Category Archives: War

Recruitment

I was having lunch with a couple buddies of mine, one of whom took Michael Scheuer’s “Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad” class with me.  He reminded me of one of Professor Scheuer’s best points made during the semester.

I might have forgotten some of the details, so I apologize, but I hope to capture the main crux of his argument.

Scheuer was in the Agency during the days of the Cold War, and so recruitment of Soviets was of course a large priority.

Scheuer drew a large circle with a much smaller circle in the middle of it.  The large circle represented all the Soviet military members.  The smaller one was the top brass, the tight inner circle.

He said that the higher a servicemember got in the hierarchy within the Soviet system, the easier he was to recruit.  The reason for this was that he had more access and could see the faults with the system, how flawed it was and how vaporous it was.  The grand promises extolled by the privates and the junior servicemembers were never delivered, and after promotions and receiving more responsibilities, it became an alienating experience.

Thus the US could recruit them, no doubt in part because the US had a healthy economic and political model to confront the Communist model with.

But Al-Qaeda and the mujaheddin movement is something else entirely.  The US can’t find defectors or agents in the same way.

Scheuer used the same diagram, and then explained that it was in fact those on the periphery of the mujaheddin movement who were easiest to pick off, because they were the least indoctrinated and the most conflicted about trying to earn money versus taking up the jihad against injustice, anti-Muslim policies, etc.

Once people had been through the training camps and had seen how the senior leaders lived and led by example, eschewing comfort and wealth and the pride and glory of the world of the infidels, they in fact became even more hardened.  The inner circle of the mujaheddin are even more devout, even more disciplined in their worship of Islam, even more devoted to their cause.  They are tied together by common suffering and hardship in the camps.  They become even more incorruptible by outside attempts of recruitment.

For more, read Omar Nasiri’s “Inside the Jihad”.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Anthropology, Globalization, International Affairs, Policy, Politics, Security, Terrorism/Insurgency, War

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!

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Filed under Foreign, Government, Iraq, Military, Policy, Politics, Security, War

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.

]

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Filed under Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, Openness, Policy, Politics, Security, War

Interesting Economic Datapoints

So I’m done with this semester and I was just watching C-SPAN2, which was covering the Senate vote on the automaker bailout.  The vote failed 52-35 or so.  Dow futures were down -325 around the time of the vote.

I am still cash but am getting a bit more antsy to buy than I was before.  I have an “I know it when I see it” approach to bottoms and tops, so I’m waiting for that feeling again.

But it’s clear that the economic outlook is not good, with record unemployment numbers, commodity and energy shocks, and real bloodshed within the old American industries like media, auto, and finance.  Tech and internet has not been immune, but their companies are still announcing improvements and new products…

AMZN

I bought AMZN at 36.5 one day but got shaken out at the end of the day by climax selling.  Since then, AMZN rallied and touched 54-55 as the market bounced off fresh lows a few weeks ago.  What a pain that was to watch.  The rally came off Obama’s announcement of the next economic team, but it’s unclear whether there’s correlation there.

AMZN should announce the next Kindle soon, and it has been opening up its web services platform up even more.  The next generation of Kindle will suck people like me in to buying digital books (and probably be the last time I buy actual books en masse) and any increase in consumer demand will grease all of AMZN’s cloudy wheels.

TED Spread

The TED spread tracks the spread between inter-bank loans and US treasury bills and is a measure of liquidity in the credit markets — if there’s a high spread, then banks aren’t lending because it costs too much to do so.  Here’s the chart:

08_12_11_ted

After the initial credit shock when Bear Stearns folded in Augustish, 2007, you can see that the spread spiked up to about 200 basis points.  From then, the market stabilized until Septemberish of this year, when all the Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, AIG, etc. crap happened.

The market was on the brink of collapse until the Fed and Treasury decided to do whatever it took along with a massive finance bailout.  Until the public money was sure to flow in, the TED spread spiked up to 450 basis points — essentially no money was flowing anywhere within the private banking sector.

The spread then fell and has stabilized as the market’s continued to sink.  Now 200 basis points seems to be an agreed-upon number, but note that it is only back to where we were after the first credit shocks.  The normal TED spread was well below 100 basis points up until 2007.

In other words, there’s still substantial risk and unwillingness to lend.

[Note:  On Tuesday, Dec. 17th, the Fed cut rates essentially to 0%, which should reduce the usefulness of looking at the TED spread since the Fed is essentially acting like another lender…]

Treasury Bills

On Tuesday, for the first time ever, three-month treasury bill interest rates went negative!  This means that, for a brief period, people were willing to PAY the government to hold their money instead of seeking a return elsewhere.  That is, people didn’t even want a return ON their money; they just wanted a return OF their money!

Later, the government managed to sell $30bil worth of T-bills at 0% interest.  Which is still ridiculous.  Here’s the chart:

08_12_11_tbills

From The Sun's Financial Diary

These are rare times…we keep seeing records being broken, aberrances being observed for the first time, red-flag indicators going off everywhere.

Iceland

Iceland’s finance-dominated stock market completely collapsed.  Here’s the chart:

08_12_11_iceland

Icelanders are devastated.  There’s pretty much nothing left.  But to add insult to injury, the index, which had been hovering in the 600’s, just plunged down to the 300’s this week after another major bank failed.

Oil

Here’s the thing about oil.  Everyone who’s been predicting peak oil soon and all these ridiculously paranoid and apocalyptic scenarios were made to look like experts over the summer when oil prices spiked to the $140’s and gas hit $4/gallon.  A lot of financial risk management and analysis reports were written up until now, assuming continued high oil prices.

Of course, oil has since crashed.

08_12_11_oil

In other words, these knuckleheads don’t know what they’re talking about, or where oil prices are going next.  The term “black swan”, I should add, really pisses me off.  Geez.  Enough with Taleb!

Certainly the shock of oil prices has everyone rattled.  The instability of prices along with Obama being elected will hopefully be enough to spur long-term energy innovations to get us out of this fucking mess.  The time for US energy independence is now.  Especially if we really believe in protecting national security, not to mention national (and global) stability.

My position on oil is that its days are numbered as the major energy source, but it will still be needed for many products and as one of many sources of energy, even after we’ve converted heavily away from petroleum.

I also do not believe peak oil is soon.  I believe oil bedevils much of our foreign policy and is tied to our adventures with Israel and the Middle East and South America.  I believe we have in our own hands the ability to rid ourselves of these albatrosses.

I believe the chart above correlates extremely well with the “war” in Iraq, starting in 2003.  I am not sure what happened this summer in 2008.  I know that the Status of Forces agreement started hitting Iraqi politics around the same time but the massive oil spike could have been a climax of worldwide fear.  I don’t know.  The Iraq “war” seems to be all but over now that the SOFA passed and Obama is in, and I think oil is pricing that news in.  Oil has always correlated well with foreign wars.

What Next?

It’s amazing what we as Americans are willing to inflict upon ourselves.  All of this is solvable, and we know approximately what the causes are.  Until Obama got elected, we refused to acknowledge it.  Here’s hoping that Obama can translate a good plan into action. But it will be hard to generate political action when so many interests are set against it, even if it means saving our economy.

In the meantime, the economy and financial markets are still a mess, even after a bunch of layoffs have helped companies streamline.  Will those frictionally unemployed turn into structurally unemployed?  With little emphasis on job re-training, and a prolonged recession, one might think so.

Something does not feel right at all out there in my gut, making me suspicious to put my money forth, and we have yet to deal with the next big financial bomb:  consumer credit.  What happens when people, many of whom have lost jobs and have lost a safety net because of Republican idiocy, run out of money to pay back creditors?

[60 Minutes just did a report on the upcoming 2nd mortgage shock:  option arms resets.  They will balloon homeowners’ monthly expenses and look to be as bad as the first shock.  Watch the entire video for more.

07-10-24d_mortgage-resets-comprehensive

The light-green reflects the damage we’ve dealt with already, and the light-yellow and yellow are what’s still to come.  Sobering.]

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Filed under Business, Economics, Energy, Foreign, Globalization, Government, Policy, Politics, Stock Market, War

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.

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Filed under Foreign, Government, Internet, Iraq, Military, Policy, Politics, Terrorism/Insurgency, War

Inefficiencies: Bush and Foreign Language Proficiency

On the radio, the CNN News breaks played audio cuts of President Bush touting his new initiative to improve foreign language proficiency within the military. “It makes sense, doesn’t it?” as he said, to have our soldiers on the front lines be able to interact with locals and infiltrate the enemy in his own environment. He said this in his usual style, stating the obvious as if it was his idea and no one else has ever thought of it. Foreign language proficiency. Three years into the Iraq war and 4 years after 9/11. And, what, 60 years in the Middle East?

But this dream world where every soldier speaks Farsi and Arabic and Filipino and Swahili and French is not going to ever happen, at least not until some technological breakthrough changes how we learn/use language. One, the military does not know how to fully utilize language. Two, it doesn’t fit language into training. Three, most people earn less or as much pay for knowing languages (even Arabic) than they do being airborne-qualified. Yes, it is hazardous to jump out of planes but retention of linguists who earn peanuts for a skill that can earn them $100k-200k outside of the military is unacceptable.

Soldier talks to a local national

Then there’s the level of commitment at the individual level. Ask a soldier about foreign language, and he’ll tell you, “Yeah, our forces should be trained for that,” but when it comes to language classes, everyone balks and finds an excuse to get out of going. Even Special Forces soldiers, who supposedly communicate with foreigners in their own language, in order to train them, hack off random answers on multiple-choice quizzes in order to get their annual “proficiency”. It takes 5 minutes to take their test and they get their minimum requirement checked off.

This demonstrates an important lesson for people trying to get people to be more active in causes. Everyone wants homelessness to decrease, or Americans to speak various languages, or people to travel to poor countries and do humanitarian aid, or have spirited intelligent competitors for political positions.

But when those same people are placed in a position where they could increase their participation, they don’t. The basic mentality is, “Yeah, that sounds good for our people to do, but I’m busy doing my own thing.”

“We need better intelligence agencies.” “We need a better candidate for President.” “Our levee should’ve been upgraded.” “Our kids should be more competitive internationally.”

Well? What the fuck are you doing about it? Go DO IT! Enough talk. Talk was for the 90’s. What we need are people who go out and fix these things, make it their personal responsibility to make the world better.

Another thing.

Decreasing the spread of AIDS or making Iraq a peaceful country or bringing about world peace are things that everyone wants, but no one has the motivation or inspiration to do. Go join the Peace Corps or something! Go see the world! Go live with different people, learn their culture and language! Do things for others, not just for yourself!

People get spun up in their own lives. They don’t want to help, but they do want others to help. The sad thing is, no one wants to start it off. Once a movement gets going, everyone piles on. But we need people thinking about everything and wanting to get involved in fixing it.

The only way you’ll get involved in something like these issues is if you make it part of your own life. If you turn it into your living or calling. People don’t have time to work a 9 to 5 on top of doing a lot of volunteer work. Many actually do do this but I’m sure it’s very challenging.

So yeah, actions speak louder than words or some shit. That’s my profundity for the day. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

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Filed under Military, Travel, War

Random: In the News, Last Day of February

MMMMMMMMMMH!

First of all, it’s one of my favorite times of year. Yes, Easter. Why? Because of the resurrection of Christ? Fuck no. Because of Cadbury Creme-Filled Easter Eggs! Mmmm! I love you Cadbury Creme-Filled Easter Egg. If you could only genetically mutate together with a strain of steak, and maybe Mountain Dew, you’d be perfect.

Cadbury Goodness

By the way, I’m not sure why I love Cadbury so much. Maybe because I’m part British. I’m genetically predisposed to eating Cadbury. Also, it tastes much better when it’s actually made in England than when it’s made in the U.S. That’s why we discriminating travelers have no qualms about buying pounds and pounds of Cadbury when we pass through Heathrow Airport on the way to our final destination!!! The commissary has Cadbury Flakes, which are like these long sticks of flaky Cadbury chocolate that melts in your mouth instantly. In the immortal words of the Beastie Boys, “One two, oh my god.”

Dubai and Ports

Do you understand the furor over this port management story? I sure don’t! Politicians have grabbed onto it like a Ben on a Cadbury Creme-Filled Easter Egg and won’t let go. National security! Arabs! Constituency! Reactionary politicking!!!

This post from theglitteringeye.com I think puts the truth out there on the matter. What’s sad is that everyone’s reacting now, months after everything actually happened, and despite the fact that Arab government-owned companies already exert massive influence at our nation’s ports. People don’t even realize that KBR-backed Muslims are all over our bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, “threatening” the soldiers’ security.

The U.S. is hypocritical. Business is good as long as it’s western business. We can’t trust the UAE, which we have extensive trade relations with already, and which is full of American expats.

The politicians, our wise elders who galvanize the wishes of their represented voters, are supposed to look into these matters and learn the truth. They’re not supposed to just parrot their constituency, they’re supposed to see what their constituency cares about and then exert brainpower into finding a better solution/implementation that addresses their constituency’s views.

I actually support Bush on this one — fighting the port deal is denying the inevitable and ignoring the obvious. However, I don’t understand why Bush dropped the ball on this matter politically by being stubborn about it.

Iraq Civil War?

And in Iraq, the bombing of a “Shi’ite” mosque has been misrepresented,
according to some regional experts. The main point being that the imams supposedly honored by bombed mosques were not Shi’ite but Muslim imams, living before the Shi’ites and Sunnis split apart. Sigh. You could say anything in the news and people would believe it.

Low-grade civil war? No. As long as Al-Sistani keeps his Shi’ites calm, there will be no civil war. He is holding the country together. He gives his people focus and order. If there’s no Al-Sistani, or he turns indifferent/militant, THEN you’ll see a civil war. But it won’t really be civil war. It’d be more like a Shi’ite vs. Sunni/Salafist/Wahabi extremist war.

Airborne

Tomorrow I get to jump from an airplane for the first time in a long time! Whee, fun! C-130 ramp jump! I’m excited! The best part is taking a little nap on the plane as the engines roar, then standing up, hooking up, and jumping out the back of a big ol’ bird.

An airborne jump.

Google Down as Much as 50 Points Today

GOOG’s precipitous drop today perhaps shows how fragile the market is right now. With high-flyers losing their trends, I’m concerned for the broader market.

MySpace

I just don’t understand MySpace. Why is it so hot? It’s ugly as shit, you can’t configure anything, and all your buddies’ pages are full of embedded videos, songs, and other annoying stuff. Julie and I discussed this. It’s like EVERYWHERE. MySpace this, MySpace that. But I’d never really thought it was that big until lately. I guess a lot of my non-internet friends use it a lot. But it’s like an ugly friendster/orkut clone. Daily Show spoofed it for people thinking they’re social because they have thousands of “friends” connected on their page. Julie and I agree that MySpace should do the web a favor and move to moveabletype or wordpress.

Then again, we’re web geeks who have our own sites.

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Filed under Economics, Foreign, International Affairs, Military, Policy, War

Green Day, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”

This video haunts me.

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Filed under Military, Music, War

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.

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Filed under Foreign, Iraq, Military, Policy, Terrorism/Insurgency, War

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.

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Filed under Foreign, Iraq, Military, Policy, Stock Market, War