Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Amid the bleak news of the Boston Marathon bombing and its dramatic aftermath, one silver lining has been the success of the first responders in preventing a far more horrific outcome after the explosions. And people are citing an unlikely reason why: the war in Iraq.
In recent days, several articles have pointed to just how instrumental the lessons learned on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan were to mitigating the damage in Boston. Scientific American notes that experiences with IEDs taught medics the importance of responding quickly, since bleeding out was identified as the most common cause of death in these explosions. In an article in Mother Jones, Tim Murphy echoes this idea, explaining the importance in Boston of applying tourniquets -- a lesson learned in Baghdad.
But the spate of deadly bombings from Somalia to Iraq in the days since the Boston bombings made us wonder if the reverse could be true: Could the lessons of Boston apply to bombings in Iraq?
In fact, this debate took place in the pages of the Lancet in 2011. After the medical journal published a statistical analysis of suicide bombings in Iraq that highlighted their disproportionate effect on civilians, Pierre Pasquier and two fellow French scientists wrote the authors a letter suggesting the application of basic care techniques could mitigate these effects, substantially decreasing fatalities.
They pointed to studies showing that in the early years of the war, "around 90% of military combat-related deaths occurred before the casualty reached a medical treatment facility," and went on to say that medics in the military subsequently focused on preventing exsanguination, or blood loss, through the applications of tourniquets in pre-surgical settings, which drastically reduced casualties -- the very lesson that was applied in Boston. They conclude:
Hence, focusing on civilians after bombing, we wonder whether simple tools such as the tourniquet, applied by the man in the street, could be a more efficient approach to improving survival than the hypothetical deployment of "high-quality treatment" facilities.
The study's authors, however, issued an obvious but important reply -- one that offers insight into why the lessons of Boston unfortunately may not be entirely applicable to Iraq:
It is essential to point out that, to whatever degree civilian-administered tourniquets might improve immediate rates of survival from extremity wounds caused by suicide bombs, a tourniquet is a temporary measure that does not replace the adequate health care required by victims for their continued survival. If a civilian-applied tourniquet is required temporarily to stanch severe bleeding from an extremity, to survive in the long term, that civilian will require effective emergency and surgical treatment to the limb once arriving at hospital.
They went on to cite studies about Israeli bombings to explain the complexity of injuries sustained in suicide attacks, pointing out that research shows the "substantial proportions of victims arrive not only with extremity injuries (44%), but also with internal injuries (32%), head injuries (22%), chest injuries (21%), abdominal injuries (16%), and burns (17%). Survival of these wounds would not be affected by tourniquets." Many of these injuries would require surgical and intense post-operation therapy, for which the Iraqi healthcare system does not have adequate capacity.
It's a frustrating reminder of the public health and infrastructural problems that need to be addressed if pre-surgical care in Iraq is to make a significant difference in saving civilian lives, as it did in Boston.
Is Iraq a U.S. ally? Judging by his Washington Post op-ed this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to think so:
Iraq is not a protectorate of the United States; it is a sovereign partner. Partners do not always agree, but they consider and respect each other's views. In that spirit, we ask the United States to consider Iraq's views on challenging issues, especially those of regional importance....
The United States has not "lost" Iraq. Instead, in Iraq, the United States has found a partner for our shared strategic concerns and our common efforts on energy, economics and the promotion of peace and democracy.
Maliki paints a particularly rosy picture of U.S.-Iraqi relations, touting the potential for investment, the growth of oil production, and the country's democratization and upcoming elections. But do any experts actually believe this?
On the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion last month, Post reporter Ernesto Londoño wrote that "the country is neither the failed state that seemed all but inevitable during the darkest days of the war nor the model democracy that the Americans set out to build.... The nation is no longer defined or notably influenced by its relationship with the United States." That dynamic was on display on March 24, when Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly had a frustrating discussion with Maliki about the flow of arms from Iran to Syria through Iraqi airspace -- the latest evidence of a persistent decline in U.S. influence in Iraq, as Baghdad has drifted closer to the policies of neighboring Iran.
But does that mean Iraq is not the "sovereign partner" of the United States that Maliki describes? The assessments are mixed. Speaking with Maliki as U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, President Obama declared, "Our strong presence in the Middle East endures, and the United States will never waiver in the defense of our allies, our partners, and our interests."
But a year and a half later, Iraq historian Toby Dodge sees the country backsliding into autocracy under Maliki. Liberal interventionist war advocate Kanan Makiya points to Iraq's leadership as a stumbling block, saying in a recent profile in the Boston Globe that the "Iraqi leadership proved itself capricious, greedy, selfish -- it was a failure on the part of the elites." In the New York Times, Ramzy Mardini of the Iraq Inistitute for Strategic Studies assessed the situation bluntly: "A decade since the occupation of Iraq began, Baghdad still cannot be considered an ally of the United States.... An alliance today is beyond anyone's reach."
Others are more optimistic. Former CIA director James Woolsey, for instance, told the Daily Beast, "There is much more Iranian influence than I would like to see. I don't know that it is hopeless." Former Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim sees the ouster of the Hussein regime and the government that has followed as "marginally a good thing, but nowhere near as good as what we thought." Writing in Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat today, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz suggests that "it is remarkable that Iraq has done as well as it has thus far" and encourages continued engagement, noting that "it is not too late for the US and Europe and the GCC countries to engage with Iraq to help steer it on a course toward inclusive and accountable governance."
And he may be on to something. Today, for the second time in two days, Iraqi officials forced an inspection in Baghdad of an Iranian plane bound for Syria. But despite estimates that Iran is transporting as much as five tons of munitions per Syria-bound flight, Iraqi officials said they only found humanitarian supplies.
JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images
A Dead Sea's worth of water has disappeared from the Middle East. It sounds like something out of Carmen Sandiego, but it's actually the finding of a joint study by scientists from NASA, the University of California, Irvine, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, published today in the journal Water Resources Research.
Using gravity-measuring NASA satellites -- which allowed them to bypass political boundaries and gather data from space -- the scientists learned that between 2003 and 2009, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet of stored freshwater. Jay Famiglietti of UC Irvine described the findings:
GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India.... The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.
According to the researchers, the countries directly impacted by this trend are Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- not exactly the world's most politically stable states.
So how will this play out? While "water wars" are often forebodingly cast as the next big source of global conflict, water security researcher Peter H. Brooks, writing in Foreign Policy, has dismissed some of the hype as alarmist and not all that new, citing Mark Twain's own observation that "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fightin over." But, he adds that the Tigris and Euphrates basins -- which are ripe with border disputes, conflict over Kurdish minorities, and now major conflicts in Syria and Iraq -- might be more prone to the insidious effects of water instability than other places around the globe.
In 2009, responding to severe water shortages, Iraqi parliament demanded an increase in the share of Turkish river waters. Despite this and continued droughts, Turkey has continued building dams. As broader regional instability permeates into Syria and Iraq, expect water to play an increasingly important role in future local and international disputes between these three countries.
Already, there have been pitched battles over dams in the Syrian civil war, and regional dynamics could shift as Iran seeks water from Afghanistan. As if countries in the Middle East need something new to fight about.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
Baghdad's electricity ministry pulled a strange PR stunt this week by displaying the American newscaster Katie Couric's face on giant billboards around the city in a campaign to "inspire the people to imagine a better future for electricity," according to a ministry spokesman.
Intermittent electricity supply means that Iraqis battle summer temperatures upwards of 108 degrees Fahrenheit without much air conditioning. Power outages are commonplace, and most Baghdad homes have working electricity for only a few hours a day.
The ministry's latest plan to prevent public uproar over the country's sub-par infrastructure (which erupted last spring and forced the electricity minister to resign) was to post unauthorized images of NBC's former "Today Show" host Katie Couric throughout Baghdad that advertise the ministry's public relations television program. While the smiling face of "America's Sweetheart" may not be doing much to solve the electricity problem, it seems to be lifting spirits.
"It doesn't give me hope about electricity, but I like to see her beautiful face," a fruit vendor told New York Times reporter Tim Arango. Another storeowner said, "Whoever comes here says, ‘What a beautiful face,' She's smiling. She gives us hope."
The ministry spokesman explained that they had considered depicting an Iraqi new caster on the banner, but her family opposed displaying her image publicly. The picture of Couric, who is wearing a brown blazer in the advertisement, was acceptable for the streets of Baghdad. The ministry's web designer said her image was "perfect for us."
Unlike U.S. television star Kim Kardashian, who sued Old Navy for using a model that merely looked like her, Katie Couric jokingly told reporters she was going to call her lawyer. After describing the move as "bizarre and slightly amusing," Couric said on a more solemn note, "It did remind me of how serious the situation still is there."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Image
The new secretary of defense -- on the job for just 11 days -- expressed frustration with Iraqi leaders, who have yet to tell the United States what their position is about keeping American troops there past the expiration of the current Status of Forces Agreement. All U.S. troops are supposed to leave by the end of this year, under the terms of the 2008 deal. Washington has indicated it would be willing to negotiate a continued troop presence there, but Iraq must first ask it to do so.
"I'd like things to move a lot faster here, frankly, in terms of the decision-making process. I'd like them to make a decision, you know: Do they want us to stay? Don't they want us to stay? ... But damn it, make a decision," he told a gathering of troops, according to NPR.
Panetta was in Iraq today after spending two days in Afghanistan, where he met with Hamid Karzai -- his first trip to both countries as the new Pentagon chief.
The longer Iraq takes to make up its mind, however, the more costly it will be for the United States to reverse course.
Meanwhile, the United States believes that Iran is behind an increasing number of attacks against American troops in Iraq -- part of a campaign to convince it not to stay on in the country. June was the deadliest month in over two years for American troops there -- with 15 soldiers killed.
"This is really crunch time with the clock what it is and Ramadan approaching," said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "The U.S. wants a sense of whether the Iraqi political system will give approval. For the U.S. side of things, Iraq is in the rearview mirror."
Katulis told Foreign Policy the administration doesn't want to give the impression it is dictating to the Iraqis what it needs.
"There's a sense in the Obama administration that we want to help the Iraqis complete the mission of helping train the security forces," he said. "But it's all about balancing that with the sensitivities of Iraqi leaders" -- many of whom do not want U.S. troops to stay and are actively fighting to claim the mantle of the leader who forced them out.
Katulis said that quietly, behind closed doors, a range of Iraqi leaders tell U.S. officials they want troops to stick around -- given Iraq still lacks key security infrastructures like an air force or border control -- but it's hard for them to say that publicly.
Slip of the tongue?
Meanwhile, Panetta's trip made headlines for another reason -- the new defense secretary made two separate slips in comments to the press.
The price tag for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since the 9/11 attacks is somewhere between $3.7 and $4.4 trillion, according to a new report released today. The staggering figure is nearly four times higher than the U.S. government estimate. Just last week, President Barack Obama pegged the cost over the last decade at $1 trillion.
The new estimated cost provided by a research project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, is also much higher than most previous attempts to quantify the operations.
A March 2011 Congressional Research Service report estimated the war funding at $1.4 trillion through 2012 and the Congressional Budget Office pegged the cost from 2001 through 2021 at an estimated $1.8 trillion, according to Reuters.
A 2008 report by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, however, put the estimated combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between $5 and $7 trillion. They included interest on debt, future borrowing to pay off debt, the cost of a continued military presence, and health care and counseling for veterans.
Catherine Lutz, a professor of anthropology at Brown and one of the project's directors, told Foreign Policy her group also took into account future costs, such as obligated expenses for injured soldiers in the decades to come.
According to a White House spokesperson, the number disparity between the trillion-dollar figure the president used this month and the Brown report comes down to methodology -- and what you choose to include. The administration is counting only the "direct costs of war," the spokesperson said, which includes just the money appropriated for the budgets of the Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence community. Officially, the White House says the "total amount appropriated for war-related activities" is $1.3 trillion, which could rise to $1.4 trillion in 2012.
Nora Bensahel, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said it's fair to include more than just the cost of current operations when coming up with the "total cost" of the war -- including things such as veteran care.
"There are people who are being injured today who will need health care for a long time after the conflict ends," she said. "That's not part of the current cost, but it's certainly directly related."
Bensahel, who has not read the entire report, said other expenses mentioned in the press were less fair -- including factoring in lost opportunity costs.
"I don't think that's an appropriate cost to include because every expenditure of money includes some trade-offs," she said.
According to the report, the United States has already spent between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan. The project also looked at the cost of war in terms of human casualties. The number of total deaths it calculates (225,000) is "a very conservative estimate," said Lutz.
"Seeing the death toll, how many of the allied uniform folks have died and seeing the civilian numbers was the biggest shock for me," she said.
31,741 uniformed allied soldiers and contractors -- from U.S., Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani security forces, as well as contractors -- have been killed. And the report claims that at least 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Journalists and humanitarian workers accounted for between 434 and 521 deaths.
The goal of the project was to give the public "a fuller sense of what's at stake," Lutz said. "I think it's the case that we've had an atrophying of public information sources [looking into these questions]. Journalism is in a challenged state and there's a real heavy spin machine out there. Whatever one's political project, it's accompanied by a heavy dose of misinformation. We really feel it's important for foreign policy and domestic policy decision-making to know this information."
June has been the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in Iraq since May, 2009 -- with 11 deaths, including two soldiers killed Sunday in northern Iraq. The American combat mission officially ended in August 2010, and the 45,000 U.S. forces that are still there -- ostensibly in an advisory and training capacity -- are supposed to stick to their bases and not take part in combat missions without the Iraqi government's permission. So, what's behind the jump in deaths?
Beyond the fact that the security situation is still tenuous, U.S. soldiers are likely being targeted more now because there is talk that Iraqi and American officials will try to keep additional troops in the country past the December deadline to pull all U.S. forces out, according to Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi diplomat to the United Nations who now teaches law at Indiana University. A coalition of militant groups and outside actors is strongly opposed to that and are using violence to send a message to Washington.
"That's the primary driver," said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who tracks Iraqi security issues closely. "The Iranians and Sadrists are taking it very seriously."
The Sadrists are a sectarian militia affiliated with hard-line cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who adamantly opposes the U.S. presence.
In 2008, the United States and Iraq agreed that all American forces would leave the country by the end of this year. The U.S. is open to keeping troops beyond that date, but only if Iraq asks, according to the Associated Press.
And it's not clear yet that the Iraqis will. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under significant pressure from political allies, including Sadr, whose backing last year allowed him to win a second term as prime minister.
According to the New York Times, Sadr has said that unless the United States fully withdraws its troops by the end of the year, he will reactivate his Mahdi Army, which was responsible for much of the violence against U.S. troops earlier in the war but was formally disbanded in 2008.
Iran also opposes an extension, said Istrabadi. He said various groups that don't necessarily completely agree with each other are working together. "It's a situation where the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Knights said that when talk of an agreement heated up beginning in the spring, attacks on U.S. soldiers and personnel also increased -- including attacks on U.S. bases, with more sophisticated weaponry and an increased quality in the attacks, which Knights said indicates Iranian backing.
"They raised their game, so to speak," Knights said. "They brought in more experienced operators and are supporting Shiite militants in southern Iraq. The result has been better lethality."
The message, Knights said, is "Don't stay. Reconsider.""They think the U.S. is casualty-adverse."
In his new book, George W. Bush writes that he was under pressure not just from hawks in the United States to invade Iraq, but from Arab statesmen as well.
In a revealing passage, Bush writes that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt "told Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on [American] troops," a VOA article highlights. Bush goes on to say that Mubarak "refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street."
Additionally, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served as the influential Saudi ambassador to the United States for over 20 years and who Bush calls "a friend of mine since dad's presidency" also wanted a "decision" to be made -- although this seems less direct an indictment than "Iraq has biological weapons and will use them against you."
So while the Arab street was firmly opposed to American intervention in Iraq, Arab heads of states were quietly and secretly either encouraging or tacitly endorsing allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a fact that was directly being used as the principal justification for invading the country.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Life in Iraq isn't easy (and hasn't been for a while), but it's still rare to find community leaders imploring Iraqis to leave their home country. But that's exactly what Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church is doing.
"I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," Dawood said in a prepared statement to CNN. "This is better than having them killed one by one." In other interviews, Dawood, who lives in London, evoked the word "genocide" to describe the treatment of Iraqi Christians.
Fifty-eight people were killed in an attack on an Iraqi church last Sunday.
With the exception of the massive exodus of Iraq's large Jewish minority after the creation of Israel in 1948, there was little sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"You know, everybody hates the Christian. Yes, during Saddam Hussein, we were living in peace -- nobody attacked us. We had human rights, we had protection from the government but now nobody protects us," the archbishop told the BBC. "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."
Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky wrote in Foreign Policy last week that there may not be a Christian population left in Iraq by the end of the century. Iran, which also has a (shrinking) Christian minority, is suffering the same fate.
But it isn't only from those countries that Middle Eastern Christians are leaving. Long-time Middle East journalist Robert Fisk pointed out last month (before the massacre in Baghdad) that Christian populations are shrinking across the region, from Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt. "This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold," Fisk writes. "Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided."
In Michigan, Iraqi Christians rallied today, calling on the United States to put a stop to violence against their coreligionists.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
The much anticipated Wikileaks document dump of 400,00 classified U.S. military documents, which cover events during the Iraq war from 2004 to 2009, is upon us: The Guardian and the New York Times have both just published their assessments after reviewing the files.
Both newspapers seem to highlight the same broad takeaways from the documents: Iraqi civilian deaths were higher than the Bush administration suggested, the United States largely ignored prisoner abuse conducted by Iraq's security services, and Iran played an extensive role in training and arming the anti-U.S. insurgency -- even raising fears in the military that it may be planning to provide chemical weapons to Shiite insurgents.
One big winner out of the document dump may be Iraq Body Count, an organization whose methods for counting Iraqi civilian casualties in Iraq were consistently criticized by the Bush administration as being unrealistically high.
There's one more issue that, while certainly not as important as other considerations, I'm curious about: After weeks of preparation and hype, why would Wikileaks and major news outlets settle on 5 p.m. on Friday as the time to release these documents? Presumably, the New York Times and the Guardian are savvy enough to know that a Friday afternoon isn't exactly the time to attract the largest possible readership. Just one more sign that, while Wikileaks may aspire to revolutionize journalism, its media strategy leaves something to be desired.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Ever since violence in Iraq receded from its peak in 2007, a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up ominously predicting a return to the bad old days. In the past year, there has been plenty of ammunition for these folks: Iraq's government formation process set world records for delay, articles warned of a resurgent al Qaeda in Iraq, and U.S. troops continued to engage in combat operations across the country, the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom notwithstanding.
These are all important data points -- but it's also a selective reading of events. The fact is, there's also some positive news from Iraq these days: According the Iraqi government sources, the country experienced its lowest toll of violence in September since January. The Iraqi ministries reported that 273 Iraqis were killed in September, a dramatic decline from high levels of violence in July and August. The Iraqi government's figures were supported by Iraqi Body Count, which reported 243 casualties in September, and iCasualties.org, which calculated that 174 Iraqis had been killed.
There's even been progress in forming a government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears all but assured to win a second term in office, assuming he can mollify the remaining Kurdish demands to join his coalition. No, the pan-Shia coalition that Maliki will rely on to sweep back into office isn't the way that diplomats would have preferred to see the next Iraqi prime minister elected. But with the United States rapidly losing its military leverage in Iraq, U.S. officials -- and Iraqis themselves -- are better off with a new government in place than a vacuum at the top.
So, one cheer for Iraq's growing stability. It has now been three years since the worst of Iraq's civil war ended, and, while there are plenty of challenges ahead, the country has shown no signs of falling back into chaos. That's good news, even if it doesn't make for good headlines.
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
Nearly across the board, the president's initiatives are going down in flames. Nowhere is this more true than in Pakistan where, Jane Perlez reported Wednesday, the civilian government in which the U.S. has invested billions is perilously close to collapse -- if not facing a military coup.
Now comes word that Pakistan is cutting off NATO's supply lines into Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S. helicopter strikes in Pakistani territory -- strikes made necessary because the Pakistani military can't, or won't, crack down on militants unless they threaten the Pakistani state directly.
As for the war in Afghanistan, it's going very badly.
Further east, the United States seems headed for a disastrous currency war with China, although Beijing's recent diplomatic blunders have sent Asian countries running into Uncle Sam's loving arms.
To the west, Iraq still has yet to form a government after seven months of post-election deadlock, and attacks on the Green Zone are metastasizing in a frightening way.
One rare bright spot is Russia where, despite the complaints of Cold Warriors and human rights campaigners, relations are at their highest point since the Yeltsin era. But much of the good work Obama's team has done could easily unravel, especially if the Senate deep-sixes the new nuke treaty.
As for Iran, it's a mixed bag. Obama has kept Europe on board with tough sanctions, and brought along a few other players. But China is likely to undercut those efforts and relieve the economic pressure, leaving the United States and Israel with few options for stopping Iran's nuclear drive. Meanwhile, the drums of war are beginning to beat in Congress.
Of course, if Obama really wants to make a hash of the world, I can think of no better way than to start launch airstrikes on Iran. But I doubt he's going to do that.
Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images
With Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly revealing the new realities of war, ProPublica yesterday reported a hitherto unprecedented fact: between January and June, more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the first time in history that corporations have lost more personnel on the battlefields than the military.
The nonprofit investigative reporting group analyzed U.S. Department of Labor data and revealed that more than 250 contracted civilians died during the first six months of 2010, compared to 235 soldiers during the same period.
According to ProPublica, this startling statistic reflects the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Iraq and "the central role of contractors in providing logistics support to local armies and police forces"-roles that used to be performed by soldiers. The privatization of warfare means that its contractors-often local civilians or workers hired from developing countries-deliver fuel, provide food, clean kitchens, and give protection to U.S. outposts. ProPublica's report noted that there are currently 150,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, while, as of March 2010, there were over 200,000 private contractors (although that number is believed to be smaller today).
Steven Schooner, a professor of government contracting at George Washington University Law School, told ProPublica that a reduction in military deaths doesn't necessarily mean that battlefield losses are in decline:
"It's extremely likely that a generation ago, each one of these contractors deaths would have been a military death," Schooner said. "As troop deaths have fallen, contractor deaths have risen. It's not a pretty picture."
See ProPublica's Disposable Army series for more coverage on civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
Iraq is still paying the world back for Saddam's actions -- literally. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Iraqi government has agreed to pay $400 million to American citizens who claimed to have been tortured or traumatized by the Iraqi regime following Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. With a 15-30 percent unemployment rate, ubiquitous violence, and a still lacking infrastructure, why is the new Iraqi regime paying so much money to American citizens when it was all Saddam's fault? Because the payment may help Iraq's case to end U.N. sanctions that have lasted since Saddam Hussein's rule:
Settling the claims, which were brought by American citizens, has been seen as a key requirement for Washington to be willing to push for an end to the UN sanctions.
"There was a lot of pressure on the Iraqi government to do something that gets Congress off their back," says one senior Iraqi official, adding that the settlement cleared the way for US efforts to bring Iraq out from under the UN sanctions.
That's right, Saddam is long gone but sanctions on the still rebuilding country aren't. In fact, Iraq has already paid Kuwait $27.6 billion in reparations and continues to devote five percent of its oil revenues in accordance with the U.N. sanctions resulting from Saddam's invasion. While many countries have cancelled a lot or all of Iraq's debt to them, Kuwait continues to support Iraqi reparations -- regardless of the $22 billion Kuwaiti budget surplus for the last fiscal year.
So if U.S. citizens get paid by the Iraqi government for Saddam's "traumatizing" from 20 years ago, what will the United States pay the families of Iraqi citizens that are actually killed by U.S. forces? Well, the U.S. government is trying to find ways for Iraq to pay for that too.
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
In a rare a bit of good news for the country, Iraq announced on Tuesday the return "of hundreds of looted antiquities that had ended up in the United States," according to the New York Times.
The Associated Press reported that "5,000 items stolen since 2003 have been recovered," even though "15,000 pieces [are] still missing from the Iraqi National Museum." However, it was not only ancient items that found their way back home. One of the stranger items returned was one of Saddam's infamous AK-47's, "chrome-plated... with a pearl grip," which he would distribute as gifts.
Saddam sure knew how to kill in style. Luckily, now these particular guns are part of history.
Is Joe Biden freelancing again?
According to CNN, the U.S. vice president told a VFW audience Monday that Iran's influence in Iraq is "minimal" and "greatly exaggerated."
But who, then, is doing the exaggerating?
As recently as Sunday, Gen. Ray Odierno, the outgoing U.S. commander in Baghdad, was warning about Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs:
CROWLEY: Let me turn to Iran. We know that throughout this process, Iran has been involved at some level, certainly helping the Shia in the fight. What is the level, as far as you can tell, of Iranian involvement in Iraq, both in the government -- in trying to form a government and in the fighting that still exists?
ODIERNO: Well, they -- they clearly still fund some Shia extremist groups that operate in Iraq. They train them. They continue to try to improve their capabilities, partially to attack U.S. forces, partially to make sure everybody understands that they can have some impact in the country. They clearly want to see a certain type of government that is formed here.
CROWLEY: So is that Iran's ambition, do you think, in Iraq, to keep it from becoming a functioning democracy?
ODIERNO: I think they don't want to see Iraq turn into a strong democratic country. They'd rather see it become a weak governmental institution, so they don't add more problems for Iran in the future.
Now, that doesn't 100 percent contradict the veep's statement, but the general's tone is markedly different. So what's the administration's position? It was probably most clearly articulated by Colin Kahl, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, who said last week in a briefing:
I think that General Odierno remains concerned about certain aspects of Iranian meddling in Iraq, principally the continued provision of certain kinds of lethal assistance to Shia militant groups. But I think that Iran has recognized in the last couple of years that its influence in Iraq is somewhat overstated. I think that they clearly – they tried to influence the provincial and national elections not very successfully. They tried to defeat the U.S.-Iraq security agreement not very successfully. And I think that their experience with the militias that they’ve backed is that when they’ve overplayed their hands, they’ve gotten a lot of Iraqi pushback on this.
And I think basically that’s because at the end of the day, there are kind of at least three antidotes to overwhelming Iranian influence in Iraq. The first and most important one is that the Iraqis don’t want Iran to dominate their country. Iraqi nationalism is real, it is powerful, and it’s a much more powerful force than whatever affinity might exist between Iraq and Iran.
The second is the fact that Iran wants good relations with all its neighbors, not just Iran. So it wants good relationships with Iran, but it also wants good relationships with Turkey, it wants good relationships with Saudi Arabia and others, which means that it’s not inclined to have a desire to be firmly in Iran’s camp.
And the last point that I would raise, last but not least, is the vast majority of Iraq’s political parties want a long-term partnership with the United States, which, of course, is not consistent with being dominated by Iran. So I think when you factor all of those things in together, I don’t think we’re at risk of Iraq being dominated by Iran.
In a story about Iraq's unending political gridlock, Anthony Shadid buries the lede:
A leading politician related a recent conversation he had with a top Iraqi general. The politician asked about the possibility of a coup. The general, he said, deeming the talk serious, pulled out a map of the capital and provided a disconcertingly elaborate plan to execute one: overturning trucks to block the route from the main American base to the Green Zone, seizing television stations, besieging Parliament, and so on.
“When you’re president,” he quoted the general as asking, in utter seriousness, “can you make me minister of defense?”
In an earlier interview with the LA Times, former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker warned: "If the civilians continue to flail over the next three to four years, the chances of a military coup are likely to go up."
Perhaps we should adjust the timetable?
First Tareq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's former deputy, said that the planned U.S. troop withdrawal was "leaving the country to the wolves." Now, the chief of staff of the Iraqi military, Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari, says that the U.S. pullout was "too soon" -- and that his forces might not be able to secure the country for another decade. Well, at least the representatives of Iraq's old guard and its new regime are able to agree about something.
Zebari, who I'm going to go out on a limb and assume is a Kurd, undermines his case by calling for U.S. forces to stay in Iraq for another 10 years. But it's hard not to sympathize with him: When I interviewed former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker in March, following Iraq's parliamentary elections, he gently opposed Obama's plan to draw down to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1, reasoning that, because of the time-consuming government formation process, the Iraqi government may well not have made much progress in resolving its pressing political issues. Crocker said that the negotiations over government formation could take "two or three months" -- a suggestion that struck me as pessimistic at the time, but now, over five months into the process, turned out to be wildly optimistic.
"[T]hings aren't going to be much further along come August than they are right now," Crocker also said. Boy, was that prescient. But the bigger conundrum is this: Iraqi politicians must realize that U.S. forces are pulling out, whether they like it or not, and that their only hope of holding on to power in the aftermath is to reach some sort of modus vivendi with their domestic rivals. Given that reality, it's a tremendous failure of Iraq's political elite that they haven't agreed to bury the hatchet and form a government - while some of them, like Zebari, are calling on the United States to pay the price for their intransigence.
Warrick Page/Getty Images
Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq reported about 23 million dollars worth of property -- including 563 DVD players, 631 televisions, 159 vehicles, and 614 mattresses -- had gone missing. Perplexing as it is that the embassy was somehow able to lose track of all that junk, it is more perplexing that it was owned (or hoarded?) in the first place in a region ravaged by war.
If the Embassy is this much of a mess in Baghdad, then we'd hate to see the kind of money that's wasted in the embassy at the epicenter of the war in Afghanistan. Someone may want to check the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for a couple hundred iPads, maybe a stockpile or two of toaster ovens... although if that embassy is anything like its counterpart in Iraq, those have probably gone "missing" by now.
Hadi Mizban-Pool/Getty Images
The timing of Iraq's announcement that an al Qaeda prisoner in its custory was plotting to attack the World Cup struck me as suspicious yesterday, but it looks like Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani did at least intend to attack the event. The AP reports:
"We discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland," al-Qahtani told The AP. "The goal was to attack the Danish and the Dutch teams and their fans," he added.
"If we were not able to reach the teams, then we'd target the fans," he said, adding that they hoped to use guns and car bombs.
It was unclear whether the militants had the ability to carry out what would have been quite a sophisticated operation - a complicated attack far from their home base. The Iraqi security official said no steps had yet been taken to put the plan into motion, such as obtaining bomb-making materials.
The timing and tone of this announcement do seem just a tad suspicious:
Iraqi security forces have arrested a Saudi al-Qaeda member who an official said on Monday was involved in a plot to attack next month's World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa. Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi gave no details and offered no evidence for the claim and it was not possible to verify it.
Moussawi's allegation about a Saudi's involvement in a plot against the World Cup came after former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal accused Iraq's prime minister of hijacking the country's March election.
Moussawi, who reports to the prime minister's office, said Abdullah Azzam al-Qahtani was a former Saudi army lieutenant."He was planning to bomb the holy shrines in Najaf and Kerbala," Moussawi told a news conference in Baghdad.
"And he was planning a terrorist act in South Africa during the World Cup based on plans issued by the central al Qaeda terrorist organization in coordination with Osama bin Laden's first assistant, Ayman al-Zawahri."
If true, Iraqi authorities apparently didn't bother to tell anyone in South Africa about the threats made by Moussawi -- who was captured two weeks ago. I guess a government in need of some good publicity could do worse than, "we saved the World Cup."
It is utterly sickening to watch the video of what Wikileaks claims is "the unprovoked slaying" of two Reuters employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. We watch events unfold through the perspective of an Apache gunsight, as the helicopter circles lazily over a group of men gathered in a Baghdad courtyard. "That's a weapon" says a voice, as the video shows a picture of a man carrying a black blur, which could be, well, anything. Over the image, the editor has superimposed text: "Samir w/ camera."
"Just fuckin', once you get on 'em, just open 'em up," says another voice, as the Apache positions for a better shot on the group. The Wikileaks text states that one of the men is Chmagh, talking on his phone, just before the helicopter unleashes a burst of machine gun fire on the group of men, sending them rolling on the ground. "Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards," says a soldier.
If you needed any further proof that war is hell, look no further. But here's the problem: I have no way of verifying that Wikileaks' narrative here -- that we're witnessing the unprovoked murder of Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen -- is accurate. All I see is a number of men cut down by an Apache gunship; the context appears to be unverifiable.
Wired sees this story as evidence of "how a website dedicated to anonymous leaks has become a venue for a more traditional model of investigative reporting." I'm not so sure. The benefit of traditional reporting is that people are eventually forced to go on record: Individuals lend their names and reputations to a specific set of facts. That doesn't appear to be happening here. Wikileaks promises that it "goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives," but it doesn't quote any sources that can lend credence to its version of events.
There is no doubt that this is a truly horrifying video to watch. But what it appears to be now, to my eyes, is an important lead to a story, rather than the final product.
The question on everybody's mind: what's the Arabic translation of Orly Taitz?
Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi has seemingly won parliamentary elections, but allegations of vote fraud and stark sectarian divisions will hamper his ability to to create a stable, working coalition, and unify the country. Moreover, some argue he shouldn't be allowed to serve as prime minister at all -- because's his mother is Lebanese.
I'm all for a good birther movement -- I've even tried to create one -- but this one is strange even for me. He's already served as prime minister! Newsflash to all aspiring birthers: if you want to have legitimacy, the least you can do is target unknown politicians with unusual names and backgrounds that confuse the thick-headed.
Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
Which of these three countries has the highest annual death rate?
a) Germany b) Iraq c) Kenya
(The photo above is of half-buried headstones at Arlington National Cemetery during last month's D.C.-area "snowpocalypse.")
Answer after the jump ...
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The State Department cannot account for more than $1 billion it paid out to contractor DynCorp to train police during the first years of the Iraq war, in just one example of management shortcomings that have put at risk $2.5 billion worth of money spent on training policemen around the world, according to a damning new report.
The office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) especially laid into the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), known as the "Drugs and Thugs" bureau, in an audit released Monday, for mishandling DynCorp.
The report comes at an inconvenient time for DynCorp, which is also doing most of the police training in Afghanistan. The Defense Department, which is taking over that mission soon, will need contractor help, but sources tell The Cable that DOD is trying to exclude DynCorp from that contract competition over the company's vigorous protests.
Special Inspector Stuart Bowen told The Cable that since the problems at INL haven't been corrected in the years that SIGIR has been reporting on the bureau, his office is now working with Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's right-hand man on management issues in Foggy Bottom.
"Deputy Secretary Lew is a man who's very familiar and committed to financial management," Bowen said. "He committed to addressing them directly and ensuring that this time the promises of improvements occur."
"I'm concerned about INL's capacity to oversee large-scale projects," Bowen went on. "Whether the department [as a whole] has the capacity to ultimately do that still remains to be seen."
The SIGIR's report on INL contains many damning revelations, including the fact that the first $1 billion spent on the DynCorp contract was overseen by just one person, and that person simply approved the invoices without scrutiny. When challenged, INL couldn't produce the documentation on where that billion went, and is now trying to piece it together --a process that could take several years.
INL Assistant Secretary David Johnson declined to be interviewed about the report, but an INL spokesperson said that there are now three people in Iraq overseeing DynCorp's contract there, with four more on the way this year. The spokesperson said there is now a process in Washington to check invoices that had saved $9 million, but SIGIR isn't satisfied.
"INL continues to exhibit weak oversight of the DynCorp task orders for support of the Iraqi police training program," the report states. "INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud."
INL disputes that $2.5 billion of funds are "vulnerable."
The report also calls into question the relationship between INL and DynCorp in Iraq. Apparently, INL was involved in negotiating leases and building rentals for DynCorp in the Baghdad international zone that somehow resulted in exorbitant rates that kept going up every year. DynCorp then just put that all on INL's tab and charged the bureau 11 percent extra in fees to boot.
The report is filled with examples of abuse and waste by DynCorp that INL paid for. In one example, $450,000 was spent to rent two generators when there were already plenty of generators to go around.
The report also details at length how SIGIR raised staffing and contract management issues with INL several times since 2005. Although INL has tried to address the problem, the results are far from satisfactory, according to SIGIR.
Lawmakers too are getting fed up with DynCorp's handling of the police training mission and INL's lax oversight.
"[INL has]been managing this contract in Iraq since 2004 and, according to this report, they have no idea where any of the money went," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO. "What's even worse is that these are the same people responsible for police training in Afghanistan, so I don't have any confidence that they're doing a better job there."
This afternoon, the New America Foundation hosted "The New Forgotten War," a talk about the future of Iraq. It featured Ad Melkert, the special representative for the U.N. secretary-general in Iraq.
Melkert, a former Dutch member of parliament, remains cautiously optimistic about Iraq's future, with an emphasis on the cautious part. The good news is that security in Iraq is better than it was two years ago. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been able to confront violence in the southern part of the country, Melkert said. As a result of the safer state, investment is starting to rise, but it still has a long way to go. Corruption, the terrible infrastructure, and legal concerns hamper Iraq's ability to draw serious investment.
One serious problem for the nascent state is budgetary, Melkert said. When oil prices are high, the government spends all of its revenue, but when they fall, they have to slash the budget.
Further, Iraq is still under dozens of UN chapter seven sanctions, stemming from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The current leadership says these sanctions need to be lifted because they were implemented against Hussein and not the current government.
These problems could potentially be amplified in the coming months and years as foreign security forces draw down in the country. Melkert said that one of two things will happen. Either the Iraqi forces will somehow maintain order, or the insurgents will attack as soon as the United States leaves. Right now, police officers, public servants, and UN workers and buildings remain prime targets.
New America Foundation/Flickr
28 years ago, Israel launched an airstrike against the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad, terrified by the prospect of an Iraq with nuclear weapons. 19 year ago, the U.N. imposed comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq, declaring the country's nuclear program needed oversight. Seven years ago, former president Bush announced that an Iraq with access to weapons of mass destruction, potentially including nuclear technology, demanded a U.S. military response.
Photo: RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
We've reached a very strange point in human history when it is assumed that people who don't have access to food will have working cell phones:
In a test project targeting 1,000 Iraqi refugee families, the United Nations agency will send a 22-dollar (15-euro) voucher every two months by SMS to each family, who will be provided with a special SIM card.
The beneficiary can then exchange the electronic voucher for rice, wheat flour, lentils, chickpeas, oil, canned fish, cheese and eggs at selected shops.
Addressing concerns about mobile phone ownership among the refugee population, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said all the 130,000 Iraqi refugees currently receiving food aid from the agency in Syria have mobile phones.
Update: UN Dispatch's Matthew Cordell has more.
In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen. John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.
Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."
"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.
The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.
"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.