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.

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.