the region, but ignore the fact that the Arab nations have rejected US plans for war and apparently don’t feel threatened.

It’s not morality or a concern for the safety of people that leads Bush to decry Hussein’s brutality, but an interest in replacing a hostile government with a client regime in a major oil-producing nation.

So, moral clarity, as the president uses the term, means just the opposite: the amoral—and sometimes immoral—self-interest of the powerful.

Read the rest at the Daily Times

June 18, 2003:

U.S. troops may be in Iraq for 10 years

WASHINGTON — Two top U.S. defense officials signaled Congress on Wednesday that U.S. forces might remain in Iraq for as long as a decade and that permanent facilities need to be built to house them there.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave no explicit estimates for the time U.S. forces would stay in Iraq, but they did not dispute members of Congress who said the deployment could last a decade or more. The comments were among the most explicit acknowledgements yet from the Bush administration that the U.S. presence in Iraq will be long, arduous, costly and a strain on the military.

Wolfowitz told the House Armed Services Committee that the Bush administration will eventually come to Congress to seek more money for the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read the rest at USA Today

June 18, 2004:

For Iraq Security, US Turns South

MIAMI--If Jose Miguel Pizarro has his way, he will recruit 30,000 Chileans as mercenaries to protect American companies under Pentagon contract to rebuild Iraq.

And undoubtedly, within those ranks will be former members of death squads that tortured and murdered civilians when dictatorships ruled in Latin America.

"There is no comparison with what they can earn in the active military or working in civilian jobs, and what we offer," Jose Miguel Pizarro, Chile's leading recruiter for international security firms, says.

"This is an opportunity that few in Chile can afford to pass up."

Pizarro's firm, Servicios Integrales, was contracted by Blackwater USA to recruit the first batch of Chileans in November 2003.

By May 2004 he had placed 5200 men who, after one week of training in Santiago, head to North Carolina for orientation with Blackwater, the private security firm that made headlines when four of its employees where killed in Falluja, their bodies mutilated and hung from a bridge.

After training, Blackwater flies the men to Kuwait City to await their assignments in Iraq.

As democratic governments were voted into office throughout Latin America in the 1990s, Latin militaries were downsized.

Thousands of military officers lost their jobs.

"This is a way of continuing our military careers," Carlos Wamgnet, 30, explained in a phone interview from Kuwait while awaiting his assignment in Iraq.

"In civilian life in Chile I was making $1800 a month.

Here I can earn a year's pay in six weeks.

It's worth the risks."

At 30, Wamgnet is too young to have participated in any crime of the Pinochet regime.

But not all the Chileans in Iraq are guiltless.

Newspapers in Chile have estimated that approximately 37 Chileans in Iraq are seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era.

Government officials in Santiago are alarmed that men who enjoy amnesty in Chile -- provided they remain in "retirement" from their past military activities -- are now in Iraq.

In an interview with the Santiago-based daily newspaper La Tercera, Chilean Defense Michelle Bachelet stated that Chilean "mercenaries for American firms doing business in Iraq" may be subject to "arrest or detention in third countries," a reference to recent arrests in Spain and Mexico of South Americans with war-crimes pasts.

South American media report that Chileans have requested travel from Chile to the United States and then directly to the Middle East, to bypass Mexico and the European Union.

The thousands of Chileans in Iraq have been nicknamed "the penguins" by American and South African soldiers for hire, a reference both to Chile's proximity to the South Pole and the fact that many Chilean mercenaries are of mixed race.

Not everyone in Chile is opposed to the presence in Iraq of former Chilean army members.

"It is true that the majority [of Chilean recruits] see this as an opportunity to earn money," La Tercera columnist Mauricio Aguirre wrote."But it is also an opportunity for our soldiers to prove themselves on the ground, and to put to use the skills for which they trained in the Armed Forces over the years."

"Blackwater USA has sent recruiters to Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Guatemala for one specific reason alone," said an intelligence officer in Kuwait who requested anonymity.

"All these countries experienced dirty wars‚ and they have military men well-trained in dealing with internal subversives. They are well-versed in extracting confessions from prisoners."

Read the rest at the Namibian

June 18, 2005:

Transcript: Bush's Radio Address

Good morning.

Today we face two issues of vital importance for all Americans: growing our economy and protecting our citizens from those who wish to do us harm. So in the weeks ahead, I will continue to focus on ways to ensure that our government takes the side of working families, and that America prevails in the war on terror. As we take the steps necessary to achieve these goals, we will make our future one of peace and prosperity...

As we work to deliver opportunity at home, we're also keeping you safe from threats from abroad. We went to war because we were attacked, and we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens. Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world's terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the war on terror. These foreign terrorists violently oppose the rise of a free and democratic Iraq, because they know that when we replace despair and hatred with liberty and hope, they lose their recruiting grounds for terror.

Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home. We mourn every one of these brave men and women who have given his or her life for our liberty. The terrorists know they cannot defeat our troops, so they seek to weaken our nation's resolve. They know there is no room for them in a free and democratic Middle East, so the terrorists and insurgents are trying to get us to retreat. Their goal is to get us to leave before Iraqis have had a chance to show the region what a government that is elected and truly accountable to its citizens can do for its people.

Time and again, the Iraqi people have defied the skeptics who claim they are not up to the job of building a free society. Nearly a year ago, Iraqis showed they were ready to resume sovereignty. A few months ago, Iraqis showed they could hold free elections. This week, Iraqis have worked on an agreement to expand their constitutional drafting committee to ensure that all communities are represented in the process. I am confident that Iraqis will continue to defy the skeptics as they build a new Iraq that represents the diversity of their nation and assumes greater responsibility for their own security. And when they do, our troops can come home with the honor they have earned.

Read the rest at Fox News

June 18, 2006:

A long road ahead in Iraq

Rather than engage in a serious debate about America's future course in Iraq, President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have again opted for sound bites and partisanship. Yet all the choreographed posturing and a one-week flurry of good news cannot blot out the larger picture of dubious trends and dismal prospects. Not only is the glass less than half full. The water level, viewed over months rather than days, is not noticeably rising.

Take the police. It is meaningless to talk about Iraq's taking charge of its own security when the police forces that patrol its cities and run its prisons are rife with sectarian militias and death squads that would sooner wage a civil war than prevent one.

While Bush holds out visions of Iraqi security forces standing up so that Americans can stand down, Iraq's deputy justice minister more candidly told The Washington Post last week that "we cannot control the prisons; it's as simple as that." He added that "our jails are infiltrated by the militias from top to bottom, from Basra to Baghdad."

A new interior minister can change that only if backed by a new configuration of political power, no longer subject to vetoes by parties like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq that run some of the very militias that must be curbed.

Consider also the level of sectarian violence, a clear indicator of whether Iraq is moving toward national unity or sectarian conflict. In May 2003, there were five recorded incidents of sectarian violence. In May 2004, there were 10. In May 2005, there were 20. Last month there were 250. This is a very discouraging trend, as is the predictable response: thousands of families fleeing their homes.

Or look over the abysmal record of America's multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort in Iraq, ground to a near halt by the lethal combination of military insecurity, incompetent Pentagon management and rampant American and Iraqi corruption. Electric power output has barely changed for two years; Baghdad residents still have power for only five to eight hours a day. Oil output, the key to Iraq's paying its bills, remains below depressed prewar levels and not much higher than two years ago. Health clinics that were supposed to build good will toward America are so badly over budget and behind schedule that most may never be built.

Pretending things are better than they are will not make them so. America has some very hard strategic choices pressing down on it in Iraq - much more complicated than whether to set an arbitrary target date for troop withdrawal...

After a week in which the U.S. military death toll in Iraq passed 2,500 and an Iraqi official spoke of a possible amnesty offer to insurgents who killed some of those Americans - an offer we can safely predict Washington will never allow - the real tragedy of Iraq lies not just in the thousands of Iraqi and American lives lost or the shame of Abu Ghraib or Haditha.

It lies even more in the continued lack of leadership and candor from the White House. No upbeat presidential trip to Baghdad or flag-waving congressional resolution can long divert attention from the sorry reality. More than 130,000 American troops are now spending their fourth year mired in a dangerous and ill- defined mission with no realistic plan for success and no end in sight.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune