a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

With regrets, indeed: confessions of a one-time Iraq war supporter

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th March 2013

On the 10th anniversary of the single worst decision in U.S. history, my longtime online friend Aziz Poonawalla asked me to let him post a blog posting of mine from February 13, 2003 — With regrets: For war on Saddam — along with a few comments about how I came to repudiate my former position on Iraq …yet again… and what I know now.  I’ve done so a few times before — here, here, and here to name a few. But the occasion, and honesty, and sorrow at the debacle I too was a part of — however small — demand of me that I do so again.  Aziz is extremely gracious, and sees in my essay the culmination of an honest debate with myself that I came down on the wrong side of.   I don’t know.  All I know is lots of other people didn’t make my mistake, I shouldn’t have made it, and I wish I hadn’t.


I began realizing how wrong I was the day of the invasion.  One of my main reasons for supporting the war — after initial skepticism — was Iraq’s alleged stockpiles of chemical, biological, perhaps even nuclear “weapons of mass destruction” in the hands of a ruthless dictator and in defiance of UN resolutions.  Yet now that Iraq was being invaded, where were they?  So my support for the war was decaying from the outset, despite a rather elaborate set of arguments for the war — often merely counterarguments to peace, really — that I now see I was using as hedges.  Having made the leap to the “other side” of the argument, though, I was stubbornly unwilling to go all the way back; that seemed dishonest.  Yet over time new doubts reached a crescendo, from the uncontrolled looting after the fall of Baghdad, to the Shia uprisings of 2004 in a supposedly mending Iraq, to finally, irreconcilably, Abu Ghraib,which left me literally immobilized with shame, fury, and regret the morning I heard about it.  All of these things, but especially Abu Ghraib, convinced me I had nothing in common with the people who commanded and countenanced any of what had been done, by omission and commission, in Iraq, and by extension the policies they supported.

All I can say is: I’m so very, very sorry.  I’ll never do it again.  That’s no consolation whatsoever to the thousands of US soldiers who died, or the tens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died, so I don’t say it much, it’s inadequate and weak.  What is it I’ll never do again?  I’ll never accept at face value any administration’s claims for the need for war: given that there were no WMD to disarm Saddam of, the evidence for them should not have been accepted.  I’ll also never accept at face value again the idea that there’s an effective political opposition in Washington, or that the Beltway consensus represents some wisest possible sifting of the evidence, at least when things are as deadly serious as going to war.  In this respect, it was nearly as unforgiveable for Senators like Clinton, Edwards, or Kerry not to even look at intelligence estimates doubting Iraq’s WMD program as it was for Bush and Cheney to go to war.

And if I ever again find myself writing  — or reading — elaborate, hedging arguments for a war of choice, with pompously unforgiveable phrases like “come what may,”  I’ll remember 2003 and think: please, stop. Just stop.  Just shut up. Right now.

UPDATE, 3/21: crossposted at Aziz Poonawalla’s “City of Brass” blog; his prior post, “Iraq War retrospective: the liberal case for war #iraq10,” sets up the crosspost: “The debate over the Iraq war was not polarized according to liberal/conservative fault lines, but stretched across them. In fact, many liberals found themselves reluctantly swayed by the arguments for war, especially after Kenneth Pollack’s book “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq was published in September 2002, roughly the one-year anniversary of 9-11 and 6 months prior to when the actual invasion began. In a nutshell, liberals were convinced by fear over the threat of Saddam Hussein possessing WMDs – nuclear and chemical; as well as humanitarian concerns. Both of these issues are still relevant in the recent and ongoing debates about action towards North Korea, Iran, Syria and Libya.  […] Far from being reflexively anti-Bush, or as warblogger Steven den Beste claimed, “wanting America to lose“, liberals were genuinely driven by patriotism and humanitarian concern for the muslims of Iraq under Saddam’s rule. The betrayal of that trust in authority, exemplified by Colin Powell’s presentation at the UN, has led to a deep-seated skepticism on the liberal left against Barack Obama’s policies. Liberals such as Glenn Greenwald are far more critical of Obama than they ever were of Bush, in part because of their experience a decade ago.”   Aziz’s entire “#iraq10” series is well worth any reader’s time; I thank him both for that series and for his kind words about me.

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Spam 3.0: issue-based comment spam

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th April 2010

Because I get fairly few comments — not whining about it, I promise! — I’m at leisure to screen every one of the new commenters who show up. Sadly, most of them are plain old spam — call them spam 1.0.  Once you could at least see that they were links to online Viagra sales sites or whatever; these days they’re often not even intelligible writing (these are generally from Eastern Europe and Russia), showing up as strings like “????? ????? ??????’? ????”, which is kind of mysterious, but whatever, maybe it’s homework for some Ukrainian “Internet Marketing 101” class.

Next came “suck up” spam: short notes pretending to congratulate me on a post — i.e., impersonating someone who has actually read the post, instead of just dropping in to deposit a dropping with a link back to their huckster site.  While it’s still pretty lame, it’s sufficiently innovative that I’ll call it spam 2.0.  I’ve collected the text from some of the more amusing examples, but like all the other spam comments, the “Akismet” spam filter catches them, I look at them, I yawn, I delete them.

Lately, though, I’ve seen something new.  While the web site link of the commenter remains a giveaway to a commercial interest of some kind, the comment itself is almost relevant to the post, and the commenter’s web site is also almost a  genuine looking web site or blog.

Here’s a comment of this sort, attempted for “In What’s Become a Bit of a Regular Occurrence” (a post about Obama’s reversal on offshore oil exploration):

Our major issue in this country is our two political parties. Our forefathers knew that a two party system would be our downfall and took steps to try to stop this type of politics, and thus anyone who seriously thinks that politics isn’t corrupt or slaves to Corporate America hasn’t not been paying attention. George Jr. will go down in History as one of the worst administrations in history and I could go on for hours showing why, but my point is that the Obama administration has offered nothing different (besides health reform, granted) and has in fact continued nearly every single Bush program. Obama has almost the same political donors and thus has the same pressures as Bush did. Health reform will turn out to be the most expensive and destructive waste of tax payer money ever. I just wish I could offer a better alternative for other frustrated people, but I can’t and those that think that the tea partiers are the future, remember that Sarah Palin is an important figure to them.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I never realised this before, but you have a very good point indeed

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 17th March 2010

An ongoing collection of my favorite form of spam comment — suck-up spam.

  • Hi, I am busy surfing the net for ideas for my blog. I love the subject on here and would love to use it. Thanks for the useful information, I will definately check back here soon.
  • I never realised this before, but you have a very good point indeed.
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  • It is very nice for you to share your article to bloggers. I found that your article is so constructive and full with life wisdom. You must be a really mature guy!
  • Blog is good!:) Perhaps you learn me blog myself??
  • this site has helped me through some very troubled funerals so i couldnt like it any more

But diplomatically dismissive spam is even better!

  • Has anyone used this site before. It looks great and simple to use.
  • …I enjoy seeing websites that understand the worth of delivering a prime resource for zero cost.
  • Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.

I’ll keep on it.

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On Facebook

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th March 2010

Part of the decline in output for this blog is because I tend to use “Facebook” these days as my main platform for pointing out articles and events I think are worthwhile or important (maybe 75% of the time there), and for saying what’s up with me, music I like, and personal stuff (maybe 25% of the time).

The reason is simple: comments and  full-fledged discussions are much more likely there than here, partly because your latest item is transmitted to all your friends, so there’s a chance they’ll see it — even if it’s rapidly buried in the snowfall of posts by all their other friends.  One comment then begets another and another, as the facebook software propels commented-on stuff to higher prominence in the so-called ‘news feed’ (as opposed to the instantaneous, unfiltered ‘live feed’).

Facebook also lets you easily add photos, form groups, and announce events, and even advertise them; there’s also a “chat” feature, though I never use it.  The look of one’s “wall” — the place where one’s messages, photos, and found objects from the Internet pile up — is fairly “clean,” and of a piece with the so-called “home page” news feeds where your friends’ posts etc. pile up.  For quick interactions in a smoothly functioning environment, it’s a very nice system, and it lets you fine tune the degree to which you’re visible to facebook users beyond your circle of approved online friends — anywhere from hardly at all to come one come all.

But the drawback is also clear: Facebook isn’t about long form writing.  (Yes there are “notes”, no, they’re not used much.)  There’s an upper limit on how long the initial post can be, so that you’re more or less compelled to do ‘heh. indeed’ or ‘oh my god’ quick hit comments on your item and then express your views more completely in comments.  It can be kind of fun to combine your teaser, the headline, and a followup comment into one coherent message, but it’s not the kind of writing and researching I do for posts here — posts, to be sure, that go all but unread.

So that’s the trade-off, roughly: write or be read, research or discuss, write as if the world were reading or just as if you’re at a kind of neighborhood get-together.  I find Facebook to be quite absorbing — some people are excellent sources of news and opinion pieces, and others are reliably interesting commenters.  But I miss the kind of writing I did here and the interactions I’ve had with friends and readers here, and I think it’s time to rebalance my efforts between these two outlets and — oh, right! — the actual, real world.

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“” by e-mail

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th January 2009

A waiting world waits no longer — readers who don’t use or don’t like using RSS feed subscriptions can subscribe to my blog posts by e-mail. Use the “E-mail Subscription” item (currently at the bottom of the left sidebar), or click here:

Subscribe to by e-mail

You’ll get a digest of all the posts for the day when there are any, and you don’t get anything when there’s nothing new. While I’m at it, please also note:

  • a “Links” area, where I’ve set up pages with useful news, reference, and video sites.
  • the “Share this” button at the bottom of each post.  You can use it to delight your friends and annoy your enemies by e-mail with my deathless prose and analysis, or to save particularly gem-like work to your “delicious,” “digg,” “reddit”, etc. social bookmarking sites.
  • the “Print this” button at the bottom of each post, which gives you a printer-ready page without the sidebars, organizing linked items by footnotes to URLs in a listing at the end of the post.
  • the “Comment” section, where all too many of you lazy bums make no comments whatsoever 🙂

Currently, the “share” and “print” options are only available if you click the title (or “read more”) to a post to get it “by itself” as a single web page.

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New layout

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th July 2008

Comments welcome.

Among the things I like: three columns, fluid adjustment (that is, the text adjusts as the browser window is resized), easier-to-recognize links, less wasted space. Also, that the color scheme echoes the original blue and gray, and that the line spacing is better (in my opinion), less wasted space there. I might have eventually accomplished some of this on my own without using a whole new “theme”, but not the three column part, at least not for a long while. I’ll tinker with this setup (“theme”) now, but hope not to switch again.

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Welcome to the new place

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th June 2008

Well, it’s not what I expected either. The “lime green plus water drops” template is off the shelf; of the choices I looked at, it seemed to do the least violence to some of my, um, nonstandard layout choices in the old blog. The colors and images may change — paler or back to white, maybe a different image graphic in the longer run. Since I rather liked my little photo and PSA ad rotation thingies, I’ll install them or something like them down the road.

First, though, I’ll fiddle with dialing up the font size — everybody’s main request a while back was to keep the font size about where I had it. But I’m at the bottom of both WordPress and CSS learning curves, so it may be a while, and I didn’t want to wait around much more.

I spent most of my time figuring out how to move the comments over to this system, or rather, finding the right advice, deciding I might be able to do it, and then making it work while our wireless system kept fritzing out for some reason.

I intend for this to be a more integrated blog/news/causes site, using the “pages” (tabs like “selected posts” along the top) for some of that kind of thing. Don’t really have a model in mind, so the site may get reorganized a few times in that respect too before that settles down.

But enough blog navel gazing; I mainly want to slowly get back to writing a bit about the news and issues I care about. So that’s what I’ll do.

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th June 2008

Who the heck is Thomas Nephew?

I was born in 1958 in Schweinfurt, Germany. My mother is German, and I grew up speaking German — first just a few words, then somewhat more fluently following a summer’s worth of at-home schooling, followed by a trip to see my relatives in “Franken,” in North Bavaria. All of this by way of explaining the frequent entries about Germany. For the most part, I grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; I’ve also lived in Jülich and Tübingen, Germany, St. Louis, MO, Davis and Oakland in California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

My home is now Takoma Park, MD, just north of Washington, DC.

I have a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. Before that, I studied biology at Washington University in St. Louis and the Universität Tübingen (year abroad program), and then genetics at U.C. Davis. I got “sidetracked” while at U.C. Davis, and worked for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign there and then later in Oakland, California. Following that I worked at the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley.

I’m married to the lovely and talented Cricket Dadian, and we have a beautiful girl named Madeleine (Maddie).


I welcome e-mail correspondence; you can e-mail me at thomasn528 at gm@il d0t c0m. You’ll need to replace the ” at ” and ” dot ” with “@” and “.” (Sorry for the inconvenience. I’m hoping this keeps spammers’ computers from getting my e-mail address by hunting through my web site.)

You can use HTML or text format e-mail, I don’t care. I will try to answer all serious e-mail, or explain why I can’t do so on the blog.

When your correspondence is about a blog post or an issue you’d like to see discussed, please indicate whether you mind being quoted, and if not under what name (true, pseudonym, anonymous) you’d prefer to be quoted.

However, abusive e-mails I suspect to be responses to posts in the “newsrack” blog or to the blog in general will be published at my discretion, with your name attached. I’ll also take other steps as warranted.

What rules are there about commenting?

Just be polite with eachother, and to some extent with me; treat the comment area not as a megaphone or a substitute blog, but a place for on-topic, polite, conversational length comments.   I reserve the right to take action about a comment if I think it is too impolite or offensive, or for any other reason I see fit, particularly including comments that are…

1) off-topic (including but not limited to commercial spam),
2) way too long (e.g., 1, 2), or
3) from an IP source reasonably suspected to indicate that the commenter is truth- or candor-challenged on the topic.

When necessary, I will either…

1) delete the comment,
2) block the IP address of the commenter,
3) or both.

I don’t mean to cut off or chill normal discussion, which can get heated now and then. Also, I’ll hold comments about me to a lower standard than comments about other readers. This is mainly about foul language, racist language, or sexist language. All are out of bounds.

Hey — what happened to my comments from a while back?

I messed up at one point and lost comments from my old commenting service, BlogBack Plus, which went out of service a short while later. I had backed up a bunch of the old Blogback comments, and hope to add them to the archived Haloscan comments at some point and hook that all up again. But some (roughly from early June 2005-September 2005) are gone for good. I’m sorry.


The small rainbow-hued square near the bottom of each page on this site (see image to right) is a “Sitemeter” visit and page counting application. I’ve set the “privacy” level of visitors who click through on that image to “medium”:

Your visitors can’t see any of your site reports and charts but the information in the “General Summary” report may be used and displayed in public lists or rankings with other sites (for example: a list of sites ranked by their average daily visits).   If someone clicks on the Site Meter counter on your page, it will not take them to your statistics page.

However, as the owner of the site and the “sitemeter” application, I see more information, including:

Domain Name, IP Address, ISP, Location (approximate): Country, State, City, Operating System, Browser, Javascript, Monitor resolution, Color Depth, Time of Visit, Last Page View, Visit Length, Page Views, Referring URL, Visit Entry Page, Visit Exit Page, “Out Click” (most recent page, if any, visited via a click from this site), Time Zone, Visitor’s Time, and Visit Number.

I pledge to keep this information to myself unless I think someone is engaging in hostile behavior (spamming and the like) or deceptive behavior, i.e., pretending in comments to be someone they aren’t or (in my judgment) failing to reveal important bias that may reasonably be inferred from the domain or other information.  My usual interest in the information, however, is simply to see how many visits I get, which posts of mine are linked to by other web sites, and what those web sites are.

What are your blog policies? Or do you just do whatever you want?

I sometimes go back and tinker with my posts after I publish them to the web. I usually add “EDIT:” or “UPDATE:” comments within the post when I do so, so people returning to the post (especially via a link to the post established before the edit) have an explanation for the change.

Yes, I do pretty much whatever I want.


I have no control over and do not endorse any external Internet site not owned by me that contains links to or references this site.  Also, if I link to a site, that does not imply I approve of the site or any specific opinions expressed there.

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Memory almost full

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st May 2008

(Self-updating listing of my “” links)

This blog is parked at an ISP home page site granting about 16MB of space. After about six and half years(!) of blogging, that space is almost full; you might say newsrack blog is approaching the “one more wafer” stage. I’ve been moving images (they really are worth a thousand words!) and various documents over to Photobucket and Google Docs, but soon that won’t do the trick either.

So (while I’ve said it before) expect a move to a new host in the nearish future, other higher priority chores permitting. I’ll redate this post to the front page as I undertake that transition, and will eventually add a link to the blog’s new location. That blog will probably be remodeled a bit; I’ll take suggestions again here, and will bear in mind the ones people have made in the past.

[orig. date 4/7]

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My blog space

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th December 2007

My blog space
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

I’m joining in “Show Your Blog Space Day” at PSoTD’s request. Note the printer cable obstructing the (seldom used) file cabinet drawer. For a far more sightly blog space, see eRobin’s entry. The computer wallpaper is “globe east 2048,” via NASA Earth Observatory’s “Visible Earth.”

I don’t usually have this many books on my desk, but I’m intending to write a bit about a couple I’ve read recently, so there they are — “The Shock Doctrine” (Naomi Klein), and “A Shameful Act” (Taner Akcam). Thumbs up review versions: two thumbs up for both books. Five word review versions: History retold challenges “free” marketeers; Turk: how Turks committed genocide.

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