It didn’t take long after 9/11 for me to want to join the Army. I wanted to join up and kill Osama bin Laden and his top officers. It was a clear goal and I felt motivated and full of direction that I hadn’t really felt before in my young life.
So I went through basic training and was put into the Arabic language pipeline at the military’s primary language school. I sort of wanted to learn Mandarin but only reservists or National Guard got that. I got Arabic, the next best thing in my mind, as the Iraq invasion was clearly inevitable on the military horizon, and I wanted to be part of the action.
It was our first days at DLI that things got weird. Why were people being pushed into Korean and Russian classes, evenly divided up along with Arabic, given that war was so close? Why were there no Pashtu or Urdu classes at DLI? Why were Farsi students invariably the ones who couldn’t hack it in the higher-level languages? My friends and I commented on how there was no talk of Afghanistan at all, despite our having cut Al-Qaeda to the core there. Wasn’t that where the fight was?
I remember being in Arabic class and watching Al-Jazeera during our class breaks. I bought into the idealistic American viewpoint that, while Iraq seemed a bit strange to invade, that we could do some good there. Later, in February of 2005, I wrote about it in my Soapbox “De Exercitu”, my first online opinions of Iraq:
“The US’s greatest failing right now is its inability to sell its vision to the rest of the world. Countries can have different ways of looking at the world, but working together legally, economically, and politically in order to ensure security and trust benefits everyone. Because the US hasn’t explained itself, other countries suspect us of wanting to take everyone over. Other countries think we just want their oil. They think we don’t care about them. What’s worse, Americans think that the rest of the world is stupid and beyond hope.”
We saw a lot of Blackhawks get shot down during that early period of the Iraq occupation, the crashes usually killing everyone on-board. The mission in Iraq sort of seemed aimless back then, but I was one recent recruit among many and I think most of us trusted our leaders to know what was going on.
The overwhelming question posed by us Arabic students was why we never got any Iraqi dialect training. Also related, why didn’t we get any military terminology training? To be honest, I really never at DLI felt like my job was very mission-critical. It was even worse for the Russian and Korean and Vietnamese students who already knew they would go to a unit and sit on their asses. One Russian guy who graduated before us notified us that he was surfing in Hawai’i after taking the day off early.
Here we were, “liberating” Iraq through occupation and there was no sense of urgency at all coming from the top.
I had arrived at DLI not long after the big fiasco where a bunch of Arabic (and Korean) linguists were kicked out of the military for being gay. That homosexuality would be a more pressing issue than finding Arabic linguists for Iraq was strange. Again, nothing from the top. Consistently all our best linguists would be separated from the military for various reasons: disability, pregnancy, conscientious objection.
Yet I continued to give the Administration the benefit of the doubt, even as our presence in Iraq became more gruesomely storied, as it turned into occupation.
Personally I was excelling. I passed my course and got my special forces assignment and made it through airborne school. I had excellent leaders at my new unit and got great training. Eventually I deployed to Iraq and realized just how useless Arabic linguists were. Sure, everyone was amazed at the Arabic skill identifier, but the primary application of it was for getting out of the Army and doing contracting for $200k tax-free. We had one guy at DLI who failed out of Arabic and got a job as an Arabic translator for $120k. This was the environment we were trained in.
Our Arabic skills were not utilized. Friends would share the same stories at their units. Language training consistently got cut in favor of bullshit work details and other useless Army functions. All of my buddies were extremely motivated to continue learning Arabic as best they could, wanting to contribute to the fight. But we sat idly.
In Iraq it was my opinion, without getting into details here, that our abilities were near useless. We had no Iraqi familiarization and no resources to compensate for it. Not just that, there was no audience for anything we may have discovered anyway. Senior leaders trusted other sources much more than us, partially for good reason. Friends said they just sat on their asses every day in other parts of Iraq, not doing anything productive.
By the time I got home, most cities in Iraq had stories that will last for the rest of history. Fallujah and the stringing up of Blackwater operators, the bloody siege by the Marines of Fallujah shortly afterwards, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the massacre in Haditha, the shows of force by insurgents in Ramadi, the American assault on Sadr City in Baghdad, the bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in Karbala, the confrontation between Blackwater and Al-Sadr’s militia in Najaf, the “pacification” of Tal Afar, the raping and murdering of a girl in Mahmudiyya by US soldiers.
It was common to hear that no one was reporting the good news coming out of Iraq at this point. Well, that was actually true. However, no one was reporting the truly bad news coming out of Iraq either. Nor were they reporting the despicable shit coming out of Washington DC.
After a while, I stopped believing that any good would come out of what we were doing. Part of it was my getting reassigned after my blog, which personally I think showed the positive role of our presence in Iraq, got me in trouble during the whole Army blog crackdown. The way I was treated in that episode, the prioritizing by my commander for something like this instead of mission requirements…
We’ve never had our priorities straight in Iraq. Why? Well, I was beginning to realize why.
I didn’t know as much as I know now about the entire situation but I started to feel that the Administration was just incompetent. It was just a bunch of stupid bureaucrats who refused to hire “Arabists” to go to Iraq, or to give control to the State Dept., or to keep on the old Iraqi military types instead of making them unemployed. It was just bone-headedness that led to not having any working policy on dealing with post-invasion Iraq. We were just being governed by idiots, I thought.
Then in the last couple years there have been a flood of books and articles reporting what’s been going on since 9/11, and it has not been pretty. Pretty much the worst characterizations by protesters who many would say were radical have been correct. The paranoia has been justified. All those little nagging questions we Arabic linguists and soldiers had while going through the pipeline have been answered with sad, confirming tales of ineptitude and partisan gamesmanship.
It has gotten particularly virulent in politics and the news now that this stuff has come out. I have noticed that the hardcore militaristic and nationalistic types have failed to process this new information. They are not being exposed to or are ignoring the new data that is coming out. The result is that they consider the skeptics of the Bush Administration to be left-wing wingnuts or loonies.
But all the reporting that’s come out has confirmed the worst fears. The PATRIOT Act gave way to warrantless domestic wiretapping. Gitmo and removal of habeas corpus gave way to extraordinary rendition and torture and a culture of prison indoctrination for jihad. A journalist went to jail for not revealing a source, and the NYTimes was villified as a result. Military investigations into negligent activity were suppressed so the true stories of soldiers’ deaths were never released (the military later had to re-investigate ALL deaths including Tillman’s and all “non-combat” casualties were under suspicion for suicides). Gonzales and his cronies were selecting judicial positions based on political affiliations. Rumsfeld was selling out our security to the highest-bidding companies in an effort to outsource the Dept. of Defense and make it more like a free market, which was preposterous. Going through airports is like passing through a fascist Orwellian system. The Gulf coast rots away as a result of Katrina and negligence at all levels for the well-being of those affected by it.
I noticed that in my Iraq journal (which I need to sterilize before I put online again, for my protection and my unit’s) that I saw a lot of the problems that are big news now. Obviously the private contractors, the non-combat construction KBR & Halliburton and the mercenary Blackwater and the intel scam contractors like Titan, were almost as numerous as soldiers over there. Whole lots full of new pickups and SUVs sat idle while troops drove their HMMWVs to the lavish chow halls during a boring three-meal-a-day day of playing Xbox.
One story that hasn’t really come out yet, but that was prevalent in Iraq, was all those foreign contractors. I haven’t seen evidence, but I’m willing to bet that all those Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and other people from extremely poor countries assigned to do cleanup, food service, and other menial details were NOT being treated humanely and being paid fairly. I guarantee you that they were threatened at some point and many probably had their passports taken away. I can’t verify this of course but you have voracious contractors saving money by hiring third-world employees. Human trafficking goes almost hand-in-hand with that type of environment.
More and more investigations come out. And all these people inexplicably are related! Turns out the Blackwater CEO is a Christian zealot and convert (like Bush) who was in league with James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and all the biggest Christian crazy groups like the Council for National Policy, a group of rich conservatives who vowed to create a lasting stranglehold on the Republican party and American politics. All the Justice Dept. hires were coming out of Regent University, started by Pat Buchanan, in an attempt to make Christian issues unassailable according to the judicial branch. Then of course there were the neocons who usurped the Republican party of its conservative values and decided to fuck up the Middle East to stir up the pot instead of just managing it like those coward Dems might. The neocons fanned out, whether in the American Enterprise Institute, the World Bank, National Review.
I recently decided to check out some right-wing blog sites to see what they were up to, since I wanted to get insight into where people get their zany ideas about foreign policy from. I got into some arguments, mainly on the basis that these war-mongerers had never even enlisted to fight yet now had no problem destroying an entire military generation of Americans and promoting militarism.
I asked about why we weren’t in Afghanistan. Without fail I would hear, “Because Al-Qaeda’s in Iraq.” Well, their leaders are in Pakistan and Afghanistan! I would say. “Iraq will become another launching pad,” came the response.
At this point I finally got the message. It’s not that all these Administration types are dumb or foolish or can’t think rationally. Sure they are aware of foreign policy experts’ recommendations. It’s that they have far different intentions than the rest of us. But I don’t think Bush is on board with most of the movement. In fact, he was just quoted as mouthing off privately:
“Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated â€œI am the president!â€ He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of â€œour countryâ€™s destiny.â€”
“[S]ome big money players up from Texas recently paid a visit to their friend in the White House. The story goes that they got out exactly one question, and the rest of the meeting consisted of The President in an extended whine, a rant, actually, about no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what heâ€™s doing things would be OKâ€¦etc., etc. This is called a â€œbunker mentalityâ€ and itâ€™s not attractive when a friend does it. When the friend is the President of the United States, it can be downright dangerous. Apparently the Texas friends were suitably appalled, hence the story now in circulation.”
I think Dubya was taken advantage of by 9/11 opportunists. When 9/11 happened, this career-nobody who owned a failing baseball team was confronted by a lot of powerful religious types and business types and security types who wanted to push their own agendas. And Dubya just decided to open the floodgates and let them do whatever, because he wanted to protect America and to do the right thing.
What he did, though, was allow these people to plunder the US and ruin its good name. They’ve run amok and have profited handsomely. As long as Bush felt safer, he was happy with what they were doing in the name of the free market and religion.
The radical Christians have made a lot of in-roads in government but are still being pushed back to some degree. The neocons are still pushing for war. They do not care about fixing Iraq. Their goal in Iraq is to destabilize Iran and Syria. Iraq didn’t go as well as they hoped so finding a reason to go into Iran is more difficult than they imagined. But regime change was always the goal. For Rumsfeld, outsourcing the military was his goal and it worked. Government contracts were pushed out without any bidding to dubious companies that hired anyone they could find to help them make money. We have trained mercenaries who will cause instability in the future as they try to make a living. Civil service and loyalty to the country have been compromised by companies offering $200k/year.
Afghanistan is never talked about because the goal is not to kill Al-Qaeda. The goal is not to go after Osama bin Laden or Ayman Al-Zawahiri or Al-Amriki. Getting rid of the Taliban doesn’t serve the interest of destabilizing regimes in the Middle East. There is no worry about Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship in Pakistan, or of his fall possibly giving nukes to the Taliban, because that is not our foreign policy concern right now.
Bush spoke of a beacon of light in the Middle East, ridding the region of the darkness of regimes. Maybe he meant it, but his associates did not. They wanted other things from the Middle East, and peace was not one of those things. Israel peace talks have stalled. No diplomatic offers have come from the US for Syria or Iran.
These people have ransacked our country by playing off our 9/11 fears. We let it happen and Bush let it happen. We are just figuring it out now.
The good news is that things are looking up. As Iraq’s gotten worse, the public has grown very angry about it. The neocons are barely still wobbling on their feet, only thanks to Bush. Gonzales has no confidence from his subordinates anymore, another survivor thanks to Bush. Wolfowitz, prominent neocon, got outed. Rumsfeld is gone. This is a whole generation of crazies who have been playing the game in DC for decades. Their whole movement has been exposed and they’re being run out of town.
The Democrats barely won Congress in 2006. Accusations of caging and voting fraud and election rigging in 2000 and 2004 have surfaced and people are aware of it now. Hybrid cars have finally hit the bigtime and can’t be avoided by big interests anymore. Other countries have made deals with each other to circumvent US hegemony. It’s the Democrats’ election to lose for the next president. The Republican candidates are not intimately tied with the sorts of evil people Bush was. The country seems more alive now, oversight has returned to DC, and I think we’ve figured out why it’s important to vote again.
A whole generation of fucking evil people has been removed. It’s just Bush who stands in the way of a massive flood of healthy reform that’s on its way, and he’s running out of time.