Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Iraq: The Real Deal

Five years after Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq, Rush Limbaugh's 'Phony Soldiers' are on the march.

The Real Iraq We Knew by 12 former Army captains (almost unedited):

Today marks five years since the authorization of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion. Five years on, the Iraq war occupation is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start. And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles.

As Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we've seen the corruption and the sectarian division. We understand what it's like to be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out.

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It's certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

Iraq's institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the population and its needs.

The inability to govern is exacerbated at all levels by widespread corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And, indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers. Sabotage and graft have had a particularly deleterious impact on Iraq's oil industry, which still fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Yet holding people accountable has proved difficult. The first commissioner of a panel charged with preventing and investigating corruption resigned last month, citing pressure from the government and threats on his life.

Against this backdrop, the U.S. military has been trying in vain to hold the country together. Even with "the surge," we simply do not have enough soldiers and marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions. Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet -- moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.

U.S. forces, responsible for too many objectives and too much "battle space," are vulnerable targets. The sad inevitability of a protracted draw-down is further escalation of attacks -- on U.S. troops, civilian leaders and advisory teams. They would also no doubt get caught in the crossfire of the imminent Iraqi civil war.

Iraqi security forces would not be able to salvage the situation. Even if all the Iraqi military and police were properly trained, equipped and truly committed, their 346,000 personnel would be too few. As it is, Iraqi soldiers quit at will. The police are effectively controlled by militias. And, again, corruption is debilitating. U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving generals and support the very elements that will battle each other after we're gone.

This is Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality we experienced. This is what we tried to communicate up the chain of command. This is either what did not get passed on to our civilian leadership or what our civilian leaders chose to ignore. While our generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis prepare for their war -- and our servicemen and women, and their families, continue to suffer.

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.

Jason Blindauer served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005.
Elizabeth Bostwick served in Salah Ad Din and An Najaf in 2004.
Jeffrey Bouldin served in Al Anbar, Baghdad and Ninevah in 2006.
Jason Bugajski served in Diyala in 2004.
Anton Kemps served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005.
Kristy (Luken) McCormick served in Ninevah in 2003.
Luis Carlos Montalván served in Anbar, Baghdad and Nineveh in 2003 and 2005.
William Murphy served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005.
Josh Rizzo served in Baghdad in 2006.
William "Jamie" Ruehl served in Nineveh in 2004.
Gregg Tharp served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005.
Gary Williams served in Baghdad in 2003.

This FISA Bill Is Worth Fighting for...

Even if it's a last ditch effort!
FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A Bush-favored House bill, "the RESTORE Act" (H.R. 3773), attempts to fix the disastrous Protect America Act that was rushed through Congress in August, rubberstamping the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

But the bill caves in to Bush’s fear-mongering in a major way: it does NOT require the government to get an individual warrant before wiretapping Americans' phone calls and emails. Instead, it allows for program or basket “warrants,” which aren't really warrants at all. They're the modern-day equivalent of allowing government agents to sit in our living rooms, recording our personal conversations. Only they're more frightening, because the government now has the capacity to monitor us remotely and without our knowledge, and to save the information in a secret database forever.

One good thing is that the bill doesn't yet include immunity for telecom companies that broke the law by handing over Americans' private communications to the government, but we're hearing immunity could be added back to the bill at any time.

Thanks to Congressman Rush Holt, we have an alternative to Bush's insidious version which does not require individual warrants but only 'basket' warrants.

This is H.R.3782 is the FISA Modernization Bill. Although it was submitted to committee last monday (just like the restore act), it is still stuck in committee. This is the good bill because it has protections against basket warrants and doesn't grant retroactive immunity to Telecomms which were compliant to warrentless requests by the NSC, possibly going back to before 911.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office states:
Why is the president of the United States trying to get the telecommunications companies off the hook for their illegal activity? He is supposed to be upholding laws, not encouraging companies to break them. Businesses that break the law should be held accountable. We expect these companies to keep our personal information private, and if they break the law, there should be consequences – not a re-write of the rule book.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees wisely rejected the president’s efforts to carry the water for the telecom companies and voted down an amendment that would add telecom amnesty to the bill. Members of Congress should not re-write laws just to get giant companies off the hook. They were elected to represent the American people, not big business.

It is interesting that the president says his litmus test for acceptance of any bill to come from Congress hinges on the nod from Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, whose numerous exaggerations and misstatements have buoyed the ACLU and the Progressive Caucus’ efforts to get real civil liberties protections in any new FISA fixes.
Please, write your representative and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi right now. Tell them to only pass the FISA Modernization Bill that has individualized warrants for people in the United States and NOT to provide telecom companies with immunity for breaking the law.

The most effective calls to Congress are polite, respectful and clearly state what you’re asking your Member of Congress to do:
  • Congress should not act on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) until the Bush administration hands over documents about the NSA wiretapping program.
  • Any legislation to permanently amend FISA must restore judicial review and protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans.
  • The government should receive only the information it is authorized to intercept by law, it should not be given direct and unfettered access to telecommunications infrastructure.
  • The legislation must not grant amnesty to telecom companies that broke the law by illegally releasing Americans’ phone calls and records to the government.
Establish contact with your Congressional Representative by typing in your zipcode in the upper righthand corner of this site!

After the vote, check how your Senators and Congressmen voted and contact them with your raves or rage. It's the same old story: keep score, take names, and kick ass.

Jim Holt Thinks Bush Is Winning a Pot of Oil for the USA

Just as when they say it's not about sex, it's about sex; and when they say it's not about money, it's about money. And when they say Iraq is not about oil, it's about oil.

Quite possibly, the current quagmire in Iraq is not a problem for Bush and Cheney: it was their goal all along. It's a blooming success in their NeoCon eyes.

There are 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves in Iraq; which is what we Americans have, times five. It is also the least explored of the world's oil-rich nations. According to some estimates, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world's oil resources. The potential value could eventually be equal to 30 times the eventual cost of Bush's invasion and occupation.

Jim Holt states his case in the London Review of Books:

Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years. Analyst Antonia Juhasz wrote in the New York Times in March, after the draft law was leaked.
The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy. They could even ride out Iraq’s current “instability” by signing contracts now, while the Iraqi government is at its weakest, and then wait at least two years before even setting foot in the country.
As negotiations over the oil law stalled in September, the provincial government in Kurdistan simply signed a separate deal with the Dallas-based Hunt Oil Company, headed by a close political ally of President Bush.

How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. Five self-sufficient ‘super-bases’ are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred. There has been precious little reporting on these bases in the American press, whose dwindling corps of correspondents in Iraq cannot move around freely because of the dangerous conditions. (It takes a brave reporter to leave the Green Zone without a military escort.) In February last year, the Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks described one such facility, the Balad Air Base, forty miles north of Baghdad. A piece of (well-fortified) American suburbia in the middle of the Iraqi desert, Balad has fast-food joints, a miniature golf course, a football field, a cinema and distinct neighbourhoods – among them, ‘KBR-land’, named after the Halliburton subsidiary that has done most of the construction work at the base. Although few of the 20,000 American troops stationed there have ever had any contact with an Iraqi, the runway at the base is one of the world’s busiest. ‘We are behind only Heathrow right now,’ an air force commander told Ricks.

The Defense Department was initially coy about these bases. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld said: ‘I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting.’ But this summer the Bush administration began to talk openly about stationing American troops in Iraq for years, even decades, to come. Several visitors to the White House have told the New York Times that the president himself has become fond of referring to the ‘Korea model’. When the House of Representatives voted to bar funding for ‘permanent bases’ in Iraq, the new term of choice became ‘enduring bases’, as if three or four decades wasn’t effectively an eternity.

But will the US be able to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? It will plausibly claim a rationale to stay there for as long as civil conflict simmers, or until every groupuscule that conveniently brands itself as ‘al-Qaida’ is exterminated. The civil war may gradually lose intensity as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds withdraw into separate enclaves, reducing the surface area for sectarian friction, and as warlords consolidate local authority. De facto partition will be the result. But this partition can never become de jure. (An independent Kurdistan in the north might upset Turkey, an independent Shia region in the east might become a satellite of Iran, and an independent Sunni region in the west might harbour al-Qaida.) Presiding over this Balkanised Iraq will be a weak federal government in Baghdad, propped up and overseen by the Pentagon-scale US embassy that has just been constructed – a green zone within the Green Zone. As for the number of US troops permanently stationed in Iraq, the defence secretary, Robert Gates, told Congress at the end of September that ‘in his head’ he saw the long-term force as consisting of five combat brigades, a quarter of the current number, which, with support personnel, would mean 35,000 troops at the very minimum, probably accompanied by an equal number of mercenary contractors. (He may have been erring on the side of modesty, since the five super-bases can accommodate between ten and twenty thousand troops each.) These forces will occasionally leave their bases to tamp down civil skirmishes, at a declining cost in casualties. As a senior Bush administration official told the New York Times in June, the long-term bases ‘are all places we could fly in and out of without putting Americans on every street corner’. But their main day-to-day function will be to protect the oil infrastructure.

This is the ‘mess’ that Bush-Cheney is going to hand on to the next administration. What if that administration is a Democratic one? Will it dismantle the bases and withdraw US forces entirely? That seems unlikely, considering the many beneficiaries of the continued occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its oil resources. The three principal Democratic candidates – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards – have already hedged their bets, refusing to promise that, if elected, they would remove American forces from Iraq before 2013, the end of their first term.

Among the winners:
  • oil-services companies like Halliburton;
  • the oil companies themselves (the profits will be unimaginable, and even Democrats can be bought);
  • US voters, who will be guaranteed price stability at the gas pump (which sometimes seems to be all they care about);
  • Europe and Japan, which will both benefit from Western control of such a large part of the world’s oil reserves, and whose leaders will therefore wink at the permanent occupation;
  • oddly enough, Osama bin Laden, who will never again have to worry about US troops profaning the holy places of Mecca and Medina, since the stability of the House of Saud will no longer be paramount among American concerns.
Among the losers:
  • Russia, which will no longer be able to lord its own energy resources over Europe.
  • Opec, and especially Saudi Arabia, whose power to keep oil prices high by enforcing production quotas will be seriously compromised.
Then there is the case of Iran, which is more complicated. In the short term, Iran has done quite well out of the Iraq war.

Holt says the longer the U.S. stays the worse it turns out for Iran. At length, he also goes so far as to suggest that this bloody stalemate is actually a deep and well-developed gambit to restore American geo-strategic and economic balance vis-a-vis China. And then the conclusion:

Many people are still perplexed by exactly what moved Bush-Cheney to invade and occupy Iraq. In the 27 September issue of the New York Review of Books, Thomas Powers, one of the most astute watchers of the intelligence world, admitted to a degree of bafflement:
What’s particularly odd, is that there seems to be no sophisticated, professional, insiders’ version of the thinking that drove events.
Alan Greenspan, in his just published memoir, is clearer on the matter:
I am saddened, that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’
Was the strategy of invading Iraq to take control of its oil resources actually hammered out by Cheney’s 2001 energy task force? One can’t know for sure, since the deliberations of that task force, made up largely of oil and energy company executives, have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of ‘executive privilege’. One can’t say for certain that oil supplied the prime motive.

But the hypothesis is quite powerful when it comes to explaining what has actually happened in Iraq. The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards ‘nation-building’ has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades – a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East?

On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centered, the tactics – dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration – could scarcely have been more effective. The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.

Still, there is reason to be skeptical of the picture I have drawn: it implies that a secret and highly ambitious plan turned out just the way its devisers foresaw, and that almost never happens.
If that happens, the imperial presidency and its doctrine of preventive war will have been validated. Bush's legacy will become a legend in his own lifetime.