Of all of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s “inquisitors” at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing, John B. Judis observes that Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican, was “tough and fair” and well-mannered. I suppose this is superficially true. And yet I was utterly gobsmacked by the exchange.
Here’s a YouTube clip:
The infraction in question here is that Hagel, in a 2007 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “The core tenets of George Kennan’s ‘The Long Telegram’ and the strategy of containment remain relevant today. This is how we should have handled Saddam Hussein.” (I bolded the clause that Ayotte quoted, and presumably found damning.)
The speech in full (go ahead, read it!) should offend no one. It was a routine formulation of classical realist principles:
In the Middle East of the 21st Century, Iran will be a key center of gravity…and remain a significant regional power. The United States cannot change that reality. America’s strategic thinking and policies for the Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and well into the future.
To acknowledge that reality in no way confuses Iran’s dangerous, destabilizing and threatening behavior in the region. Our differences with Iran are real. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and continues to provide material support to Hezbollah and Hamas. The President of Iran publicly threatens Israel’s existence and is attempting to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has not helped stabilize the current chaos in Iraq and is responsible for weapons and explosives being used against U.S. military forces in Iraq.
Yet, America’s military might alone cannot successfully address these challenges or achieve any level of sustainable stability with Iran. The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all of its tools of influence within its foreign policy arsenal—political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military.
This is the way moderate Republicans and liberal internationalists talked about foreign policy challenges throughout the 1990s. It is the kind of rhetoric that President Clinton employed and, for the most part, the kind of rhetoric President Obama employs today. Now, it’s true, as was pointed out to Hagel ad infinitum yesterday, that the Obama administration does not profess a policy of containment toward Iran; it has vowed to prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
But Obama was not president in 2007. And Hagel, then still a senator, was free to ruminate on the “inventory,” as he put it yesterday, of options available to American diplomats and national security strategists.
“Was it that containment was one of the options?” Ayotte probed.
Hagel: “Yes, of course.”
This is damning?
Yes: Of course a strategy of containment is an option. So is an air attack or a land invasion tomorrow. Yet Ayotte strongly implied that the mere entertaining of the idea of containment was disqualifying. Containment ipso facto means appeasement, and to have said it’s worthy of consideration is a kind of thought crime. Consider: a member of the U.S. Senate, “the world’s most deliberative body,” thinks that it’s impermissible to actually deliberate foreign policy.
Add Ayotte’s exchange to Sen. John McCain’s confrontation with Hagel, in which McCain treated the arguable success of the Iraq surge as a priest would the historicity of the virgin birth, and we have the unmistakable voice of a school of foreign policy that operates more like an office of doctrinal enforcement.
These are dangerous people.
Just saw Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Rajiv Joseph’s new play, at the Round House Theater in Bethesda, MD. It’s not a perfect play–there’s some unnecessarily on-the-nose dialogue, and it’s content to keep its two American characters democracy-whiskey-sexy caricatures, which can get grating. But overall this is a terrific play.
The tiger is played by a man, Eric Hissom in this case, who has a keen appetite, a sort of drunken-uncle garrulousness, and an unexpected existentialist spirit. He’s shot early on in the play and wanders the streets of Baghdad encountering other ghosts, including a Mephistophelean Uday Hussein.
I complained that a lot of plays etc about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show basically no interest in imagining actual Iraqis and Afghans. This play, by contrast, is actually about Iraqis, believe it or not–Iraq, here, has a drama and inner life which didn’t start with the American invasion.
The play is funny–there’s a quick, grim little knock-knock joke at the beginning, and knock-knock jokes are a recurring theme–and startlingly violent, even for a war story. It ends up as a play about theodicy, basically. There are recurring images like hands and listening, unexpectedly-intertwining plotlines, and a few moments of haunting poetry, as when the tiger hears the muezzins calling people to prayer and their voices roll in to a ruined garden “like fog.”
The Iraqi characters, including the tiger, mirror the Americans in ways ranging from the tiger’s musing that he’s “10,000 miles from where I’m supposed to be” to an interpreter’s self-lacerating cry, “I am so tired of making the same mistake over and over again!” But the Iraqis don’t exist simply to provide commentary on the Americans. They have their own questions and histories.
There’s a shatteringly perfect ending line (“This is what he said”) which unfortunately is not quite the actual ending. There’s just a lot of intelligence, imagination, and gallows humor on display in this particular zoo.
Black Watch, a Scottish creation imported to DC’s Shakespeare Theatre (through October 7), tells the story of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as one recent sordid chapter in the story of the iconic Black Watch regiment. It starts out asking what it was like to fight in the military–but ends up asking what it was like to join the military.
It’s a kinetic, surreal, self-aware, and thoroughly researched show, which combines dance, song, and acting. An actual Iraqi is mentioned once, I think; mostly Iraqis are treated as projection screens. An embedded journalist speculates that porn on tanks might “play out” badly “in the Islamic world,” and a soldier’s reply suggests that it’s really more the bombing than the porn that bothers people, but both of them are speaking about imagined Iraqis rather than known ones.
All of these characteristics are by now fairly typical of Iraq/Afghanistan artwork. The guilty conscience of the civilian and the creepily reverent, grabby longing to hear war stories; the technique of using dance to interrupt “prose” staging, suggesting the absurdity of military life and the interruptions of violence; the ostentatious research; the lack of interest in the lives and stories of Iraqis–all of that comes with the war-theater territory. Time Stands Still and Home of the Soldier each had some of these elements, for example, although Black Watch is better than both of them.
It’s framed as the story of a researcher meeting and interviewing a bunch of crass and damaged ex-soldiers in a pub, so there’s a lot of self-consciousness about civilians as the audience of war. (There’s a really sharp little bit where the Scottish soldiers stand around and watch the Americans blowing a town to hell, spectating and Monday-morning quarterbacking somebody else’s war even while they’re in the middle of their own.) There are some fierce insights I haven’t seen elsewhere, like the way the standard-issue military cynicism can become a way of justifying war rather than challenging it: When the military thoroughly mistreats its soldiers one of them responds blackly, “If you canna take a joke don’t f—ing join.” The cynicism gets turned against the possibility of change, like building a gallows out of gallows humor.
Where Black Watch really surpasses other similar works, I think, is in the way it depicts the glamor of war. Other bitter artworks have noted the contrast between the glorious imagery and the gore. But Black Watch tries to make the audience feel the soul-stirring call of war-songs, while simultaneously indicting those forms of folk tradition and art as one of the engines of modern war. Toward the end a soldier asks why they all joined. “Maybe we’re just f—in’ stupid. Maybe we just liked f—-in’ fighting.” The play, though, suggests that they were called as much by tradition and glamor, the old proud songs, as by those baser motives. (Is it anti-American to suggest that the Marine Corps version of this show would replace traditional Scottish songs and dances with imagery from The Dark Knight Rises?)
There’s no attempt at an alternative, by the way, no attempt to make pacifism or any form of civilian life look beautiful. The only civilian we see is the theater researcher and I do not think anyone would be wooed by his dark glamor. This may be an unfair generalization, but my impression is that a lot of what we might think of as contemporary “anti-war” art or pop culture–movies, TV–is actually more like the soldier’s useful cynicism. It’s unhappy with the military and the wars, but it’s thoroughly uninterested in finding stories which suggest alternatives for anchorless young people seeking an identity.
In the final moments of Black Watch, the music gets so overwhelming that it’s physically painful. It’s just pounding and wailing, as the actors throw themselves around on the stage, and all you want is for the music to stop. When it finally does stop, there’s just a black silence, the end of the play.
Tonight the GOP convention will broadcast a video tribute to Ron Paul, which will then be followed with a speech by Rand, his son, the Senator from Kentucky.
It has been less than a decade since the Iraq War was launched, and already the Republican party is forced to acknowledge a wing that is non-interventionist. Think about how remarkable that is. Insiders know just how disorganized the 2008 Ron Paul campaign turned out to be. And how despised he was by so many in the party. Four years later he is a more important figure in the party that Rudy Giuliani. He is the leader of a major faction.
This doesn’t mean we’re going to get a reasonable foreign policy soon. But it is something to celebrate.
My own view has been that a sensible foreign policy will not be possible without a new kind of fusionism. On the one hand there must be the non-interventionists like Paul–I proudly call myself an isolationist. They provide the vision, even the romance of America standing independent from the corruption of European or Middle-Eastern intrigues.
On the other hand, we need the expertise and statesmanship that are prized by foreign policy realists. We need them to explain why this or that intervention is unwise. We need them to understand and pursue the diplomatic means to avoid war. After interviewing and observing him at length, I was drawn to the candidacy of Jon Huntsman precisely because I saw in him the possibility of a “real” realist. (Daniel Larison and I could fight about whether that was an illusion another time.) I also happen to believe that a coalition against stupid wars has to be transpartisan, just as the interventionist coalition has been able to capture the high places of both parties.
In other words, we need people who believe as a matter of principle that elective wars are destructive nonsense. And we need other people who know why some particular elective war is nonsense as a matter of analysis. Idealists and experts.
But there is a problem. Currently the realists aren’t holding their end of my proposed bargain, at least politically. They may not even be interested in it. Consider that during the Iraq War, a much balleyhooed “realist” like Chuck Hagel cast a vote for the war itself. His only “realist” contribution came once the war was politically toxic for Republicans. He creased his forehead with some gravitas and made frustrated noises and… well that was about it. The Iraq Study group, supposedly made up of tough realists, just rolled over dead after issuing its own chin-stroking report. That was the entirety of the “realist” response to the Iraq War.
So those of us who dream of saner days in policymaking should take a moment tonight to appreciate everything the Paul faction has done. Currently they are the only political force capable of electing House and Senate members who are reliable anti-war voters no matter which party holds the Executive office. They are the only political faction educating their constituents on these issues. They are the only one reaching out to other Republicans to build consensus on them. Yes they are a dreadfully small force. But try to name a single “realist” politician who can be trusted to vote and argue against intervention when the pressure is really applied to “do something” in Syria or Iran. I can’t think of one. Not yet.
And so I’ve come to the temporary conclusion that the only way we may ever see dependable realists is to keep growing the Paul coalition of peace-loving Republicans. We need more of Rand Paul and Justin Amash. We need more institutions dedicated to peace as a matter of principle. Perhaps once these radicals make the political process safe for peace, we’ll get the experts and wise men on board.
So yes, I’ll be cheering for Rand tonight.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released its final major audit over the weekend, delivering quite a bottom line: it cannot say how much U.S taxpayers lost while trying to rebuild Iraq, but it was a lot.
The U.S. government Iraq relief and reconstruction program had serious internal control weaknesses that put billions of American taxpayer dollars at risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. The precise amount lost to fraud and waste may never be known, but SIGIR’s audits and investigations have demonstrated that the amount could be substantial. The end result of the dollars lost to fraud and waste is that those funds were not available to assist the Iraqi people and help rebuild their country.
True, and one can look at it another, albeit more selfish, way: that those funds were never available to rebuild the sorry state of infrastructure in this country, which according to one 2011 study, now ranks behind Barbados. But as the old rejoinder says, we broke Iraq so we had to buy it. We bought it alright–$51 billion worth, according to the report–but it seems someone else was taking the bags out of the store.
“Here’s where I can help,” charged Peter Van Buren, who served on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) on behalf of the State Department and wrote a whole book about the lost billions called We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He now publishes a blog of the same name.
“I do know the precise amount lost to fraud and waste: all of it. Every freaking penny. Every dollar spent on Iraq that was not spent on Scranton, Detroit, Cleveland or New Orleans.”
The Final Forensic Audit Report of Iraq Reconstruction Funds (.pdf), identified “internal control weaknesses such as inadequate reviews of contractors’ invoices, insufficient numbers of, or inadequately trained oversight staff, poor inventory controls, high staff turnover, poor recordkeeping, insufficient price competition by subcontractors, and weak oversight of cash disbursements.”
Such weak internal controls opened the door to all sorts of fraud and abuse, the report says, and as of June 2012, “SIGIR investigators, working with other agencies’ investigators, have developed information used to indict 87 individuals and convict 71 individuals for fraudulent activities including bribery, kick-backs, theft of government funds and property, inflated invoices, delivery of insufficient or inferior goods, and bid rigging.”
As least someone was getting something out of the invasion. But think of all the projects imagined but left unfinished: the optimistic (but oftentimes shortsighted or even wrongheaded) micro-economic development efforts, the Iraqi education and training programs, the infrastructure for basic services that earnest Americans helped build with Iraqi partners only to see the funding drain away or cut off completely. (For more on these and other heartbreakers, just check out Van Buren’s book.) This latest SIGIR report suggests the reconstruction effort was one big boondoggle for the war contracting business. And I bet if you took a poll of the American public that’s all they think it was at this point, too.
That’s why it will be more than perverse to see those same beltway bandits and the politicians who support them get up in front of congress this week to cry huge crocodile tears over the prospect of sequestration, the result of which (if it even happens) could bring defense spending back down to 2005 or 2007 spending levels, according to the number-crunchers I’ve spoken with.
According to The Hill, there will be lots of activity on Capitol Hill this week, with debate over the $608 billion Fiscal Year 2013 defense appropriations ($3 billion more than President Obama asked for), and a House Armed Services hearing on sequestration. The hearing will no doubt be well-covered by the press, and feature the Chicken Littles I wrote about last week, here and here. It will include Lockheed Martin’s Bob Stevens, EADS North America’s Sean O’Keefe, Pratt and Whitney’s David Hess and Williams-Pyro’s Della Williams.
Stevens, who made $25.8 million in compensation last year (the company itself got $42.9 billion in federal contracts and made $4 billion in profits in 2011), is also the CEO who gratuitously announced Lockheed would hand out pre-layoff slips to 123,000 of its workers if sequestration wasn’t reversed by Election Day.
Two weeks later, the committee will host top military brass to again, tell members how sequestration will “hollow out” the military as we know it.
These two hearings will no doubt produce some stellar sound bites for the crowd opposing further defense cuts and good copy for a few news cycles. Too bad the SIGIR reports hardly ever get as much play. Special IG Stuart Bowen has been doggedly determined for years, but he’s only a household name in those households where oversight and the post-invasion development of Iraq was ever of interest. In other words, not many households.
The same goes for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that often tackle the same issues. If the Democrats in support of the defense cuts had any sense they’d make use of this incredibly revealing GAO report last year that indicates Iraq is just a microcosm of the terrible oversight and financial controls in the Pentagon as a whole. In fact, its conclusions sound all too much like SIGIR’s recent audit:
DOD financial management has been on GAO’s high-risk list since 1995 and, despite several reform initiatives, remains on the list today. Pervasive deficiencies in financial management processes, systems, and controls, and the resulting lack of data reliability, continue to impair management’s ability to assess the resources needed for DOD operations; track and control costs; ensure basic accountability; anticipate future costs; measure performance; maintain funds control; and reduce the risk of loss from fraud, waste, and abuse. DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations intended to support the warfighter, including systems and processes related to the management of contracts, finances, the supply chain, support infrastructure, and weapon systems acquisition. These operations are directly impacted by the problems in financial management. In addition, the long-standing financial management weaknesses have precluded DOD from being able to undergo the scrutiny of a financial statement audit.
So DoD is still unable to undergo the scrutiny of a financial audit, yet other agencies do, as a matter of course. And yet it will likely get the $608 billion it wants for FY2013, and even get pardoned from the most serious of sequestration scenarios if the beltway bandits and their surrogates in congress get their way. There will assuredly be more GAO and SIGIR-like reports to come, with the same lamentable conclusions. But one wonders if they are even worth cost, if no one is ever listening.
On Wednesday night I saw the Synetic Theater’s Home of the Soldier, a new play from DC’s dance/movement troupe best known for their wordless adaptations of Shakespeare. The quality of Synetic shows is usually inversely proportionate to the number of words spoken. Their wordless Shakespeare is generally stunning, creepy, funny and sublime. Unfortunately, Home of the Soldier has a script, and I can’t recommend it, although the lead actor is a huge suffering statue and I’d be happy to watch him in other shows.
The story is a baggy and emotionally-manipulative tale of a soldier trying to rescue his POW father. The details are based on documentary footage and interviews with current and recent military personnel, though, and one detail really stood out to me in light of Nan Levinson’s article on the “moral injuries” of warfare.
That article, it seemed to me, was in part about the starkly divergent moral worlds of home and warzone, and the military’s attempt to craft a warzone mentality which would displace the home mentality. This sense that soldiers are imbued with a totally different mindset adapted to war is part of the distance and exoticism both soldiers and civilians perceive when the fighters come home, and Levinson’s piece suggests that learning to understand and accept what happened in the warzone means learning to apply the home mentality to the war events. Learning to make the mental wall into a porous fabric.
But Home of the Soldier suggests that in the warzone itself, the fabric is already porous. At war the soldiers still Skype with their families, seeing and hearing them with an immediacy beyond (say) the preopened letters they’d receive in earlier wars. The fighter has to hold in his mind simultaneously his identities as father and soldier, husband and killer. The two identities, the two worldviews, interpenetrate–but that doesn’t seem to make them easier to reconcile.
The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the case of Peter Van Buren, saying his firing from the State Department this year is unconstitutional, as it violates his First Amendment right to free speech “and creates the appearance of impermissible retaliation for Mr. Van Buren’s criticism of the State Department.”
The aid of the free speech heavyweight couldn’t have come at a better time: Van Buren, the embattled foreign service officer whom the Department moved to fire this year for writing a book and a personal weblog that criticized the reconstruction in Iraq, is fighting to keep his job until at least September, when he was planning to retire anyway. Van Buren has been with the department for almost 24 years.
Signed by Ben Wizner and Kate Wood of the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology shop, the letter dated May 15 asserts that Van Buren’s book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and his blog of the same name, are protected speech that has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
This week George Galloway was elected as the Member of Parliament for Bradford West. To those who are not aware of George Galloway, here is a quick introduction. Galloway is the infamous British politician known for his support of Hamas (from whom he received a Palestinian passport) and his admiration for Saddam Hussein’s indefatigability. He was kicked out of the Labour Party in 2003, after which he formed his own party called RESPECT (Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community, and Trade Unionism). It was during his time as a RESPECT MP that he impersonated a cat on the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother. He is perhaps best known on this side of the Atlantic for his appearance in front of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, in which he was forced to answer questions relating to his questionable relationship with the Oil-for-Food Program.
I would not usually waste much time discussing Mr. Galloway, except that his win in Bradford West might well be as he described it: “the most sensational victory in British political history.” Read More…
For years the writers, editors and readers of The American Conservative have had to endure the undeserving charge that its paleo-conservative-libertarian roots are racist. I’ll never forget the former Washington Times writer who told me to my face, quite smugly as we were sharing a cab during the 2008 Republican National Convention, that I write for a racist rag.
In part, these charges are old, lobbed and maintained by founding editor Pat Buchanan’s more adamant longtime detractors. But the slander endures, most vociferously it would seem, by unreconstructed liberals who never read the magazine and neoconservatives like my arrogant cabmate, who especially abhor the magazine’s founding manifesto: that the Bush Administration’s war policy was a mistake, and that the political and tactical reaction to 9/11 was and is not only stunningly wrongheaded, but dangerous and motivated by venal special interests that hew not to the U.S constitution nor to the morals and values of an American republic.
Couldn’t one as easily say their own advocacy of endless war against “brown people” in the Middle East and Central Asia – not to mention North and East Africa – is racism on a Global scale? Writers at The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Washington Times and Commentary have been ruthless non-apologists for the indiscriminate killing of non-whites as a means to their ends, from the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq and the flattening of Fallujah to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, today’s drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and all of the wars’ human repercussions (death, disease, displacement). In their world, these are always treated as time-wasting, politically motivated afterthoughts that merely muddy their own paper-white narrative.
On a micro-level, how can calling what happened at Abu Ghraib (dragging Arab men by leashes, stacking them up naked in a pyramid, beating and turning dogs loose on them) “a small prison scandal” over which the American public got unduly “hysterical,” not be considered racist in some way? Those were among the many remarks Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol made on the air and in writing that urged Americans to recalibrate their outrage downward in the wake of the 2004 revelations.
His cohort at Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, agreed, downplaying what happened at Abu Ghraib while making it a political issue, accusing the Democrats of going off “the intellectual and moral rails as to compare the harassment and humiliation of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib—none of whom, so far as anyone then knew, was even maimed, let alone killed—to the horrendous torturing and murdering that had gone on in that same prison under Saddam Hussein or, even more outlandishly, to the Soviet gulag in which many millions of prisoners died.”
Now, Kristol, in an effort, again, to downplay what many are already calling a war crime, has declared U.S Marines urinating on (desecrating) Afghan corpses part of an American military tradition.
But it’s also worth noting that pissing has a distinguished place in American military history. Most famously, General George S. Patton relieved himself in the Rhine on March 24, 1945—and made sure he was photographed doing so. …
It wasn’t just American generals who seemed preoccupied with pissing back in 1945. Three weeks earlier, Winston Churchill had visited the front lines near Jülich. Churchill had long dreamed of urinating on Hitler’s much-vaunted Siegfried Line to show his contempt for Hitler and Nazism…
So perhaps, as Rep. Allen West, once a battalion commander in Iraq, put it last week, all the sanctimonious Obama administration bigwigs “need to chill.” Did Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta really need to speak up at all?
Does Kristol realize he is comparing dead men to a river or a territorial boundary, suggesting these corpses were never human at all?
Kristol and his ilk don’t think much of the Geneva Conventions, so it is almost not worth the breath to remind them that desecrating corpses is in violation of international treaty, but it is also against military law, which means the Marines already recognize such desecration is not heroic, funny, eye-for-an-eye, nor proof of battlefield supremacy. It’s wrong.
Funny how even suggesting such behavior was happening in World War II or even Vietnam is taboo, but today Kristol and his more deranged ideological offspring like Pamela Geller of the popular Atlas Shrugs website, now appear to be cheering it on, even questioning the loyalty and politics of those who don’t.
“I love these Marines,” wrote Geller after the story broke last week. “Perhaps this is the infidel interpretation of the Islamic ritual of washing and preparing the body for burial.”
What a hoot! Even scarier are the comments, some of which suggest that if al Qaeda wants to field an army of bloodthirsty psychos, beheading and dismembering their enemies and desecrating the dead, then our Marines have every right to do it too. Read More…
Today it was announced that an American citizen has been sentenced to death in Iran after being successfully convicted of “working for an enemy country … for membership in the CIA and also for his efforts to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism.” Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in August while visiting relatives. This incident is one of several in the last few months that has strained the already fragile relations between the U.S. and Iran. What policy the U.S. takes towards Iran in the coming months and years will be crucial for the future of the Middle East. With the outcome of last year’s “Arab Spring” still far from certain, the U.S. cannot risk worsening relations in the current economic climate with a region that has volatility and promise in roughly equal measure.
Iran is playing an important role in the GOP nomination process. It seems that the Republican Party nominees and the media are using proposed policies towards Iran as the metric by which a candidate’s neoconservative credentials can be measured. The nominees range from the explicitly interventionist (Romney, Santorum, Perry), the cautious but vigilant (Huntsman), to the outright noninterventionist (Paul). For Paul his stance on Iran and his perceived ambivalence towards Israel’s existence are two of the major contributing factors towards his unpopularity amongst a significant number of conservatives. Read More…