Shane Ratliff died on Monday. I met him in Ruby, South Carolina during the filming of Robert Greenwald’s film Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers. Shane was one of the many people we interviewed for a documentary about how the likes of Hilliburton/KBR, CACI,Blackwater, and other corporations stuck their snouts into the deep trough of the wasted and unaccounted-for-cash that now defines how the
Iraq war quickly morphed from “mission accomplished” to fiasco, imperial hubris, and descent into chaos.
But Shane was a favorite of ours, a man with a off-beat sense of humor and a wry southern and, indeed, South Carolinian way of getting at the grit of reality. He was a truck driver by inclination and trade, with the hard rules of the road as his moral compass. On his many trips across the United States he thought he had seen everything. But he had not yet experienced the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Halliburton/KBR in the land of greed, grab, and grin that was Iraq as the CEOs that hired him descended upon this great opportunity to serve their country… from a golf course in the tony suburbs of Houston.
Supporters of a deep investment of American blood and treasure in a long, costly and difficult counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign in Afghanistan have the obligation to clearly articulate how their proposals will lead to success. We deserve honest, well-explained justifications, not hand-waving past foundational considerations when such examinations would be inconvenient to COIN proponents. Instead, in today’s L.A. Times,John Nagl and Richard Fontaine hand-wave past such essential points as:
the failure of the Iraq surge;
the difficulties posed to COIN specifically by the corrupted elections and generally by the corrupt Kabul regime; and
the interplay between foreign troops supporting a corrupt government and the expansion of the insurgency. Continue reading →
As the Obama administration expands U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, military experts are warning that the United States is taking on security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and a cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq war.
…Aid expenditures, excluding the cost of combat operations, have grown exponentially, from $982 million in 2003 to $9.3 billion last year.
The costs are almost certain to keep growing. The Obama administration is in the process of overhauling the U.S. approach to Afghanistan, putting its focus on long-term security, economic sustainability and development. That approach is also likely to require deployment of more American military personnel, at the very least to train additional Afghan security forces.
These growing costs mean that many of the criticisms Democrats leveled at President Bush’s Iraq policies now apply equally well to the misguided U.S. policies in Afghanistan. Take, for example, the rhetoric of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
The US media have reported on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities. But 130,000 troops remain in Iraq and many argue that the occupation will continue only under a different guise. Have things really changed? Or has the occupation simply been rebranded?
The simultaneous conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond are all connected to the Pentagon strategy of “the Long War” projected to last fifty years in “the arc of crisis” that just happens to stretch across Muslim lands where there are oil reserves and plans for Western-dominated pipelines. The term “Long War” was introduced by Gen. John Abizaid in the 1990s and is the perspective of counterinsurgency experts around the Pentagon and think tanks led by the Center for New American Security.
The Long War will require a long peace movement, and a different one.
Many veterans of the movement against the Iraq War, impacted by the multiple wars, the financial and budget crises, and confused about the Obama era, are pondering the question of what to think and do. The following are brief notes outlining a possible strategy.
In 2007, 82 Democratic members of Congress signed a pledge. They would never again vote to fund the war in Iraq without plans for troop withdrawal.
Republican critics accused them of demagoguing the war. Of using our soldiers as a political pawns, of not meaning what they said.
Those who signed that pledge need to cast their vote against the Supplemental Appropriations Act on Tuesday and prove them wrong.
We may agree or disagree about what needs to be done in Iraq, but a promise is a promise. Anti-war activists have supported these members of Congress because of that 2007 pledge. They knocked on doors and distributed leaflets and donated to their campaigns. They and marched side by side with them as they sought to bring an end to the war that still lingers in Iraq and escalates in Afghanistan, as the new film Rethink Afghanistan documents.
We’re on the verge of a huge progressive victory for the antiwar movement. Jane Hamsher estimates we have 36 of the 39 Democratic votes needed to defeat the war supplemental bill in the House tomorrow–which leaves only three to go! We must make sure our Reps know we oppose the war, and remind them that everyone in the House in 2007 signed the pledge not to vote for more war funding unless there are provisions for troop withdrawal.
According to Hamsher, here are the vets who are “leaning No” and could use a boost of antiwar support:
It seems as though every week there is a new lawsuit filed against Blackwater for the killing of civilians in Iraq. While the Justice Department has failed to prosecute most of these cases (the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre being an exception), attorney Susan Burke has dedicated a substantial part of her practice to holding the company responsible for its crimes. She works in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Not only is Burke representing the victims of Nisour Square in their civil suit, and the family of an Iraqi guard allegedly murdered by a drunken Blackwater operative, but she has filed at least a half a dozen other cases against the company. “Erik Prince, a modern-day merchant of death, acts as if he is above the rule of law,” charges Burke.
But beyond the specifics of her lawsuits, Burke is also alleging Blackwater/Xe remains firmly entrenched in Iraq, using affiliate companies like Greystone. She also says Blackwater is working for a “non-profit” organization, started under the Reagan administration, with a history of interference in internal affairs and elections of various nations, including allegations it helped foment a coup in Haiti: the International Republican Institute.
There’s a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight today, the subject of which is a $189 million contract to provide security services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul awarded by the State Dept to ArmorGroup North America, Inc. (“AGNA”), a subsidiary of the British-owned ArmorGroup International in 2007. AGNA were supposed to provide a highly trained security force for the embassy.
The Kabul embassy contract can be viewed as a case study of how mismanagement and lack of oversight can result in poor performance. The record before the Subcommittee shows that AGNA’s performance on the Kabul embassy contract has been deficient since the start of the contract in July 2007. The result is that, at times, the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul may have been placed at risk.
For those looking for a concrete example of how President Obama’s speech in Cairo makes us safer, let me offer one. His quoting of the Quran was monumental in bridging the divide between Western and Muslim cultures and ensuring our cooperation against extremists.
While conducting interrogations of high-level Al Qaida leaders in Iraq, my team and I often sat down face-to-face with some of the most hardened terrorists — the men behind the waves of suicide bombings. Instead of using waterboarding, we got to know our detainees and discovered that the key to securing cooperation starts with dialogue.