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The Iraq Muddle

map_of_iraq

So let’s get this straight. Somehow, unbeknown to U.S. intelligence agencies, a major army constitutes out of thin air and in the space of about ten days captures huge Iraqi metropolitan areas and now threatens the Iraqi capital.

In the north, Kurds take over a major city they’ve been eyeing for about a thousand years. Elsewhere, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers also fold like tents leaving millions of dollars of munitions, tanks and helicopters in the hands of an advancing army so extreme in its beliefs of Sharia law and a hardline Islamic state that, they have actually been disowned by Al Qaeda.

The only thing standing in the way of ISIS (Iraq/Syria Islamic State) and Baghdad are volunteers formed after Friday prayers- oh- and our good friends, the Iranians, who have pledged to help defend the capital.

Who’s to blame for the possible collapse of Iraq into complete and utter chaos?

Here’s a possible list of suspects:

1) The British. They’re the ones who sat in some fancy room after the end of World War I and drew up the boundaries of Iraq with apparently zero thought given to the politics of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country; the Kurds to the north, the Sunni and the Shiites.

2) The Bush administration. Not the first one, the second one. The first Bush White House never completed its invasion of Iraq or toppled Saddam Hussein because of the uncertainties of what might occur if a sudden power vacuum were to open up smack in the heart of the Middle East. Plus, we had no interest in accidentally starting and getting involved in a bitter civil war. The second Bush administration did what it did, and praise them or scold them, the fact is the war and its aftermath ended up putting a Shiite leader in place who has spent the last 8 years taking out several centuries worth of anger against the minority Sunni population that had previously lorded over the majority Shiites.

3) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Not only has he alienated the Sunnis, but it is reported his government is corrupt as the day is long; so corrupt, in fact, that in Mosul, a city of about 2 million people that just got taken over by ISIS, the violent invaders have actually improved city services by, among other things, ending frequent power outages. Of course, in the decree they made public upon their takeover, women are not allowed to leave their homes and anyone in violation of their strict interpretation of Sharia law will be hung or have their feet or hands cut off. But they do get air conditioning.

4) The Obama administration. Responding to an electorate weary of war, and now the victim of what his defenders call disingenuous and hypocritical attacks from those who started the war- his administration has, nevertheless, presided over a national security and intelligence apparatus that has pretty much missed one of the biggest developments in modern Middle East history.

Nice work everybody!

Tragedy in Afghanistan

Uncle Sam Crying by James Corcoran


In a span of just a couple of months, we have now seen video of American soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters, American troops mistakenly desecrating the Koran and causing riots and now a deeply disturbed U.S. Army Sergeant appears to have systematically murdered women and children in two rural southern Afghanistan villages.

This is not us. This is not America. This is not our military. We are not represented by these acts and we shouldn’t be defined by them. But they do speak to the horrors of war and how it breaks people and causes them to behave in ways that are completely antithetical to our values. We are the good guys- not….this.

When I have met and talked to members of our armed forces, I am always impressed by their civility and decency in big ways and small. It’s always the guys in their desert uniforms on the Metro at the Pentagon station who are the first to give up their seat to a pregnant woman or an elderly person. Those were U.S. Navy men and women who rescued Iranian sailors from Somali pirates a few weeks ago. How many acts of unpublicized kindness have been committed by our troops in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan? I would venture to say thousands.

Our fighting men and woman have rebuilt schools, distributed food to the hungry, and given hugs to children orphaned by war. And that’s when they’re not putting their own lives on the line as the target of a sniper or an IED placed on a roadway. But it is hard when confronted by the acts of broken people, hardened and twisted by tour after tour after tour of duty- to not feel a deep sense of sadness and shame over the kinds of events that have occurred in Afghanistan recently.

Polls show Americans are weary of war. Solid majorities now think Afghanistan is not worth the cost in blood and treasure. Certainly, history has taught the British, the then Soviet empire, and now us, that taming this country by military occupation is a fool’s errand at worst, and indescribably difficult at best.

How we extricate ourselves from this decade-long conflict is complicated. It was in Afghanistan that the Taliban gave shelter to Al Qaeda as the terrorist organization trained to wage war on civilized society. It’s the Taliban who have oppressed women in ways unimaginable to most of us.

It’s up to our leaders to figure this out because, surely, they are now seeing the current course seems to be completely counter-productive to our stated goals of building trust with the Afghan people so that we can train their military and their government to do what they must eventually do for themselves.

Loose talk about military action in other countries ought to be sobered by events of the kind we have seen lately in Afghanistan. There is nothing glamorous or magical about the military option. And maybe for the sake of our own brave men and women who’ve sacrificed so much over the past ten years- and for our own collective sanity and self-respect- maybe war ought to once again, become the last possible option- and no longer, instinctively, the first.

We Are the Good Guys: U.S. Warship Rescues Iranians From Somali Pirates

(U.S. Navy Photo)


Just days after Iran warned the U.S. to keep its navy ships out of the Persian Gulf- we retaliated with an international act of kindness.

That’s right, one of those nasty American destroyers Iran recently threatened with its mighty navy, the U.S.S. Kidd, heard a distress call from the small ship pictured above and freed the 13-member crew and detained 15 Somali pirates without incident. The Iraninan vessel had been held for over 40 days.

Can you imagine the ire of the Ayatollahs?

If they were smart, they’d rescind their threats and offer to pay us to protect them. Still awaiting word on the official Iranian “thank you.”

Contemplating 9/11

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment


Reminders of the threat that never really goes away. A prudent heads-up has gone out to law enforcement agencies about an unconfirmed but credible terrorism threat in connection to the 9/11 anniversary Sunday.

Resisting the panic-inducing breaking news graphics on Cable TV is a good idea. This is not about panic- this is about everybody being vigilant. We killed bin Laden this year. The 10th anniversary is upon us and we found documents in his hideout that indicated he may have been planning a terrorist act in the U.S. timed for the anniversary. There are sources in Pakistan that have reportedly come through over the past 48 hours indicating something may be up. Every intelligence service in the country is on it and that’s a good thing.

Reliving this terrorism stuff is not pleasant. Reliving the events of ten years ago stokes a lot of emotions in the country and particularly for folks in New York and Washington who have deeply personal memories of the chaos and evil that befell the nation on that “severe clear” autumn day in September.

I’m trying to revisit these memories in small doses. I’m not anxious to relive 9/11. But we do owe it to those who perished that day; to their families; to the courageous 1st responders- to never forget.

For a couple of years I lived in a Manhattan apartment that offered a view of the two powerful blue beams of light that are projected into the sky from Ground Zero on the anniversaries of 9/11. Two years ago, the moon, shrouded in clouds, appeared to teeter directly above the beams. I found a picture of it tonight on the web. It was one o’clock in the morning and I remember thinking how it appeared those mystical lights were melding with the moon and shooting up into the heavens themselves.

Navy SEALs & Surgical Strikes


By the end of this fiscal year, the U.S. will have spent $1.3 trillion dollars over the past decade prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I propose we wrap things up now and employ that Navy SEAL-6 squad instead.

Seems to me you can spend billions and billions going after the tail of the monster, or a couple hundred million and go for a double-tap to the head of the beast. No, really. What if instead of sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, we had just used good intelligence and Navy sharp-shooters eight years ago to take out Saddam Hussein?

What if instead of fighting what may become a protracted conflict in Libya, we send Muammar Ghadafi a little note hinting that some Navy SEALS may be paying him a visit shortly. Might he immediately negotiate for exile in Sharm el Sheikh where he and Hosni Mubarak could have adjoining estates?

I’m only half-kidding. It seems to me there are a lot of different ways to get to the same end. The surgical strike approach gets there faster and a hell of a lot cheaper in both treasure and human lives. Getting the leader doesn’t ensure victory but I suspect it speeds up the process.

But you can’t go around the world assassinating people, you argue? Excuse me, but did you see what we just did with Osama bin Laden? Did we ask Pakistan’s permission? Did we ask them to come along? No, we didn’t. That would have been pretty darned silly, considering the laser-sharp quality of Pakistani intelligence which couldn’t figure out what that big million dollar mansion was with the 18-foot walls and barbed wire some 50 miles from their nation’s capital.

And in total seriousness, the more I learn about these Navy SEALs, the better I sleep at night. I am so glad they’re on our side. The truth of the matter is that they have been engaged in many missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember the American ship captain they rescued last year from Somali pirates with pinpoint fire at a tiny target bobbing up and down in a large ocean? I believe that was the last time we know of that President Obama specifically turned to the SEALs.

For a few facts and photos about this elite squad of warriors, you might want to check out this slide-show from Slate.com entitled, “No Bark, All Bite.”

Hell Freezes Over: Limbaugh, Giuliani Thank Obama


He was not being sarcastic. Turns out he was being sarcastic. Rush Limbaugh opened his program today by saying, “Thank God for President Obama.” Politico has now updated its original take and now says El Rushbo was in full mockery mode.

He went on to say:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we need to open the program today by congratulating President Obama. President Obama has done something extremely effective, and when he does, this needs to be pointed out….

President Obama, perhaps the only qualified member in the room to deal with this, insisted on the Special Forces. No one else thought of that…not a single intelligence adviser, not a single national security adviser, not a single military adviser came up with the idea of using SEAL Team 6 or any Special Forces.”

That turned out to be part of the mockery as well.

Former New York City Mayor and vociferous Obama critic, Rudi Guiliani, actually was sincerely gracious today:

“I feel a great deal of satisfaction that justice has been done, and I admire the courage of the president to make a decision like this because if something had gone wrong everyone would be blaming him and I admire the courage and professionalism of our military intelligence officials who carried this out and this is a great victory against terror. Nobody can minimize it. He was a symbol more than anything else right now but…symbols are really important.”

Others have been less than gracious, congratulating the military but failing to mention the role the President played in approving the surgical strike.

According to Politico.com:

Over the past seven weeks, Obama had chaired numerous National Security Council meetings on the topic, including ones on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19 and April 28.

“In the lead up to this operation, the President convened at least 9 meetings with his national security Principals,” a senior administration official e-mailed reporters. “Principals met formally an additional five times themselves; and their Deputies met 7 times. This was in addition to countless briefings on the subject during the President’s intelligence briefings; and frequent consultations between the [White House National Security Council], CIA, [Defense Department] and Joint Staff. The President was actively involved in reviewing all facets of the operation.”

This was a total team effort; from the Situation Room in the White House to the incredible heroism and courage of the U.S. Special forces who despite losing a helicopter and going on with the mission anyway not knowing if they had a way out of there, pulled it off anyway.

This also speaks to the merits of continuity between Presidential administrations. The groundwork for this was laid by George W. Bush. And he deserves credit as well. There will always be debate about the tactics that were used and whether Iraq should have ever have been part of the equation. Those debates are for another day.

For now: justice served.

Reacting to the Demise of OBL


I’ll let others do the commentary. From solemnity to humor, here are a few of the reactions to the death of Osama Bin Laden:

From Daily Beast blogger, Andrew Sullivan on what the President knew but didn’t let on about:

The poker face of the man has for the last few weeks been pretty damn impressive. Just because he’s calm doesn’t mean he isn’t lethal.

From New York’s Newsday newspaper:

Kathy Ugalde of Deer Park, whose father, Raymond Downey, chief of rescue operations for the FDNY, was killed, said her emotions ran the gamut from relief to sadness. “Ten years later, I feel a sense of relief to know they got the person who murdered my father,” she said.

“I do think it was something that had to be done, but all those poor souls, it will not bring them back,” said Joan Dwyer of Smithtown, whose son Patrick, 37, perished. Dwyer was a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald.

The Tweets (from Business Insider)

9/11 widow on my flight. In tears. Comforted by entire cabin. Life altering event to see- Jim Forman

Leave it to America to upstage a royal wedding- Emily Zanotti

Bin Laden dead; invasive TSA patdowns to be replaced by invasive TSA high-fives- Kris Straub

They should have captured Bin Laden alive and made him go through airport security 4 the rest of his life- Jeremy Hanks

Hm. Maybe this is what the Prez meant when he told Trump he had more important things to do- Andrea Seabrook

And from Tweet Soup.com

In one last act of terror Osama bin Laden ruined a great episode of Celebrity Apprentice last night. NBC’s special report on his death cutoff the last 30-minutes of the show, leaving Apprentice fans in the dark about who was fired on this week’s episode.

The main headline: Trump fired Hope Dworaczyk, 2010 Playmate of the Year.