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The Missing Follow Up Question: Why Iraq is Still a Landmine for Jeb and Marco

Over the last week the various talking heads have come to a consensus on two points about Iraq. One, given what we know now OF COURSE it was a mistake to go to war on Iraq. And two, why on Earth weren’t Jeb and Marco prepared to answer this obvious question in that obvious way? Well I think there are any numbers of reasons why they fell into this trap, but perhaps the simplest is this:

“Governor Bush/Senator Rubio, having conceded that with the 20/20 advantage of hindsight that YOU wouldn’t have made the decision to go to war, and moreover insist that President G.W. Bush wouldn’t have either, why have you each hired as top foreign policy advisers people who were not only centrally involved in making that decision, but deny to this date that it even WAS a mistake?”

Jeb, who was a PNAC Vulcan, and Marco, who is positioning himself as the heir to Neo-Con-ism, are STILL relying on PNAC Signatories of either the 1997 Statement of Principles or the 1998 Letter to President Clinton on Iraq. It is one thing to agree “Mistakes were made” and another to say “Hey what the hell, why not give the mistake makers another bite at the apple?” Maybe because they don’t even AGREE that they made any mistakes to start with?

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Wisconsin, Have you Met L. Paul Bremer?

By Daniel Becker

Now that the story is getting out that Governor Walke et al’s bill is about more than just busting unions, a little bell went off in the back of my head. Yes, I read Shock Doctrine. Yes, I understand the true concept of fascism. I read What would Jefferson do. I read C & L, AB, Hullabaloo, Glen Greenwald, watch Rachel, Ed, Cspan, etc, etc, etc. And, there are some people pointing out the connections between some of all these perspectives. However, Wisconsin’s current event just seemed too familiar. Deja vue familiar. More familiar than all the reading and listening would allow. It is experiencingly familiar and I don’t mean Egypt.
I mean, we can all see (or at least a majority are now seeing) the thread of connection to all the seemingly disjointed liberal/progressive commentary about what has been happening in America since around 1981. We even are accepting that Clinton et al’s governing time was part of the thread. It’s economic. It’s societal structure, it’s civil rights, it’s power (always is since the constitutional convention).
But, where’s the beef. Show me the money. Where is the materialization most recently that it all came together as to the implementation of the play book that Governor Walker et al are using such that I know this is real…this is really and honestly currently America…American?
Folks…I give you Iraq: 10/10/2010

The political deadlock in Baghdad, which has prevented the formation of an Iraqi government more than six months after the parliamentary elections in March, has not prevented the administration of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki from opening the southern oilfields to the world’s giant corporations. Nor has it stopped the US Embassy and Commerce Department from reinvigorating the Bush-era program of selling the country’s public assets to corporate buyers. And because Iraqi unions have organized opposition to privatization since the start of the occupation, the Maliki administration is enforcing with a vengeance Saddam Hussein’s prohibition of public sector unions.
The United States may have withdrawn its combat brigades, but it is not leaving Iraq. And while Washington may have scaled back its dreams of nation-building, it has not given up on a key aspect of the economic agenda behind that project: encouraging corporate investment by sacrificing the rights of Iraqi workers.
June demonstrations over blackouts, supported by the union — the first national union led by a woman, Hashmeya Muhsin — were put down by police, who killed one protester and injured several others
Also in June, longshoremen protesting the prohibition of unions in ports south of Basra were surrounded by troops, and the union’s leaders were transferred hundreds of miles from their homes.
In January the government threw the president of Basra’s Iraqi Teachers Union in jail. According to Nasser al-Hussain, an executive board member, the government seeks to establish control over an organization it views as far too independent.
After the 2003 invasion, occupation czar Paul Bremer decided to keep on the books Saddam’s Law 150, which bans public sector unions. Each succeeding Iraqi administration continued the prohibition.
Wisconsin is not Egypt nor the rest of the protesting that is going on in the middle east other than that there is protesting. Not at all. Wisconsin is Iraq for one big, monstrous, sledge hammer to the head reason: Iraq’s oppression and thus resistance by the unions is all American. The union busting to the benefit of capital (big, huge money for the rest of you, as in Rockefeller’s Standard Oil time) in Iraq is purely American. We own it. Yes, we have propped up dictators such as in Egypt. What is singularly different in the protesting of Egypt/Mid East is freedom. They protested for freedom. Now we’ll see if they get unions. However, Wisconsin and Iraq are free. American style free in that Iraq is American made. They also have/had unions.
At the end of World War I, Iraqi workers wasted no time in forming oil, railway and dockworker unions in the fragmented country that Churchill had carved out of the desert, connecting the oil fields of three Ottoman provinces–Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Their hold on the terrain already tenuous, the British occupiers responded with force. Repeated strikes were quashed, often violently.
Under Qasim’s watch, unions along with civic groups swelled in rank and number. By 1959, 250,000 workers had joined unions in Iraq; peasants had formed 3,000 village associations for 200,000 peasants; the Iraqi Women’s League boasted 20,000 members and the Democratic Youth Federation 84,000 youngsters.
Qasim’s “progressive” autocracy was fleeting, however, and in February of 1963, the Baath party, in alliance with a sect of the nationalist armed forces, and with the help of the CIA, overthrew Qasim.
When Saddam Hussein seized control in 1979, he built upon the Baathist tradition of usurping the unions as an instrument of state power. As part of his brutal purge of all leaders and activists refusing to pledge total allegiance to the Baath party, he eradicated all non-Baathist unions. In 1987, the Baathist unions fully backed Saddam’s Orwellian decree: “From now on, the title ‘worker’ is abolished and all workers shall become official employees by the State…As everybody is now a government employee, there is no more need for trade unions.” Interestingly, Saddam did tolerate private sector unions, albeit with certain laws circumscribing their powers. The exception appears irrelevant, because, since the 1970’s through the fall of Saddam, no strikes are known to have occurred in Iraq, according to Political Risk Services, a well-respected corporate consultancy firm.
If you think Obama’s recent commentary is hopeful for unions, guess again:
When questioned by reporters about the union bans, an official at the US Embassy, the world’s largest, said mildly, “We’re looking into it. We hope that everybody resolves their differences in an amicable way.” The Obama White House has not spoken out, and the latest State Department report on human rights plays down the oppression of Iraqi unionists, calling their situation a “limited exercise of labour rights.”
Can you say Public Option? I knew you could.  However, start asking you gen X’ers and younger if they have heard of the “labor wars“.  You might be surprised, and not pleasantly.  Just like the term “rat race“.  Remember that one?  You need to.   

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Word to be Eliminated: "Symbolize"

Several recent events have been described as “just symbolism,” which apparently is a method of dismissing uncomfortable statements of fact, such as ‘Sarah Palin is the nominee for Vice President’ or ‘Rick Warren will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration.’ Apparently, these moments are supposed to have a lifespan closer to that of Britney Spears’s first marriage than, say, Britney Spears’ [sic] Guide to Semiconductor Physics.*

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Symbolism Writ Large, in a manner to shame Christo himself:

US opens world’s largest foreign mission in Iraq

The $592 million, 104-acre compound that was dedicated in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Monday is meant to symbolize a long-term commitment to Iraq.

That’s a lot of “symbolizing.”

Tell me again why we need to be cautious in investing in domestic infrastructure. (Yes, I get that it’s incrementally larger. So was the Federal-Aid Highway Transportation Act of 1956. Nu?)

*Since Rick Warren was the driving force behind the PEPFAR initiative, discussed by cactus here, response for tens of thousands of African illnesses and deaths, and so discredited that even popular television shows are lambasting it, the idea that he will Just Go Away on 20 January 2009 around 2:00pm is even more absurd than usual.

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Former CENTCOM Commander on Iraq: May 2004

(By Bruce Webb. Well it is a slow night. So let me point you to perhaps the strongest indictment of Bush Iraq policy c.2002-2004. By the guy who General Tommy Franks followed into command. Bolding mine).
Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.) Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner, May 12, 2004

I just came back from giving a lecture at UCLA yesterday, and the lecture was on the Middle East. I tried to … for the students there, step back and take a more strategic view of the Middle East and the issues out there and maybe give them a perception of the problems and issues from the eyes of those that live with it day-to-day, the Arabs, Israelis, all those that make up the peoples of the Middle East.

On the way back I was thinking about what to talk about here and I know Iraq is a hot topic and I thought I would stay with Iraq. And I thought on the airplane about how history is going to record what happened in Iraq, how we got into it, and obviously it’s too early to tell. And oftentimes the outcome defines how history characterizes it.

But I thought about how much has been misconstrued about what has happened so far, especially at a time when I commanded CENTCOM and we were in the process of containing Iraq as part of the policy. And I thought about the mistakes we made, that as Bruce (Blair, President of CDI) said, I’ve commented on before.

And what I thought I would do tonight is go through the ten crucial mistakes to this point that we’ve made. Because I think it helps frame what, in fact, has happened over time … and is going to be the first part of that history. And I will conclude with maybe some thoughts on the way ahead, at least from my point of view.

Full text via the link above. The ten mistakes in bullet form below the fold. But really you have to read the whole thing to see how devastating Gen. Zinni’s case was. And remember this is right back in early 2004 before things really went into the pot.

*I think the first mistake that was made was misjudging the success of containment*

*The second mistake I think history will record is that the strategy was flawed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing about the benefits of this strategic move. That the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when just the opposite is true, the road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem.*

*The third mistake, I think was one we repeated from Vietnam, we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support. The books were cooked, in my mind. The intelligence was not there.*

*We failed in number four, to internationalize the effort.*

*I think the fifth mistake was that we underestimated the task. And I think those of us that knew that region, former commanders in chief, I guess we can’t use that term anymore – part of transformation is to change the lexicon – but former combatant commanders of U.S. Central Command, beginning with Gen. Schwarzkopf, have said you don’t understand what you’re getting into. You are not going to go through Edelman’s “cakewalk;” you are not going to go through Chalabi’s dancing in the streets to receive you. You are about to go into a problem that you don’t know the dimensions and the depth of, and are going to cause you a great deal of pain, time, expenditure of resources and casualties down the road.*

*The sixth mistake, and maybe the biggest one, was propping up and trusting the exiles, the infamous “Gucci Guerillas” from London. We bought into their intelligence reports. To the credit of the CIA, they didn’t buy into it, so I guess the Defense Department created its own boutique intelligence agency to vet them.*

*The seventh problem has been the lack of planning. I testified again during that period with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, right behind the panel of planners from the State Department and the Department of Defense, and I listened to them describe a “plan.” I understood and knew that Gen. Franks and CENTCOM, would do their part. I knew damn right well the security piece would be taken care of, and I knew we had a good plan. I didn’t hear anything that told me that they had the scope of planning for the political reconstruction, the economic reconstruction, social reconstruction, the development of building of infrastructure for that country. And I think that lack of planning, that idea that you can do this by the seat of the pants, reconstruct a country, to make decisions on the fly, to beam in on the side that has to that political, economic, social other parts, just a handful of people at the last minute to be able to do it was patently ridiculous.*

*The eighth problem was the insufficiency of military forces on the ground. There were a lot more troops in my military plan for operations in Iraq. I know when that plan was presented, the secretary of defense said it was “old and stale.” It sounded pretty new and fresh to me, and looking back at it, now because there were a hell of a lot more troops. It was more the (Eric) Shinseki model that I think might have been a hell of a lot more effective to freeze the situation. Those extra divisions we had in there were not to defeat the Republican Guard, they were in there to freeze the security situation because we knew the chaos that would result once we uprooted an authoritarian regime like Saddam’s.*

*The ninth problem has been the ad hoc organization we threw in there. No one can tell me the Coalition Provisional Authority had any planning for its structure. *

*And that ad hoc organization has failed, leading to the tenth mistake, and that’s a series of bad decisions on the ground. De-Baathifying down to a point where you’ve alienated the Sunnis, where you have stopped having qualified people down in the ranks, people who don’t have blood on their hands, but know how to make the trains run on time.*

We are now at a point in history where Vice President Cheney and former DefSec Rumsfield and their apologists are saying that they would do everything all over again. At worst there is some grudging admission along the lines of ‘Who could have known’. Well I’ll tell you who knew. Four star Marine General Tony Zinni. There are some rumblings that he might be brought into the Obama Administration, but he hasn’t been retired long enough to legally serve as Secretary of Defense, which would be an ideal spot. But I suspect we have not heard the last of General Zinni.

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Christmas in Iraq: Not so Merry for Christians

by Bruce Webb
Iraq Christians face ‘bleak future’

Christians in Iraq face a “bleak future,” said Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, a nonprofit group that helps Iraqi Christians.

“We are heading for a demise,” he said. “It’s getting to the point where it might be an ethnic cleansing in the future.”

A recent U.S. government report focused on the plight of Iraq’s Christian minority. U.S. diplomats and legislators are worried, too.

“I think the Christians are caught in the middle of a horrible situation,” said U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat of Assyrian and Armenian ancestry.

She said Iraqi Christians are suffering as a result of “religious cleansing,” and she has urged more help for minorities who have fled their homes in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has worked to be inclusive and accepting toward Christians, but daily intimidation has cowed the Christian community, with crosses removed from churches, priests afraid to wear their clerical garb, the faithful reluctant to attend church, and churches hiring private security guards.

Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from as many as 1.4 million in 2003 to between 500,000 and 700,000 more recently, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

I suspect that many, perhaps most of the pro-war commenters here are at least nominally Christian and are looking forward to a celebration with family and friends tomorrow. And I wish all of you a Merry Christmas. But maybe you could take a minute and think about what this war has done to your co-religionists in Iraq. Because if this is what success and freedom and democracy look like you can keep it. 50% or more of Iraqi Christians including some who speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, no longer can live in a land where their ancestors adopted Christianity almost 2000 years ago. And by this account the trend is continuing.

Maybe we can simply chalk this up to the Law of Unintended Consequences. After all Hoocoodanode?

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Krauthammer and the Iraqi Choice to Engage in Civil War

Charles Krauthammer had a piece that appeared in the National Review called Iraq’s choice. The premise is that Iraqis were given their freedom, and collectively they made a choice. “They chose civil war.” I’m not kidding. Its this simple. The choice, of course, leads to a situation in which “Arabs kill Arabs and Shiites kill Shiites and Sunnis kill all in a spasm of violence that is blind and furious.”

Now, one might thing that not all of the Iraqis have chosen Civil War. One might think that at least some have had violence imposed upon them like some massive negative externality. But if Krauthammer feels that way, I’m not seeing it from his piece. The closest he comes is one time writing that “many have chosen civil war.” But for the most part, the choice seems to be more, well, collective in Krauthammer’s piece. But that’s about it. He does write about opposition to the Civil War – in fact, close to a third of the piece seems to be about trying to reduce the violence. But the only ones doing anything to reduce violence, from reading his piece, seem to be Americans. But those Iraqis, they have made a choice, and denying that its an Iraqi choice “infantilizes Arabs.”

Which raises the question – for a guy like Krauthammer, who believes in free markets and choice – what is the justification for interfering with the choice of a bunch of individuals who have all collectively chosen to engage in Civil War? What are American soldiers doing, interfering with the freedom of the Iraqis to butcher each other as they have chosen to do? There have been so many incarnations of what is going on in Iraq according to folks like Krauthammer. There was the cakewalk, then the last throes and the dead enders, and who can even count the corners that were turned? And they’ve moved the goalposts so many times, redefined victory so many ways. Along the way, anyone who noted discrepancies was tarred as a traitor and was giving aid to the enemy. So if things don’t improve, and somehow, I don’t think they will (I have said before, I remember Reagan, GHW, and Clinton, but this crowd is qualitatively very different and not in a good way), what’s left for guys like Krauthammer? Are they going to conclude that, well, we did the Iraqis a favor by giving them a choice that Saddam denied them, and look, they are better off now, happily acting upon their choice?

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