Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Censoring the Truth About the Crusader Prince?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Scott Horton apparently reported on several declarations filed in Federal Court in Eastern Virginia that included explosive allegations regarding the military contractor Blackwater and its owner Erik Prince. Andrew Sullivan linked to him – but between Sullivan’s linking and my clicking on Sullivan’s link, the article was taken down. A search of The Daily Beast for Scott Horton’s article turns up nothing except a link to Jeremy Scahill of The Nation‘s recent piece on the same subject. Andrew Sullivan had excerpted this summary of the charges contained in the Declarations on his blog:

  • Both men requested anonymity to avoid mortal threats. “It appears that Mr. Prince or his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities,” said John Doe #1. John Doe #2 says he received personal threats after leaving Blackwater.
  • Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” He “intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis.”
  • Blackwater “employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms of Iraqis and other Arabs, such as ‘ragheads’ or ‘hajis.’”
  • Blackwater deployed to Iraq individuals who (a) made “statements about wanting to… ‘kill ragheads’ or achieve ‘kills’ or ‘body counts,’” (b) drank excessively, (c) used steroids, and (d) failed to follow safety and other instructions governing the use of lethal weapons. Mental-health professionals who raised concerns about deployment of such individuals were fired.
  • Prince obtained “illegal ammunition… designed to explode after penetrating within the human body” and smuggled it into Iraq for use.
  • Prince distributed other illegal weapons for use in Iraq.
  • Prince was aware of the use of prostitutes, “including child prostitutes,” at Blackwater’s “Man Camp” in Iraq, which he visited.

The actual declarations can be found here – John Doe 1 (pdf) – and here – John Doe 2 (pdf). These papers were part of opposition to a motion – the complete set of which can be found here. (Beware – it’s a few hundred pages of pdfs). I have emailed Scott Horton to see if he has any comment/explanation for why his article is no longer up on the Daily Beast.

Edit: The Daily Beast still has not gotten back to me. Mr. Horton replied telling me that he was looking into why his article was taken down himself.

[Image by John Rohan licensed under Creative Commons.]

Contra Taibbi: Fighting Them Over There So We Don’t Need to Fight Them Here

Monday, May 18th, 2009

The thing is, we’ve been listening to this stuff for so long that when we hear it, we don’t recoil in confused disbelief anymore — we’re so familiar with these arguments we’ve forgotten that they don’t make any sense. It’s similar to that other Bush-era standard: “We fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.”

I never understood what the hell that was all about. The best I could figure is that the people who were saying this think of the world like a big game of Risk, and they think that if we commit a big force to some place like Iraq, the “other side” will have to leave all his forces over there or something to keep us from moving through Eurasia. This might make sense in a real war, in a war-between-nations war, but it’s completely absurd in a conflict where the “other side” is actually hundreds if not thousands of different/unrelated actors and can successfully attack a country like the U.S. using just a few people at a time. Sending 160,000 troops to Iraq does absolutely nothing to prevent a terrorist group like al-Qaeda from sending over a couple of “exchange students” to dump botulinum toxin into the Akron reservoir.

That’s Matt Taibbi in a recent blog post. Given his explanation, he clearly is missing something.

One understanding of terrorism holds that acts of terrorism are a reaction to the fact that many people in the world have no say in how they are governed. They realize that who Americans elect as their president has a more of an impact on their lives than their local leaders. Yet – they have no vote in this matter – and few ways to affect what America does. Those who are especially frustrated and determined and who value life least see there is a way they can impact America – how they can make their views matter. They can commit an act of terrorism against America – or American interests.

This understanding of the root cause of terroism is implicit both in many liberal critiques of the War on Terror and in Bush’s democracy promotion. Liberal critiques tended to see our doubling down in our support of tyrants in the region as kong as they were anti-terrorist as contributing to the sense of alienation. The neoconservatives saw democracy as a kind of safety valve in which these frustrations could be channeled – which is why they were so focused on promoting it in the Middle East. 

If terrorism is the means by which people whose views are not represented make themselves heard by those who have the power to change their lives, then allowing them to fight us over there does make it less likely we will be attacked at home. It provides an outlet in which they can channel their displeasure – killing American soldiers. It’s easier to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan than to America – and to participate within structures already set up while attacking outsiders – than to work undercover in an American sleeper cell, plotting against the people with whom you have contact every day.

Taibbi is right that leaving ourselves vulnerable over there doesn’t preclude them from attacking us here – but that mis-states what the “fighting them over there” idea is about. The fact that we can be attacked over there provides a release valve for frustrations – in a way similar to having a democracy where people could vote anti-American politicians into office would. 

I’m not sure if I buy this theory. And it’s not clear that even if it is true, that the overall approach is effective – because after all, by responding to attacks on us, we probably create more ill-will than we have allowed to be “released.” But there is a coherent view behind this – and mocking it doesn’t make it less so.

Must-Reads This Weekend

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Nuclear Porn. Ron Rosenbaum writes about how hard-core our nuclear fantasies have become in an essay for Slate:

I love airport best-sellers because I see them as our Nostradamuses, the literary canaries in the dark coal mines of our paranoia. They sniff out and serve up fictionalized but “realistic” prophecies of coming doom of one sort or another. Perhaps it’s that in their visions of total world immolation they diminish in the mind of said traveler the possibility of something so trivial as a 757 engine malfunction.

The Awakening. David Rose investigates the Sunni Awakening in an article for Vanity Fair. The big news: apparently the initial approach by the Sunni insurgents offering to work with America came in 2004 – but was rejected as a result of turf battles and ideology. 

Happiness. Joshua Wolf Shenk tells the story of the most significant longitudinal study in history (so far). He reveals that one of the participants in the study (all of whom were chosen while they were in college) was John F. Kennedy. The study itself is fascinating – and Shenk’s piece was reflective and probing:

“I’m usually callous with regard to death, from my father dying suddenly and unexpectedly.” He added, “I’m not a model of adult development.”

Vaillant’s confession reminded me of a poignant lesson from his work—that seeing a defense is easier than changing it. Only with patience and tenderness might a person surrender his barbed armor for a softer shield. Perhaps in this, I thought, lies the key to the good life—not rules to follow, nor problems to avoid, but an engaged humility, an earnest acceptance of life’s pains and promises…

Torture and Truth. Ali Soufan testified in Washington - but while he was constantly interrupted by an edgy Lindsey Graham, his written statement is a testament of a man who was there: 

The issue that I am here to discuss today – interrogation methods used to question terrorists – is not, and should not be, a partisan matter. We all share a commitment to using the best interrogation method possible that serves our national security interests and fits squarely within the framework of our nation’s principles. 

From my experience – and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence– I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a position shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. 

These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda. (This is aside from the important additional considerations that they are un-American and harmful to our reputation and cause.) 

The Iran-Iraq Balance

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Musings on Iraq writes:

For the last several decades, security in the Middle East has been largely defined by outside powers. From the 1970s on the U.S. tried to play Iran off of Iraq. The 2003 invasion disrupted this balance of power, and the U.S. has been attempting to rebuild it ever since. Iran has been adamantly opposed to re-creating this system, preferring a friendly Iraq rather than a new enemy. This conflict over ideas about security is at the heart of the dispute between Iran and the U.S.

(H/t Andrew Sullivan.)

This observation is not new – but it is concise and distills the essence of Iran’s moves with regards to Iraq – whether they be asserting influence over the Iraqi leadership, undermining the American occupation by supplying weapons and other support to the Shiite insurgency, pulling back the Shiite insurgency to allow the surge to succeed, offering help in the run-up to the war. A less charitable phrasing of the above – which states that Iran just wants to avoid having Iraq as an enemy – is that Iran wants to have significant control over Iraq, or at least influence there. But either way, the essential dispute between America and Iran in Iraq is not over issues but over Iranian influence itself. This is true if you look at most Iranian-American disputes – they are not over issues as much as they are over limiting or expanding Iranian influence. 

In the end, there are only two real points of contention: Israel and nuclear arms. They are serious issues, but it seems likely that a pragmatic Iranian leadership could make bargains on each. If America is able to finally create a Palestinian state – or make significant progress on this front – it will give Iran an opening to accept Israel. On nuclear weaponry, a pragmatic government might be persuaded to refrain from taking the final steps in developing a nuclear weapon once it could prove that it had reached the point where it had the knowledge and equipment to do so. If Iran remained an adversary in the region, the prospective nuclear weapon could still cause significant trouble – but if it were brought into an alliance with America, it would not.

And as I have maintained before – Iran and America are natural allies on most issues – even if the current president Ahmadinejad represents the part of Iran Americans are most suspicious of.

Clear-eyed Engagement

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Roger Cohen continues to make the case for clear-eyed engagement with Iran

Let’s be clear: Iran’s Islamic Republic is no Third Reich redux. Nor is it a totalitarian state.

He suggests that Iran may prove to be what George W. Bush and the neoconservatives tried to make Iraq into:  a model for the Middle East of what a country that has come out the other side of extremism looks like, quoting a friend:

“Iran — the supposed enemy — is the one society that has gone through its extremist fervor and is coming out the other end. It is relatively stable and socially dynamic.”

Fareed Zakaria in a Newsweek article seemingly designed to provoke the ire of the right-wing argues that:

We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license. In the end, time is on our side. Bin Ladenism has already lost ground in almost every Muslim country. Radical Islam will follow the same path. Wherever it is tried—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan—people weary of its charms very quickly. The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern world. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. We do. That’s the most powerful weapon of all.

Can We Blame the Shoe-Thrower?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

John Dickerson seems about a day too late in offering the conventional wisdom about the American reaction to the show-throwing incident:

At the very least, I suspect a spark of patriotism will kick in when some Americans watch the tape or see al-Zaidi heralded in the streets as a hero. Hey, you can’t throw shoes at our president, they might say. Only we can throw shoes at our president.

That was my first reaction certainly – but most other people seem to have either looked on the Iraqi journalist with sympathy or merely commenting on Bush’s dodging ability as was evident in the day after the show-throw. And in the case of Iraq – and Bush’s insouciant, “So, what?” in response to Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction – it’s hard to blame one an Iraqi for wanting to grievously insult our president.

Can we really be outraged that the man threw a shoe in anger when Bush invaded his country under untrue pretenses and so botched the aftermath of the war? I can’t.

Only we can throw shoes at our president

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

John Dickerson seems about a day too late in offering the conventional wisdom about the American reaction to the show-throwing incident:

At the very least, I suspect a spark of patriotism will kick in when some Americans watch the tape or see al-Zaidi heralded in the streets as a hero. Hey, you can’t throw shoes at our president, they might say. Only we can throw shoes at our president.

That was my first reaction certainly – but most other people seem to have either looked on the Iraqi journalist with sympathy or merely commenting on Bush’s dodging ability as was evident the day after the show-throw. And in the case of Iraq – and Bush’s insouciant, “So, what?” in response to Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction – it’s hard to blame one an Iraqi for wanting to grievously insult our president.

Can we really be outraged that the man threw a shoe in anger when Bush invaded his country under untrue pretenses and so botched the aftermath of the war? I can’t.

“You were wrong.”

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Yglesias: Bush pressured Maliki to revise the withdrawl date to bail out McCain

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Matt Yglesias points out that according to statements by Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki made only in Arabic, Bush had pressured him to change the withdrawl date from 2010 to 2011 “due to political circumstances related to the [U.S] domestic situation.”

In other words, Bush pressured Maliki to revise the withdrawl date, putting American military lives at risk, in order to bail out McCain. Pathetic.

Confronting Another Architect of War

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Yet again, Jon Stewart asks the questions no one else does and confronts another architect of the War in Iraq, the noted British liberal and former prime minister, Tony Blair.

Tony Blair: None of this is easy…

Jon Stewart: Look I know, and I do appreciate even having the conversation. No one believes they took the decisions lightly. The only point for me is: nineteen people flew into the towers; it seems hard for me to imagine that we could go to war enough to make the world safe enough that nineteen people wouldn’t want to do harm to us. So it seems we need to re-think a strategy that is less military-based and more [unintelligible].

This exchange comes towards the end of the interview with Blair, which overall, I don’t think was not one of Stewart’s best.

But the catharsis that comes when Jon Stewart confronts these powerful men and speaks common sense to these once formidable powers – it’s hard to describe. Somehow, it is as if he is doing more than anyone to hold the men and women who made the disastrous decisions that led to war in some way accountable.

Part 1 2 of interview with Blair

Part 2 1 of interview with Blair

As I wrote about Stewart confronting Douglas Feith earlier this year:

I’m not sure if it should be so cathartic to see one of the planners of this misbegotten gamble scolded by a comedian. But it was.

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