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Sen. Jim Inhofe: Iraq is fun!

August 31, 2007 | Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

In a way, it was very exciting. — Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., of getting shot at in Iraq

A congressional delegation returned from Iraq this week with bigger and better bragging rights than their colleagues. Flak jackets and helmets? A car bomb at the embassy? Pah. Those are so 2003, suckas. The enemy shot at our plane!

Who will have the best “what I did on my summer vacation” story this fall in Washington? Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Hat tip: Chewy

Posted by Becky @ 10:16 am | Comments  

Ministry of Truth: Iraq is fun!

August 28, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism,Military,MSM,PR

All you see among the talking heads is that another soldier was killed today. It must be taken into perspective. How many people were killed in Washington, D.C., at the same time? — Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., criticizing media coverage of Iraq after his visit there when rockets damaged an American-occupied hotel in Baghdad (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 29, 2003).


According to this chart, Washington, D.C., had about 250 murders in 2003. That’s 4.8 people killed every week.

In 2003 in Iraq:

That’s 12,930 people who died in Iraq, or 248 a week, the equivalent of people killed in D.C. in the entire year. What exactly was his point anyway? When just “another soldier was killed today,” what does he want the “talking heads” to report?

Maybe someone who works for the Ministry of Truth government can answer that.

Susan Phalen is a senior adviser for Iraq communications for the U.S. Department of Stateand oversees the Global Outreach Team for the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section. She has been to Iraq nine times as a public-affairs team leader. Phalen spoke Friday, Aug. 24, 2007, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., at a luncheon held by the Conservative Women’s Network of the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute. The speech aired on C-SPAN. (I can’t get the video link to work, but maybe it will show up in the archives.)

She talked about “what’s happening in Iraq that you’re not getting from the media.” She described her work as “fun” several times.

In an interview published April 9, 2007, in the Omaha World-Herald, Phalen said:

Our goal is to try to show the American taxpayers what’s happening over here and what the story is beyond the bloodshed and the car bombs.

Almost in the same breath, she described living in the Green Zone where “rockets and mortars sometimes fly inside and explode.” She said that a rocket recently blew up just outside of a building where she was, killing several people and wounding several others.

Those of us on the inside tried to rush back out because we could hear screaming. But we couldn’t get out. They locked the building down. It was a very intense and emotional little while.

Yeah, sounds like fun! to me.

In an interview published April 26, 2007, by the Lincoln Journal-Star, the story Phalen told went “beyond the blood and the bombs” to the “good news” of Iraq. On this particular day, she visited the Army hospital in the Green Zone and found six children:

  • a malnourished 13-month-old named Shahar whose parents were killed by an IED (improvised explosive device).
  • a 7-year-old named Mohammed whose mouth was wired open because a sniper’s bullet pierced his jaw and cheek.
  • a 5-year-old named Zaib who was caught in crossfire and shot in the stomach.
  • a 10-year-old girl, who shares a room with her father; both were injured by an IED that killed her mother.
  • a 10-year-old boy, who was shot in the stomach.
  • a girl who could have been 6 or 10, who died by the time Phalen returned to the hospital that afternoon.

Hold on. I just lost my train of thought there for a second. Someone help me out here (because the reporter certainly didn’t). What was the “good news” part of this story again?

Back to her luncheon speech, Phalen criticized journalists for not leaving Baghdad to cover the rest of Iraq, which she does regularly, under full security by the U.S. military. They’re missing out on some good stories, she said.

Sigh. Tsk, tsk. Those journalists. They just don’t know how to have fun!

Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi was removed from Iraq for a “scheduled vacation” after she described an unfun Iraq in an e-mail to family and friends in 2004. It leaked and made the rounds in cyberspace. She wrote a diary for Columbia Journalism Review, eventually returned from vacation (newly assigned to Lebanon) and wrote an article about Iraq in 2006.

Sig Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio Express-News, was in Baghdad the day Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., toured a Baghdad market in April 2007, declared it fun! and then later complained in the Washington Post about how journalists reported only bad news. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said the Baghdad market was just like a normal outdoor market back home in Indiana.

Christenson called bullshit in an Aug. 6, 2007, article on Nieman Watchdog. He said nothing in Iraq is normal, except death:

You can’t put lipstick on this little pig and pass it off as life in Indiana.

Yeah, but is it fun?

Posted by Becky @ 9:49 pm | 1 Comment  

The high cost of dignitary visits, part 4

2008 campaign,Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

How to spot a dignitary visit to Iraq.

Some dignitary is at the embassy? Boom!

Mortars, rockets or car bombs strike in and around the U.S. embassy and Green Zone with regularity during most, if not all, delegation visits, killing and injuring more U.S. troops. (Remember, preparing one site for a dignitary visit can involve 200 to 300 troops and start from two to three days out.)

An American delegation met Iranians in Baghdad on May 28, 2007. Brilliant. Hold a high-profile meeting of dignitaries … in Baghdad. Oh, and publicize it. I don’t know. Isn’t that sort of like holding a national hurricane convention in Florida during a Category 5 hurricane – and expecting the National Guard to stand outside in the storm?

The more the merrier

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., was also in Iraq on Memorial Day 2007 with a delegation. While he was there, a 24-year-old Connecticut soldier died in a helicopter crash, which Courtney called a “terrible tragedy.” Emphasizing the danger of their visit, a roadside bomb exploded about 500 yards from where the delegation was in Baghdad.

Ten U.S. troops died on Memorial Day, a car bomb killed at least 21 people, and insurgents hijacked a bus and kidnapped 15 passengers in Baghdad. Two U.S. troops died May 27.

Three blasts rocked the compound where British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Iraqi leaders on May 19, 2007, and one explosion occurred just outside the Green Zone. Initial reports mentioned that one person was injured and (whew!) it was not someone in Blair’s party. Right. It was an American soldier. Seven U.S. troops also died that day.

An explosion rattled the windows of the U.S. embassy, where Vice President Dick Cheney spent most of the day, May 9, 2007. Thirty-seven U.S. troops died leading up to and surrounding the May 2007 visits by Cheney and Blair.

Is this a new development? Nope. It’s déjà vu.

One U.S. soldier providing security for U.S. officials visiting Baghdad died July 6, 2003. One U.S. soldier on patrol in Baghdad during a delegation visit died July 7, 2003.

Even though 23 people died from a car bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003, an 11-member delegation visited the city just days later on Aug. 25, 2003, and again on Aug. 28. They visited Kirkuk on Aug. 29. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said the bombing would not change the delegation’s plans.

I don’t want to do anything foolish, but I think it’s very important that I go there. If I’m ordering young men and women to go into harm’s way, as a member of Congress I need to see what they’re dealing with. — Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. (Westport News, Aug. 29, 2003)

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the bombing was a wake-up call, but he had a personal duty as a member of Congress to visit Iraq.

I believe our military forces would stop us from going if it weren’t relatively safe for us to go over there.— Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. (Public Opinion, Aug. 23, 2003)

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., worried about their safety but said the risk troops were taking in Iraq was “far more than I’ll be taking” (Star Tribune, Aug. 20, 2003).

How much risk were the troops taking with his delegation there?

(In addition to Kennedy, Shays and Shuster, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., was part of the delegation.)

Seventeen members of Congress took a five-day tour of the region, including Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, Sept. 25-28, 2003. American-occupied al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was attacked Sept. 27. Three makeshift rockets were fired at the hotel, one hitting and superficially damaging part of its 14th floor, another landing in a courtyard, and a third damaging a private house nearby (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 29, 2003). Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said protecting U.S. troops was his highest priority, but he criticized media coverage of Iraq.

All you see among the talking heads is that another soldier was killed today. It must be taken into perspective. How many people were killed in Washington, D.C., at the same time? — Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. (The Press-Enterprise, Oct. 1, 2003)

While they were there, seven soldiers died, one from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s home state of New Jersey. At a hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Frelinghuysen said he had a positive experience in Iraq (Hearing before the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives, Oct. 8, 2003).

(Delegation: Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas; Ken Calvert, R-Calif.; Davis, Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.; Kay Granger, R-Texas; Tim Holden, D-Pa.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Rick Larsen, D-Wash.; Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.; George Nethercutt, R-Wash.; Todd Platts, R-Pa.; Don Sherwood, R-Pa.; John Shimkus, R-Ill.; Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.; Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.; James Walsh, R-N.Y.)

Overlapping that trip was a five-member delegation with five House members who visited Iraq Oct. 11-12, 2003. They were in Mosul on Oct. 12 when a suicide attack killed at least seven people in Baghdad. That was the seventh fatal car-bomb attack since early August, and military officials reported an average of 22 attacks a day against U.S. forces the week before (Star Tribune, Oct. 14, 2003).

(Delegation: Reps. John Kline, R-Minn.; John M. McHugh, R-N.Y.; Jim Saxton, R-N.J.; Jim Turner, D-Texas; Michael Turner, R-Ohio.)

Just before President George W. Bush visited for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 2003, a U.S. soldier died in a mortar attack.

A mortar hit the roof of the U.S. embassy in the fortified International Zone, and two mortar shells exploded about 500 yards from a delegation that was waiting to board a helicopter on Aug. 19, 2004 (Pacific Daily News, Aug. 29, 2004).

(Delegation: Reps. John Boozman, R-Ark., Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Tom Cole, R-Okla., Jim Marshall, D-Ga., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Adam Schiff, D-Calif.)

A delegation visited in September 2004, and a rocket exploded near the U.S. embassy, where they were staying. Seven troops died during that visit.

A delegation visited Sept. 25-26, 2004, amid violence and officials seeking freedom for several hostages. Two car bombs wounded American and Iraqi troops west of Baghdad on Sept. 26. Egyptian and British leaders urged the release of six Egyptian telecommunications workers abducted with four Iraqis the week before and Kenneth Bigley, a British civil engineer kidnapped Sept. 16 with two American civil engineers, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, who later were beheaded. More than 140 foreigners had been kidnapped in Iraq, and at least 26 had been killed. Fighting in Ramadi killed at least three people and wounded four, and insurgents fired mortar rounds and rockets at two U.S. positions. A rocket slammed into a busy Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least one person and wounding eight. Hours after the attack, another loud blast shook the U.S. embassy (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 27, 2004). Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said the situation in Iraq was getting worse, as his delegation was in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Sept. 26 when a rocket landed about 500 meters away. Confined to Baghdad (it was too dangerous to travel elsewhere), they saw little of the city because the military designed their travel so they would not become targets. They traveled in Humvees and armored helicopters with at least six troops as escorts. Garrett reported regular mortar and rocket attacks during their visit (Daily Record, Sept. 27, 2004; The Record, Sept. 28, 2004).

Only one person questioned these visits publicly during a campaign debate: Larry Diedrich, former senator of South Dakota, who was running against Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

When people go to Iraq, I hope we don’t put our troops in greater danger. I just want them to keep that in mind. That is a comment I hear around the state too.— Larry Diedrich, South Dakota

Herseth was “insulted” by his words that suggested she “might have put American troops at risk.”

Many have traveled to Iraq. It is our responsibility, it is our duty to stay close to them, see firsthand their work and find out what they need in their jobs to carry out their mission. So it is insulting that anyone says the trip puts the soldiers in danger. I’m disappointed in Larry Diedrich. — Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. (Argus Leader, Oct. 17, 2004).

The end.

(Delegation: Reps. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.; Ernest Istook, R-Okla.; Tom Osborne, R-Neb.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.)

Well, not quite. It never really ends.

Insurgents bombed the U.S. embassy, killing two Americans, while a delegation was in Baghdad in January 2005 for the elections.

A mortar shell sailed into the Green Zone in March 2006 when a delegation was there, and a U.S. soldier died.

Baghdad still feels like an occupation zone. I was physically present in Baghdad, as I noted, for about 24 hours, but it is hard to say that I saw the city. I left with an enduring image of concrete barriers and convoys of SUVs. I last visited Baghdad in March 2005, and the environment now is no better than it was at that time. The three mortar rounds that exploded during one meeting I had with an Iraqi vice president – no one was harmed – they were launched from some way out, but still they hit. It shows just how insecure the city remains. — Rep. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., reporting on his Web site about his Jan. 9-10, 2007, visit to Iraq

Oops. Brownback must have missed the memo from Rep. Jerry Lewis about telling only the “good news” from Iraq.

A car bomb “shook the windows” of the U.S. embassy and five U.S. troops died when Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., met Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad in mid-April 2007 (Lincoln Journal-Star, April 19, 2007).

Posted by Becky @ 12:03 pm | Comments  

Let’s talk about MRAPs

August 21, 2007 | Death,Iraq,Military,MRAP vehicles

Remember last month?

In the Democratic debate on June 3, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., mentioned getting 2,500 mine-resistant V-shaped armored vehicles into Iraq by August to “save lives,” and he has pushed this idea several times since. It seemed oddly specific, so I looked it up. Those vehicles are called MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. They will not be available by August. They will not be available until 2009, at a cost of $900,000 each. The U.S. Army plans to buy 2,500 MRAPs over the next three years, at a cost of $2.25 billion. The U.S. Marine Corps plans to replace its 3,700 Humvees in Iraq, which will cost $3.7 billion. That’s a sweet $6-billion deal for some defense company. Do Biden and his colleagues want to prolong this war another two years so they can fulfill contracts?

It’s August, and 2,500 MRAPs have not been sent to Iraq.

Posted by Becky @ 10:04 pm | 1 Comment  

The high cost of dignitary visits, part 3

August 2, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

Second verse, same as the first

Here’s how to spot an account of a dignitary visit to Iraq.

  • Shrouded in secrecy
  • Can’t divulge travel itinerary
  • Scary C-130 ride
  • Military personnel with scary weapons
  • Flak jackets
  • Helmets
  • Black Hawk helicopters
  • Flying low
  • Humvees
  • Green Zone
  • Heavy security
  • Meet-and-greets
  • Lunch with (preferably “hometown”) troops
  • Stern or frank discussions with Iraqi leaders
  • Firsthand experience on the ground
  • Danger at every turn
  • Bombs exploding within spitting distance (more on that later)
  • But things look good (more on the PR campaign later)
  • And, oh yeah, some troops died

What you won’t see.

  • Gee, I wonder if any of those deaths had anything to do with … my visit?

Here are a couple examples to get you started.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., March 2005:

We … boarded a C-130. There were a number of soldiers on board … We sat in seats lined on the wall and took deep breaths as we took off from Kuwait. … we had to don our flak jackets and helmets. They are heavy! … Suddenly the plane just started dropping, we did this amazing zig zag in – sort of spiraled down very fast … It was like a bad Disneyland ride as we veered left, right up and down to avoid any “incoming”… and I have to admit my stomach was in my throat. … We exited the plane and the scene was stark – soldiers, machine guns, maneuvering us quickly into what they called ice cream trucks – that looked just like that but were bullet and “IED” reinforced. … boarded a “helo” and with our flak jackets and helmets we sat in these helicopters and flew out – with a machine gun 6 inches in front of me pointed out the plane as we rode 25 feet above ground. … We landed in the Green Zone and were met with serious security. We … met … temporary Ambassador … joined by General Casey for a briefing on the military side. … I ate lunch with 2 Marines … then went back outside and got in vans under intense security even though we remained in the Green Zone and traveled to another palace where we met with … Prime Minister … then convoyed to the convention center where the new parliament is being set up. It was inside the Green Zone but even more intense security. We … met with the Kurdish Leader … Sunni Leader … I think all see it as a time of both hope and danger with much work to be done before a government is in place later this month.

Oh, and by the way:

… the airport had been closed shortly before we landed because of a mortar attack, and there had been a mortar attack that fell a few feet short of the Green Zone last night.

We goin’ to Disney World!

You know, maybe she’s right. Maybe it is like an “All American amusement park.” They get their tickets. They stand in line. They get on the ride. They get scared and excited. They puke in the bushes. Then they go stand in line and do it all over again. Whee!

January 2005 — Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., (from The Audacity of Hope):

… landing at Baghdad International Airport turned out not to be so bad — although I was thankful that we couldn’t see out the windows as the C-130 bucked and banked and dipped its way down. Our escort officer from the State Department was there to greet us, along with an assortment of military personnel with rifles slung over their shoulders. After getting our security briefing, recording our blood types, and being fitted for helmets and Kevlar vests, we boarded two Black Hawk helicopters and headed for the Green Zone, flying low … I would spend only a day and a half in Iraq, most of it in the Green Zone … now a U.S.-controlled compound, surrounded along its perimeter by blast walls and barbed wire. Reconstruction teams briefed usintelligence officers described the growing threat of sectarian militias … we met with members of the Iraqi Election Commission … for an hour we listened to U.S. Ambassador Khalilzadlunch with some of the troops … our delegation accompanied Ambassador Khalilzad for dinner at the home of Iraqi interim President Jalal Talabani. Security was tight as our convoy wound its way past a maze of barricades out of the Green Zone; outside, our route was lined with U.S. troops at one-block intervals, and we were instructed to keep our vests and helmets on for the duration of the drive. … greeted by the president and several members of the Iraqi interim government … I had difficulty sleeping that night; instead, I watched the Redskins game, piped in live via satellite to the pool house once reserved for Saddam and his guests. Several times I muted the TV and heard mortar fire pierce the silence. The following morning, we took a Black Hawk to the Marine base in Fallujah …

Oh, and by the way:

… just the previous day, five Marines on patrol had been killed by roadside bombs or small-arms fire.

Here are more examples over the years.

June 30, 2003:

A six-member delegation visited Iraq. “For security reasons, few details were released on the five-day trip.” (Austin American-Statesman, June 28, 2003) Although he could not disclose a detailed itinerary because of security reasons, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said the delegation would visit Baghdad, Basra and southern Iraq, and they planned to be back in the
United States by July 4. “If I’m not still embedded in Iraq or tangling with Saddam Hussein, I’ll be in parades on July 4, 5 and 6,” he said. (Star Tribune, June 26, 2003)

At least somebody thinks a visit to Iraq is funny.

November 2003:

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., traveled with a delegation the week of Nov. 17, 2003. The departure date and itinerary were kept secret for security reasons. She could not say who else or how many were in the delegation, and the trip could be canceled at a moment’s notice if military leaders decided the situation was too unstable.” (Source: St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 13, 2003)

November 2003:

Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., joined a bipartisan congressional delegation to Iraq … will be the first member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to visit Iraq since the end of the war and the beginning of an arduous, often violent U.S. occupation. … For security reasons, details of the bipartisan trip were not released. Earlier this year, a trip by another congressional delegation had to be cut short after a bomb blast ripped through the United Nations headquarters. (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, 2003)

Nov. 28, 2003:

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., ate Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, and they planned to visit Iraq. Their “highly protected entourage” arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 25, and details of their trip were “shrouded in secrecy because of recent heightened fears of a new terrorist attack and
Clinton’s profile, which is higher than almost anyone else’s in Congress.” (New York Post, Nov. 27, 2003)

Jan. 5-6, 2004:

Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., could not release the exact dates of his trip “for security purposes,” but said, “I feel, as a moral issue, that if I vote to send people to fight in a war I have an obligation to be with them and take risks.”  (The Morning Call, Dec. 24, 2003) While on a six-day visit, Greenwood crawled into Saddam Hussein’s “spider hole.” The delegation stayed overnight in one of his Baghdad palaces. Greenwood said he never believed his life was in danger, but they experienced several “white-knuckle” trips in military vehicles operated by soldiers using evasive driving techniques and a low-level 150-mph Black Hawk helicopter ride. (The Morning Call, Jan. 13, 2004)

Feb. 10-11, 2004:

In a trip “cloaked in secrecy” and “kept under wraps for security reasons,” six governors and a reporter toured Baghdad, dined with troops and met with the Iraqi provisional government at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., proclaimed the visit a “historic bipartisan governor’s tour of Iraq.”

It was the first of such visits but certainly not the last. At least 36 governors have visited Iraq.

Even though a suicide truck bomb killed about 50 people and injured scores of others near Baghdad on Feb. 10 and two troops, based in Fort Polk, La., died from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad on Feb. 11, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., “presented a positive picture of the occupied country.” Though extensive security measures during the visit highlighted the danger at every turn in Iraq, Blanco said she never felt at risk. “We were well-protected,” she said. Guard units escorted the delegation in front and behind their vehicles, and Apache helicopters flew overhead. Their convoy had to stop so troops could investigate a box in the road. Although Gen. Bennett Landreneu of the Louisiana National Guard traveled to Washington, D.C., with Blanco, he did not accompany her to Iraq (but a reporter did). Despite “heated rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war in the presidential campaign,” Blanco downplayed any political significance to her visit, although she thought the situation she saw was not so dire that it would hurt President George W. Bush in the election. (The Times-Picayune, Feb. 11, 2004)

Feb. 17-18, 2004:

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., had a bumpy landing in Baghdad because of a series of recent attacks on American aircraft. She pointed out that a Monroe County soldier was part of the patrol for the delegation. (Charleston Daily Mail, Feb. 18, 2004)

June 2004:

Sens. Bob Bennett, Bill Frist, R-Tenn, and John Ensign, R-Nev., … L. Paul Bremer — the top U.S. administrator in Iraq — and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi … sat in on briefings … The senators donned flak jackets for helicopter rides and rode with military pilots whose planes had drawn fire months before. Bennett said he was not concerned for his safety and left feeling that things were going fine in Iraq. (The Associated Press, June 7, 2004)

Sept. 16-19, 2004:

Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., who couldn’t disclose details of the trip “for security reasons,” said he wasn’t worried about his safety in Iraq. “I feel good,” he said. “There have been a number of delegations go over there. They keep them small.” They expected to travel on military aircraft and have “very tight security.” (Redding Record Searchlight, Sept. 14, 2004) However, continued violence kept the delegation from seeing much of Iraq up close, as they spent most of their time visiting Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah in Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees with tight security and flak jackets. Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., said he was disappointed that the threat of snipers, roadside bombs and other dangers kept his delegation from mingling with Iraqis. (Erie Times-News, Sept. 22, 2004)

December 2004:

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., will head to Iraq later this week. Biden was not optimistic about Iraq and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in Jordan because that was “the only place where he can meet safely with the Sunni leadership,” Biden said. Regarding visiting Iraq, he said it was vital to see the situation in person and meet with troops face-to-face. (The News Journal, Dec. 2, 2004)

Dec. 21-22, 2005:

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., was part of a six-member delegation that spent two days in Iraq after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Even though Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana, and about 3,000 Louisiana residents needed his help dealing with FEMA, Boustany wanted personal experience in Iraq. He had been pushing to make the roster of congressional delegations for several months. (The Advocate, Nov. 29, 2005)

January 2007:

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., … boarded another C-130 to head into Iraq. … getting fitted out with a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket gave this flight a different feel. … We arrived at the international zone safely, though even inside the zone, we have to travel by convoy. … went immediately to a meeting with General Raymond Odierno, who is the commander of the Multi-National Corps, Iraq. We had a frank discussion about the need to improve things in Iraq quickly. The general told me he believes things can turn around in Baghdad, but I reminded him that we do not have much time to wait. … lunch with Ambassador Khalilzad and Multinational Forces-Iraq commander General Casey. Here again, we had a frank discussion about the difficult situation in Iraq … four consecutive meetings with Iraqi officials, including a deputy president, a deputy prime minister, the minister of defense and the national security adviser … met with Prime Minister Maliki. We had a very good and frank discussion about the violence in his country and the political situation in the United States.

Posted by Becky @ 3:22 pm | 1 Comment  

Covering the war, part 5

July 26, 2007 | Afghanistan,Death,Ethics,Journalism,Military

A national newspaper in Norway ran this photograph of a flag-draped coffin of a Norwegian soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. This is how the newspaper covered it on the Norwegian pages.

This has not yet been mentioned in U.S. newspapers.

Posted by Becky @ 6:38 pm | Comments  

Covering the war, part 4

Death,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism,Local news,Military

Page 1 

Local Marine, 25, shot and killed … in his hometown.

I am not saying this story does not belong on the front page. As I said before, though, I wonder what is behind the decisions about story placement. Did someone from the newspaper attend the funeral, which was held this morning? Will they run that on the front page tomorrow? With a flag-draped coffin? Would that be OK because he did not die in Iraq?

In other news, a Florida soldier who died in Afghanistan was mentioned in an Associated Press brief on page 11.

Posted by Becky @ 5:40 pm | 1 Comment  

The high cost of dignitary visits to Iraq, part 1

July 24, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

I suck at math, so I need some help. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do some figurin’. Here goes.

It takes 200 to 300 troops, two to three days out, to prepare a site for one congressional visit.

Depending on who you ask, that’s a conservative estimate.

More than 400 elected officials have visited Iraq* — most more than once, many several times, one has been there 15 times (so far, anyway) — since the mission was “accomplished” in May 2003.

*The link contains a database put together by Kirsten Korosec and Steven Stanek, who called every office in the House of Representatives. The database is useful even though it’s already out of date — because the visits keep on keepin’ on.

Do you know where your representative is?

My guess? Iraq. Go check the quarterly foreign travel reports at the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Then go see how many U.S. troops died during each visit. If you want to see more than just names and dates, go here.

Do the math. Come back later, and we’ll compare notes.

Posted by Becky @ 4:27 pm | 1 Comment  

Books: The New American Militarism by Andrew J. Bacevich

July 21, 2007 | Books,Iraq,Military


Title: The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press 2006, paperback). Author: Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of West Point and a Vietnam veteran, he has a doctorate in history from Princeton and was a Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is the author of several books, including American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy.

Weird things happen when I read. I was reading another book that quoted Andrew J. Bacevich from 2005 about the importance of the Downing Street memo regarding the war in Iraq. That morning, two days before Memorial Day, his name popped out at me from a headline in the Wall Street Journal (.pdf). The article said that his son, 27-year-old U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich, died on Mother’s Day in a suicide bombing in Balad, Iraq.

An outspoken critic of the war, Bacevich had never mentioned his son in his writings and asked reporters not to write about his son because he “didn’t want to burden him with my political baggage.” He also wrote a raw account of a father’s grief on May 27 in The Washington Post.

I looked him up, read some of his articles and ordered this book, which he said in the introduction was “not only a corrective to what has become the conventional critique of U.S. policies since 9/11 but … a challenge to the orthodox historical context employed to justify those policies.”

The new American militarism made its appearance in reaction to the 1960s and especially to Vietnam. It evolved over a period of decades, rather than being spontaneously induced by a particular event such as the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Nor … is present-day American militarism the product of a conspiracy hatched by a small group of fanatics when the American people were distracted or otherwise engaged. Rather, it developed in full view and with considerable popular approval.

He quoted James Madison from 1795:

Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

He concluded the introduction with:

The purpose of this book is to invite Americans to consider the continued relevance of Madison’s warning to our own time and circumstances.

Bacevich carries an industrial-sized flashlight and leads readers down a long, dark hallway of U.S. history, giving an unvarnished look behind each door. Through the last door, he shows how everything comes together, and he offers a prescription for change.

Got your boots on? Let’s go for a walk.

Door No. 1: Wilsonians under Arms 

Bacevich explained the new American militarism evolution by separate but coinciding influences. He started with President Woodrow Wilson and his goal to “end all wars” through his Fourteen Points foreign policy that, ordained by God, would spread American principles of liberal democracy and free enterprise.

He traced Wilsonian ambitions to 1) Ronald Reagan, “Wilson’s truest disciple,” 2) Bill Clinton, who followed Reagan with the spread of democratic capitalism and “intervened with greater frequency in more places for more varied purposes than any of his predecessors,” and 3) George W. Bush, who — especially after Sept. 11, 2001 — became “the most Wilsonian president since Wilson himself.” Bush, for whom “the connection between America’s calling and God’s will was self-evident,” published the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which revived such Wilsonian ideals.

Militarism led to the United States to spend more on defense than all other nations in the world put together. It led to military bases and forces in dozens of countries, the “normalization of war” and implementing “coercive diplomacy” without dissent from politicians or the public. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, “… force makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems.”

Door No. 2: The Military Profession at Bay

By the turn of the 21st century, a cleaner image of war emerged with a highly skilled professional military carrying out coercive diplomacy with high-tech warfare and “smart” weapons, rendering war “surgical, frictionless, postmodern, even abstract or virtual.” The military gained new respectability and confidence, and the soldier was elevated “to the status of national icon.” Politicians exploited the dynamic of “supporting the troops” — on both sides of the aisle — even though “few have made any effort to educate themselves regarding issues of national security.”

Military service was no longer an obligation of good citizenship, allowing the elite (Cheney and Clinton alike) to see it as a “matter of personal choice, devoid of civic connotations,” giving us an all-volunteer force that has less and less in common with the general population.

After the disaster of the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War, victory in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 meant redemption for the military. Digging up the values of “crusty but compassionate” Gen. Creighton Abrams, the military set forth on a path of “intense purification and rigorous preparation.”

Through Herculean exertions, the services beginning in the mid-1970s purged their ranks of the pathologies bred of defeat. Out went the dopers and the bigots, the malcontents and the untrainable. That was just the beginning. Evincing a hitherto uncharacteristic passion for operational excellence, the U.S. military set out to reinvent itself. The result was sustained innovation on a massive scale: new doctrine, sophisticated new weapons, more rigorous approaches to training and the development of leaders, large-scale changes to organizations and tactics — all developed over the period of a decade and more and fully unveiled for the first time during the pummeling administered to Saddam Hussein‘s army.

In 1984, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger introduced the Weinberger Doctrine, which “created a series of tests or preconditions for any policy decision that might put American troops into harm’s way.” The most “passionate advocate” of the Weinberger Doctrine was Gen. Colin Powell, who also “did more than any other soldier to ensure its demise.” While Powell was revered by most Americans, insiders saw him as “too adept at the arts of manipulation” and “conniving and faintly mendacious.”

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 “vaulted Powell to the status of national hero,” even though he argued against using force because he thought “Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait came nowhere close to satisfying each of the Weinberger Doctrine’s several preconditions.” The Iraq campaign went well, but Powell erred in ending hostilities too soon, which allowed Saddam Hussein stay in power and obliged the United States to keep a military presence in the Gulf, “thereby putting in train a series of events that led ultimately to 9/11 and yet another major war whose ambiguous outcome led to still deeper U.S. military involvement in the region.”

After the war, Powell “supplemented, modified, and ultimately transcended the Weinberger Doctrine” with the Powell Doctrine, which required an exit strategy and emphasized “overwhelming force” with “his fellow generals calling the shots.”

With the Pentagon spending about $300 billion a year throughout the 1990s, there was pressure for “some tangible return on the nation’s investment.”

Although it is difficult to make the case that these operations were especially effective, their cumulative effect was to reduce any residual inhibitions that Americans entertained about the use of force. Each successive episode eroded that much further the collective ability of the officer corps to stay the hand of the advocates of intervention. By the end of the decade, the Powell Doctrine looked increasingly like a dead letter.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark mismanaged Operation Allied Force in Kosovo and violated the Powell Doctrine. This restored the idea “that generals needed more adult supervision … greater civilian oversight … over all facets of military activity.” Republicans took control in 2000, along with the Bush administration and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose task was “to exercise civilian control over the department for the commander in chief and the country.”

Although members of the Bush administration professed to hold America’s fighting men and women in high regard, they evinced little patience with soldiers who counseled caution or restraint and the notion of civilian control of the military became meaningless, since civilians were the leading militarists.

Because of this, 9/11 was the officer corps’ “worst nightmare come to life,” facing an open-ended global warwithout having any say in how things happened. Rumsfeld overruled Gen. Tommy Franks, who wanted “plodding orthodoxy,” while Rumsfeld wanted “novelty and dash.” Getting into Afghanistan and Iraq was easy. Getting out was not. By 2004, high-ranking retired officials began calling for withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. Then came Fallujah. Then Abu Ghraib.

Whether for good or ill, by the first decade of the twenty-first century, the effort to restore the authority of the officer corps, initiated thirty years earlier by Creighton Abrams, had collapsed. Senior officers advised and implemented, but they did not decide. Henceforth, the generals might drive the bus, but others chose the destination and picked the route. As to paying the fare, that was left to the soldiers in the ranks.

Door No. 3: Left, Right, Left 

Add to mix the neoconservative movement, whose core beliefs were that 1) “evil is real,” 2) “in international politics there was no substitute for power, especially military power,” 3) “alternatives to or substitutes for American global leadership simply did not exist,” and 4) at home and abroad there should be an “appreciation for authority.” They saw things in black and white, good and evil, through the lens of crisis as a permanent condition.

After the Cold War, a new generation reinvented neoconservatism, not with ideas but with political agitation and hegemony. By the end of the 1990s, they became established, their views mainstream and less controversial. They warned of the dangers of isolationism, called for more defense spending and advocated using it around the world. Three of the leading national newspapers had at least one neocon offering regular commentary on foreign policy, and neoconservative views dominated the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Ideas that even a decade earlier might have seemed reckless or preposterous now came to seem perfectly reasonable.

Pressured by a public letter from neoconservatives, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which called for the removal of the regime headed by Saddam Hussein and $99 million to do it. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, neoconservatives argued, “The road that leads to real security and peace,” … was “the road that runs through Baghdad.”

Door No. 4: California Dreaming

Mythology plays a major role in the new American militarism, creating a great divide between what Americans want to believe and what really happens and between how America is portrayed at home and how others see it from abroad. Adversely affected by the aftermath of Vietnam, Americans faced high inflation and unemployment, long gas lines and an energy shortage. Carter addressed the problems with his “Crisis of Confidence” speech in 1979 and promised to cap oil imports and invest in alternative sources of energy. He called for personal sacrifice as “an act of patriotism.”

Then came the Iran hostage crisis, which paralyzed the Carter administration.

Reagan rode in on his white horse with a message of “abundance without end” and limitless economic expansion “without moral complications or great cost.” He doubled the Pentagon’s budget and put the soldier on a pedestal. Under Reagan, “military might … became the preferred measure for gauging the nation’s strength.” Popular culture propped up that image with An Officer and a Gentleman, Rambo and Top Gun.

Reagan showed that in post-Vietnam America genuflecting before soldiers and playing to the pro-military instincts of the electorate wins votes.

Reagan’s myths “became enshrined as permanent aspects of American political theater,” and Clinton perpetuated and exalted those myths.

Door No. 5: Onward

As a “Christian nation,” the United States has about 100 million Americans who define themselves as evangelical Christians. They wield enormous political clout, with such early leaders as Billy Graham — who served as “spiritual counselor to presidents and leading members of Congress” and was “something of a political power broker able, it was said, to swing millions of votes” — and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder in 1979 of the Moral Majority, Jim Bakker, Jim Dobson, Pat Robertson and others.

Militant evangelicals imparted religious sanction to the militarization of U.S. policy and helped imbue the resulting military activism with an aura of moral legitimacy.

As Falwell said in 1980, “A political leader, as a minister of God, is a revenger to execute wrath upon those who do evil. Our government has the right to use its armaments to bring wrath upon those who would do evil by hurting other people.”

With an obsessive preoccupation with Israel regarding premillenial dispensationalism, evangelicals believe it is crucial for Jews to return to the Holy Land in a sequence of events leading up to Christ’s Second Coming. Consequently, “the Religious Right has been unflinchingly loyal to the Jewish state, eager to support Israel in the performance of its prescribed role (although according to the most commonly accepted script, before the Millennium arrives all Jews will either convert to Christianity or be killed off).”

Evangelicals granted special dispensation to Israel regarding war and saw rearmament as “akin to a religious imperative.” Reagan courted the Religious Right, holding private conversations with leaders and speaking to large group of followers. The Religious Right, in turn, promoted Reagan’s military building, even forming a “Religious Coalition for a Moral Defense Policy” to promote ballistic missile defense, which they considered a moral obligation.

… were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this deeply and genuinely religious country becomes inconceivable.

Door No. 6: War Club

After World War II, a new profession of “defense intellectuals,” led by Bernard Brodie, arose, as well as institutions such as the RAND Corp., a federally funded research facility founded in 1946. Mathematicians, economists and political scientists became “charter members of the new postwar national security elite” and included Charles Hitch, Herman Kahn and John von Neumann. Albert Wohlstetter, known as “the dean of American nuclear strategists,” joined RAND in 1951. (Paul Wolfowitzstudied with Wohlstetter at the University of Chicago.) These “high priests of nuclear strategy came to wield great influence, without the burden of actual responsibility.”

Members of this priesthood remained largely hidden from public view and thus unaccountable.

Wohlstetter studied Strategic Air Command and a possible Soviet attack and “concluded that ‘strategic-retaliatory-force vulnerability’ was ‘the problem of nuclear war.” He became obsessed with vulnerability and was convinced that Americans were oblivious that they lived “in a world of persistent danger.” His belief that “defensive ends required the use of offensive means” instructed “the ongoing evolution of American thinking about strategy” that ultimately led “down a path ending some four decades later in a fully developed argument for preventive war as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy.”

Andrew Marshall, “the ultimate insider,” took up the task of “refining the design, drawing up the detailed blueprints, and cajoling the officer corps into full compliance with” Wohlstetter’s vision. He did so with the Revolution in Miliatary Affairs, whose essence “was to move war out of the industrial age and into the information age.”

Door No. 7: Blood for Oil 

Bacevich argued that the Cold War was actually World War III and that World War IV, started on Sept. 11, 2001, “promises to continue indefinitely.” World War IV was “declared” in 1980 by Jimmy Carter, of all people. In January 1980, Carter outlined in his State of the Union Address what became known as the Carter Doctrine and has since remained sacrosanct:

An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region, will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

In the words of Lt. Gen. Robert Kingston, this step “was to assure the unimpeded flow of oil from the Arabian Gulf.” In other words, “The overarching motive for action was the preservation of the American way of life.”

Here lay the driving force behind U.S. actions in what became World War IV: not preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction; not stemming the spread of terror; certainly not liberating oppressed peoples or advancing the cause of women’s rights. The prize was mastery over a region that leading members of the American foreign policy elite, of whatever political persuasion, had concluded to be critically important to the well-being of the United States.

Osama bin Laden‘s 1996 Declaration of Jihad “emerged at least in part as a response to prior U.S. policies and actions, in which lofty ideals and high moral purpose seldom figured.”

The United States cannot be held culpable for the maladies that today find expression in violent Islamic radicalism. But neither can the United States absolve itself of any and all responsibility for the conditions that have exacerbated those maladies. After several decades of acting as the preeminent power in the Persian Gulf, American did not arrive at the end of the twentieth century with clean hands.

Prescription for change — Door No. 8: Common Defense

In the last chapter, Bacevich outlined 10 principles to diminish the new American militarism.

1) Restore the basic precepts of the Constitution.

2) Revitalize the concept of separation of powers.

The problem is not that the presidency has become too strong. Rather, the problem is that the Congress has failed — indeed, failed egregiously — to fulfill its constitutional responsibility for deciding when and if the United States should undertake military interventions abroad.

3) View force as a last resort.

4) Enhance U.S. strategic self-sufficiency.

5) Organize U.S. forces explicitly for national defense.

6) Devise an appropriate gauge for determining the level of U.S. defense spending. Instead of basing it on a percentage of gross domestic product, it should be determined by what others spend.

7) Enhance alternative instruments of statecraft.

If the United States is to remain effectively engaged with the rest of the world, it needs a highly competent agency to coordinate and manage U.S. diplomacy. It needs mechanisms to counter the negative image of the United States and is policies prevailing in too many parts of the world. And it needs to solve the riddle of development and, once having done so, to invest in implementing that solution.

8 ) Revive the moribund concept of the citizen-soldier.

Standing armies threaten government by the people, the soldier-historian John McAuley Palmer observed between the world wars, not because they consciously seek to pervert liberty, but because they relieve the people themselves of the duty of self-defense.

9) The role of the National Guard and the reserve components need to be re-examined, which means a return “to their original purpose — a trained militia kept in readiness as the primary instrument for community self-defense. Of course, community in this context refers not to Kosovo and Iraq but to Kansas and Iowa.”

10) Reconcile the American military profession to American society.

Posted by Becky @ 6:30 pm | Comments  

Covering the war, part 2

July 12, 2007 | Death,Iraq,Journalism,Military

My newspaper published an article about a local soldier’s funeral (sans flag-draped coffin) on the front page … of the metro section.

What was on the front front page?

1) An article about the cost of copper.

2) The presidential race.

3) A Washington Post article about security.

4) A Los Angeles Times article about Lady Bird Johnson.

5) Teasers to the life and sports sections.

Thirty U.S. troops have died so far this month, yet this is the only article written in-house. The newspaper ran an Associated Press article about a sailor from the other side of the state, and numbers of deaths may or may not be mentioned in wire stories picked up about “incidents” in Iraq.

Posted by Becky @ 12:32 pm | 1 Comment  


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