October 25, 2007

Epic Waste


The cost of the US’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with wider efforts in the “war against terror”, could reach $2,400bn (£1,175bn, €1,700) over the next decade, with interest payments representing more than a quarter of the total, the US Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday.

The figures, presented to the House of Representatives budget committee by Peter Orszag, the CBO’s director, are based on an assumption that US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to a total of 75,000 by 2013 and stay at that level for a further four years.

I'm no isolationist, but expenditure of multiple trillions in this fashion is obscene. As I wrote a few weeks back:

...is it the remote villagers of southeastern Afghanistan that pose a grave security threat to those of us living in the West? Is the perennial weaning away of Pashtun tribes from neo-Taliban influences a vital national security interest of Washington’s? Or getting Sunni tribes in Anbar Province to work with the central Shi’a led government in Iraq? Or propping up Dawa or SCIRI in Iraq, against Sadr’s men? Put differently, how did the attack on downtown Manhattan lead us to become involved in ostensibly decades long nation building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps to come, a bombing campaign that would likely lead to a full-blown conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

In my view, the greatest threat we face in the post 9/11 era are radicalized Islamists of mostly lower to middle class background who have grown up or emigrated to cities like Madrid, London, Paris, Hamburg, Milan. Don’t get me wrong. The comical shrieking about “Eurabia” and such is but thinly veiled Islam-bashing by primitives in the U.S. know-nothing media. But this moronic hyperbole aside, the radical Islamists who threaten us the most are those who have become technologically sophisticated, who perhaps speak our language, who can more easily appear ‘Westernized’, and meantime have become highly alienated by the West, basically the Mohammed Atta type. Which is to say, not rural peasants in the environs of Kandahar or impoverished Shi'a slum-dwellers south of Baghdad (nation-building efforts are not required to destroy any potential al-Qaeda sanctuaries, rather targeted military and intelligence efforts, and regardless the biggest such sanctuary is currently located within our ally Pakistan's territory).

Put differently, there is a reason NATO is floundering in Afghanistan. Deep down, most member states don't see truly vital interests at play (at least now with al-Qaeda's senior leadership mostly in Pakistan). This logic applies doubly so in Iraq, after all, what al-Qaeda leaders there threaten our shores (especially now that the Sunni tribes love us so!)? As for an Iranian missile threat to Europe, such hysteria is also not being taken seriously--not only by Putin--but others too. And if an Iranian nuclear weapon is tantamount to WWIII (per the President's astoundingly sloppy rhetoric, more reminiscent of a drunk kicking around a bar-stool), let's please have a draft in this country. If the stakes are so high, the times simply demand it. Seriously.

P.S. Readers are invited to suggest better uses for this 2.5 trillion folly-like expenditure. Here's one critical need that has languished of late. There are others, not only domestically (lest, again, I be accused of isolationist tendencies) but also overseas too. Not only are we spending like drunken sailors, but we're spending dumb to boot. This is a recipe for hard reckonings to come, with ever stronger encroachments by rivals like China gaining strength in the meantime. Anyone who flies routinely through increasingly third-worldish U.S. airports will understand what I'm getting at here...

Posted by Gregory at October 25, 2007 10:41 PM

Different question Greg, which I find more interesting. What are the NATO countries doing about the problem you identified? Because this is a problem the US really cannot solve. Are the NATO countries acting? Or merely hoping?

(I am not going to reveal my bright ideas for the spendng of the money unless I get a percentage of the saved cash. )

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at October 26, 2007 01:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Its more than "obscene" its criminal. However your point is well taken!

My list:

1. Increase funding to care for the elderly. They've whacked to the bone...or else some one, or some entity, is stealing it, care in nursing homes and assisted living. THAT"S criminal.

2. Water issues. In general.

3. Research project/s to find substitute for carbon based energy supply as our predominate way to supply power for the nation.

4. Revamp transportation system. Trains, trains, trains, mass transit, mass transit, mass transit.

5. Hire armies of accountants/auditors/contract lawyers to swarm, literally, all over the paper/digital trails of the military/industrial/service industry complex.

6. Build more prisons, specifically, for the cretins the accountants/auditors uncover.

Posted by: jonst at October 26, 2007 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are their true vital interests at stake in afghanistan for NATO countries? Good question. There may not be now that AL Qaed has been sent to the winds, the Taleban are just a guerrilla force, and there is a decent government at least nominally in charge.

For the same reason, I don't see any vital interests for America in Kosovo. This is probably a good time to trade missions, don't you think?

Posted by: Lycurgus at October 26, 2007 06:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think we should gild the entire District of Columbia. Talk about a sparkling capitol we can be proud of!

Posted by: Gus at October 26, 2007 07:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are their true vital interests at stake in afghanistan for NATO countries?

well, if you consider that the only two possible outcome in Afghanistan if NATO leaves is a regime that will allow its land to be used as a base for international terrorism, and a regime that will basically be run by drug lords, the sad answer is "yes".

That's the problem with overthrowing governments when the alternative is as bad, if not worse.

Posted by: p_lukasiak at October 26, 2007 07:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"That's the problem with overthrowing governments when the alternative is as bad, if not worse."

Here's the rub, right here.

You are incapable of making a value judgement that

liberal democracies are in fact measurably better for their 'citizens' than those suppressed by regimes that have grabbed power and proceed to rape, whip females who want to attend school, murder, torture opponents (really torture, for keeps), drive women who are half the population from the workforce, abuse and murder adherents of other religions, and on and on.....

and you presume to look down your nose at Bush.

Posted by: neill at October 26, 2007 11:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First things first -- shut the hell up, neill, you ignorant fucknozzle.

I think it's long been apparent that an investment of treasure and technology similar to what we're going to piss away on the Tigris, we could have probably have built an energy infrastructure that would begin to end "our dependence on Middle Eastern oil". Maybe we could even have cut some imaginative deals with Beijing, so that they'd emit less CO2, and we'd have promising industry manufacturing fuel cells, batteries, whatever, for the lucrative Chinese market.

Oh, but that'd probably require some kind of "socialism". That would be "unrealistic".

What were you people thinking -- I DEFINITELY include the host of this site -- when you imagined that this war would produce ANYTHING good?!?!?

Posted by: sglover at October 27, 2007 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hi Greg-

Damn decent analysis. Let me throw this at ya': if the terrorism that threatens us is simply and primarily the hi-tech Atta-type, francs-tireurs, then doesn't that signal a natural, inevitable end to Islamic terrorism? Let me explain.

I have long suspected that the groundswell of their terrorism got its inspiration from the ideological fanatics, from the blind orthodoxy. For instance, didnt Atta and his species jump aboard the holy death train because they fell victim to a cult of personality and because Islamic fundamentalists prevailed upon them?

If so, I think those pious mentors and conditions germinate in places like Afghanistan, amidst the Pashtuns; in Riyadh, amidst the wahhabists; in Yemen, amidst the Hashid.

I'm taking a wild guess here, but I don't think youll find the same self-sustaining religious mania in Paris or even in the Moslem-friendly mosques of London.

But then again, I dont get out much.

Posted by: reshufflex at October 27, 2007 09:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think I missed something. Reshufflex, are you arguing that terrorism as a tactic is suddenly bound to disappear, after all these millenia? Cults of personality are suddenly going to vanish? I really missed what argument is behind this?

Posted by: Sierra Walden at October 27, 2007 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

well spoken, sg, as usual.


- now that we have invested so much our our treasure and the blood of our young in order to effectively drain far-off swamps that serve as sancturies and breeding grounds for our enemies;

- and now that we see definite signs in Iraq, and in polls of muslims worldwide, that there is markedly less support for our enemies that allows the existence of their sanctuaries and breeding grounds;

- now is the time to say we no longer have a vital interest in what happens in these swamps/sancturies/breeding grounds, and that our investment to this point has pointless?

Posted by: neill at October 27, 2007 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"I really missed what argument is behind this?"

Greg suggested that a US military presence amidst rural folk in places like Kandahar is misguided, in terms of addressing modern terrorism (allow me to quote him, albeit I think I'm being fair):

" the radical Islamists who threaten us the most are those who have become technologically sophisticated, who perhaps speak our language, who can more easily appear ‘Westernized’, and meantime have become highly alienated by the West, basically the Mohammed Atta type. Which is to say, not rural peasants in the environs of Kandahar..."

My point is that the nests of terrorism have been and will remain in those backwoods places, just as the jihadist ideological spectrum springs from the natives, from those indigenous to the more remote regions. I attribute that scenario to "closed-society"
conditionings, wherein enlightenment to those zealots is more remote than even their locales.

There might be a new breed of E-terrorists, indeed, but my contention is that to focus on them while they plot terror in some latest Parisian nightclub or while wearing western jeans is to overlook the cocoon from whence they come.

Posted by: reshufflex at October 27, 2007 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Put differently, there is a reason NATO is floundering in Afghanistan."

NATO is floundering in Afghanistan?

If by NATO's "floundering", our fearless host means that the Taliban still launches raids from base camps in Pakistan - and gets slaughtered by the score each time - I guess that's true.

What areas of Afghanistan are under Taliban control? Is that area increasing or decreasing?

If by "floundering", he means that certain mostly non-English-speaking members of NATO are unwilling to contribute troops to actually fight the enemy (as has been the case from the start), and now make noises about wanting to leave entirely, he has something of a point.

However, "floundering" seems a little off-target. NATO's softening backbone in the face of an implacable enemy is more apt.

A condition coincidentally suffered by many BDers.

Posted by: neill at October 28, 2007 02:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


October 28, 2007
Change in the Weather

October has been a fine month in Iraq. The heat of summer has gone and the rains and mud of November are still a ways away. Oddly enough, while that's good weather for combat there's been very little of it thus far. Hot spots have gone "warm", and warm spots have grown cold - I suppose it's that time of year...

Cheers erupt on the Left side of the Blogosphere*, as after months of no notice the Washington Post finds an Iraq story worthy of their front page. 'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life' - it's a quote from an actual sergeant on the ground in Iraq. And he's talking about one of the shittiest little corners of Baghdad.

Though like everywhere else in Iraq, before the invasion it was a place of butterflies and rainbows...

Before the war, Sadiyah was a bustling middle-class district, popular with Sunni officers in Saddam Hussein's military.
But those halcyon days of sunshine ended forever the moment an elected government replaced Saddam's dictatorship.

Under a headline declaring it a "district torn by mounting sectarian violence" the WaPo reporter actually acknowledges that violence is down and decreasing, but that "...the soldiers' experience in Sadiyah shows that numbers alone do not describe the sense of aborted normalcy -- the fear, the disrupted lives -- that still hangs over the city."

So there.

Honestly, I'm not a fan of violence metrics either. But if the numbers were actually going up I'm not sure the WaPo reporter would have been quite so eloquently dismissive of their significance.

But after 14 months in hell there are good reasons for the troops to be tired, and bitter, and skeptical. Find any unit that's been here a while and you'll find guys who will give you great quotes to fit any headline you want - from page one to page 18. But this Brigade's been particularly rocked. At home they've been depicted as thugs and criminals (yes, this is Scott Beauchamp's Brigade) and in Iraq - when not investigating issues of alleged animal rights abuse - they're playing death match for keeps in a Mad Max neighborhood uniquely situated between Sunnis, Shiites, and hell.

It has become strategically important because it represents a fault line between militia power bases in al-Amil to the west and the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Dora to the east. U.S. commanders say the militias have made a strong push for the neighborhood in part because it lies along the main road that Shiite pilgrims travel to the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Last year they had partnered with an Iraqi police unit known as "the Wolf Brigade", an effort that proved to be a failure - in fact, an unmitigated disaster.
"We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn't see it for what it was. In retrospect, I've got to think it was a coordinated effort," Timmerman said. "To this day, I don't think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are" with the militias.
Really, you can follow the link to see just how big that failure was. It can't be overstated. But then came the change in strategy commonly called "the surge". And now,
In September, after Glaze led an eight-month campaign to kick out the Wolf Brigade, soldiers from the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, which has clashed with Sunni volunteers in the Abu Ghraib area, arrived in Sadiyah.
And late in the summer, another element of that strategy was added - building on the success experienced by other units elsewhere in country in spite of opposition from elements in the national government:
Over the past two months, the U.S. soldiers have recruited more than 300 local residents, most of them Sunnis, into a neighborhood defense force.
And that "bottom up" approach is proving successful everywhere, including one of the darkest corners of Baghdad:
The Iraqi army's arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.
In fact, that could have been the focus of the piece, and a different quote could have been used for the headline.

But then it wouldn't have been on page one, would it?

The narrative on Iraq - the one you see in the media, that is - is changing. Claims that "we've lost" and that American soldiers have been beaten by opponents who are righteous heroes or nine-foot tall and bullet proof are being quite subtly shifted to arguments that no potential victory (if even grudgingly acknowledged) could be worth the price. This argument may prove irresistible to those who've invested heavily in defeat.

But the men profiled in this brief and focused story will soon head home (ironically, to Germany - where we've been for over 60 years now) and others will take their place here in Iraq. The war will continue to wind down. That next unit will write the story of what Sadiyah becomes, but only these few men of the Big Red One will own the story of what it took to make it so.

Posted by: neill at October 29, 2007 03:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A member of the 1920 Revolutionary Bigrade, formerly opposed to the U.S., helps troops find al Qaeda insurgents.
October 28, 2007 -- This week, the U.S. announced that military deaths in Iraq had fallen dramatically, to the lowest levels since March 2006, a sign that the surge of troops is working. Officers say increased cooperation from Iraqi civilians - who are tired of the terrorism and violence - has helped stem attacks.

This comes as no surprise to Michael Yon, a writer who has blogged from Iraq since 2005. Yon, who is supported by donations to his Web site (michaelyon-online.com), writes about his own observations on the ground this year, embedded with U.S. troops.

Statistics in reports about faraway places can blunt the reality of what those numbers mean. But when it is a bomb in a road you are about to drive on, it takes on a whole new cast, as I found yet again when I spent most of May in Anbar Province.

I visited a former labor camp nicknamed “Coolie Village," or what remained of it, after a truck bomb locals attributed to al Qaeda had flattened it. Not surprisingly, the anger and frustration in response to this mass murder helped the villagers overcome their fear of the thugs who had taken hold of their community.

In mid-May, 2007, the Iraqi Army and Police had conducted a “Combined Medical Exercise" in the village of Falahat, and Iraqi doctors saw about 200 villagers. Two days later, the Iraqi Police opened an outpost at the old Falahat train station. That was just about the same time I was driving out to stay with a small team of Marines who were assigned as “MiTT 8" (Military Training Team 8.)

The men of MiTT 8 were living with their Iraqi protégées in filthy shipping containers on a highway. Several months ago they were attacked by a car bomb. But at about 9 a.m., while I was traveling to their location with Marines in a Humvee, some Falahat villagers went to the new police station to report the presence of a culprit they knew was placing bombs on the road.

It happened that quickly.

Within mere days of opening the station, people spoke up. The Iraqi Police (some of whom freely admitted to having been recent insurgents) called the tip into the Iraqi Army living with the Marines of MiTT 8. Our Humvee pulled up to the small MiTT 8 compound, where we met Staff Sergeant Rakene Lee, who was dressed for combat, and who was to take the Humvees and lead the mission to the suspected bomb site. The Iraqi Army was already blocking the road.

The patrol I was with had nearly run into an IED, except for a tip from Iraqis in another village, making what could have been my last dispatch.


All across Iraq, people are fed up with the abuse of power, even when it wears the badge of a police officer, even when it's a local hero.

When I was in the city of Hit this May, I saw firsthand a dramatic example. Many people in Hit directly attribute the resurrection of their city in large part to the courage of Iraqi Police General Ibrahim Hamid Jaza, who took an aggressive stand against the al Qaeda Iraq (AQI) terrorists who had brazenly made Anbar province a home base and slaughterhouse with their marketplace car bombs, beheadings and reputation for hiding bombs intended to kill parents in the corpses of dead children they'd gutted.

Between shooting people for using the Internet, watching television or other “moral transgressions" such as smoking in public, AQI's claim of fundamentalist piety proved to be a thin veneer, quickly eroded by blatant drug, alcohol and prostitute use. The people of Anbar rejected AQI, but AQI was still strong and well-armed, so rejection was only a first step.

General Hamid was one of the brave souls who took an early stand and went for their throats. In doing so, he demonstrated that the terrorists were also vulnerable. Some soldiers began to jokingly refer to the general as “Bufford Pusser" because Hamid literally carried a big stick. But AQI wasn't laughing; they beheaded Hamid's son on a soccer field in the center of Hit in 2005.

About a year ago Coalition forces selected Hamid to be the district chief of police, confirming his status as a true hero to many Americans and Iraqis.

But recent signs suggested that Hamid might have flown too close to the sun. Details of his corruption began to accumulate. It was a stunning development when, without warning or notice, the U.S. military arrested and detained the general.

They had no choice, the evidence was clear. Furthermore, the people of Anbar had risked reaching out to the Americans, expressing a concern about Hamid and sharing intelligence to support it. They expected U.S. soldiers to help solve the problem. And although some feared the arrest would cause the city to erupt in violent clashes, what happened next is powerful testimony for how much the area has changed. The next day, Hamid's supporters, and there were many, gathered in the market square and held an organized and peaceful protest demonstration, after which they all went back home.


From Anbar, I traveled back to Baghdad then to Diyala, where al Qaeda had announced to the world it would base its caliphate in the provincial capital Baqubah. I was embedded with soldiers who formed the spear point of the largest offensive operation since the invasion of Iraq, and I watched as people from all walks of life came forward to share information that saved the lives of American and Iraq soldiers and cleared the streets of the al Qaeda operatives.

In one of my first reports from the still unfolding Operation Arrowhead Ripper, I wrote:

Locals, who are increasingly helpful in pointing out and celebrating the downfall of AQI here, said that during the initial Arrowhead Ripper attack the morning of June 19th, AQI murdered five men. [U.S. soldiers] found the buried corpses behind an AQI prison, exactly where they'd been told to look for the group grave. Locals also directed [soldiers] to a torture house. Peering through the window, American soldiers saw knives, swords, bindings and drills. AQI is well-known for its macabre eagerness to drill into kneecaps, elbows ribs, skulls and other parts of victims.

During the operation's initial phase, U.S. soldiers encountered about 130 serious IEDs on the way in, but suffered only one fatality in the attack; Iraqis were pointing to the bombs before they could detonate.

Over many embeds, stretching out over the course of three years, I've seen massacres occur before my eyes, and I've heard more stories about the brutality (and inanity) of al Qaeda than I can or want to remember.

But one stands out, from June of this year, when I was with U.S. and Iraqi forces in a small abandoned village near Baqubah. There, in a series of shallow graves, were the remains of murdered people, among them the discarded bodies of little children whose heads had been cut off. The stench was horrific. Even the stock animals were killed and left to rot in the sun. There was no human or animal left alive in the village.

Captain Baker, Scorpion Company Commander (5th Iraqi Army), whose men had the gruesome task of digging up all the graves, told me al Qaeda had taken the village of al Hamira, which had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road, making it ideal for launching attacks on soldiers. Days after, an Iraqi man told me in a room full of American and Iraqi military officers, that al Qaeda had “invited" parents they wanted to “influence" to lunch, and then brought in the body of their baked son. I do not know if the stories were true, and no proof was offered, but other Iraqis in the area told similar stories and all seemed to believe it. And, of course, I had just seen the decapitated heads of children in al Hamira village and smelled their rotting bodies. The stench of al Qaeda will forever remain with me.

The level of brutality against ordinary Iraqis throughout Diyala, often directed against women and children, is what prompted many Sunni insurgent militia groups to come forward and work with Coalition forces. Some groups, such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades, were formerly allied with al Qaeda, or at least willing to facilitate or ignore their attacks against Shia or Coalition forces.

The 1920s are deadly, and they had been worthy adversaries for us, but when al Qaeda control turned to indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians, the 1920s joined forces with the U.S. and Iraqi Armies and together they practically mopped the streets of AQI in Baqubah.

Before heading to Anbar in May, I'd spent some time with the soldiers of the 1-4 Cavalry as they converted an abandoned seminary in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood into their new home and headquarters as COP (Combat Outpost) Amanche. I wrote about some early encouraging signs of how the neighbors might respond to the presence of American and Iraqi soldiers so close by. I ended an April dispatch with a photograph of LTC James Crider, commander of the 1-4 CAV, with this caption: “And so we find it here, in the Garden of Eden, in God's hands through the 1-4 Cavalry from Kansas: the last hope against genocide in the land between two rivers."
In late September I received an e-mail update from LTC Crider, which he allowed me to publish on my Web site. In it, he wrote: “One other example, recently we had seven IEDs discovered or detonated in a single seven day span. On every one, we got a phone call from a local national telling us exactly where it was or we were called immediately after and told who placed it. For the record, not one IED was effective."


Today, I'm staying at a small outpost called JSS (Joint Security Station) “Black Lions" with the 1-18th Infantry battalion. Al Qaeda are so diminished in this area, according to the commander here, LTC Patrick Frank, that they are maybe 3 percent of the problem. But JAM (the Madhi Army created by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr) is the big problem around JSS Black Lion.

A soldier was blown up and killed about 400 meters away on Thursday evening. LTC Frank told me the other day that his best weapon system is his cell phone. Calls come to him (through his interpreter) every day and into the night, with information from locals about the whereabouts of wanted JAM members. Many local people are clearly fed up with the violence. Some even send e-mails with Google Earth maps showing exactly where suspects are, and they are doing it in real time.

We'll be sitting there in the TOC (tactical operations center or michael yon:
It's becoming almost

bizarre how specific the informants are becoming. Informants have called up saying they are with bad guys right now and giving their location. Our guys show up and arrest everyone. Hours later, the U.S. soldiers let the informants go. JAM and AQI are getting slammed in many areas because local people are sick of the violence and local people trust Americans to help them end it.

Where all this can end was suggested to me on Wednesday, when I was at a large Sunni-Shia reconciliation meeting where more than 80 local leaders attended and signed an agreement.

Whether it can be sustained here, or spread to other areas, is in question. But the resolve of Iraqi people to end the scourge of sectarian violence that has stalled and scarred their country is not.

Posted by: neill at October 29, 2007 04:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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