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.