Holier than thou

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Has there ever been anything related to blogs and media that Heath Haussamen hasn’t been right about? He should set up a hotline for us bloggers (and reporters!) who are writing stories, so we can make sure our content meets his standards.

Obviously, IOKIYAR – can you imagine the furor that would have erupted had Teague said something similar?

Still, I now know Tinsley should get a pass. Thanks Heath!

MoveOn ‘New Priorities’ vigil

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Stop the WarI attended a candlelight vigil outside the White House this evening. It was organized by MoveOn, one of hundreds of ‘New Priorities’ events held throughout the country today. My guess would put about 150 people there, which was pretty good turnout considering the full day of events and the rain that just let up in time for the gathering.

It’s very strange to attend an event like this for me: I feel very late to the game. One of my friends today said, “I did my protesting before the war,” and that’s completely understandable, and enviable. He’s got nothing to prove. Where was I back then? On my ass.

And, though I was basically prevented from participating during the past few years because of my profession, I do feel as though I haven’t done enough to end the war. I’m pretty sure I’m in a pretty large sample of the population in that regard.

Five years. Billions of dollars. Countless lives lost or affected, but what does the number of casualties even mean anymore? Thousands of American soldiers dead, and tens of thousands injured; perhaps hundreds of thousands Iraqis dead. When do the numbers start mattering? When does the will of the American people start to matter?

I don’t know. I hope it’s soon.

You can find a number of fitting rememberences around he Web today, and other resources. There’s Spencer Ackerman’s piece on the Iraq War as a recruitment tool for insurgents. Here’s Think Progress’s incredibly detailed timeline of the war , and the Center for American Progress reviewing the situation in Iraq.

Resignation? Light my fire

So, back to the protest: I couldn’t help but be reminded of the brave souls in Silver City who stood on the corner at Gough Park every Tuesday, year after year. Simply amazing: their dedication to the cause, their foresight when so many thought war was a good option. I remember them setting up shop, the days in 2004 and 2005 when just two or three people were there. I remember the College Republicans mounting their counter protest, and then fading away as public opinion shifted.

They’re unsung heroes in our nation’s history, the people on the street corners in small towns and the nation’s capitol alike, who stood up and said “This is not the answer,” when the rest of the world was hypnotized by “Shock and Awe.”

It felt nice to stand next to some of these people tonight, and to record the moment with my camera.

Unfortunate line of the day

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From Matt Yglesias:

It’s a poignant reminder of how crazy the current version of our policy — basically help equip anyone who’ll accept our help and kind of hope for the best — has become.

Writing about the WaPo reporter killed recently in Iraq.

Blackwater runs deep

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So, it’s looking more and more like Blackwater personnel basically opened fire on Iraqis in Nisoor Square in September. An investigation has been started, of course, which meant Congress couldn’t get any actual answers out of Blackwater CEO Erik Prince earlier this month. And now the Iraqi government (such as it is) is trying to get Blackwater pulled from the country ((As an aside, does anybody remember when the Iraqi people dyed their thumbs purple? Wasn’t that supposed to be about self-governing their country again?))

Unfortunately, breaking up is hard to do, especially when you rely on something to the degree which the U.S. relies on Blackwater’s private security forces. I don’t know how all the figures add up, but Danger Room’s got the goods on how much we’re paying for Blackwater’s services to protect diplomats worldwide:

Blackwater $339,573,391
DynCorp 47,145,172
Triple Canopy 15,550,133
[Total] $402,268,696

That’s research from Danger Room guest R.J. Hillhouse, whose recent novel, Outsourced, is focused on the private security industry. According to Hillhouse, there are 978 Blackwater contractors employed by the Department of State in Iraq, accounting for more than two-thirds of such personnel:

The contract amount as provided by Blackwater indicates that it is highly unlikely that one of the other two contractors could fill the void if Blackwater were expelled from Iraq. No other US firms are positioned to provide such specialized services on such a large scale and only Blackwater has experience providing air support in theater to the Department of State.

And our lack of foresight and adequate planning rears its head once again.

Stabilizing the region?

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I’ve started regularly reading Wired’s Danger Room, a blog that focuses on defense policy and other related issues. For example, they’ve done a really great job following Blackwater’s involvement in the Nisour Square incident, and of contractors in general. The scope is a bit different than that of coverage by Spencer Ackerman over at TPMMuckraker, which is also excellent. Danger Room contributer P.W. Singer recently completed a study showing that contractors are a Catch-22 for U.S. goals:

If we judge by what has happened in Iraq, when it comes to private military contractors and counterinsurgency, the U.S. has locked itself into a vicious cycle. It can’t win with them, but can’t go to war without them.

Today, contributor Kris Alexander looks forward to post-US presidential election Iraq (ie 2009). How’s this for a starting point:

First, there is another “surge” at work in the region — a surge in regional defense spending as a hedge against instability and the rise of Iran, both consequences of the war in Iraq.

The US recently gave Jordan $78 million in defense aid, and other countries are purchasing $63 billion in arms. So, if the war in Iraq is paving the way for a stable, democratic Middle East where things get a little better every day, why is everyone going on an arms buying binge? And why is the US the architect of the deal?
[emphasis mine]

It’s a lengthy post, including end-game thoughts for a post-withdrawl Iraq. What happens in Turkey, or other players in the region? Can we realistically expect to leave entirely? I’m not sure I agree with the entire premise, but this is an interesting thought:

So in the end, we’re right back where we started before Operation Iraqi Freedom — a large, semi-permanent military presence in the Middle East with the mission of “containing” Iraq. They’ll make for lucrative targets and insults regional sensibilities. We will still be occupiers, in the radicals’ eyes.

In the end, we can’t stay and we can’t go. To save our military we will have to cut back our commitment to Iraq, but to save the region, this commitment will still be robust, expensive, and vulnerable.

Did someboady say something about a Catch-22?

UPDATE: 12:06 p.m. — Singer answers six questions over at Harper’s magazine.

Counterproliferation

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Vis-à-vis my earlier post on Bush policy, Matt Yglesias has a great Guardian piece online about Bush’s pie-in-the-sky idea that Iraq was supposed to be an example of why other countries shouldn’t build WMD or nukes:

The crux of the matter, however, is that the Iraq war was not just about Iraq, but about a new approach to nuclear proliferation more generally. The old way had been based on binding international commitments that, while allowing the US and a select few other countries to possess nuclear weapons, did impose some real commitments on the nuclear weapons states.
[snip]
Iraq was targeted not merely on its own terms but in order that Bush might make an example out of Saddam and send a message to the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea and other states. Cutting a deal with Saddam wasn’t an option.

So, uh, how’d that work out?

In particular, the invasion force needed to be small enough, and the reconstruction plan fast and cheap enough, that the US could credibly threaten to do it again if other countries didn’t get the message.

Of course, the threat of a rapid American invasion is no longer a deterrent — we couldn’t pull it off if we had to:

The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies.

That’s Gen. George Casey, one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying before Congress at a hearing he requested.