State of the Union

Surging into Afghanistan, Meanwhile, Beheadings in Iraq

I swear my heart skipped a beat when I saw this.  The tentative smile of a seemingly typical 11-year-old boy — he could have been any boy in American suburbia, stopping briefly for the perfunctory photo-op in his soccer gear and trophy. But this was not normal — the caption underneath goes on to explain that Moshim was beheaded because his father couldn’t come up with the $100,000 ransom demanded by his kidnappers. His last words to his father, “Daddy, give them the money. They are beating me.”

This is Iraq, September 2009. As The Associated Press reported last night, criminal elements, typically former insurgents, are taking the cities hostage once again, physically and emotionally. They are targeting children, the most vulnerable, as the photos of the missing now paper the landscape’s already bomb-blasted walls.

As the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodshed ebbs, Iraqis now face a new threat to getting on with their lives: a frenzy of violent crime.

Many of those involved are believed to be battle-experienced former insurgents unable to find legitimate work. They often bring the same brutality to their crimes that they showed in the fighting that nearly pushed the country into a Sunni-Shiite civil war in 2006 and 2007.

The result has been a wave of thefts and armed robberies, hitting homes, cars, jewelry stores, currency exchanges, pawn shops and banks.

Kidnapping, too, remains terrifyingly common, as it was during the peak of the insurgency. Now, however, the targets are increasingly children, and the kidnappers, rather than having sectarian motives, are seeking ransoms.

In southern Baghdad’s Saydiyah neighborhood, photos of missing children are pasted on electricity poles and the concrete blast walls that enclose many areas of the bomb-battered capital.

Surfing the online analyses of  Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ultimatum to President Obama, which in essence is, “give me more troops or we will fail in Afghanistan,” I see that the response falls into two camps: those who do not think the ultimatum is particularly helpful, and those who commend the good general for laying it on the line. Those in the latter no doubt include neoconservative consultants to McChrystal, like Ms. Kimberly Kagan and husband Fred Kagan, who have been pushing for a Iraq-style “surge” of more troops into Afghanistan for a almost year now.

Kagan, author of “The Surge: A Military History” has often lobbed hubris-filled dismissives at writers who dared to question the Surge she and her husband helped to orchestrate on the policy side for the Bush Administration in 2006. To her mind, she has already been vindicated, leaving no doubt that the same “strategy” should be applied in Afghanistan. Because, as she, husband Kagan and fellow war hawk Max Boot pointed out last March, major cities like Kabul and Jalalabad “are relatively safe and flourishing,” and “there is no question that we can succeed against these much weaker foes.” Read More…

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Black Sea Brinksmanship

In August, the Georgian navy seized a Turkish tanker carrying fuel to Abkhazia, Georgia’s former province whose declaration of independence a year ago is recognized by Russia but not the West.

The Turkish captain was sentenced to 24 years. When Ankara protested, he was released. Abkhazia has now threatened to sink any Georgian ship interfering in its “territorial waters,” but it has no navy.

Russia, however, has a Black Sea Fleet and a treaty of friendship with Abkhazia, and has notified Tbilisi that the Russian coast guard will assure, peacefully, the sea commerce of Abkhazia.

Not backing down, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — who launched and lost a war for South Ossetia in 48 hours in August 2008 — has declared the blockade of Abkhazia, which he claims as Georgian national territory, will remain in force. And he has just appointed as defense minister a 29-year-old ex-penitentiary boss with a questionable record on human rights who wants to tighten ties to NATO.

We have here the makings of a naval clash that Georgia, given Russian air, naval, and land forces in the eastern Black Sea, will lose.

What is Saakashvili up to? He seems intent on provoking a new crisis to force NATO to stand with him and bring the United States in on his side — against Russia. Ultimate goal: Return the issue of his lost provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back onto the world’s front burner. Read More…

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A Note of Thanks

A few weeks back I asked readers to donate to help us distribute copies of TAC at the Campaign for Liberty regional conference that took place this past weekend at Valley Forge. C4L had a larger-than-expected turnout, but thanks to you, we had magazines for the welcome packets of all 650 registered attendees. C4L’s conference included talks by TAC contributing editors Philip Giraldi and Tom Woods — it was a great gathering and an excellent place to make the magazine available.

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Race and Stupidity

God save me from my friends – I can take care of my enemies.

So President Obama must be muttering today.

Ten days ago, the president played his ace of trumps.

He went before a joint session of Congress to lay out his health care plans, confront the “demagoguery” of critics who had resorted to “distortion,” “misinformation” and “tall tales,” and rally progressives and Blue Dogs to reunite and drive on to victory.

Obama’s speech was savagely partisan, but an undeniable success.

After an awful August of town-hall beatings, he was back on offense. As his congressional troops cheered him on, Republicans sat sullen and glum.

Not only did Obama win the night, his victory was capped by a gauche outburst of “You lie!” from South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, which stunned a national TV audience and embarrassed his party. Read More…

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Romney and Santorum’s Missile Defense

No surprise that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have come out rhetorical guns blazing to defend the missile-defense shield–though it is still depressing. Of course it is terrible idea to save billions of dollars in a recession and to avoid antagonizing — sorry, “appease” — Russia. It must be a mistake.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, called the move a slap in the face to eastern Europeans “who have stood so valiantly with America and who took political heat for backing the missile-defense system” and accused the president of caving to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Santorum added:

“The Poles and the Czechs have a legitimate fear of a re-emergence of the Russian threat to their security and are desperately seeking closer ties to the West.”

Contrast that with this statement, reportedly made by an Obama foreign-policy adviser shortly before the presidential election, calling the shield as “a system that won’t work, against a threat that doesn’t exist, paid for with money we don’t have.”

Which soundbite sounds more conservative to you?

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The business of war and profit: Aren’t we proud?

You know what prostitutes and pimps and drugs and rape and electrocuted soldiers all have in common? You’re paying for it.

There is such a lack of outrage for the way that private military contractors have pillaged and profiteered from our nearly-decade occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan that it leaves one speechless. Almost. Thanks to whistle-blowers — at the threat of their own security, professionally or otherwise — we have been informed  of some of the basest, grossest behavior coming out of the contracting world on the taxpayers’ dime today. Whether it be soldiers electrocuted by cheap, poorly installed showers by KBR and Triple Canopy, the vodka-drug- fueled pimping frat boys from the Armor Group or the gang rape of a female American contractor by her fellow KBR employees, there is seemingly no end to evidence that the proliferation of privatization has created a runaway Frankenstein of venality, arrogance, avarice and corruption and downright evil, with no restraint that I can see, whatsoever.

Take this latest bit about the Armor Group. Thanks to the Project on Government Oversight, which had the wherewithal to FOIA the goods on this group, we now know that there has been unfettered depravity — including, we heard last week, the procurement of imported, unwitting Chinese girls for sex — at our U.S Embassy. Not surprisingly, there has been a ton of finger-pointing about who knew what and when, but the fact remains that the company got its $187 million contract renewed even after allegations began to surface. Not much different than (Blackwater) Xe, which got its contract renewed in Iraq last week even as their former guards stand trial for murder and the company has banned by the Maliki government for ever working there again.

Allegations of misconduct and corruption on this level go way back — Dyncorp was accused of pimping out skinny, war ravaged girls back in Bosnia. No one seems to care. They just got another contract worth up to $7.5 billion in Afghanistan. They have contracts elsewhere in the expanding U.S footprint, including Africa.

Meanwhile, there are earnest, but ineffective attempts by members of congress to put the brakes on Frank. The Democratic Policy Committee held numerous hearings over the Bush years on these and other subjects of contractor malfeasance, to no real avail. The Commission on Wartime Contracting was created last year and has held some truly eyeopening hearings, even published a nifty report on the 240,000 private contractors now overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and the companies they work for  — but to what end? As for President Obama, who pledged during his campaign to review the troubling inflation of private contracting and to hold contractors accountable — crickets.

I honestly believe private contractors, mercenaries, profiteers — whatever you call them — are one of the most destructive elements in the indefinite foreign military presence in Afghanistan today. Aside from the criminal behavior, the waste and the fraud and the abuse (all well-documented), as “strategic communications” they are a disaster. They shame us, they breed mistrust and fear among the people we supposedly there to help and most importantly, they broadcast with a bullhorn that the bottom line is more valued than honor, respect, ethics or responsibility (kind of like our society back home!) And we are all at fault for letting it happen.

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Peter Schiff Makes It Official

He announced today that he’s running for Chris Dodd’s U.S. Senate seat.

See Michael Brendan Dougherty’s TAC profile of Schiff here.

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Sibel Edmonds Speaks Out

There’s a new issue of The American Conservative going to press today, and it includes a story that will make more than a few congressmen and foreign lobbyists intensely uncomfortable: an in-depth interview between Phil Giraldi and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. She tells us exactly how Turkish intelligence have penetrated national secrets, suborned government officials, and blackmailed Congress. It’s going to be explosive.

Also in the issue: Jesse Walker on the five faces of Jerry Brown, the once and (maybe) future governor of California; Kelley Vlahos on where the Taliban gets its money (hint: check your wallet); W. Jams Antle III on the trouble with David Brooks and the reform cons; Lewis McCrary profiles “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist farmer” Joel Salatin; and much more. Columns by Buchanan, Kauffman, Reid, and Tushnet. Reviews by Michael Burleigh, William Niskanen, Andro Linklater, John Schwenkler, and Leon Hadar. All this, plus a special tribute to Victor Davis Hanson…

Don’t miss out. You can get the issue mailed to you, and read the whole thing online in PDF form early next week, by subscribing today. And if you’re already a subscriber, give a gift subscription — Constitution Day is an apt occasion.

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Civility, 2007-Style: Hanging George Bush

Some people who are outraged by anti-Obama placards have forgotten that, only a few years ago, many people were condemning George Bush in terms as harsh or harsher.

Here is a picture I took at an antiwar rally in Washington in January 2007. The sign   – “What’s good for the goose….. gandar”  – refers to the recent hanging of Saddam Hussein had been hung after a kangaroo trial. (Saddam was guilty as hell of many things, but the trial process was a disgrace to the United States and to Iraq).  The Bush administration was in such a sweat to use the Saddam trial to influence the US congressional midterm elections that the Iraqi government announced Hussein’s sentence – death by hanging – even before they had officially released the sentence (which was not released until after the US election).

The artist’s representation of George Bush could have been better, but so could the photograph itself.   Some people may have been offended by the title I added to the photo: “Bush Swings by Congress.”   (The full size version of the photograph is available  at my Flickr site


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Bush Told the Truth

A nugget from White House speechwriter Matt Latimer’s forthcoming book Speech-Less, as reported by Byron York:

Bush was preparing to give a speech to the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. The conference is the event of the year for conservative activists; Republican politicians are required to appear and offer their praise of the conservative movement.

Latimer got the assignment to write Bush’s speech. Draft in hand, he and a few other writers met with the president in the Oval Office. Bush was decidedly unenthusiastic.

“What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech?” the president asked Latimer.

Latimer explained that he meant the conservative movement — the movement that gave rise to groups like CPAC.

Bush seemed perplexed. Latimer elaborated a bit more. Then Bush leaned forward, with a point to make.

“Let me tell you something,” the president said. “I whupped Gary Bauer’s ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement.”

Bush seemed to equate the conservative movement — the astonishing growth of conservative political strength that took place in the decades after Barry Goldwater’s disastrous defeat in 1964 — with the fortunes of Bauer, the evangelical Christian activist and former head of the Family Research Council whose 2000 presidential campaign went nowhere.

Now it was Latimer who looked perplexed. Bush tried to explain.

“Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say,” the president said, “but I redefined the Republican Party.”

Perhaps York, or Latimer, expects this anecdote to shock. But it confirms what everyone with two neurons to rub together has known for a long time: the con movement takes its cues from the GOP and whatever Bush or Dole clone leads the party. There hasn’t been a “conservative movement” for a long time: there’s a Republican auxiliary that calls itself conservative and a movement. It’s arguable, though, whether Bush redefined it or merely pushed the absurdity to its logical conclusion.

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