My Testimony Before the Maine State Senate


In support of Ld 1054, Defend the Guard legislation:

Thank you all so much for the opportunity to testify before your committee today.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the beginning of Iraq War II.

The consensus now is that we should not have done it. Iraq was not manufacturing unconventional weapons and was not in league with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Many representatives and senators from that time have excused themselves for voting for this disastrous war by claiming that they did not vote for war at all, but for authorization to let President Bush decide whether to launch one.

Continue reading “My Testimony Before the Maine State Senate”

Iraq: This is what it looks like when you rip off the Band Aid

Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)
Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)

As of July 1st, there have been 1,405 people killed in Iraq, mostly civilians. That number is likely to change by the time you read this — just yesterday, 45 people died as a result of numerous terror attacks across the country. One bomb had been planted near a cafe, another by a playground. According to reports 1,057 people were killed in July (2,326 wounded) alone, which means as of today, 348 Iraqis have been slain only in the last two weeks.

These are numbers not seen since the bloody days of 2008.

If you Google “Iraq ‘band aid’ war” you get about 3.7 million results. That’s because, beginning in 2007, astute observers noted that the so-called “Surge” into Iraq was nothing more than a bandage on a gaping wound — one we opened over the course of the previous four years. We allowed (if not assisted) a sectarian bloodbath against the Sunni population, then when Al-Qaeda became a problem, paid poor, battle-wracked Sunnis to fight them off. Then we supported the Iranian-Shia-backed Nouri al-Maliki’s government against his Shia opposition (Muqtada al-Sadr), pumped up Maliki’s Army, and were on our way.

Many had predicted the tenuous “peace” would not hold. It only needed a spark. Some say it was Maliki’s crackdown on Sunnis who were protesting not only the poor government services, but a lack of jobs for their people and disproportionate imprisonment and even torture. The so-called Sunni  “Sons of Iraq” whom the U.S had paid to do its bidding, are again penniless, and disenfranchised. But armed.

Today we see what it looks like when the Band-Aid is ripped off the wound. Whether it was Maliki who did it doesn’t matter. The blood is flowing.

Currently, I am reading (Ret) Col. Gian Gentile’s new book, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. Gentile is a friend of, having sat for an interview back in 2009. His consistent criticism of counterinsurgency (COIN) amid the unprecedented drumbeat for it by the civilian and military power establishment was both vilified (by COINdinistas) and welcome to those of us opposed to U.S war policy overseas. In his book, he has the last say, gazing on the ruins of American power in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything he predicted then is playing out each night on the (very) brief news reports about Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) attacks against Maliki’s government and the civilian populace. But we doubt Gentile, who fought in Iraq during its deadliest moments in 2005, is taking any satisfaction.

Meanwhile,  the national security writers clique remains as aloof and somewhat deluded as ever. Most people aren’t talking about Iraq at all. But this piece by Jason Fritz, a regular online raconteur during the heady COIN days, takes a rare stab at making sense of what is going on in Iraq. But he gets it all wrong. First, he attempts to use mythology as metaphor, bringing in a version of the Labours of Heracles, who kills his family in a fit of madness after taking on 12 heroic “labours” to prove himself to the gods. Fritz suggests that the Iraqi people are in a fit of madness, one that threatens everything they had accomplished thus far.

Writing for the new War on the Rocks, Fritz says:

Iraq has traveled a long and violent road and endured many labors in an attempt to build a modern state for its people. And yet madness and fury have returned, drawing the country back down that long and violent road.

This seems a bit strained, to say the least. It was our “labors” that set Iraq on its current course; it was our “Band Aid”  that held it together until we could beat it out of there with enough face to declare “peace.” However subtle, Fritz’s chiding of the Iraqi people for letting that peace slide is patronizing and completely off the mark, overlooking the American catalyst for all of it. Just take this ex-soldier’s take on the current troubles in Iraq, shared with NBC News last month:

What it makes me feel is deeper guilt,” said Mike Prysner, an anti-war activist who, at 19, was part of the 2003 Army invasion. He served in Iraq for 12 months and left the service as a corporal. 

“One of our roles was to shred their national identity. What is happening today is a direct result of the U.S. occupation’s strategy,” added Prysner, 30. “I remember the Iraqi government being setup along ethnic lines by the U.S. occupation. I remember arming certain ethnic groups to fight others. I’ll live the rest of my life knowing I was a part of that.”

Worse, Fritz takes the opportunity to suggest more U.S intervention might be necessary. As though we hadn’t already done enough. Is this not a touch of madness in itself?:

We now have a new question: if Maliki is unable or unwilling to stem the growing violence and infringements on Iraq’s sovereignty, is it up to the United States to do something to create the necessary capability or will to affect the situation?

Certainly the United States should not reintroduce general purpose forces into Iraq. That war is, by all accounts, done and dusted even if the political objects (impossibly framed as they were) were never achieved. Still, the United States could provide more policing and counterterrorism training, procure more advanced weapons for Iraq’s air defenses, and apply the political pressure necessary to get Maliki to act in a positive way that averts a civil war while meeting both Iraqi and U.S. objectives.

No offense, but our  “training” — which has already amounted to billions of dollars and that much more in weapons, equipment, armored vehicles and aircraft — has done squat for the Iraqi security forces, which can’t seem to get a handle on the insurgency terrorizing the country today. But that is of no consequence, really — Washington has long said sayonara to Iraq, and frankly, looking at the piddling news coverage of today’s violence (which should be front page news, considering our huge investment), the rest of America has too.

But soon, it will become too much to ignore or explain away with Greek myth or COIN folklore. The Band Aid is off. What happens now not even the gods will be able to contain.

CNAS National Security Hive on Syria: “Meh”

President Obama is expected to make an announcement this week on whether his administration will begin arming the Syrian rebels in their suddenly uncertain effort to topple the autocratic regime of Bashar Assad. All signs point to a lifting of the White House restriction on “lethal assistance” to the rebellion for the first time since the armed resistance began two years ago.

mehThis would mark a major development in U.S intervention in the civil war, which has been complicated by the infusion of radical Sunni extremists from outside the country, as well as the Iranian proxy Hezbollah, and untold resources for both Assad and the rebels, from the Gulf States on one side, and Russia on the other. Millions of refugees are pouring over the borders and into the already beleaguered states of Jordan and Lebanon. The Sunni resistance in Syria is sparking a Sunni resistance in Iraq, whose sectarian tensions mirror those of its neighbor and threaten to boil over at any time.

And how much did the giant annual convocation of national security state interests sponsored by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)  talk about this on Wednesday?

Not much.

In fact, the “pivot to China” (or “pivot to the Pacific”) was a much more attractive topic of conversation today – in fact an entire panel was dedicated to “the future rebalancing to China” this afternoon, proving again that the defense community loves girding up for conflicts that are less likely to happen much more than a) learning lessons from real wars that aren’t quite over yet, or b) talking about very real intervention in a very real tinderbox much closer to our supposed “threat zone” in the Middle East.

This was reflected in the prepared remarks and in the back-n-forth banter by the featured guests throughout the morning, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who, when asked by a Reuters reporter about the Pentagon’s preparation for Syria, said simply, “I don’t have anything for you.” He barely uttered the word Afghanistan, other to say the government will keep funding the war.

Interestingly, Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN., the author of the Syria Transition Support Act with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ., which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 15 to 3 last month, was the only one to talk extensively about Syria and that was because he is so gung-ho to get in there.

“We are the only county that has the ability to bring all the neighbors in the region together,” he said, pretty optimistically, considering the “neighbors” are already involved and doing their own thing. They are also a bit irritated with the U.S for not “bringing all the neighbors together” when it was more feasible, that is, before every foreign proxy including al Qaeda started popping up in the country.

“What is of great international interest right now is the aftermath of Assad and the great war that is happening right now,” Corker added. Also optimistic, considering that Assad’s forces are on the march toward taking the strategic strongholds of Homs and Aleppo and look less likely to negotiate than ever.

“We have to change the balance of power,” the senator insisted, and help push things toward a negotiated settlement. “I do believe, this is the very best way forward and if I could make a bet …I bet that is what the president is going to to.”

The level of excitement in the room after this rousing plea for intervention was somewhere between zero and “meh.” Quietly, afterward, some national security types (both Marines and Air Force) told me they didn’t think there was any enthusiasm from the military for pushing our way into the Syrian mess. That seems to be an understatement.

Last summer, the Pentagon was on board with a plan by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Chief David Petraeus to send arms to the rebels. By April, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Martin Dempsey was backing off from that position and Sec. Def. Chuck Hagel was saying military involvement would be a bad idea.

Who knows who might convince the President otherwise as they continue these hot discussions in the White House this week. It looks like my friend Gareth Porter was right the other day when he said the “National Security State,” which includes the armed services, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs, “are fine with what is going on in Syria” as of this moment. “But getting involved, it would be a tax on their resources,” and that the “cost to the National Security State would be greater than the benefit” of getting involved.

Talk about Nat Sec State interests — these are CNAS’s financial supporters here.  Most likely a good number of them had representatives at today’s conference. That most of the talk in the morning evolved around the budgets — how the Pentagon was going to work with sequestration, how it would survive with leaner budgets, indicates where the hive’s head is right now (on itself). They only want to know where the next-gen threats are in as much as they can offer new opportunities for federal contracts.

Not surprisingly, CNAS’s 7th Annual Conference was called “Looking Forward: U.S National Security Beyond the Wars.” After COIN fell this crowd couldn’t wait to get away from the war fast enough (interestingly, CNAS just issued a paper on “Toward A Successful Outcome in Afghanistan,” yet no panel was arranged to discuss it). CNAS seemed perfectly happy to talk budgets, China and Cyber, energy and whatever the room full of suits wanted. Painful strategy debates involving protracted conflicts (we still don’t know how many troops will be left behind in Afghanistan after 2014) and a possibly messy intervention that may in fact be decided this week, were not on the docket.

Guess it just wasn’t in their “interest.”


Military Sex Assault Stories Overwhelm Today’s News

The sex assault problem in the military is turning out to be a poison that has infected every branch, and it just seems to be getting worse as more women enlist and rise through the ranks. Just when military women were celebrating the successful storming of the citadel and into the infantry, armor and artillery ranks, the Department of Defense announces that the estimated number of sex assaults are higher than ever.

What’s high? 3,000 a year? 15,000? Try 26,000 in 2012 alone, according to a new DoD survey released today.

From the USA Today report:

According to the Pentagon survey results, only about one in 10 victims who are sexually abused stepped forward to complain last year. That amounted to 3,374 cases in 2012, of which only about 3,000 chose to press charges. “Far fewer victims report sexual assault that are estimated to experience it on an annual basis,” says a written summary of the Pentagon findings.

The full Pentagon report on sexual abuse is scheduled for release some time this week. The summary was provided to USA TODAY.

The survey revealed that while the rate of men suffering sexual abuse has remained steady since 2010, the rate of female victims increased from about one in 23 to one 16 last year.

What’s startling about this is that the number went from 19,000 last year to 26,000. And remember, these are “estimates” the DoD is providing. They are either right on the money or conservative because the Pentagon has no real interest in overstating them. This is particularly huge, considering the timing: two additional sex assault stories were reported concerning the Air Force on the same day. The Air Force, coincidentally, is already the target of a massive ongoing investigation involving 12 instructors accused of systematically assaulting, harassing and/or raping female recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

One of the trainers, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, was accused of 28 criminal accounts, including rape and aggravated sexual assault involving ten recruits. He is now serving a 20 year prison sentence.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that a second Air Force general — this time a female general — was responsible for overturning a rape conviction of an officer, even after a jury of military officers had found him guilty and legal counsel had advised against it. The first was in February, when Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, tossed out the sexual assault conviction of a “star fighter pilot.” That case is under review under the direction of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The latest case involves Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, who intervened to grant clemency for Capt. Matthew Herrera, who was convicted of assaulting a junior non-commissioned officer in 2010.

Helms’ drew the ire of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO., who looked into the previously undisclosed matter and is putting a hold on Helms’  promotion to the Air Force’s Space Command.

A woman astronaut who apparently made it all the way to the boys’ club — and now she can join them in the hot seat of shame, for ignoring legal counsel, wiping a convicted sex offender’s dirty record clean, and not having the guts to make her reasons public. In a memo quietly inserted into the case file, Helms, who has no legal background, wrote that the captain’s story was more credible than the victim’s. Case closed.

Antiwar has been writing about military sex abuse for some time. This writer has asked — somewhat rhetorically, but not really — why women are still enlisting, given that after 10 years of “shock integrating” women into traditional war roles, the military has done nothing to transform the culture so that this institutional misogyny is no longer tolerated, whether baldly with official exonerations and clemencies, or with the winks and nods that lead to harassment and abuse that is never rebuked much less reported or punished.

It’s the kind of culture that leads to this guy being busted for groping a poor girl in a parking lot, loaded out of his mind.


And he was the Air Force sexual assault prevention officer.

Sec. Hagel is said to be furious over Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinksi’s arrest. Let’s hope he can channel that anger into something real.

What Would Richard Holbrooke Say?


Yesterday would have been uber-diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s 72nd birthday. He died December 13, 2010 while on the job as our top envoy to Afghanistan, and one can’t help thinking that whatever 1960’s idealism still existed in terms of making that country a better place, died with him. At least symbolically.

That is not to say that Richard “bulldozer” Holbrooke wasn’t a strident advocate for the use of military force — he was for sure, and I believe it was only to his and our ultimate detriment. But unlike his neoconservative cohorts in Washington, Holbrooke believed in starting wars (Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Iraq) as a matter of humanitarian intervention, not merely for “securing the realm” or for preserving “western interests.” That is not to say his positions on those wars were any better than those of his neocon peers, it’s merely a distinction, one being that humanitarian interventionists like Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton actually believed American power could transform societies. Neoconservatives, on the other hand, have shown time and again that while they are quite good at breaking things (and regimes), putting Humpty Dumpty back together again was never high on the priority list.

I raise the spirit of Richard Holbrooke now because I heard an old clip of him speaking on P.O.T.U.S Radio on Wednesday, in tribute to his birthday. It referred to the day in 2009 he was named special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there were a number of VIPs there to share in what was probably his last true moment in the sun. The radio spot tracked his Associated Press obituary, which noted his early service as a provincial representative for the U.S. Agency for International Development in South Vietnam and then as an aide to two U.S. ambassadors in Saigon during the Vietnam War:

Holbrooke spotted an old friend in the audience, John Negroponte, his one-time roommate in Saigon (the former South Vietnamese capital now called Ho Chi Minh City) who later was the first director of national intelligence and a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

“We remember those days well, and I hope we will produce a better outcome this time,” Holbrooke said.

This seems so sad, veering into Shakespearean territory. Here is man who spent his entire life grooming to be in a position to produce “a better outcome” than Vietnam, and then he helps, in essence, to duplicate it, by supporting a military invasion that ripped the fabric of Iraqi society apart and turned nearly every religious and ethnic group against us at some point during the last 10 years . The U.S spent trillions and strained its powerful military and sent millions of Iraqis fleeing — and to what end?

By the time the Bush Administration was on its way out and Holbrooke could have put his diplomatic skills to the test for a Democrat in Afghanistan, the world had unfortunately moved on. The military was everything, not just a means to getting men like Holbrooke to the negotiating table. The new president seemed happy to keep the military on this course, whether that was to hell in a hand basket didn’t appear to matter, as long as the brass got blamed and some kind of deadline for withdrawal could be achieved.

So, after a voluminous career that stretched back to the Kennedy Administration, Holbrooke found himself patronized and later ignored by the young whippersnapper President, who never seemed to let him flex his legendary skills to get the job done for “Af-Pak” the way he had presumably did for the Balkans. Afghan President Karzai appeared to hate him, preferring military men like Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who had gobs of fun at Holbrooke’s expense in 2010, right in front of Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. McChrystal lost his job because of it, but Holbrooke looked very much the weaker man throughout the entire episode.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that Holbrooke’s own ego didn’t do him any favors (more than once being called a ‘bull in a china shop’), making him as many enemies as friends during his 2009-2010 stint, one thing is clear: the military was (and remains) in control of the entire war and foreign policy effort in Af-Pak. The State Department as Holbrooke had known it was and is a shell of its former self — strangled by the petty bureaucracy at Foggy Bottom, subservient to the military mission, always begging for scraps at the trough.

Holbrooke Meets With Afghan And Pakistani Foreign Ministers In Washington

And the military was — and is — not negotiating. In fact, “negotiation” and “diplomacy” seem like quaint terms these days, right behind “Geneva Convention” and “law of war.” Depending on the “deal” the Obama Administration makes with Karzai for post-2014 military relations, the U.S could likely leave Afghanistan the same way it left Iraq, a country on the brink of disaster.

Holbrooke seems to have sensed this was coming down the road, perhaps staring up at the future from his diminished perch had made him see things more clearly. James Mann, who wrote extensively about Holbrooke for his book The Obamians in 2012, quotes Holbrook’s wife, Katy Marton:

“He thought that this (Afghanistan) could become Obama’s Vietnam,” she said. “Some of the conversations in the Situation Room reminded him of conversations in the Johnson White House. When he raised that, Obama didn’t want to hear it.”

There was even a question over his last words, the first reports being that he told his doctor “to stop this war.” The context in which he said this has been in dispute (his doctor says it was made in “painful banter” as he awaited the surgery from which he never emerged, alive).

It was clear that the humiliation, his isolation, the failure of any way forward in Afghanistan had taken its toll, however, and was foremost on his mind when he collapsed. According to Mann’s well documented account:

On Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, Richard Holbrooke played tennis on Long Island with Bill Drozdiak, the president of the American Council on Germany, a former foreign correspondent who became friendly with Holbrooke when both were living in Europe. They played for about an hour. Drozdiak thought Holbrooke seemed unusually pale, pudgy and out of shape, as if he’d been working too hard.

 Afterward, they sat and talked. Holbrooke said he was in despair over his role in the administration. He simply could not establish a relationship with Obama, Holbrooke said. The president seemed remote and cold-blooded, at least in Holbrooke’s presence. And, as if that weren’t enough, Holbrooke’s problem wasn’t just with Obama: Holbrooke thought many in the White House were against him …

The following Friday, Holbrooke was at a meeting in Hillary Clinton’s State Department office when he suddenly became flushed and stricken with pain. He was taken to the State Department medical office, but collapsed and went by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital. He died there three days later of a ruptured aorta.

What would Holbrooke say today, now that his idea of “humanitarian intervention” has been completely discarded in favor of targeted killing, covert “dirty” wars and yes, a relatively low urgency for the humans themselves. Would he justify it, especially if he were given a prestigious inside view? Should he own it, considering that he and his “muscular Democrats” had set the stage for this evolution in the 1990’s, and had supported Obama’s tough “counter-terrorism” approaches from the beginning?

Daniel Ellsberg suggested in this interesting eulogy after Holbrooke’s death in 2010, that for as idealistic as Holbrooke was, his career came first. Perhaps the daily soul sacrifice working in the Obama Administration — for the scraps of condescension he got in return — was too much for the man. He must have known that the war enterprise was as dirty as it was doomed to failure, but he was committed to defending it nonetheless.

But we will never really know. We can safely say however, that this isn’t exactly the legacy Richard Holbrooke wanted to leave behind. Or this. Or this. In fact, it’s probably worse than he would have imagined.