Tag Archives: iraq

Examples of blind allegiance to tribal truths, keeping us weak & ignorant

Summary: Truth has become a tribal thing in America. Scores of posts have documented this on the Right and Left. Today we have two fun examples by the Left, with sublime but blind confidence in their tribe’s truths. Our tribalism divides us, making us weak. Our blinders keep us ignorant. The combination probably makes reform impossible for America.

Spirit Of Truth



  1. Matthew Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama
  2. Tribal truths about climate vs George Will
  3. For More Information


(1)  Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama (blindly)

An analysis by Matthew Yglesias  VOX, 16 June 2014 — Excerpt:

The US military is the finest military in the world, the sharp spear of the mightiest empire in human history. But the considerable virtues of America’s fighting forces do not give it any particular expertise in micro-managing Afghanistan politics.

And the fundamentals in Afghanistan have simply never been very good for a peaceful and democratic settlement. The country is not only divided between sectarian groups, but sandwiched between two rival regional powers … and neither power having any particular interest in democracy and pluralism. Throw in the well-known phenomenon of the resource curse and the country’s lack of stable institutions, and you’ve got a recipe for problems, problems that a bunch of heavily armed young people — no matter how well-intentioned or well-led — are not capable of solving.

This is a searing indictment of Obama’s war policy. During the 2008 campaign he advocated boosting the war effort in Afghanistan, despite 7 years of futile but expensive effort. Which he did starting in early 2009. Now our failure is obvious to all who look (although many prefer to see with closed eyes).

Surprise! This was in fact a defense of Obama, and by implication an attack on Bush Jr, titled “The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave“. In this excerpt Afghanistan was swapped for Iraq, and resources for oil. Yglesias writes it with no sign of awareness that his logic defending Obama’s Iraq withdrawal also condemns Obama’s Afghanistan surge.

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Choose to follow those who were right about our wars, or those who were wrong

Summary: Each major decision point for a great nation is an intelligence test of its people. As is the decision to re-involve ourselves in Iraq. The architects of the failed war urge action, based on the usual threat inflation. Those who correctly forecast its futility urge caution. Have we learned anything from our long failed War on Terror?

This is a follow-up to Will lies shape our actions in the last chapter of our war in Iraq?, 13 June 2014

Bloody Shirt

“Waving the bloody shirt” refers to the practice of politicians invoking the blood of heroes to criticize opponents. It’s a manipulative form of propaganda, used on emotionally driven mobs.  As in “Julius Caesar” Act III, Scene 2

You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it …

Two thousand years later it is used against us: “Iraq veteran: This is not what my friends fought and died for“, John Nagl, op-ed in the Washington Post, 11 June 2014 — Excerpt:

For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize — watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.

… We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

The Post describes Nagl: “a veteran of both Iraq wars, is the headmaster of The Haverford School and author of the forthcoming Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War.” That is coy, even misleading. He was no simple soldier fighting our wars. Nagl was one of the architects of our wars (see his bio in Wikipedia).

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The best way to celebrate the 11-year anniversary of our Expedition to Iraq

Summary: On the 11th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, let’s remember who was right, who was wrong, and the consequences of our actions. Our amnesia about these things prevents us from learning. It keeps us weak and easily led. It’s unworthy of a free people, and makes effective self-government impossible. Let’s honor those who sacrificed their lives for this nation in Iraq by learning from that war.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, no known source (perhaps apocryphal)

Operation Iraqi Freedom


That our actions were both wrong and unwise was quite obvious at the time. For evidence see these articles from the 19 March 2002 issue of The Republic, powerfully summarized by Katrina vanden Heuvel (Editor and Publisher) in “This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Horrific Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq“, 14 March 2014. It deserves your attention.

We should regard those writers with respect for going against the belligerent madness that held both Right and Left in its grip during those days, a mental fire skillfully fed by the senior officials of the Bush Jr team. Their articles read today as prophetic, although they were mostly statements of the obvious overlaid on sound journalism.

Building on their accurate predictions — and coverage since then — they summarize the results of our invasion and occupation (too mildly, in my opinion): “Iraq: Revisiting the Pottery Barn Rule“, John Feffer, The Nation, 27 January 2014 — Excerpt:

You might remember Powell’s famous quip about Pottery Barn. In his advice to President George W. Bush before the Iraq invasion, Powell warned the president of the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. The United States would be responsible, Powell implied, for whatever wreckage the military incurred in its headlong dash to unseat Saddam Hussein.

Pottery Barn actually has no such a rule, and it was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who “made up the whole thing.” But Powell, who apologized to Pottery Barn, still embraces the message.

“We were essentially the new government until a government could be put in place,” he told David Samuels in The Atlantic. “And in the second phase of this conflict, which was beginning after the statue fell, we made serious mistakes in not acting like a government. One, maintaining order. Two, keeping people from destroying their own property. Three, not having in place security forces — either ours or theirs or a combination of the two to keep order.”

We did none of those things, and Iraq, as a result, is broken. Nor has the United States made much effort to own it—that is, to own up to our responsibility for breaking the country. We gave up trying to sweep up the pieces. At this stage, all we do is take photographs of the damage, putting them in the newspaper accompanied by descriptions of the carnage. We mull over the consequences. We hope that our chickens don’t come home to roost.

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The best response when hearing about Benghazi

Summary: Recommendation: when you see someone ranting about Benghazi Benghazi BENGHAZI, ask why they are more concerned with the few dead in that incident than our troops pointlessly fighting now in Afghanistan. If he has no good answer, but continues to rant about Benghazi, spit on him. Or rather, tell them they deserve to be spit at (if this were a just world).



Our troops fought and suffered in Iraq — 32 thousand injured or crippled, 4,489 died.

Our troops fight today in Afghanistan, still paying in blood for our mad foreign policy.

Most of the people (not all) seeking to exploit the few deaths in Benghazi either did not care about the toll those men or women paid — or cheered the war despite the toll, despite its obvious stupidity, as seen in the total failure of either war to produce significant gains for America. And they care nothing for the ongoing waste of lives in Afghanistan.

Lives of men and women spent carelessly, like bullets fired into the air by cowboys drunk on the strength.

Nothing shows our ovine nature like the passivity with which we allowed our leaders to led us into those war, enterprises both decked with lies, executed from start to finish incompetently. No wonder the 1% regard us with contempt, and believe that they can govern America better than we do.

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Keep fighting! We must not learn from our wars.

Summary:  We were ejected from Iraq, gaining nothing we sought. No oil, no ally against Iran, no unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East. All but the mad hawks realize we gained nothing in Afghanistan. Now comes the post-game show, as our military’s boosters attempt to fog our vision and erase our memories, preparing us for more wars. The truth is out there, if only we would make an effort to see.

Afghanistan war

Learning is one way to honor their sacrifice


  1. We lose because we’re ignorant of history and refuse to learn
  2. Bitter fruit from our failure to learn
  3. The history of counterinsurgency by foreign armies, a history of failure
  4. A more detailed explanation of why foreign armies fail at COIN
  5. For More Information
  6. A closing note from Friedrich Schiller

(1)  We lose because we’re ignorant of history and refuse to learn

Keep Fighting: Why the Counterinsurgency Debate Must Go On“, Mark Stout (Director of the MA Program in Global Security Studies at Johns Hopkins), War on the Rocks, 3 December 2013 — Opening:

Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine in general and the military’s FM 3-24 in particular have been the subject of extensive and often vitriolic debate in recent years.  Now the debate is finally subsiding, but not in a satisfactory way.  It must not be allowed to die yet.

This reasonable article by an expert avoids the big question: why have we learned so little after six decades of failure by foreign armies fighting local insurgencies? It suggests that the next round of debate about counter-insurgency warfare will produce still more tortured history justifying the next war (we could have won!) and happy theory (next time we’ll convince the locals to have good government).

Let’s rewind the tape to see what we learned from the last round. For example, how many counter-insurgency experts listened to Martin van Creveld’s warnings? Such as this from Chapter 6.2 in Changing Face of War (2006):

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

Seven years later and we’re still attempting to avoid learning from our failed wars.

(2)  Bitter fruit from our failure to learn

Some people are running the sums to see the results of our most recent infatuations with counter-insurgency. Before we let our military experts repeat this history let’s remember the results of their projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s a look at Iraq: “Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now“, Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, 19 December 2013 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

A bare two weeks after the attacks of September 11, at the end of a long and emotional day at the White House, a 69-year-old politician and businessman — a midwesterner, born of modest means but grown wealthy and prominent and powerful — returned to his enormous suite of offices on the seventh floor of the flood-lit and wounded Pentagon and, as was his habit, scrawled out a memorandum on his calendar:

Interesting day— NSC mtg. with President— As [it] ended he asked to see me alone… After the meeting ended I went to Oval Office—He was alone He was at his desk— He talked about the meet Then he said I want you to develop a plan to invade Ir[aq]. Do it outside the normal channels. Do it creatively so we don’t have to take so much cover [?]

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Some questions as we march to war in Syria

Summary: We’re off to war in yet another nation. Little Syria has suddenly become a nation whose fate can shake the foundations of the United States. Rather than again dissect the mad arguments of the hawks, let’s step back to see the larger pattern at work. After all, our opinions on the war matter not at all to our ruling elites. These significance of these events lies only in their ability to show that our leaders are incompetent, that we can no longer see the world through the fog of propaganda, and as a result we have lost control of the Republic.


It might take a century or more, but future historians will devise a catchy name for the US interventions in Afghanistan (1979 – now), Iraq (1990-2011), Libya (2011), and Syria (2013) — our bipartisan policy of overthrowing secular regimes, replaced by Islamic regimes — with dubious results for their people and the US. It is a coherent but mad policy, with several characteristics.

It’s just a game to our rulers

  1. No clear plan; we rely on our awesomeness for success
  2. Ignorance or indifference to the historical record of the target nation
  3. Ignorance or indifference to the past failures of the methods used
  4. Indifference to the fate of women in the target nation


(1) No clear plan

Imitating the plan of Imperial Japan in WW2: our awesomeness will produce success.

Our lavishly funded foreign policy apparatus (mostly military), with its middle and senior managers stocked with people holding advanced degrees (at the higher levels, mostly from elite universities), seem unable to form a first-year B-school level plan for our interventions. Goals, entry, execution, exit, follow-up. That’s obvious in the histories published about the Afghan War. It was obvious at the time in the post-9-11 interventions. Such questions were asked in the general media, but our confident elites blew them off with in effect instructions to “trust us”.

Despite repeated failures, we do. Again and again. This time they’re scarcely bothering to give coherent stories to build support for this war. They’re just ringing the bell, knowing we’ll respond. WMDs! Iran! Overthrow tyrants!

See the posts at the end about the Libyan War for examples of ignored warnings and daft propaganda.

(2) Ignorance or indifference to the historical record of the target nation

All these nations were weakly held together, with deep ethnic (and religious in Iraq, Libya, and Syria) divisions. All had traumatic experiences with colonial aggression, with ours seen as just another chapter. Experts warned about the risk of prolonged instability, but were ignored.

(3) Ignorance or indifference to the past failures of the methods used

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Why are we surprised that we supported militia in Iraq, and they used torture?

Summary:  The recent story about militia in Iraq is rich in lessons for us. Not about the futile lost war. But about us and our ability to see and understand the world.

Militia, the face of freedom? From Albasrah.net

A hot story from The Guardian, 6 March 2013 — based on an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic:

After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades.

Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency …

Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and returned to the country in 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.

A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding. Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus’s “eyes and ears out on the ground” in Iraq.

“They worked hand in hand,” said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. “I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there … the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture.”

… “Every single detention centre would have its own interrogation committee,” claimed Samari, talking for the first time in detail about the US role in the interrogation units. Each one was made up of an intelligence officer and eight interrogators. This committee will use all means of torture to make the detainee confess like using electricity or hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails, and beating them on sensitive parts.”

There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman tortured prisoners themselves, only that they were sometimes present in the detention centres where torture took place and were involved in the processing of thousands of detainees.

(The article bizarrely calls the militia “commandos”, part of the long effort by the news media and government to disguise the nature of these wars by using inaccurate labels.)

This story surprises many of our journalists and geopolitical experts, whose pose of child-like innocence appears to blind them to the most obvious of long-term trends.  Many but not all.  In February 2008 Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) explained that in Iraq and Afghanistan we used our trinity of tactics:

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