Posts Tagged Iraq
By Igor Volsky on May 21, 2013 at 9:10 am
The tornado that hit Oklahoma on Monday resulted in more than 20 deaths and is expected to cost the federal government untold billions of dollars in aid and recovery. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who has long objected to federal funds being spent on everything from veterans benefits to relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, is already insisting that any additional appropriations should be paid for with cuts elsewhere. “That’s always been his position [to offset disaster aid],” Coburn spokesman John Hart said. “He supported offsets to the bill funding the OKC bombing recovery effort.”
Indeed, during his time in Congress, Coburn has portrayed his efforts to rein in federal spending as a principled stance against accumulating larger deficits and passing debt to future generations. But Coburn hasn’t always opposed government spending that is not offset by budget cuts. The senator known as “Doctor No” has voted to fund the war in Iraq, the 2008 bank bail out, and even relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
– 2005: The “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act” (H.R. 1268) provided $82 billion to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Coburn voted for the measure.
– 2006: The Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R.2863) provided approximately $40 billion for the war in Iraq. Coburn voted for the measure.
– 2006: “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act,” (H.R. 4939 ) provided $72 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Coburn voted for the measure.
– 2005: After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Congress passed two relief bills, allocating more than $50 billion and allowing the National Flood Insurance Program to borrow more money. One of the measures was adopted by unanimous consent and Coburn voted for the other.
– 2006: Congress approved a Department of Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5631), including approximately $70 billion for the war in Iraq. Coburn voted for the measure.
– 2008: In October 2008, the Bush Administration and Congress enacted a rescue package to stabilize the financial system by creating the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Coburn voted in favor of the measure.
By insisting that funding for tornado relief be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, Coburn representing his ideological purity rather than the needs of his Oklahoma constituents.
- 6 Ways Oklahoma’s GOP Senators Have Fought to Undermine Relief Funding (alternet.org)
- Oklahoma Senator Won’t Support Tornado Relief Without Budget Cuts (thinkprogress.org.feedsportal.com)
- Oklahoma senator: Tornado aid “totally different” from Sandy aid (salon.com)
- Oklahoma’s two Republican senators usually oppose federal disaster relief for any states but theirs (blogs.e-rockford.com)
- Why We Can’t Forget That Oklahoma’s Senators Voted Against Sandy Relief (theatlanticwire.com)
- Forward Progressives – Pathetic Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn Says Cuts Must Be Made Before He’ll Support Tornado Relief (tribuneofthepeople.com)
- Should Oklahoma politicians who voted against Sandy aid get expedited disaster funds for tornado victims?: Editorial (nj.com)
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites (salon.com)
- Oklahoma’s Coburn stakes out controversial position on federal aid (maddowblog.msnbc.com)
- Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn Demands Tornado Relief Be Offset by Cuts Elsewhere (alternet.org)
The Political Awakening of a Republican: ‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’ | Alternet
The Political Awakening of a Republican: ‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’
A former Republican tells about how his experiences in post-Katrina New Orleans and then Iraq destroyed his Republican worldview.
September 10, 2012
Photo Credit: Gunnar Pippel/ Shutterstock.com
I used to be a serious Republican, moderate and business-oriented, who planned for a public-service career in Republican politics. But I am a Republican no longer.
There’s an old joke we Republicans used to tell that goes something like this: “If you’re young and not a Democrat, you’re heartless. If you grow up and you’re not a Republican, you’re stupid.” These days, my old friends and associates no doubt consider me the butt of that joke. But I look on my “stupidity” somewhat differently. After all, my real education only began when I was 30 years old.
This is the story of how in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and later in Iraq, I discovered that what I believed to be the full spectrum of reality was just a small slice of it and how that discovery knocked down my Republican worldview.
I always imagined that I was full of heart, but it turned out that I was oblivious. Like so many Republicans, I had assumed that society’s “losers” had somehow earned their desserts. As I came to recognize that poverty is not earned or chosen or deserved, and that our use of force is far less precise than I had believed, I realized with a shock that I had effectively viewed whole swaths of the country and the world as second-class people.
No longer oblivious, I couldn’t remain in today’s Republican Party, not unless I embraced an individualism that was even more heartless than the one I had previously accepted. The more I learned about reality, the more I started to care about people as people, and my values shifted. Had I always known what I know today, it would have been clear that there hasn’t been a place for me in the Republican Party since the Free Soil days of Abe Lincoln.
Where I Came From
I grew up in a rich, white suburb north of Chicago populated by moderate, business-oriented Republicans. Once upon a time, we would have been calledRockefeller Republicans. Today we would be called liberal Republicans or slurred by the Right as “Republicans In Name Only” (RINOs).
We believed in competition and the free market, in bootstraps and personal responsibility, in equality of opportunity, not outcomes. We were financial conservatives who wanted less government. We believed in noblesse oblige, for we saw ourselves as part of a natural aristocracy, even if we hadn’t been born into it. We sided with management over labor and saw unions as a scourge. We hated racism and loved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., particularly his dream that his children would “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We worried about the rise of the Religious Right and its social-conservative litmus tests. We were tough on crime, tough on national enemies. We believed in business, full stop.
I intended to run for office on just such a platform someday. In the meantime, I founded the Republican club at my high school, knocked on doors and collected signatures with my father, volunteered on campaigns, socialized at fundraisers, and interned for Senator John McCain and Congressman Denny Hastert when he was House Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s chief deputy.
We went to mainstream colleges — the more elite the better — but lamented their domination by liberal professors, and I did my best to tune out their liberal views. I joined the Republican clubs and the Federalist Society, and I read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist rather the New York Times. George Will was a voice in the wilderness, Rush Limbaugh an occasional (sometimes guilty) pleasure.
Left Behind By the Party
In January 2001, I was one of thousands of Americans who braved the cold rain to attend and cheer George W. Bush’s inauguration. After eight years hating “Slick Willie,” it felt good to have a Republican back in the White House. But I knew that he wasn’t one of our guys. We had been McCain fans, and even if we liked the compassionate bit of Bush’s conservatism, we didn’t care for his religiosity or his social politics.
Bush won a lot of us over with his hawkish response to 9/11, but he lost me with the Iraq War. Weren’t we still busy in Afghanistan? I didn’t see the urgency.
By then, I was at the Justice Department, working in an office that handled litigation related to what was officially called the Global War on Terror (or GWOT). My office was tasked with opposing petitions for habeas corpus brought by Guantánamo detainees who claimed that they were being held indefinitely without charge. The government’s position struck me as an abdication of a core Republican value: protecting the “procedural” rights found in the Bill of Rights. Sure, habeas corpus had been waived in wartime before, but it seemed to me that waiving it here reduced us to the terrorists’ level. Besides, since acts of terrorism were crimes, why not prosecute them? I refused to work on those cases.
With the Abu Ghraib pictures, my disappointment turned to rage. The America I believed in didn’t torture people.
I couldn’t avoid GWOT work. I was forced to read reams of allegations of torture, sexual abuse, and cover-ups in our war zones to give the White House a heads-up in case any of made it into the news cycle.
I was so mad that I voted for Kerry out of spite.
How I Learned to Start Worrying
I might still have stuck it out as a frustrated liberal Republican, knowing that the wealthy business core of the party still pulled a few strings and people like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe remained in the Senate — if only because the idea of voting for Democrats by choice made me feel uncomfortable. (It would have been so… gauche.) Then came Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, I learned that it wasn’t just the Bush administration that was flawed but my worldview itself.
I had fallen in love with New Orleans during a post-law-school year spent in Louisiana clerking for a federal judge, and the Bush administration’s callous (non-)response to the storm broke my heart. I wanted to help out, but I didn’t fly helicopters or know how to do anything useful in a disaster, so just I sat glued to the coverage and fumed — until FEMA asked federal employees to volunteer to help. I jumped at the chance.
Soon, I was involved with a task force trying to rebuild (and reform) the city’s criminal justice system. Growing up hating racism, I was appalled but not very surprised to find overt racism and the obvious use of racist code words by officials in the Deep South.
Then something tiny happened that pried open my eyes to the less obvious forms of racism and the hurdles the poor face when they try to climb the economic ladder. It happened on an official visit to a school in a suburb of New Orleans that served kids who had gotten kicked out of every other school around. I was investigating what types of services were available to the young people who were showing up in juvenile hall and seemed to be headed toward the proverbial life of crime.
My tour guide mentioned that parents were required to participate in some school programs. One of these was a field trip to a sit-down restaurant.
This stopped me in my tracks. I thought: What kind of a lame field trip is that?
It turned out that none of the families had ever been to a sit-down restaurant before. The teachers had to instruct parents and students alike how to order off a menu, how to calculate the tip.
I was stunned.
Starting To See
That night, I told my roommates about the crazy thing I had heard that day. Apparently there were people out there who had never been to something as basic as a real restaurant. Who knew?
One of my roommates wasn’t surprised. He worked at a local bank branch that required two forms of ID to open an account. Lots of people came in who had only one or none at all.
I was flooded with questions: There are adults who have no ID? And no bank accounts? Who are these people? How do they vote? How do they live? Is there an entire off-the-grid alternate universe out there?
From then on, I started to notice a lot more reality. I noticed that the criminal justice system treats minorities differently in subtle as well as not-so-subtle ways, and that many of the people who were getting swept up by the system came from this underclass that I knew so little about. Lingering for months in lock-up for misdemeanors, getting pressed against the hood and frisked during routine traffic stops, being pulled over in white neighborhoods for “driving while black”: these are things that never happen to people in my world. Not having experienced it, I had always assumed that government force was only used against guilty people. (Maybe that’s why we middle-class white people collectively freak out at TSA airport pat-downs.)
I dove into the research literature to try to figure out what was going on. It turned out that everything I was “discovering” had been hiding in plain sight and had been named: aversive racism, institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty, neighborhood redlining, the “trial tax,” the “poverty tax,” and on and on. Having grown up obsessed with race (welfare and affirmative action were our bêtes noirs), I wondered why I had never heard of any of these concepts.
Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”? That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed. But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity. It turns out that it’s more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series. Sure, some people do it, but they’re the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.
The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in. Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal. For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets. Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.
How I Learned to Stop Loving the Bombs
In order to learn more — and to secure my membership in what Karl Rove sneeringly called the “reality-based community” — I joined a social science research institute. There I was slowly disabused of layer after layer of myth and received wisdom, and it hurt. Perhaps nothing hurt more than to see just how far my patriotic, Republican conception of U.S. martial power — what it’s for, how it’s used — diverged from the reality of our wars.
Lots of Republicans grow up hawks. I certainly did. My sense of what it meant to be an American was linked to my belief that from 1776 to WWII, and even from the 1991 Gulf War to Kosovo and Afghanistan, the American military had been dedicated to birthing freedom and democracy in the world, while dispensing a tough and precise global justice.
To me, military service represented the perfect combination of public service, honor, heroism, glory, promotion, meaning, and coolness. As a child, I couldn’t get enough of the military: toys and models, movies and cartoons, fat books with technical pictures of manly fighter planes and ships and submarines. We went to air shows whenever we could, and with the advent of cable, I begged my parents to sign up so that the Discovery Channel could bring those shows right into our den. Just after we got it, the first Gulf War kicked off, and CNN provided my afterschool entertainment for weeks.
As I got older, I studied Civil War military history and memory. (I would eventually edit a book of letters by Union Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.) I thought I knew a lot about war; even if Sherman was right that “war is hell,” it was frequently necessary, we did it well, and — whatever those misinformed peaceniks said — we made the world a better place.
But then I went to a war zone.
I was deployed to Baghdad as part of a team of RAND Corporation researchers to help the detainee operations command figure out several thorny policy issues. My task was to figure out why we were sort-of-protecting and sort-of-detaining anIranian dissident group on Washington’s terrorist list.
It got ugly fast. Just after my first meal on base, there was a rumble of explosions, and an alarm started screaming INCOMING! INCOMING! INCOMING! Two people were killed and dozens injured, right outside the chow hall where I had been standing minutes earlier.
This was the “surge” period in 2007 when, I was told, insurgent attacks came less frequently than before, but the sounds of war seemed constant to me. The rat-tat-tat of small arms fire just across the “wire.” Controlled detonations of insurgent duds. Dual patrolling Blackhawks overhead. And every few mornings, a fresh rain of insurgent rockets and mortars.
Always alert, always nervous, I was only in Iraq for three and a half weeks, and never close to actual combat; and yet the experience gave me many of the symptoms of PTSD. It turns out that it doesn’t take much.
That made me wonder how the Iraqis took it. From overhead I saw that the once teeming city of Baghdad was now a desert of desolate neighborhoods and empty shopping streets, bomb craters in the middle of soccer fields and in the roofs of schools. Millions displaced.
Our nation-building efforts reeked of post-Katrina organizational incompetence. People were assigned the wrong roles — “Why am I building a radio station? This isn’t what I do. I blow things up…” — and given no advance training or guidance. Outgoing leaders didn’t overlap with their successors, so what they had learned would be lost, leaving each wheel to be partially reinvented again. Precious few contracts went to Iraqis. It was driving people out of our military.
This incompetence had profound human costs. Of the 26,000 people we were detaining in Iraq, as many as two-thirds were innocent — wrong place, wrong time — or, poor and desperate, had worked with insurgent groups for cash, not out of an ideological commitment. Aware of this, the military wanted to release thousands of them, but they didn’t know who was who; they only knew that being detained and interrogated made even the innocents dangerously angry. That anger trickled down to family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. It was about as good an in-kind donation as the U.S. could have made to insurgent recruitment — aside from invading in the first place.
So much for surgical precision and winning hearts and minds. I had grown up believing that we were more careful in our use of force, that we only punished those who deserved punishment. But in just a few weeks in Iraq, it became apparent that what we were doing to the Iraqis, as well as to our own people, was inexcusable.
Today, I wonder if Mitt Romney drones on about not apologizing for America because he, like the former version of me, simply isn’t aware of the U.S. ever doing anything that might demand an apology. Then again, no one wants to feel like a bad person, and there’s no need to apologize if you are oblivious to the harms done in your name — calling the occasional ones you notice collateral damage (“stuff happens”) — or if you believe that American force is always applied righteously in a world that is justly divided into winners and losers.
A Painful Transition
An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion. I think I finally understand what it means. We see different realities, different worlds. If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren’t talking about the same things. I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.
My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way. I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creat[ing] our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers” (as a Romney pollster put it). It explains why study after study shows — examples here, here, and here– that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.
Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful. I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned. I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).
My transition has significantly strained my relationships with family, friends, and former colleagues. It is deeply upsetting to walk on thin ice where there used to be solid, common ground. I wish they, too, would come to see a fuller spectrum of reality, but I know from experience how hard that can be when your worldview won’t let you.
No one wants to feel like a dupe. It is embarrassing to come out in public and admit that I was so miseducated when so much reality is out there in plain sight in neighborhoods I avoided, in journals I hadn’t heard of, in books by authors I had refused to read. (So I take courage from the people who have done so before me like Andrew Bacevich.)
Many people see the wider spectrum of reality because they grew up on the receiving end. As a retired African-American general in the Marine Corps said to me after I told him my story, “No one has to explain institutional racism to a black man.”
Others do because they grew up in families that simply got it. I married a woman who grew up in such a family, for whom all of my hard-earned, painful “discoveries” are old news. Each time I pull another layer of wool off my eyes and feel another surge of anger, she gives me a predictable series of looks. The first one more or less says, “Duh, obviously.” The second is sympathetic, a recognition of the pain that comes with dismantling my flawed worldview. The third is concerned: “Do people actually think that?”
Yes, they do.
Jeremiah Goulka writes about American politics and culture. His most recent work has been published in the American Prospect and Salon. He was formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a recovery worker in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. He lives in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is jeremiahgoulka.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Goulka discusses his political journey, click here or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2012 Jeremiah Goulka
- The Political Awakening of Republican: ‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’ (alternet.org)
- The Political Awakening of a Republican: ‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’ (ascendingstarseed.wordpress.com)
- Confessions of a former Republican (cbsnews.com)
- Confessions Of A Former Republican (sporkinthedrawer.typepad.com)
- 10 Rankest Hypocrisies of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Confessions of a Political Convert (motherjones.com)
- 7 Worst Media Brown-Nosers Who Enable Paul Ryan’s Lies | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- GOP’s Three Biggest Fears in 2012 | Alternet (easyjjgrand3.newsvine.com)
- The 99% Take On the Republican National Convention | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Catholic Nuns Send Romney Letter, Call Out His ‘Woeful Lack Of Knowledge’ About The Poor | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
August 29, 2012
What do you do with Condoleezza Rice? If you’re organizing the nominating convention of a Republican presidential candidate in 2012, she presents you with a dilemma.
On the one hand the former secretary of state is an accomplished, proudly Republican black woman, a woman who has parlayed her public service into a prestigious post in academia and a lucrative supplementary career as a consultant and public speaker. She is an icon of opportunity (a Republican mantra) and diversity (a Republican shortcoming). She is one of the first two women admitted to the Augusta National golf club. She reportedly dazzled Romney at a recent high-roller fund-raiser in Utah.
On the other hand, she is a reminder of the Recent Republican President Who Shall Scarcely Be Mentioned at This Convention. She was the national security adviser when America blundered into Iraq, the alarmist who conjured the specter of Saddam’s “mushroom cloud.” She is also an out-of-Republican-fashion moderate on social issues like abortion. I would make a small bet that she voted for Obama in 2008.
Mixed-message-wise, that’s the least of it. On foreign policy, which is her claim to fame, she highlights the party’s longstanding and bitter division over how, and how aggressively, America should project itself into the world.
In the end, if you are that convention choreographer, you swallow any misgivings and put her on stage in prime time. An African-American woman who plays Brahms, loves football and talks patriotism? They are not plentiful in the G.O.P. Besides, nobody is paying much attention to foreign policy, especially on a night when Paul Ryan is being anointed as the vice presidential nominee.
But let’s pay a little attention. Rice is, after all, the only foreign-policy luminary offered such a spotlight. And her story is a cautionary tale about neophyte presidents in a menacing world.
There are, to simplify a bit, three foreign-policy factions in the Republican Party: the mainstream realists, the trigger-happy neocons, and – out in the cold at this point – the Ron Paul isolationists. Rice comes from the first group, the George Shultz/Brent Scowcroft/Henry Kissinger/James Baker school: tough pragmatists, favoring opportunistic diplomacy over sabre-rattling, big on free trade, less big on human rights, endorsing a muscular military but not over-eager to use it. In her last convention star turn, 12 years ago, Rice promised that nominee George W. Bush would “lead the forward march of freedom,” but added this memorable expression of restraint: “He recognizes that the men and women of America’s armed forces are not a global police force; they are not the world’s 911.”
Until suddenly they were. After the trauma of September 11, Rice loyally accompanied Bush on a sharp right turn – into the war on terror, Iraq, rendition, waterboarding, the whole “freedom agenda.” The hardcore hawks – John Bolton, Dick Cheney – never trusted her as a sincere member of their club. (She actually wanted to negotiate with North Korea!) They ran roughshod over her. She let them.
Wednesday night, Rice endorsed another would-be president unschooled in world affairs – conspicuously, embarrassingly so – and this one is already seemingly in thrall to the hard-liners.
The Romney team includes some veterans of the mainstream. Robert Zoellick (a Rice deputy at State, later head of the World Bank, a realist loathed by the neocons) chairs Romney’s foreign policy advisory group. But the happiest campers in Camp Romney are hawks. And Romney has been their megaphone. We don’t have space for a recap of the naïve bluster he has voiced already. Suffice it to say, based on his rhetoric, it’s a close call which would be President Romney’s first war: a bombing war with Iran, a trade war with China, or a new cold war with Russia. (Rice, trained as a Russia expert, must have cringed in March when Romney identified Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe.”)
Romney’s foreign policy, writ large, is a commitment to massively larger military spending (up from 3 percent to 4 percent of GNP) that is not justified by any strategic rationale he has yet revealed; a devotion to “freedom” and American “exceptionalism” without any clear idea how they apply to specific real-world troubles; a policy towards the ferment in the Islamic world that revolves around a bellicose identification with Israel; and a charge of withering American influence under Obama that most voters don’t believe.
Rice has the pedigree and the chastening experience to present a more sophisticated and more temperate Republican take on the world. And Wednesday night she did so.
For starters, she declined to spend any of what remains of her credibility assailing the incumbent president. I’m pretty sure she was the only speaker who did not even utter Obama’s name, and she offered only the most glancing and implicit criticism of his foreign policy. (“We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.”) There was none of the Romney fantasy boilerplate about Obama’s apologetic cringing, no plea to throw more money at the military. Her generic tributes to “peace through strength,” freedom and free trade were squarely in the comfort zone of the party’s traditional mainstream.
For good measure she gave a heartfelt plea for a welcoming immigration policy and sounded more passionate about the crisis in education than any current crisis in foreign affairs.
Her assurance that American security and leadership “will be safe in Mitt Romney’s hands” was almost literally the least she could say.
The hawks may have Mitt Romney’s ear. But Wednesday night, for a while, Rice had the convention – winning a standing ovation from a crowd that may not have appreciated how far she was off message.
- Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice Republican National Convention Speech 08292012 (pumabydesign001.com)
- Condoleezza Rice: America’s voice ‘muted’ in world affairs (washingtontimes.com)
- CODEPINK Activists Confront Condoleezza Rice on War Crimes at Republican Convention Event (codepinkalert.org)
- Condoleezza Rice Hits Obama On Foreign Policy – Yahoo! News (coralvillecourier.typepad.com)
- Rice brings foreign policy clout to Republican convention – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Condoleezza Rice Has a Lot of Nerve (slate.com)
- Condoleezza Rice: A Prominent Republican Voice on Foreign Policy (voanews.com)
- Condoleezza Rice address US Republican National Convention (fsn.typepad.com)
- Condoleezza Rice: A Prominent Republican Voice on Foreign Policy (blogs.voanews.com)
- Romney better suited than Obama to lead U.S. in world affairs: Condoleezza Rice (calgaryherald.com)
Troops have withdrawn from Iraq, but U.S. money hasn’t
Remember, it has been 3 1 / 2 years since American diplomats moved into the 104-acre, $700 million facility and only four months after State officials in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there.35
State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) put out a statement Wednesday saying new planning began after it was determined there needed to be “a larger population on the Baghdad Embassy compound, due to the consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad.”
The statement added, “The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”
The compound sits in the heart of Baghdad’s International Zone and houses 1,350 U.S. government employees who work under the ambassador’s authority.
According to a June 14 pre-solicitation, the estimated construction cost is put at between $60 million and $80 million and is expected to take two years to complete. Among the project elements, along with the central utility power plant, is an underground fuel storage facility holding a 21-day supply and upgrades on a compound-wide fire water distribution, the domestic water system, the sanitary sewer system, the storm water system and the telecommunications system.
A June 12 notice seeks contractors to rehabilitate space in an existing classified embassy annex building. They are to build, in an area about 60 feet long and 60 feet wide, a data hall with an office area. This must be a highly classified project because the projected cost is between $20 million and $35 million and requires “electrical/
telecommunication system upgrades [and] extensive mechanical and plumbing systems.”
Potential contractors are asked to show how they “would typically staff a project of this type and size with cleared American workers,” meaning those with security clearances.
With the increased compound population, OBO determined it was “essential to upgrade and repurpose the facility infrastructure, such as the power plant and annex office space, to accommodate the increased capacity,” the statement said. And while the pre-solicitation notice carries estimated cost ranges, OBO said real project costs are not available.
The House subcommittee on national security, homeland defense and foreign operations on Thursday morning will take up the transition in Iraq from a military to a civilian-led mission. Questions about past and present spending in Iraq, including embassy costs, will inevitably come up.
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), ranking minority member on the subcommittee, said Wednesday that he has “long expressed concern about the U.S. government’s significant footprint in Iraq,” and looks forward to the panel’s continuing scrutiny of “the transition in Iraq and the taxpayer dollars that are being spent in that country.”
Last month, State sharply reduced what was supposed to be a multimillion-dollar continuation of the U.S. military’s police training program. Where the initial proposal called for State to have 400 trainers, as of last month there were 100. Since the program had little Iraqi support, the trainers, mostly senior U.S. police officials are living, protected by their own contracted security guards, at former U.S. military forward operating base Shield, which officially is the Baghdad Police College Annex facility.
The United States has spent about $100 million on the Police College facility, having built living quarters, a dining facility, an office building, a new gymnasium and a helicopter landing site. At year’s end, the facility will be turned over to the Iraqis because State did not get land rights use for more than one year.
Multimillion-dollar projects undertaken in past years when U.S. funds flowed freely keep turning up. On June 17, the grand opening of the $15 million Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies “with funding from the U.S. embassy,” was announced in an embassy news release. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called the facility “an important step in the process of state building.” But, according to the National Iraqi News Agency story, Maliki never mentioned the U.S. role in funding the complex.
The United States is far from out of Iraq. However, Congress has sharply cut into the administration’s original request for $2.26 billion for fiscal 2013. The Senate Appropriations Committee included just $1.1 billion with the biggest cut being total disapproval of $850 million that was to pay for the Iraqi police training program. The House Appropriations Committee attached language limiting some fiscal 2013 funds until Iraq develops a logistic and maintenance system for its security forces and a sustainment program for granted free or purchased U.S. weaponry.
Here are signs that Congress is more closely watching the now diminished flow of money to Iraq.
- Department of State Warnings on Iraq Travel (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- Iraq Police Development Program Being Scaled Back But Not Ending Completely, U.S. Embassy Says (huffingtonpost.com)
- Iraq releases body of US contractor after dispute (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Iraq Court Rules to Release Hezbollah Prisoner (abcnews.go.com)
- Iraq Releases US Body of Contractor After Dispute (abcnews.go.com)
- Iraq releases US body of contractor after dispute (miamiherald.com)
- Iraq releases US body of contractor after dispute (kansascity.com)
- Obama pick for Iraq envoy withdraws nomination (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- US to continue supporting Iraqi police training program despite cutbacks, attacks (foxnews.com)
- US Mission Iraq: No Iraqi Visas Issued to USG Security Personnel Since December? (diplopundit.net)
US Remembers The Dead, Forgets About The Living – OpEd
May 28, 2012
By Vladimir Gladkov
This Monday is Memorial Day in the US, a holiday observed in the US every year since the Civil War to remember American soldiers who died in the line of duty. Today, however, US servicemen continue to suffer as a result of incompetence and lawlessness on the part of the authorities. A raft of high-profile incidents of late demonstrates that the country’s military elite, while ever ready to use the memory of the dead for their own time-serving purposes, tend to forget about the living.
The unprofessionalism and incompetence of the US military leadership and state-run organizations responsible for the maintenance of US soldiers has led to many a scandal recently. The report that triggered a particularly wide-ranging outcry said that the US army had been saving for years on servicemen who suffered from psychic disorders.
A journalistic inquiry revealed that military doctors intentionally refused to diagnose soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in order to avoid paying compensation and pensions. Information leaked to the press that the medical leadership urged doctors to ignore the disorder in order to “save taxpayer money”.
This budgetary money saving policy led to a tragedy. A US army soldier, Robert Bales, who was suffering from post-traumatic stress, killed 17 civilians in southern Afghanistan. The incident exacerbated the US’ relations with Afghanistan, a key NATO ally in the struggle against global terrorism. Bales had repeatedly complained of health problems caused by a head injury in Iraq. Nevertheless, he was dispatched to Afghanistan and as it happens, was not the only victim of the money saving program. It turned out that doctors at the Lewis-McChord base to which Bales was assigned had canceled the diagnosis of a psychic disorder for 40 percent of servicemen thereby contributing to the dispatch of mentally ill people to conflict zones.
American war veterans have been affected by this arbitrariness as well. US veteran unions have been expressing concern over an alarming percentage of suicides among servicemen who return from hot spots. In the opinion of war veterans and human rights campaigners, the main reason behind the increasing number of suicides is dereliction of duty on the part of public service employees. And in most cases, the US Veterans Department, a state-run institution created to support servicemen who return from conflict zones, is at the center of disputes.
According to veteran organizations, the Department is bogged down in bureaucracy, doesn’t react to phone calls from police and relatives, and ignores regular duties. Its employees refuse to hospitalize veterans suffering from psychic disorders. One of the most outrageous instances of that was the death of William Hamilton, a 26-year veteran of the Iraq war who was suffering from regular hallucinations in the form of visits by a demonic woman and the man he killed during combat operations. Despite Hamilton’s deteriorating condition, the Department’s officials doggedly refused to provide him with treatment. As a result, the man committed suicide throwing himself under a train.
The US authorities haven’t got the slightest idea as to where all this could lead to. As the public discontent continues to increase, the government manages to turn a blind eye on the problem. The recent incident in which war veteran Scott Olsen received a grave head injury during a police raid on the participants in the Occupy march in California, is equally unlikely to contribute to the myth that the government is taking good care of people who risked their lives putting the US government’s plans into practice. A steady rise in public protests demonstrates that Americans are getting more and more reluctant to play dubious games.
- Memorial Day Thoughts On National Defense – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- Memorial Day: Among Post-9/11 Veterans, Deepening Antiwar Sentiment – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- Cleveland Veterans’ Disability Benefits Lawyer Says Veterans Should Seek Help for PTSD (prweb.com)
- Turkmenistan: How Berdymukhamedov Can Send A Substantive Reform Message – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- The End In Afghanistan Is Totally Predictable – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- Memorial For America’s Conscience – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- BOLD and Out Loud RemembersThe Bold and Selfless Fallen Minority Soldiers (boldandoutloud.com)
- Op-Ed Columnist: A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame (nytimes.com)
- The V.A.’s Shameful Betrayal (nytimes.com)
- Decorated War Veterans Toss Medals During NATO Protest (crooksandliars.com)
Bush now just lounging around the house, playing lots of “Risk”
April 24, 2012
Almost four years after he left the Oval Office, President Bush is apparently still having trouble adjusting to life as a “regular” person. Highly placed sources inside his Crawford ranch say he spends most of his day shuffling in his bathrobe and fuzzy slippers from room to room and playing lots of “Risk”.
“It’s sad, really, to see the once mighty President Bush brought so low. Granted, he wasn’t the most astute Commander-in-Chief our nation has seen, but still, you have to feel for the guy. It’s like something just snapped.” The source went on to say the staff does what they can to make him feel important, or even necessary. “He always want to play ‘Risk’. Night and day. I guess he still feels that itch to invade and occupy countries. So we indulge him. I can’t even tell you how many games I’ve played over the past few years. I don’t mind, though. They’re usually over pretty quickly. He’s not that bright. Honestly, if Iraq had gone the way of his ‘Risk’ games, the world would look a lot different today.”
Insiders also reveal Laura occasionally lets him listen in on her phone conversations, and even former Vice President Dick Cheney stops by every once in a while. “We always know when Dick is coming by because George takes out all his Cabbage Patch Dolls the night before. They like to practice enhanced interrogation techniques on them. Have you ever seen a Cabbage Patch Doll waterboarded? Pretty disturbing stuff. Still, it’s worth it to see the smile it puts on W.’s face.”
- George W. Bush and torture: America’s highest officials are responsible for the “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners. – Slate Magazine (tribuneofthepeople.com)
- Free Wood Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Failure to Prosecute Bush for Torture Merits UN Reprimand, Attorneys Say (yubanet.com)
- The Dalai Lama hearts George W. Bush (theblaze.com)
- Padilla torture claim back in the Court (scotusblog.com)
- Dalai Lama: I love George W. Bush (politico.com)
- A “System” of Torture?: ‘DMZ’s’ Argument Through Comment, and Comics (Feature) (popmatters.com)
- Dick Morris: Media ‘Ruined’ Bush Because Iraq War Coverage Was Too Harsh (crooksandliars.com)
- Ex-CIA Officer Who Destroyed Waterboarding Videos: Torturers “Disgusted” at Being Labeled “Torturers” (commondreams.org)
- The Kathleen Parker Doctrine (esquire.com)
Iraq Emerges From Isolation as Telecommunications Hub
Michael Kamber for The New York Times
By ERIC PFANNER
Published: April 15, 2012
PARIS — Iraq, cut off from decades of technological progress because of dictatorship, sanctions and wars, recently took a big step out of isolation and into the digital world when its telecommunications system was linked to a vast new undersea cable system serving the Gulf countries.
The engineers who designed and installed the cable that made shore in Al-Faw, near Basra, had to deal with an unusual number of challenges. There were more than 100 oil and natural gas pipelines to cross; stretches of shallow water where the cable had to be buried; and unexploded ordnance from the Iraq war that had to be avoided.
“It was not easy,” said Ahmed Mekky, chief executive of Gulf Bridge International, the company that built the system. “But this could be a significant foundation stone for the country’s recovery.”
The new cable will speed Internet and telephone traffic to India in the East and Sicily in the West. From there, traffic moves onto other networks to connect to the rest of the world.
Much of the world takes lightning-fast broadband service for granted, but any kind of Internet access remains a rarity in Iraq, where fewer than 3 percent of households are online. The new capacity could help bring Internet connections to 50 percent within two years, said Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the Iraqi communications minister.
“You have to have a culture of using it, you have to have the infrastructure in place and you have to have access to low-cost devices,” he said.
Mr. Allawi and Mr. Mekky see more than just domestic benefits for Iraq. They want the connection to the undersea network to serve as the first step in a plan to turn Iraq into a conduit for telecommunications traffic between East and West, which would provide the country with lucrative revenue from use of the network.
“This is going to make Iraq an important hub for connecting Asia to Europe,” Mr. Mekky said. “It’s very strategic for the country.”
Like traders plying the ancient Silk Road, telecommunications operators routing bits and bytes from Asia to Europe and back have to pass through the Middle East, whose tricky geography and even more challenging geopolitics have sometimes made the region just as much of a bottleneck in the digital realm as in the physical world. When things go wrong, the consequences can be serious and far-reaching.
In January 2008, for example, several underwater cables off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt were inexplicably severed. Only days later, a separate cable was cut in the Gulf, near Dubai; this time, a ship’s anchor was blamed. Telecommunications activity throughout the Middle East was severely disrupted, and there were ripple effects for carriers across the world. A similar, though less serious, incident occurred in February of this year in the Red Sea.
Meanwhile, traffic is surging, both internationally and within the region, fueled by the spread of mobile phones and a belated but enthusiastic adoption of the Internet.
Demand for international bandwidth has grown at a compound annual rate of nearly 100 percent across the region over the past five years, according to TeleGeography, a research firm. That is the fastest growth of any region in the world, and roughly double the rate of increase in North America.
Until recently, options for passing through the Middle East were limited, and links within the region were often spotty. Most East-West traffic had to go via Egypt and the Red Sea; the vulnerability of that route was exposed by the 2008 incident. Telecommunications operators in the Gulf also want more competition, in order to bring down tolls.
Since 2008, governments and telecommunications companies across the region have been investing heavily in alternatives, laying cables underwater and across land at a previously unseen pace. Projects like Gulf Bridge, whose shareholders include the Qatar Foundation and sovereign wealth funds of several other Gulf states, are the result.
The Gulf Bridge network, a $500 million project in its initial phase, became active in February, providing high-speed connections to Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Iraq.
Gulf Bridge is not the only new arrival. In March, Tata Communications of India activated a $200 million cable that serves many of the Gulf countries, though not Iraq. The cable sends traffic to Mumbai, where it hooks into Tata’s worldwide network. Unlike Gulf Bridge, Tata’s cable travels over land to Oman, avoiding the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point in times of regional conflict.
With so much new bandwidth coming into service, some analysts have raised concerns about overcapacity, though network operators say it is only a matter of time before the new networks are humming with activity.
“Every time more cable systems are built, use catches up more quickly than forecast,” Radwan Mousalli, head of Tata Communications’ Middle East and North Africa operations.
Given the varied risks in the region, from errant anchors to political tensions like the saber-rattling over the Iranian nuclear program, it is important to have a diverse range of options for routing traffic, executives say.
Another cable-building project, scheduled to be completed this year, would pass through Iran, linking the Gulf to Europe via that country and Russia. But analysts say economic sanctions against Iran could make it hard to attract European customers.
Two other overland lines linking the Gulf to Europe — one recently activated, the other still under development — pass through Syria, where protests over the regime of President Bashar al-Assad continue.
Because of the crisis in Syria and the tensions over Iran, the possibility of routing traffic via Iraq has suddenly become more attractive to telecommunications operators.
“If you want to go from Saudi Arabia to Europe, you either have to go through Iran, Iraq or Syria,” said Alan Mauldin, an analyst at TeleGeography. “Which is the most stable of those countries now? Iraq has emerged as the least bad of all the options.”
Mr. Allawi said his government had reached agreements in principle with partners in neighboring countries to develop a cable system connecting the Gulf to Europe via Turkey, though he said details could not be announced yet.
Mr. Allawi is thinking big. He said Iraq could use the infrastructure improvements to turn itself into a regional Internet hub, playing host to Web sites serving neighboring countries — where, he said, communications freedoms are more restricted.
Telecommunications operators say Iraq provides additional advantages, beyond stability. It offers the shortest overland connection from the Gulf to Europe, so delays in transmission could be reduced, said John Maguire, head of wholesale services at Vodafone Qatar, a mobile operator whose shareholders include the Qatar Foundation, controlled by the royal family of the Gulf emirate.
“Iraq has a very strong strategic position to become a transit point for traffic between Europe and Asia,” he said.
- Iraq Emerges From Isolation As Telecommunications Hub (tech.slashdot.org)
- Today’s e-Reads, Updated: Iraq As a Telecom Hub; Apple Probes Pollution (techdailydose.nationaljournal.com)
- Iraq Is Angered by U.S. Drones Patrolling Its Skies – NYTimes.com (policyabcs.wordpress.com)
- A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame (“For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands”) (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- The Death (for Now) of Arab Nationalism (blogs.the-american-interest.com)
- The Man With the Google Glasses – Ross Douthat via NYTimes.com (stoweboyd.com)
- Finance Committee: Kuwait, Iraq promised to exempt from his debts (thecurrencynewshound.com)
- Iraq Arab League summit opens with eyes on Syria (csmonitor.com)
- Iraq tells Qatar to return fugitive VP Hashemi (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Rockets explode as Arab leaders meet in Baghdad (theglobeandmail.com)