Archive for the ‘iraq’ tag
Dexter Filkens, who covered Iraq from 2003 to 2006, has a rather good piece about its impact on him in this week’s New York Times Magazine.
For me, the war sort of flattened things out, flattened things out here and flattened them out there too. Toward the end, when I was still there, so many bombs had gone off so many times that they no longer shocked or even roused; the people screamed in silence and in slow motion. And then I got back to the world, and the weddings and the picnics were the same as everything had been in Iraq, silent and slow and heavy and dead.
Matt Bai has an artful examination of John McCain’s evolving view of American foreign policy in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine. His basic conclusion:
Undaunted, McCain soldiers on toward November and what could be his final campaign. When he ran in 2000, his philosophy of national greatness — the importance, as he always puts it, of “serving a cause greater than one’s self” — found its expression in ideas like national service and campaign reform, proposals that independents and even many liberals could embrace. For a time then, McCain, adrift within his own party, was almost certainly the most popular politician in America. This time, his theme of selflessness is bound up, irrevocably, with Bush’s unpopular war. Democrats, alarmed over their own disunity, can hardly wait to start pummeling McCain with Iraq. While I was working on this article, the Center for American Progress, the left’s leading policy center in Washington, took the liberty of sending over a 10-page litany of McCain’s selected comments on Iraq since 2002, delineated by helpful subheadings like “The War Begins — Rosy Outlook” and “The Critical Time Is Always Right Around the Corner.”
Also of note (and from the Times Magazine, tangentially related to Vietnam): an interesting/troubling examination of the charges of conspiracy the US is bringing against Hmong leader — and former US ally — Vang Pao.
Sue Halpern wrote a long but rather good exploration of the use of virtual reality as a way to treat American soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This paragraph caught my eye (and made my think about the paralyzing cult of manliness):
When Travis Boyd was first asked to consider enrolling in the Virtual Iraq clinical trial, he was hesitant. He had already decided not to talk to his division therapist, because “I didn’t want to have it on my military record that I was crazy,” he said. And he was a marine. “Infantry is supposed to be the toughest of the tough. Even though there was no punishment for going to therapy, it was looked down upon and seen as weak. But V.R. sounded pretty cool. They hook you up to a machine and you play around like a video game.” Telling his buddies that he was going off to do V.R. was a lot easier than telling them he was seeing a shrink.
As further proof that I’ll link to any graph Good Magazine puts out, no matter how little sense or value I can derive from it: a chart of how much money went to which military contractors.
Some News from Somalia
I’ve been completely remiss about sharing actual news this week, so to begin to pay back that debt, two slightly different views about the current — and thoroughly underreported — debacle in Somalia.
For Newsweek, Scott Johnson put together a piece that compares the situation to Iraq. How good or bad that comparison seems to you probably has a fair bit to do with how good or bad Iraq seems to you. A sample:
“Every year this fighting continues, the situation worsens,” says Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Abdul Salaam of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. The Islamists’ eviction in 2006 left a power vacuum that the U.N.-backed government still hasn’t managed to fill. Ethiopian troops are loathed as occupiers and rarely leave their heavily fortified bases. And al-Shabaab has broken off from the Courts to wage a brutal and effective insurgency. The guerrillas have overrun at least eight Somali towns this year and control parts of the capital. Where once they brought order to Somalia, they now gleefully spread chaos.
Meanwhile, The Economist is more sanguine:
So Somalia is not yet a lost cause. After 17 years of anarchy and bloodshed, its GDP per person is still higher than Ethiopia’s or Eritrea’s. Somali traders still influence the price of commodities across the region. The country limps on, even without much aid; the trade in livestock to Saudi Arabia during the haj is worth a lot more than foreign assistance.
Kevin Drum explains, and also has an qulickly-understood chart:
Asked what would happen if the U.S. “quickly” withdraws from Iraq, hardly anyone thinks the Iraqi civil war will expand. The percentage who think “Iraqis will find a way to bridge their differences” grew from 44% two years ago to 61% this year. What’s more, the most optimistic countries tended to be the ones closest to Iraq (Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia). Obviously the Arab public could be wrong about this, but this strikes me as a mostly pragmatic question, not the kind of thing driven either by dislike of the U.S. or weird conspiracy mongering. Given that, it’s perhaps telling that the opinions of ordinary Arabs who are close to the scene (and who would bear the brunt of a widened civil war if it happened) are so at odds with the nearly unanimous opinion of U.S. foreign policy opinion leaders.
I’ve recently been remiss both about watching Charlie Rose and the news from Iraq. I just did a little of both by watching the conversation between Charlie, John Burns, and Dexter Filkins. It’s a good exercise in moderation and even-handedness on what has become a thoroughly political story.
I generally find political cartoons to be a hit-or-miss diversion that I don’t bother following. But I really enjoyed this one.
You don’t have to agree with Ross Douthat’s politics to agree with his assessment of War, Inc..
Proving myself right, I’ve again been ignoring Iraq news. Slate’s Fred Kaplan has some valuable details about the mess that’s engulfed Basra.
The fighting in Basra, which has spread to parts of Baghdad, is not a clash between good and evil or between a legitimate government and an outlaw insurgency. Rather, as Anthony Cordesman, military analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes, it is “a power struggle” between rival “Shiite party mafias” for control of the oil-rich south and other Shiite sections of the country.
Both sides in this struggle are essentially militias. Both sides have ties to Iran. And as for protecting “the Iraqi people,” the side backed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (and by U.S. air power) has, ironically, less support—at least in many Shiite areas, including Basra—than the side that he (and we) are attacking.
Also of note, Kaplan’s piece about what victory will really mean in Iraq.
I’d heard and forgot about the news that 4000 Americans have died in Iraq until I saw this. It made me sit up and pay attention.
Ross Douthat tackles how and why modern Hollywood pictures look relatively similar to those of the Vietnam era.
This doesn’t mean that the current paranoid, doom-ridden mood in cinema and television was manufactured in Hollywood and foisted on an unwilling public. Up to a point, at least, Hollywood is meeting Americans where they are. Mistrust of government and disquiet about the country’s future have risen to Vietnam-era levels, and reviving ’70s-style paranoia and pessimism is a natural way for the culture industry to connect with a public coping, once again, with a military quagmire, rising oil prices, prophecies of ecological doom, and corruption in high places.
Speaking of America’s military… (I’m also getting tired of that opening, but I like the idea of having segues.) Matthew Yglesias has posted an interesting graph of the number of American troops in Iraq from invasion to date. It’s interesting to see, though I have to agree with the commenters that it would be nice if the y-axis had started at 0 and not 100,000.
Maybe it’s just me, but this statistic seems surprising:
Since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, more than 16,000 troops — mostly Army — have deserted. Antiwar groups contend the number is much higher, with many of the runaways quietly discharged.
For context, it’s from a rather interesting story about Iraq-era deserters in Canada and the support they’re getting from Vietnam-era deserters.
Fred Kaplan’s profile of Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, in tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine’s worth reading. This bit left me with no doubt he’s an admirable man, whether or not he’s always right:
At the Marine Corps Association’s annual dinner in July, Gates cried while eulogizing Capt. Douglas Zembiec, a marine known as “the lion of Fallujah,” who had recently died in battle. By that time, Gates was writing personal notes at the bottom of every condolence letter sent to families of troops killed in battle. “I want the recipient of that note to know that the secretary of defense actually saw that letter, signed that letter, thought about that letter,” he told me on the plane ride back from Fort Hood. “It forces me to pay attention to every single one of the young people killed — how they died, where their hometown is, what other members of their unit were killed. I’ve kept count — 796 Americans have been killed in Iraq on my watch.” (This was as of Nov. 27.) He denied that he keeps count as an explicit corrective to Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who at one Congressional hearing admitted that he didn’t know how many troops had died in the war that he helped to start. Still, the contrast has been widely noticed, not least by marines and soldiers.
Slate’s provided a way to make last night’s State of the Union interesting, and placed it within a historical context. Though I can’t vouch for the accuracy of their process, it does create interesting results. Through a “natural-language analysis” they’ve found the speeches fall into four distinct phases.
Monday night, a fourth and final Bush emerged, Crawdad tells us: “Legacy Bush.” New and year topped the list, along with leader, Congress, and agreement. Iraq(i) was also influential.
“As is common in most State of the Unions, Bush framed his thoughts in a nationalistic manner, using the words America(n), nation, good, people, and world very significantly,” Dooley tells Slate. “We note that Bush believes his legacy is still very much tied to Iraq and the Iraqi people.
You can also skip straight to their table of all of Bush’s addresses.
In last week’s Newsweek column — I’m rather out-of-date where offline reading is concerned — Fareed Zakaria argues that all the presidential candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, are having the wrong discussion about Iraq. He also offer a way forward:
The most intelligent strategy for the United States now is a combined political and military one. If we are to engage in peacekeeping, the operation needs to be internationally recognized, sanctioned and supported—as it was in Bosnia. We should call an international conference on Iraq and get the support of other countries—crucially Iraq’s neighbors—for this new mission. There should then be a joint international push to get the Iraqis to make the kinds of political deals that will turn the ceasefires into lasting peace. Over the next year if the violence continues to decline, countries like India, Poland and South Africa could be persuaded to relieve American troops. With sustained and focused efforts, over time, American forces could draw down substantially. The mission could then become what it was always billed as, a genuinely international effort to assist the Iraqi people in founding a new nation.
Michael Massing has another great piece about Iraq in the New York Review of Books. He tells the story of Iraqi reporters working for McClatchy, one of America’s biggest news organizations, as they tell it on McClatchy’s blog, Inside Iraq. The whole piece is good, but I’ve pulled the most striking bits:
She told me that when the American soldier discovered Grisham and Asimov on her bookshelf, “He was totally amazed. When he looked at me, he didn’t see an Iraqi woman in a hijab, he saw a human being. You can’t imagine the look on his face—there were tears in his eyes. He was inside a house, with love, a family, like anywhere else.”
The incident, Sahar said, gave her a sense of the extent to which the Iraqi people are unknown. “People in America look at pictures of Afghanistan and think Iraq is the same,” she said. “They think Iraqis are people who are uneducated, who are Bedouins living in tents, tending camels and sheep.” Until the plague of wars began devouring the country, she went on, Iraq was the leading nation in the region, with a highly educated people boasting the best doctors, teachers, and engineers. Americans, Sahar sighed, “don’t know this. And when you don’t know a person, you can’t feel for them, can you?”
Whichever side [McClatchy’s bloggers] come down on, however, there is one feeling [about America’s presence] that predominates: humiliation. “They remind me of this constantly,” Fadel says. “Americans believe their soldiers are working for the greater good. The Iraqis don’t see that. They see people who are here for their own self-interest—who drive the wrong way on roads, who stop traffic whenever they want to, who they have to be careful not to get too close to so that they won’t be shot.” When one of her staff members wrote the post about the student who threw a rock at a US soldier, Fadel says, she asked him, “Why did this kid throw a rock at a man with a weapon, a helmet, and a vest? What was he thinking?” “These are foreign soldiers,” he replied. “This is an occupation.” That, Fadel notes, is a very common feeling among Iraqis. “Everybody I speak to thinks this. They don’t have power in their own country.”