iraq

Bacevich: Vietnam vs. Munich, and Creating an "Iraq/Afghanistan Syndrome"

Campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, Senator Barack Obama said: "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."

But as Andrew Bacevich notes in his new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," as President, Barack Obama has done the opposite: he has promoted and acted on behalf of the mindset that leads to war.

Most prominently, President Obama has so far missed every major exit ramp for starting to get out of Afghanistan, instead escalating militarily and "doubling down" on "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan - Vietnam 2.0 - even as the war has become increasingly unpopular in the United States - as it has been in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. The majority of Americans, three-quarters of Democrats, and three-fifths of House Democrats want President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. But the White House so far refuses to even publicly discuss such a move, even as it claims to support "Afghan-led reconciliation" with leaders of the Afghan Taliban, which, if real, almost certainly would require a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a key demand of Afghan insurgents.

This is all the more striking as the Administration celebrates the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, because the centerpiece of the present relationship between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government is an agreement stipulating the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2011. That which is now the centerpiece of U.S. relations with Iraq is still mostly taboo for discussion among the "national security elite" regarding Afghanistan: a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

How Many Vets Have Been "Wounded" in Iraq and Afghanistan?

During the House debate over the Kucinich resolution calling for a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, pointed out that hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have gone to the VA for service-related injuries.

The video of Filner's statement is here.

A March 13 fact sheet from Veterans for Common Sense gives a more precise figure: they reported that 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran patients had been treated at the VA. This figure is from VA documents obtained by VCS under FOIA, and appears to be current through the end of FY 2009, i.e. through September 30, 2009.

The VCS fact sheet is here.

Note that these figures are very different from the official DoD statistics for "wounded" at icasualties.org, often cited in press reports. The total U.S. wounded figure given there for "Operation Enduring Freedom," which is mainly but not exclusively Afghanistan, is 5188 through March 2010, while the total US wounded figure for "Operation Iraqi Freedom" through March 2010 is 31716. That suggests the total U.S. "wounded" from the two wars is 36904, about 7.3% of the VA figure, which covers a slightly shorter period.

If for comparison to the VA figures, we just take the icasualties.org figures through September 30, 2009, that gives 31513 wounded for Iraq, 4174 wounded for OEF, for a total of 35687 wounded. 35687 is 7.02% of the VA figure of 508,152. So it appears that the DoD "wounded" figure is about 7% of the figure of vets who have been treated at the VA.

AWOL from the SOTU: Peace, Reconciliation, and Debt

On foreign policy, while the President said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about U.S. domestic politics, the President is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.

The President renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all U.S. combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited, and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The U.S. is working to overturn the exclusion; by refering more explicitly to those efforts, the President could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.

Can Arlen Specter End the War in Afghanistan?

Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?

But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:

I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
[...]
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?

What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.

But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation:

Senator Kennedy's Most Important Vote

As Senator Ted Kennedy has been eulogized in recent days, almost all of the discussion of his "legacy" has focused on domestic issues. Only a few have noted what Senator Kennedy himself said was the most important vote he ever cast in the U.S. Senate: his vote against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Economist Dean Baker, asked by the Beltway newspaper The Hill to comment on "the most significant aspect of Senator Kennedy's legacy," wrote:

I'll just agree with Senator Kennedy on this one. He said that his vote against the Iraq War was the most important vote that he cast the whole time he was in the Senate.

At a time when most of the political establishment, and certainly most of the media establishment, was cowed by an administration yelling about the threat of terrorism, Senator Kennedy stood back and looked at the evidence in a serious manner.
[...]
This was a display of courage and sound judgment at a time when these character traits were virtually absent from the halls of power in official Washington.

Democratic politicians are often praised by establishment pundits for showing "leadership" if they stand on the side of powerful against the interests of those they were elected to represent. But most people would see Senator Kennedy's vote against the war as a better example of "leadership": standing up for the people you were elected to represent, in the face of significant pressure to do otherwise. It's not surprising that the same media institutions which failed to challenge the Bush Administration's "faith-based" case for the war in Iraq would pass over this opportunity to remind everyone that they failed to show the same leadership as Senator Kennedy did when the nation needed it most.

Mr. Mousavi's Gas Embargo on Iran?

In serious contention for Dumbest Washington Consensus for September is the idea of cutting off Iran's gas imports to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium. A majority of Representatives and Senators have signed on to legislation that seeks to block Iran's gas imports, a top legislative priority for the so-called "Israel Lobby." But it's a stupid idea. Let us count the ways.

One: there is no indication that Russia and China will go along with it. Even Europe is split, Reuters reports. Turkey is also likely to be unenthusiastic - a country that has good relations with Iran, has a long border with Iran, and is currently on the UN Security Council. A U.S.-sponsored gas embargo on Iran isn't likely to have much impact if Russia, China, Turkey and half of Europe aren't cooperating - after all, it's not the U.S. that's exporting gas to Iran - unless it is imposed by force.

Two: Iran has threatened to retaliate against a U.S.-sponsored gas embargo by stopping its oil exports to the West. There is a historical precedent that ought to give Americans and Britons some pause: when Britain wanted to punish the democratically elected Mossadegh government for nationalizing Iran's oil, Britain imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, enforced by the British Navy. Fine, Mossadegh said, we don't care. Let it stay in the ground. When the embargo failed, the British tried to overthrow Mossadegh in a coup. When that failed, the British asked the U.S. to intervene, and the CIA and British intelligence overthrew Mossadegh. How does returning to the British colonialism script for Iran fit in with the whole outreach to the Muslim world thing?

With IMF Money, the War Supplemental Could Fail in the House

Last month, 60 Members of the House of Representatives, including 51 Democrats, voted against the war supplemental for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But this week, when the House is expected to consider the agreement of a House-Senate conference on the war funding, the supplemental could well be defeated on the floor of the House - if most of the 51 anti-war Democrats stick to their no vote - which they might, if they hear from their constituents.

The key thing that's changed is the Treasury Department's insistence that the war supplemental include a $100 billion bailout for the International Monetary Fund - a bailout for European banks facing big losses in Eastern Europe, the international version of the Wall Street bailout.

House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, have threatened to vote no on the war funding if the IMF money is attached. If Boehner could bring all the Republicans with him, and if all the Democrats who voted no last month voted no again, the war supplemental would fail on the floor of the House, 200-228.

But not every Democrat who voted no before will vote no now, and therein lies the drama. The House leadership didn't need those anti-war Democrats before, so in a way it was a "free vote" - 51 Democrats could vote on behalf of their anti-war constituents without running afoul of the leadership. But if Treasury insists on the IMF money, and Republicans vote no, the leadership will need 18 of those Democrats now.

IraqTortureGate: Powell Denies Knowing He Used Tortured Evidence for UN Case

The most damning credible allegation to emerge regarding the Bush Administration is arguably that Dick Cheney and other Bush Administration officials ordered the use of torture to produce false evidence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff at the State Department under Colin Powell, recently wrote,

as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 - well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion - its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

Wilkerson cited the case of detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose tortured testimony was crucial for building the case for war, and was cited in Powell's speech to the UN.

when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts.

About this case, Human Rights Watch has recently written,