On Being a Veteran

Now that Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, and it’s unlikely that the US will find itself entrapped into large military engagements for a while ( at least until a generation or two retires and a new round of pugnacious policy bros descend upon Washington DC) the pipeline of civilians turned service-members turned civilians again is going to be reduced to a trickle.

Periphery

Whereas a post-9/11 military probably experienced an increase in breadth across American society in terms of socio-economic status, race, etc., the military will once again be dominated by legacy kids, small-towners, and southerners.  Most importantly, most of you will never meet or run across these people; they will probably retire or stay in the areas their final duty stations were in, or they’ll return to their former communities.

This is to say that the military will pass back into the shadows of the American psyche, back where the ugly stereotype persisted of the military being only the failed high school kids and crazies, only reaching public awareness when service-members do bad things or when the Twitterati decides that a military is, like, sooo passé in today’s cosmopolitan society.

Since I got out of the Army in 2007, I lived in DC for 4 years, and then moved to NYC where I’ve been since 2011.  DC actually has some veterans, though most people you’ll meet probably work in the periphery of military affairs: analysts, military groupies (of which there a lot), policy, advocacy.  NYC has virtually no veterans at all.  At NYU the main contingent of veterans is definitely in Stern Business School, so you know what that’s like.  I’ve been told there’s also a large group of veterans at Columbia’s business school and at my grad school’s competitor, Columbia School of International and Public Affairs.  I don’t really hang out with any of them.  When I do see a veteran, he’s just visiting town on leave and recognizes my tattoo.

This is all to give you some background for what I really wanted to say, which is to respond in some sort of truthful way about what it’s like to be a veteran in today’s day and age.

In a Former Life

Being a veteran is something you sort of tuck away — it just has no relevancy to a civilian life.  What I mean by this is, no one you meet knows anything about the military, nor do they particularly care or like it.  If anything, people finding out you were in the military probably makes them feel some annoying twinge of responsibility to say “thank you for your service” or to exert a little extra energy to make sure your poor veteran is alright.  Or maybe there’s some fascination there: “I was gonna join, but…”

To me, I was lucky to have an Army job with lasting benefits to my personal and career competency — military intelligence — so I wasn’t hamstrung there the way some others might be.  But in terms of hiring I’m not sure that background imparts much of an advantage at all.  It’s unapproachable by most people who don’t know how that side of things works.  If anything, the insinuation of military intelligence smells of NSA, Snowden, massive surveillance, etc.  It’s as if people don’t even realize that nations collect on each other and that there are large forces at work 24/7, that not everything in the world is just hunky-dory, that legally-permissible wiretapping is a requisite for both intel and law enforcement.

This is the kind of disconnect that will really get to you — when something you really care about and worry about and wish to protect people for is completely taken for granted and even reviled.  A thankless job.

The Years We Spent Disconnected from the World

Day-in, day-out, I think the biggest impression that is left upon others from my veteran status is that I’m a little old for my position.  That is to say, those 5 years I spent wearing the flag on my shoulder and little hair on my head or face were 5 years that most people spend climbing the career ladder.  If it weren’t for 9/11, or for enlisting, I’d be a 31-year-old instead of 36, and that changes others’ views quite a lot, whether they realize that veteran status or not.

Just imagine this disconnect.  Most young kids turn into precocious young adults full of potential where they’re told they have the entire world open to them, then they claw their way to some sort of sustainable position and then they grow old and they hopefully reach contentment and/or have kids and grandkids so that in the end they can die happy.

Meanwhile, I knew some young adults who trained for battle, who trained how to kill and how to protect and how to serve, dying in some dust pit somewhere, or in some shitty barren wasteland, such that two service-members in Class A uniforms appear at their young spouse’s or parents’ door to inform them of grave news.  That dude who did my dentist checkup or that dude I did US weapons training with died thousands of miles away in a war zone and everyone else moved on.  Those dudes helped defend turf in some other country that we’ve since given up.  Those guys’ lives were cut way short in comparison.  My 5 years, which pales compared to the 10-25 years of military experience many I met in the Army now have, was spent getting to know THOSE people.

I hope most people who have lost friends on the job (military or other hazardous jobs) would tell you that the job itself isn’t quite as meaningful as being among brothers and sisters and being able to help them and live with them and work with them.  It doesn’t matter on a personal level so much that we gave back territory that we fought and lost blood and life and treasure for, as long as we cared for each other.  I mean you hope that in such a sensitive job as being a soldier, that you are asked to do things that really mean something, but you don’t always get to pick your battles.  It’s a valid argument to say that maybe the US handled Iraq completely wrong, but what we know now is not what we knew then and some of us enlisted right after 9/11 to go fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  What’s not valid is hearing criticism from people who willfully remain unaffiliated to anything so that they’re never called upon or held responsible for anything.  Lack of action can be wise at times and cowardice at other times.

In a post-military world, where everyone is essentially out for themselves, what’s missing is that sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps and real compassion for those you work with.  This generates some sadness, particularly for a former sergeant who was trained to always be improving and mentoring and living amongst his soldiers.

Thank God for families, and for being able to build them.  I’m on my way, there.

Outer Perspective

Anyway, back to the topic.  What being a veteran has left me with is an unshakeable confidence in my ability to self-assess, self-improve, and self-correct.  I’m happy I sacrificed my time for a greater good (the mere act alone proved to my internal self that I would do it, if called upon).  I also know what I’m not, and I hope I never try to act like someone I’m not.  I’ve seen great people, who sacrifice all their time to family and country.  Great people who are continuing to serve their entire careers in the armed forces.  Great people who serve in elite units as well as the worst-managed, poorly-financed units.

I hope I can identify good people from bad, and knowledgeable people from the willfully ignorant, and never stand in the way of people who do good for others, their community, and the world.  I know how far I can push myself and when I need to push myself harder.  I definitely became a man in the meaningful sense of the phrase because of being in the Army.  I saw how other people live, throughout the US and abroad.  I hope to retain that humility in understanding and respecting how other people live, even if they hate your guts just because of what you’re wearing or where you’re from or what you’re doing.

All this gets tucked away — I keep to myself mostly — but if I meet other veterans or others who have served in the line of fire (police, fire, State, USAID, DART, etc.) then it’s like being with old friends.  It’s a virtual community, as they say.  You can talk about things you can’t talk about with others outside the community.  It awakens a dormant part of my very vivid past, a past I care for very much and am very proud to have experienced.  It doesn’t happen often that I get to talk to other veterans, and not all veterans are good people, but it’s definitely at least some sense of feeling “at home”.

Perhaps one thing I’ve noticed after leaving the military is being able to identify really stand-up people in civilian life.  GREAT people!  The kind of person you know would excel in leadership, who cares for those around him, who makes others better, who pushes himself to his limits, who shows humility and empathy and sympathy to even the people he meets whom he stands nothing to gain from.  There aren’t many of these people but man, they shine out from the rest like the freaking Southern Cross.

With that afore-mentioned pipelines of veterans trickling to almost a stop, the virtual community of veterans is going to get smaller and that part of my life will get tucked away even further.  We all have virtual communities and past parts of our lives that make us feel like this, I suppose.  But like I said, what I took away from it — a deep love and appreciation and respect for my own limits and talents and vulnerabilities and strengths — will stay with me forever.

So that’s how I feel when someone asks what it’s like to be a veteran.  It’s a solitary experience, but I think other brethren will agree — there’s a richness there that can never be taken away and will always be compared against.

US Forces "Volunteer" to Leave Iraq

It’s interesting to live through the times of American occupation of Iraq.  What the Bush Administration sees as a necessary move, not without its faults, that has eventually led to a nascent democracy, is nothing short of tragically comic.  What we see as “giving peace in the Middle East a chance” will in future history books be seen as imperial overreach, classic quest for respect, influence, and resources, and geopolitics.

It’s clear Americans long gave up on this “war” and no longer want any part of it in any sense except to support the troops, whatever that means anymore. (I suspect “support the troops” is akin to wishing a homeless guy well when you see him but walk on by nervously, hoping he doesn’t attack you).  It’s clear the rest of the world thinks our occupation of Iraq is foolish and naive, and some countries and non-state actors think it’s wonderful that we’re willingly spending blood and treasure on an endeavor that’s going to hurt us for decades to come.

It’s also clear that we’ve learned nothing about Islam, Arabs, history in the Middle East, the international system, or democracy as a result of meddling with Iraq.  Which is perhaps the most tragic thing, given that we’ve invested so much in the damn place.  But I guess when Madoff, the Big 3, big banks, and the Bush Administration take us for fools and we hardly put up a fight, we deserve the pains of our own negligence and ignorance.

So what’s going on in Iraq now?

The US and Iraq “agreed” on the terms of American military withdrawal from Iraq recently.  The full document of the agreement between the US and Iraq can be read on Scribd.

The US is required to leave all Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009.  It is then required to remove all military forces (in which the document goes into elaborate definition of what that consists of) by the end of 2011.  Which is still a full 3 years from now, I might add.

Sounds great, right?  Pretty simple and realistic?

Well, the Sadrists refuse to acknowledge the passing of this agreement by the Iraqi Parliament and Al-Maliki.  Their logic is that the deal would be legitimizing American presence in Iraq, and therefore they disapprove.  Juan Cole has a further breakdown of the various Iraqi parties’ takes on the agreement and on federalism vs. central government.

Real Iraqis do not want us in their country (although they do want security).  The only ones who want us there have interests in keeping us there.

Everyone knows this deal is a farce.  The US does indeed want to remove most of its troops, and thankfully through electing Obama, this seems more of a reality.  But there is no way the US is giving up too much of its military presence in Iraq.  It will continue to provide “technical advisors” and “trainers” for Iraq’s military, air force, and intelligence.  Intel and the central government will undoubtedly be strongly influenced by the CIA and other covert operations.  The US has built massive bases and is still working on a brand-new embassy.  These will require logistics, support, and maintenance.

Iraqis know that the US isn’t going away soon.  It may not be clear (even to Americans) what the US wants from Iraq, but it’s pretty clear nothing good or stable will come out of it.

Meanwhile, Iraq is not going to improve.  If someone says the surge worked, you can just stop trusting anything else they say.  Baghdad is “calmer” now because it’s been walled off and because ethnic separation has already occurred.  The number of troops that were added are not commensurate with numbers needed to be able to quell violence — through the rest of the world or through the rest of history.  It seems as though the US bought off the Sunnis to get them to play ball in getting rid of Al-Qaeda, who should have always been an unwelcome presence in Iraq.

People still don’t get why Bush was so bad.  This guy is dumb.  He is happy watching the illusion of elections and democratic government, but he has no understanding of what all that actually entails.  As long as people go through the motions of voting, he thinks it’s progress.  When it comes to what happens afterwards, like the election of someone he doesn’t like, or massive violence and calls of fraud, he doesn’t know what to do with it.

This is why we’re supposed to elect people who understand politics, regional sensitivities and political levers, and maybe even a little knowledge of economics.  It bothers me that people claim Bush is devious and sneaky; he’s clearly not.  He’s a well-meaning buffoon who’s a puppet of the long-time buddy network he installed underneath him (look at how long Cheney, Rumsfeld, Negroponte, et al have been in the game of Machiavellian imperialism).

He’s happy with Iraq, even though Al-Maliki’s Iraq is somewhat akin to a banana republic, without the bananas.  Al-Maliki is on shaky ground and you can bet as soon as he can, he’s going to wipe out any resistance within his government as soon as the US looks the other way (as he did with “former Ba’athists”, the new red-headed stepchild in Iraq and, more recently, with Sunni coup collaborators).  So if you’re Sunni, better watch out.  If you’re Iranian, welcome!  If you’re Kurdish, you’re hoping everyone ignores you so you can continue to slink on by and come closer to a modern Kurdistan.  Until Turkey decides it’s going to take the same opportunity to throw Kurdistan against the wall like Russia did with Georgia.

Doesn’t it piss you off that Bush is clueless about this stuff?  When has he talked about how the Sunnis in Saudi (his friends, I might add) and the Gulf states and Pakistan feel threatened by the strongly Iranian-influenced Iraq?  Bush has completely depleted all of our political capital and armament to do anything more in the Middle East.  The US public won’t stand for further meddling in the Middle East, and all the international players involved in the region realize that the US has no sway there once its military leaves.

In other words, it’s going to be a bloody, messy fight in the Middle East once we leave.  And we will watch cluelessly with our mouthes agape, wondering why those damn Ay-rabs can’t all just get along.  Al-Maliki and the Sunnis will go at it after we leave.  Any vacuum of power will invite Al-Qaeda and other global insurgency groups back in.

The irony is that it seems as though Iraqi politics is pretty interesting on its own, and the most powerful interests in Iraq (like, for instance, the highest grand cleric, Al-Sistani) are trying to push for a sovereign, independent, democratic government.  But the US is determined to be the “peacekeeper” and state-builder, so it’s decided to stay.  The biggest railroading issue in Iraqi politics is, of course, American occupation, but from our lens, we see it as keeping the place from descending into chaos.

As Bill Easterly, development economist, would call it, this is the white man’s burden.  We feel as though it’s upon us to fix everyone else so they can be perfect just like us.  We spend trillions of dollars on other countries, with no accountability from those who are affected by it, and let the automotive industry in our own country eat it.  Not that we should bailout the automakers, but we sure do wrangle a lot more with smaller amounts of money for our own peoples’ education and well-being than we do about the trillions spent fixing countries we don’t understand.

This shit is never-ending.  When will we realize that the best thing we can do is to not get involved?  Are you looking forward to two decades from now when we’re stuck with a bunch of damaged, hurting veterans and an Iraq situation that’s still chaotic?  This is the same stuff you read about in foreign policy history books where the colonizers drew arbitrary borders for entire peoples and then wondered why it didn’t work out.

I hope that this all will not happen, but the underlying currents of neo-imperialism, interventionism, paternalism, love for war and oil, and more, still run strong and are indefatigible in American politics, even after Obama’s being selected president.

Again, I have to be amazed at how we’re now willfully “leaving” Iraq under an “agreement”, which basically, when translated, amounts to us running with our tail between our legs now that the US public wouldn’t take it anymore (after even a Democratic Congress refused to answer the peoples’ wishes to withdraw).

Of course, the warmongerers (most of whom have never been in a combat environment) out there will call this cowardice and emboldening the enemy.  Well, too bad.  If employing the democratic support of your people to support your foreign wars is too difficult, then maybe the point is that the war isn’t actually worth it?  To argue differently is to question democratic rule by the people.  The flip side of that, if you are a pragmatic warmongerer, is that you shouldn’t start a fight you know you won’t be able to finish, even if you think it’s worth it.

I thought it was fitting that an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush.  An educated Iraqi who’s in a professional line of work throws whatever he can, given the opportunity.  That’s about as much of a condemnation as you can get.  Bush may see it as bizarre and an outlier event, but that shows how out of touch he is with the world he should be the most powerful leader of.  I would venture to say that a high percentage of the people who saw the event (regardless of nationality, color, creed, etc.) identified instantly with the journalist and knew EXACTLY what he meant.

Are we going to be ready for the pent-up resentment and hostility that will come out after we “withdraw”?  History shows that it’s never pretty when the lid comes off a boiling political pot.  An Iraqi journalist got his ribs cracked and sustained other injuries.  Saddam was filmed during what was basically a Shi’ite execution.  And these events were under US supervision!

Underground Warblogging

Warblogging died in 2006.  It died when the military and US government decided that ANY servicemember’s content online must be approved through the chain of command, AFTER informing the command that that content MAY exist. (i.e. registering one’s blog even without posting content to it)

The message coming out of Iraq was warped after this decision.  Crowdsourcing what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan halted.  We had to rely on embeds and independent journalists (Michael Yon continues to be excellent), and of course, brutal, savage terrorist/insurgent attacks to figure out what was really going on.

I attended the senior Yahoo! fellow Gaurav Mishra’s talk at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy last week, on the subject of citizen journalism/media during the Mumbai Attacks.  You can read about Gaurav’s coverage of the Mumbai attacks on his own blog.  Gaurav talked about how people were now able to report instantly from the scene.

He had me say some words about my own situation, where I had to remove content from my web site to include photos from Iraq and my journal on my deployment to Iraq, after my command found out and I got in heaps of trouble for it.

This “war” is going to be over soon, yet not as quickly as I’d like.  But I guarantee you, when the smoke clears, there will be a TON of stuff coming online written by the troops on what has been happening over there.  That the military said we couldn’t post it online didn’t mean that soldiers weren’t still lying in their hooches, writing long rants on how fucked up or how successful it was over there to their loved ones.  Soldiers, Marines, and others were still snapping photos and taking video of what they saw.  All that stuff is out there NOW, but it is underground.

It will bubble to the surface once all these people feel that it is safe to do so.  You will probably see more books published again.  Few would be worth reading.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that they will have the ability to express themselves again.

About the best we’ve had lately is a book written by a pseudonymous former Army interrogator who decried US torture practices, and a 60 Minutes interview by a pseudonymous former Delta operator who said his team could have had a good shot at killing Osama bin Laden in the early stages of the “war” in Afghanistan.

Pseudonymity, anonymity…both are great ways to circumvent broken systems.

You can also expect revelations, scandals, and investigations to come soon for other related reasons.  The changing of the political appointees and DC guard will bring out exposés on the Bush Administration.  The financial crisis will expose the corruption in Wall Street (like the latest hedge fund/NYC investor scam).  Much of the rot that’s spread as a result of Dubya will get exposed.  I should add that it’s not that the Democrats are not a part of it too — the politicians all had their hand in the till.

The flood of information that people didn’t want you to hear is coming.

[

edit:  Newsweek just did a great story about Thomas Tamm, the guy who gave the New York Times a heads-up on the wiretapping scandal that would later emerge as a collage of different whistleblowers’ reports.  People won’t be as afraid to report, once the horrible Bush Administration leaves.

My buddy d14n wrote a blog post about Tamm also, and he verified the info on how and where to contribute to the Thomas Tamm Legal Defense Trust.

]

How Bush and Obama Have Shaped My Last Eight Years

Thankfully, the eight years of Bush rule are almost over.  It has been a dark period for the American soul, spirit, and Dream.  Here is a synopsis of the Bush presidency years as seen through my life, documented through my web site and blog.

Pre-Dubya

In 2000, my mind certainly wasn’t thinking about international terrorism, financial crises, gas prices, or the like.  According to my site’s news archives from 2000, when I was 22, the most important topics in my life at that point were Napster and the dotcom bubble.  The bubble had not yet burst, although it started having some rough days.  Oil was hovering around $25-40/barrel.  I had just graduated from college and went to Italy with my dad, and France with my mom.  The dollar was strong and the Euro would continue to get weaker until about 2002, facilitating American travel abroad.  I would daytrade the market for another year and a half.

Read More »

Bob Baer on "Fresh Air"

My mom and a classmate recommended that I listen to Baer speak on NPR. It’s a long interview, but well worth it. Listen here.

He talks mainly about Iran but it has implications in a lot of different areas. A lot of what Baer said challenged what I thought about what’s going on in the Middle East, and I thought I had a good handle on things! Here’s some things that I didn’t know/agree with before he explained it:

Arabs and Persians have transcended their racial differences: Sadr (Mahdi Army in Iraq) and Nasrullah (Hezbollah in Lebanon) under Iranian influence. Iran wants the US to leave completely from Iraq (hence it disagrees with the US leaving bases in Iraq) because it has Maliki in its pocket. Iraq will have to go to Iran for permission to act. In my opinion, this is still contrary to the intentionally false intel that Iran is supporting terror in Iraq — Iran wants stability in Iraq because otherwise war destabilizes Iraq.

Bin Laden is dead. He asks, “Where is he?” Never has anyone disappeared off the face of the map. Bin Laden wouldn’t dye his hair (this is true, he’s very pious). No DVDs recently?

Other points:

Says Iran is unique in history as a virtual empire: pulling strings with Shi’a in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Says we need a Manhattan Project for alternative energy. (also a term used in the debate) Fuck yes. Argues that Iran will light the Persian Gulf on fire and attack oil infrastructure if provoked.

Says Iran is not looking for war with Israel or the US; it can’t afford it. We should talk to the true leaders in Iran, not Ahmadinejad, to see what they’re serious about doing.

Sunni fundamentalism (such as Salafism) is dangerous and can’t be dealt with. Shi’ite fundamentalism is open to a deal. (true, Salafists refuse any modification to Islam, which blocks reform)

Ahmadinejad is as irrelevant as McCarthy was.

Olmert wants to give up West Bank and east Jerusalem. Iran sees itself as a rising star with a weakened US, no enemy in Iraq, weakened Taliban in Afghanistan.

Iranians are more likely to go up against Saudi than Israel — and if they get nukes, so will Saudi. (could Iran help us broker a deal in the Palestine?)

There’s a theory that Israel might try an attack on Iran, but probably only after the US election with a weakened Bush. But Israel doesn’t really want all-out war, Baer says.

Privatization of the Military

I’m reading about Donald Rumsfeld’s declaration of war on the Pentagon that he issued on September 10th, 2001. He basically said he was going to gut the military and outsource everything to contractors.

Now this is interesting because I realize now that all these weird things I witnessed while in the Army were weird precisely because of the privatization movement that was taking place.

For instance, one of the first things I noticed was that we didn’t have to do KP duty, or Kitchen Patrol, in basic training. While in the past, soldiers would have to serve all the food to the other joes, by the time I got to Ft. Leonard Wood, soldiers were only helping to hand out some foodstuffs at the end of the line.

Later I would see that we were put on task for mowing lawns and picking up garbage far less often around post, as lawnmowing is now mostly outsourced. Soldiers still have to go around base and pick up trash though, if contractors can’t do it or if the new contract is awaiting budget approval.

But it wasn’t until I got to Iraq that I saw the biggest change. We were issued brand new uniforms with digital camouflage patterns on them. We were issued tan boots that didn’t require any polishing. This meant that all soldiers who would enter the Army afterwards would never know the joys of laboriously polishing their black boots anymore (except for jump boots). All our gear was replaced with gear that matched the new pattern, which must have cost the US government a fortune since even simple rucksacks cost easily over $150 each.

KBR, then a subsidiary of Halliburton, ran the show in Iraq. From billeting to food to construction to cleaning, they ran all the logistics. You could get Subway and Pizza Hut in Iraq easily. Massive chow halls with all the food you could eat. Contractors racing around post in personal SUV Escalades. Parking lots full of unused pickup trucks.

Our IT was outsourced to one of the big contractors and all our equipment was expensive, not fully functional, and created by the companies you see lining the highway on the way to Dulles Airport in the DC area.

There was, of course, Blackwater.

It always just struck me as weird to see so many civilians doing jobs that we’d traditionally done. Needless to say, in most cases this is great for soldiers — they can focus more on war-fighting.

But it shows the massive transformation that took place under Rumsfeld and that will be institutionalized into DC for the rest of my working life. The corporatist bubble that started within the military has expanded into homeland security (all of DHS can be scrapped in my opinion) and I imagine that will be expanded to take over local governments as well, soon, as well as anything else that businesses can rip off from the government.

These are powerful times.

Iraq, December 2005

[old; written in December obviously]

It is now December of 2005, a week before another election of Iraqi officials takes place. The Administration has begun making concessions towards removing troops from Iraq — other countries are planning on withdrawing from the mission soon if they haven’t already. There’s nothing for most other countries to do except provide interior, or rarely, perimeter, security. The American presence in Iraq is in its third year. There’s been an election and a constitutional referendum. Saddam Hussein is boycotting his current trial and getting himself in the papers daily with his theatrics.

Over 2,000 American military servicemembers have died. Countless others have been severely wounded. Explosive attacks have grown more powerful, more directed in their damage but more indiscriminate in their targets, which anti-coalition forces have been directing towards large groups of Shi’ites or police recruits or sometimes just large groups of Iraqis. The Marines have attempted to seal off Al-Anbar and the Syrian border to stop the influx of stolen vehicles for VBIEDs and foreign fighters.

Iraq’s GDP and GNP have risen sharply, along with cellular phone usage. Other figures such as crude oil production and hours of electricity per day have fallen dramatically with a spiralling loss of security instead of improving, as it should show after Bush’s claims that security for the infrastructure is the primary concern.

The Democrats have tried — and failed — to begin impeachment proceedings for the President in relation to faulty intelligence leading to the Iraq invasion. Scooter Libby is on the chopping block for being accused of ratting out an undercover CIA employee in response to bad intelligence used as justification for the invasion. The CIA is trying to hide the evidence of secret prisons and torture in Europe and other places near the Middle East. Jack Abramoff is in trouble for skimming off lobbying fees. All of this has gotten a lot of media attention but there remains a likely possibility that this will all slide off the Administration’s back in the eyes of the people.

Anti-war proponents have been gaining a foothold in the debate lately, along with assault from people like House Representative Murtha, former military, who argued for removing the troops. Murtha’s efforts are hard to counter because of his status as a Vietnam vet, but as Kerry showed, that’s no guarantee of invulnerability.

Since 9/11, Bali, London, Spain, and other countries have been hit with terrorist attacks. The U.S. has avoided further attacks. Bush claims this is because of stricter domestic security but I think it’s because Al-Qaeda has accomplished as much as it wanted out of provoking the U.S. at this point in time.

ORIGINAL PREMISE FOR WAR

The most reliable sources stated that the embargo, no-fly zones, weapons inspectors, and Hussein’s own paranoia had led to both a strangling of Iraq’s people and an inability to continue WMD research. While certainly removing Hussein would lift embargos which were killing and starving Iraqis, citing WMDs as a main reason for war was not sound. The only people saying there were WMDs were people who had no business stating their opinion on the matter, whether they be Democrat or Republican or foreign intelligence service. And since they all get their intel from the same places, of course they agreed.

Banksy's Happy Chopper

Hussein was a brutal dictator, yes. There are many brutal dictators currently in power around the world right now. Terrorist funding was non-existent, or at the very least, minimal compared to other countries in the Middle East. In terms of risk vs. reward in invading Iraq, removing Hussein’s Ba’ath government for these reasons seems stupid.

No one anticipated the insurgency. Just like no one anticipated the effect Al-Qaeda would have, even after 9/11. The only people warning of what might happen were regional experts, who were obviously ignored.

TRAINING IRAQIS

Most people would agree that the Iraqis need a suitable police and military force before the U.S. can exit Iraq. However, trust is hard to find. Anyone who’s worked with the Iraqis know they rely heavily on the Americans. The Iraqis have no heavy weapons, no heavy armor, no air support, little strategic or planning ability. To say that we are close to letting them loose is ignorant. You cannot warp a third-world technology country into the 21st century of American technological warfare overnight when there’s no underlying economy or cultural basis in Iraq to support it. We will have to invest in better equipment for them and I am sure everyone from politicians to American citizens to soldiers are hesitant to arm Arabs. Prejudice is alive and well. Sure there are some officers who are willing to cross the culture boundary but most military folks hate Arabs, hate Islam, won’t share food or shelter or touch Iraqis. They are convinced Arabs are dirty and will give them tuberculosis or something. Most military folks hate being in the Middle East. They hate the culture. I have dined with Iraqis, been given gifts by Iraqis, been called “brother” by Iraqis.

War and Peace

It is a segregated environment entirely, despite the Iraqis being very friendly and generous. The Iraqis are nervous because they know the rug can be pulled out at any time from under their feet and they will be out-gunned by the terrorists.

Iraqis don’t have the assets to plan effective missions yet. Moreover a lot of what they need to do needs to be done by a police force, not a military. The police need to patrol the streets, maintain a presence. They need SWAT teams, not military brigades, amongst the people.

Everyone says that Iraqis need to have a trained force, but no one wants to commit towards achieving that.

A significant risk is that the security fabric of the nation will tear apart, leaving anti-American sentiment, more distrust (after a snubbed rebellion after Desert Storm), and tens of thousands of ex-soldiers trained by the U.S. in (admittedly insufficient) mission-planning, targeting, urban tactics, and most importantly, rifle marksmanship. They might turn into this generation’s American-trained and -funded Afghan mujaheddin.

Pressure has made limping out of Iraq the most likely outcome for the U.S. Of course the terrorists will claim a victory and the Republicans will claim that the Democrats caused us to lose Iraq. The important thing is that Iraq will slip into a vacuum again unless it fights back against its extremist infiltrators. Iraq has little going for it in the long run, like other poor, war-ravaged countries in the Middle East. It’s no Vietnam.

TERRORISTS

Al-Qaeda has a long-term plan that involves the entire western world, not just the U.S. This has been shown by its attempts to attack multiple countries widely scattered across the globe. It has not hit targets repeatedly. It’s inciting the masses. It wants to appear as though the jihad exists everywhere. It wants to hold traitors accountable. Anti-coalition forces are now working on hitting oil lines, oil convoys, police recruits, public works. I think these attacks may be counter to Al-Qaeda’s vision — it does not want a poor, disadvantaged Middle East. It just wants a pure Muslim one. Keeping Muslims and Arabs in destitution is not the Al-Qaeda modus operandi. It is more Zarqawi’s style, and he is the primary influence among the most violent in Iraq. Zarqawi has finally managed to execute a foreign attack with the Jordan hotel bombing. His career as a terrorist has been marred by many embarrassing failures trying to attack other countries. Maybe his men are more sophisticated now.

The U.S. and world continue to ignore what the terrorists are plainly telling them. Thus each side is arguing things in its own terms, and the two are not going to resolve any differences until someone gets a clue. Which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

TROOP MORALE

The Administration says that Americans must support the troops by supporting the war. There is no alternative. Bringing the troops home is akin to dishonoring their memories, and ruining the wishes of the soldiers who protect their memories also. What kind of argument is this? This is a defeatist argument to me.

CPL Matthew Conley

We have to STAY in Iraq no matter what the cost in order to honor the fallen? This seems like a vicious cycle to me. More soldiers will die, more Americans will be emotionally invested in staying there. We must intervene in this cycle that destroys our nation’s psyche. Let’s get things straight here. The military follows orders of the Commander-in-Chief, whatever those orders may be. The military achieves honor by doing this, and only this. We cannot expect the military to “win” a “war” of hearts and minds and Sunni/Salafist/Wahhabi extremist conversion to the “good” side. It’s not going to happen no matter how many soldiers we have. The military can at best maintain security (something a police force should be doing) and train Iraqis (something Special Forces and police force contractors should be doing). The military is made to create and destroy, and facilitating creating and destroying. That primary focus is not what the military is doing now. The military is waiting to go home. Soldiers have missed several Christmas’s in a row, or several of their children’s birthdays in a row. The military is tired. It performed an awesome job of taking control of Iraq in little time at all. Now it is dug in, fit with movie theaters and PX’s and swimming pools and biding time until they can go home. Yes, a lot of missions are being run still but let’s face it, all the top leaders of extremist organizations realized long ago that we’d be in Iraq for a while, and they’re hiding out in other countries, just like the Viet Cong did in Vietnam.

The extremists have more to win by us needing to honor the fallen, no matter which way it turns out. If we stay longer, we wear out our welcome, and create more martyrs. If we cut out, they will claim victory in their own ignorant way, as if it was their actions that led to our leaving. That people are afraid of the terrorists claiming victory if we leave is defeatist. The terrorists will ALWAYS claim victory. They have to rally people to the cause just like we do, but they have to make more noise about it.

If you want to honor the soldiers, know when and how long and why to use them. Plan in advance what role they will play, play to their strengths, don’t exceed their limits. Honoring the soldiers is bringing them home if it’s correct or more beneficial to do so. Honoring the soldiers is supporting them to kick fucking ass if it’s correct or more beneficial to destroy things. The soldiers are always ready to fight but that doesn’t mean that they SHOULD fight.

DEMOCRAT VOTE

The Democrats are now apologizing for voting for the war. It’s about damn time. Clearly they never should’ve voted for it in the first place. I think they probably did it so they didn’t look to be intervening in the way of freedom, or to win bi-partisan points, or perhaps just naive optimism that removing a secular dictator of thirty years would not leave a power vacuum in Iraq. It shows that none of them had any balls. Then again, they’re not necessarily supposed to have balls, just the ear of their constituency.

What really kills me is that the Republicans are calling the Democrats on changing their votes, as if to say, “Oh no, if we’re going to be involved in this mess, you’re going to be involved with us.” It’s really THAT sickening.

Furthermore, while more and more service-members die, many people are profiting off of the perpetual war. But hey, war is cool! War is America!

iPod Art Spoof for Well-Known Iraq Photos

Final note: watch this Frontline report on the insurgency’s development, from February 21, 2006.

February Plans

When I get home (soon), I’m going to be over-hauling my web site. A lot will change for the better, offering a more distilled, pure version of benturner.com. I have a lot of new ideas for content. Most significantly, much of what comprises benturner.com will be made private; I’m building a private side and making it more personal, requiring you, my reader, to complete a questionnaire before given access. I want to know who you are. I’m not concerned about hits, or trackbacks, or the larger community. I care more about communicating with my readers. I want to build a network of creative, industrious idea people. Also, I want my privacy, my intimacy, freedom to speak, with an audience I know. No more free rides, little Johnny! But there’ll still be plenty for the external version of benturner.com for new readers, don’t worry.

Bill Murray from Groundhog Day.

 Did you know it’s Groundhog’s Day on February 2nd? Well, along with James Joyce’s birthday is my own! I’ll be 28. I’m excited about this year’s birthday! Last year I spent my birthday at JRTC, a training exercise in Bumblefuck, Shitwhere. For an idea of what this place is like (or what it became famous for), I recommend you rent Tigerland, a movie with Colin Farrell acting well in a good part (shocking!) as a role model for developing leaders and sergeants to follow in terms of leading from the front and looking out for his soldiers.

I’m on a quest, and it’s not looking good. =P  The quest? To find a damn Nintendo DS at the PX here before all the Joes buy them up. It’s hard, let me tell you. NBA 06 on PSP is far, far better than I expected but I desire much more gaming in my dulled support-soldier state, dear reader. I check the PX daily waiting for a shipment to come in, but no luck. And it’s too close to the time to go back hometo order one online. Now I’m so obsessed with this I’m like Captain Ahab seeking the goddamn pixellated Nintendog, Phoenix, vampire!!!

The new American flag. (from Adbusters.org)

So yes. Birthday. Birthday birthday birthday. I’ve been in Iraq for a while. How about you go to my Amazon.com wishlist and get me something? If not for me, do it for what I think is a diverse, fascinating list of important books from economics to history to hacking to graffiti to cooking to traveling!  And if not for that, do it for your country! Your consumption translates into a healthy economy, the promotion of good ideas, thongs, Cheez-Its, and lots of sex for everyone!

You DO want that, right? Then what are you waiting for?

Happy Holidays from Iraq

Well, it’s the month of Happy Holidays, so from Iraq (or not-Iraq, where I am, named for the complete lack of evidence in this base that I AM in Iraq), best wishes to you and yours this giving season! I wish I were back home with Julie and my family, enjoying a hot Christmas dinner, Christmas pudding, snow, and my girlfriend’s lovely company. The stuff I thought was cheesy before, I miss now — the Christmas lights, the tree, the decorations around town, even the pristinely white, clean displays in the malls.

My Christmas tree and living room at home in Dallas!

Just to remind you how out of touch the debate is back home, people are worried about talk of sending the troops home being demoralizing to the military effort here. These are not the days of people spitting on soldiers and calling them baby-killers like Vietnam was. I think what’s on most soldiers’ minds these days is the fact that many of them have missed their children’s births, their family members’ last three birthdays, and a couple of the last few Christmases and Thanksgivings. Speculation about returning home is just shrugged off by tired soldiers in their third year of constant deployment. But hey, you keep writing those morale-boosting “keep the troops away” blog entries in between family get-togethers this December, Mr. Concerned Citizen!! Or better yet, join your fellow citizens and serve a tour or two over in Iraq or Afghanistan!

I think it’s interesting seeing GOOG above 400$ — they continue to release more web applications that seem to point towards a vision of the Internet that hardly seems attainable right now. Yahoo! just bought del.icio.us, the link tagging site I now post my links to pretty regularly. (I will start feeding my del.icio.us into my other links page soon) While Yahoo! now owns this and Flickr, two of the most popular web geek apps, I can’t help but think that Yahoo! will never integrate Flickr nor feel Flickr-ish (which it should try to do), and that spending money to buy small web app companies (for anywhere from 15$ million to 40$ million for the latest two) is a waste of cash — they could’ve designed these by themselves, at a fraction of the cost, from the ground up, learning from the small startup’s mistakes and limitations. But I guess Yahoo! is paying for the communities and (if this is a real reason, that’s sad) reputation transference. Put the checkbook away though: communities can be fickle, ephemeral online — offer superior features, reliability, and innovation and people will move at the drop of a hat. I mean, who’s going to use Skype now that Yahoo! is offering cheaper VoIP integrated into Messenger?

Right now I’m contemplating the effect of massive Google networked-ness and bandwidth along with an energy situation relieved by massive estimated alternate energy growth this year of 30% for solar and wind power. The gains in productivity and capital for companies and individuals will be shocking. I see this as bullish for the American economy, but even more so for international economies, which still have yet to benefit as completely as the U.S. has from the Internet, global commerce, and post-bubble corporate re-structuring.

Chart of the Shanghai index, which has been losing for a while now.

I’m bullish on international funds for the next decade or two. And I want to invest in China, even though it still needs to reform many aspects of its economic and political infrastructure, and coöperate better with its blossoming, more expressive society, before foreign investment will really begin to flow in confidently. I am interested in their long-term strategies and their attempting to create eastern brand alternatives to western powerhouses.

I’m almost through this deployment and as a late Thanksgiving notice, I’m very thankful I’ve had Julie this whole time. Julie’s been an awesome, patient girlfriend even while I’ve been away in Iraq. I love you, darling. You’re totally being spoiled this Christmas, that’s for sure! And whenever I get to see you next! And your soundtrack song right now is Jamiroquai’s “Loveblind”, a killer track off their new album.