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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Plame and Wilson: still “Fair Game” for the Washington Post

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th December 2010

This weekend I saw the movie “Fair Game,” and I highly recommend it.  I also highly recommend you read the Washington Post editorial condemning the movie, which might be titled “Who ya gonna believe — us or your lying eyes?”  It should become Exhibit A for evidence of the true function of the Washington Post: not so much a newspaper as the lying mouthpiece of the permanent government of the United States.

The online version of the Post will tell you online that a Saturday, December 4 editorial in that paper was headlined “Hollywood myth-making on Valerie Plame controversy.” But that’s just the first lie you’ll encounter in this hit piece, which was actually titled “Dirty ‘Game’” in the print edition.  The piece begins, “WE’RE NOT in the habit of writing movie reviews. But the recently released film “Fair Game” – which covers a poisonous Washington controversy during the war in Iraq – deserves some editorial page comment, if only because of what its promoters are saying about it,” and continues:

…Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions – not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false. In reality, as The Post’s Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby reported, Ms. Plame did not work directly on the program, and it was not shut down because of her identification.

That’s interesting, because what Pincus and Leiby actually reported was this:

As reporters who covered the Plame CIA leak affair, as it came to be known, we compared the reality of what unfolded in Washington in that era against the events that the screenwriters and director of “Fair Game” boiled into their narrative. The movie holds up as a thoroughly researched and essentially accurate account — albeit with caveats.

Moreover, the “caveats” amount to quibbles — mainly about the centrality of Plame’s precise role in the Iraqi scientist program, and this: “[a]lthough the film suggests that the blowing of Valerie’s cover led directly to the shutdown of the Iraqi scientist exfiltration, an intelligence insider told us: “Something like this, if it was going on, wouldn’t have been canceled for this reason.” Well, say no more!  Any anonymous intelligence insider’s word should do for a Washington Post reader.

But even if you take the ‘agency officials’ and ‘insiders’ at their word and grant the accuracy of their estimates,

(1) whether or not the exfiltration was canceled because Plame’s cover was blown by Novak’s article doesn’t change that the blown cover put the Iraqis at greater risk, and
(2), Plame’s fundamental connection to the pre-war CIA Iraq WMD investigation — whether her spot in some CIA org chart was ‘central,’ ‘direct,’ ‘lateral,’ or ‘upside down’  — is actually substantiated by the Pincus/Leib report.

As the reporters write, “The movie effectively dispenses with the canard that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert operative” – rebutting a frequent suggestion at the time that no real crime had been committed in revealing her CIA connection.

The editorial also revives the myth that Bush’s famous sixteen words in his 2003 State of the Union speech — “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — were in fact “well founded,” citing the Butler Report and the Roberts Senate Foreign Affairs Committee report. Setting aside the metaphysics of whether believing something happened when it clearly didn’t could ever be ‘well founded’, Steve Benen points out that’s not so: the White House knew the claims were dubious at the time… as the Washington Post’s own Peter Eisner reported 3 years ago:

Dozens of interviews with current and former intelligence officials and policymakers in the United States, Britain, France and Italy show that the Bush administration disregarded key information available at the time showing that the Iraq-Niger claim was highly questionable.*

The editorial also more or less baldly recycles the innuendo that Joe Wilson was recruited by his wife, as some kind of gift to a failing career, to go to Niger and look in to claims of a huge yellowcake shipment to Iraq (“it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth – not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife.”).  But the movie shows very successfully, how that was always an intentional distraction: as Wilson asks a student forum, “How many of you know the sixteen words Bush said about uranium in Africa? ”  None raise their hands.  “How many of you know my wife’s name?”  Everyone raises their hands.

Meanwhile the Post hosts foaming-at-the-mouth neocons like Charles Krauthammer — delicately tiptoeing (as it were) to the brink of calling for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s assassination in a “might someone wield a poison umbrella and rid us of this meddlesome hacker” kind of way.  (This for publishing leaked material Assange first offered to the State Department for vetting for dangerous information.  Clearly, the Brezhnev-era KGB could have used Krauthammer, he’s their kind of guy.)  Earlier this year, after the similarly harmless Iraq leaks, Marc Thiessen called for development of a computer virus that would destroy computers accessing the Wikileaks site.    Don’t get me wrong: it’s Krauthammer’s and Thiessen’s perfect right to say whatever authoritarian, borderline insane notion crawls into their minds, and it’s the Post’s right and apparent duty to provide them with a lucrative platform to do so.  It’s also mine to despise them for wanting to actively and destructively reduce the information available to citizens of the United States.  (For its part, the Post editorial board has merely tut-tutted about lax security in the Pentagon that allowed the leaks.)

But back to “Fair Game” and Iraq.  Had the Washington Post not been an active party to the disastrous war fever that swept Washington and the country (and me along with it) back in 2002 and 2003, this might be merely pathetic, or perhaps darkly comical.  After all, we have here the Washington Post editorial board (presumably Fred Hiatt) twisting its own reporting and the facts in eerily precise analogy to the Bush White House twisting its intelligence findings or lack thereof.  There’s also evidence of learning from the Rovian master in how the Post piously decries the film as evidence of a “troubling trend of political debates in Washington in which established facts are willfully ignored” — a charge more sensibly leveled at Cheney, Bush, Rove …and the Washington Post, for that matter.   Good boy Freddy! — here’s a cocktail party invitation.

But the Post was a party to that war — as eager and willing to beat the drums then and now as Hearst’s yellow journalism was in other bad old days.  So it’s not pathetic and it’s not funny — it’s disgusting and it’s outrageous.  Almost worse — given its role as a newspaper of record in a republic allegedly professing democratic ideals and a distrust of power — it’s an active party to an ongoing propaganda campaign to twist and rewrite the history of that war.

The masthead of the Post’s editorial page reads “The Washington Post: An Independent Newspaper.”  Would that it were so.

* Moreover, as ThinkProgress’s Matt Duss points out, what the Butler report actually says is that British intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection was seriously flawed, ignoring important caveats and relying on third hand reports to arrive at its conclusion.

NOTE: Something I first learned from the movie — and not disputed by Pincus/Leib or the editorial —  was that Wilson ascertained that the “sixteen words” in fact referred to the Niger claim he had debunked, and not some other corner of Africa.  I mention this because my initial reaction to the Wilson article in July 2003 — during my regrettable support for the Iraq War — was a rather technical view that the “sixteen words” were, at least on their face, carefully and plainly chosen enough not to be a lie: someone else made the claim and I thought it might not have been about Niger. That becomes unsupportable with this added piece of information.

UPDATE, 12/7: Peter Eisner leaves a comment (see below), and David Corn — author of Hubris, and editor at Mother Jones — weighs in (“Washington Post: Still Spinning the CIA Leak Case): “…it’s the Post editorial board that is ignoring key facts and selectively citing evidence to manufacture a narrative of its own liking: Joe Wilson lied, and Bush & Cheney did not (with an assist from the Post editorial page) mislead the nation into war. The difference between the editorialists and the filmmakers, though, is that Hiatt and his colleagues, as journalists, cannot claim dramatic license.”

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More on Baghdad, 7/12/07

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th April 2010

Yesterday I spoke about the Wikileaks video (see below) with someone who’s actually been to Iraq as a journalist to cover the war.

An engagement with wannabes?
I asked him about what I thought was the “breathtakingly nonchalant” way the group of Iraqis handled themselves — walking in the open, ignoring nearby helicopters, standing about in a tightly bunched group.  He essentially said yeah, insurgents aren’t necessarily very good at any of this.  Also, in Baghdad at that time, helicopters were always flying around — and could stand off far from their targets while still observing them.  So it’s conceivable even an insurgent group with bad intent would ignore ones that weren’t in the immediate vicinity.  I have to say I still find the Iraqi group’s behavior implausible for insurgents, but maybe it squares with bravado, a gambler’s misjudgement, and/or lack of experience.

When I asked why so few weapons — an RPG and a couple of AK-47s, among the dozen or so dead Iraqis from the first attack — he suggested that the unarmed ones were hangers-on: gophers or wannabes for the two or three full-fledged “bazaari” local tough guy/insurgent types among the group.  While unarmed, they could still have been potential support (what kind, we didn’t discuss) for the armed members of the group.  He said when he was in Baghdad and visited a neighborhood to do some reporting, men standing around would immediately make a call on their cellphone — and he then knew he had only 10 or 15 minutes of relative safety before he might be kidnapped.  The cell phone wielding support people were the kind of people he could see accompanying a few armed insurgents on a mission.

When I suggested the group might have been a neighborhood escort for the journalists, he demurred; at least in his organization, and he strongly assumed in Reuters as well, journalists were told to put as much distance between themselves and armed Iraqis as possible, precisely because of the risk that they would become a target for U.S. forces.   On the other hand, while he couldn’t explain why the Reuters people were with the group, he thought it very unlikely they were secret insurgents themselves — news agencies in Baghdad vet their Iraqi employees too well for that at this point in the war.

Lest the impression arise that he was blase about the video, he wasn’t — but he thought the missile strikes (not discussed below) were the most troubling aspect of the video, because clearly passersby were in the immediate vicinity at the time the missile hit the abandoned building under construction.

I’m not sure how much differently the “wannabe” scenario can be judged from the one I developed.  I accept the journalist’s word for it that even a lightly armed, relatively incompetent group of Iraqis might still arouse legitimate suspicion.  But at the end of the day, even “wannabes” are just that: potential but not actual fighters.  And even the ones with weapons never fired a shot or threatened to.  Both the request and permission to engage came before the single threatening, but misunderstood action happened: the photographer pointing his telephoto lens around a corner, and the helicopter crew mistaking that for an RPG launcher.

Shades of dark gray
I think each of the actions in the video was questionable – most of all, the van, but also the missile firings, and “even” the initial attack that killed the two Reuters journalists.  But I don’t want to vilify or overly criticize the American troops involved, that’s not the point.

The point is that it’s really on the American people and American political leaders that those troops were there in the first place. In the front lines and toughest neighborhoods of a counterinsurgency war, troops will be in a position where “kill them all, let God sort it out” is or can seem to be a matter of survival. It’s apparently also broadly compatible with “rules of engagement” that look strict, but have fudge/weasel words like “reasonable” that mean even very dark shades of gray – in some situations in the video, practically black — aren’t out of bounds.

There’s a car in my neighborhood with a bumper sticker I like: “I’m already against the next war.” We shouldn’t even be building up a military designed for counterinsurgency wars, much less using it in such wars.  It’s as if we’re ancient Rome and the Middle East and Third World are the barbarians to be subdued. Those troops in the video may have crossed lines, but the main line that was crossed was sending them there in the first place; we have no right to seek out such wars and put our soldiers in them.

I think everyone in the US should watch that video a few times. They may start out jingoistic, and they may end up that way too.   But they may not.  And at least they’ll know what they’re calling for when ‘the next war’ rolls around.

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Baghdad, July 12, 2007

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th April 2010

On Monday, the online whistleblower site released 

…a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff. […] The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The video is provided at a separate address,, along with a timeline, photos, resources such as relevant military policy documents, and a transcript of the talk within the helicopter and radio traffic with other units on the ground and in the air.

The video below is the so-called “full,” 39 minute version.*  Even when zoomed, the grainy black and white view — one of the views the helicopter personnel relied on — is such that individuals on the ground can’t be easily distinguished from eachother.  Perhaps crucially, it’s also nearly impossible to distinguish a telephoto lens from an RPG (rocket propelled grenade launcher), when its cameraman is carefully pointing it around a corner to photograph an arriving American ground unit. But the visual quality is still high enough for a nauseating impression of the carnage high-caliber machine gun fire can wreak.

My view after watching it, looking at official reports (published by the Pentagon at a dedicated site in the wake of the leak), and reading online reactions by military personnel, was that a tragedy was followed by wrongdoing — wrongdoing even in the context of combat in Baghdad, July 12, 2007.

References in this posting to actions in this video will give the approximate video time,
by adding 25 seconds to the time given in the transcript.  C
urrently, that transcript fails
to account for the introduction.

The first attack
To me, a military engagement means a situation where both sides are shooting at each other.  That didn’t happen here.  Indeed, one of the disquieting aspects of the first attack is how quickly the option of engaging the Iraqis came up, given how little effort the alleged insurgents made to avoid harm, let alone cause any.

If the group (besides the two Reuters employees, Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh) really was composed of active insurgents, they were breathtakingly nonchalant about it: sauntering down the middle of a street; a total of maybe three or four AK-47s and one RPG among a group of a dozen or so (what are the rest of the men there for then?); the men standing around and bunched together in their final moments, in plain view of two deadly American helicopters. **  “Positive identification” (PID) is a fundamental prequisite to engagement; identification here seemed to be quite a lot less than positive.

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The 0.3 percent questions

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th January 2010

Via Truthout:

The Obama administration plans to ask Congress for an extra $33 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to an Associated Press report.

The $33 billion would be on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department next year.

Compare the outlays Obama wants for Haiti:

The United States armed forces are also on their way to support this effort. Several Coast Guard cutters are already there providing everything from basic services like water, to vital technical support for this massive logistical operation. Elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will arrive today. We’re also deploying a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and the Navy’s hospital ship, the Comfort.

And today, I’m also announcing an immediate investment of $100 million to support our relief efforts. This will mean more of the life-saving equipment, food, water and medicine that will be needed. This investment will grow over the coming year as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.

These are great things. I was pleased, even downright proud that Obama deployed so much so quickly to help Haitians, and knew he could count on everyone’s support to do so. (Well, almost everyone’s.)

But that impressive sounding $100,000,000 is a mere 0.3 percent of the $33,000,000,000 amount we’re going to add to the financial sinkholes and military quagmires called Iraq and Afghanistan.

Question: wouldn’t it be safer, smarter, cheaper, and even (dare I say it) just a lot more fun and more satisfying to divide the Afghanistan/Iraq outlay by, say, 4, and multiply the Haiti commitment by as much?

Question: Wouldn’t it make more sense to help rebuild a friendly nation close to our shores from natural catastrophe, than to rebuild ones on the other side of the planet after bombing and killing their inhabitants?

Question:Wouldn’t it make more sense to redeploy our servicemen and women out of countries where they’re not wanted, to a place where they’re wanted desperately?

Question: which makes us safer in the long run — to earn the thanks of a country for rescuing it from catastrophe in time of need, to put it back on its feet so its inhabitants don’t need to emigrate, or to earn the enmity of families who’ve lost children, husbands, fathers to a war we’ve brought to them?

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About those photos — Part II

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st May 2009

Obama image, with slogan 'But We Won't'

In the previous post, I took up some of Aziz Poonawalla’s defense of Obama’s decision to resist the release of photos showing past detainee abuse — principally the notion that the risks posed by the release were particularly great, or outweighed the benefits. As noted there, my original comment didn’t fully address the arguments Aziz made in his second post, “release the prisoner abuse photos – but not right now“;  I attempt to do so here.

OK, just release them later
When exactly? Aziz (emphasis his own):

These photos will need to be released someday, and there will indeed need to be a full accounting and formal congressional invetigation, backed by force of law, regarding American policy towards detainees during the Bush Administration. However, with the resurgent Taliban in Pakistan (incidentally increasing its nuclear stockpile), the utter helplessness of Mayor Karzai against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the increasing power of Al Shabab in Somalia, total transparency can wait.

It is not altogether unfair to reply to this, “That is, never.”  It is quite fair to reply, “that’s not what Obama said”:

…the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken. It’s therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.

End of story.  However generous Aziz’s timetable for the release of the photos may be, there’s no discernible timetable whatsoever in Obama’s remarks.  The photos, so Obama would have us believe, are at most Appendix C material in some dusty military history book thirty years from now.  He has no plans to release them.  Ever. But Obama’s critical argument — and one that Aziz repeatedly echoes — is that only a “small number of individuals” were involved.  Aziz formulates the distinction as criminality versus official, explict policy:

…we must draw a clean and clear distinction between what happened at Abu Ghraib and the official, explicitly sanctioned policy of waterboarding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The former were criminal actions that were not sanctioned by any military or government official, though of course the sheer sadistic brutality of the abuse gave rise to typical conspiracy theories.  […] To attempt to force the issue now, by drawing a false equivalence between torture policy and criminal abuse, is to undermine the very real war going on, one in which ordinary muslims are still the primary victims, at the hands of those who do far worse than anything we have done.

Abu Ghraib was the fruit of the Bush/Cheney torture tree
But that equivalence is not false.   The connections between what happened in Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and the torture, humiliation, and abuse at Guantanamo are manifold, direct and undeniable.  Officers like Major General Geoffrey Miller and Captain Carolyn Wood who oversaw the torture and abuse at Guantanamo and Bagram, respectively, were in leadership roles for Iraqi detainee operations (including Abu Ghraib) before the abuses there took place, and relied on guidance from the highest levels of the Pentagon to authorize their deeds.  As early as 2004, Miller confirmed the use of abusive techniques including

hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food. The US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special “coercive techniques” can be used against enemy detainees. The general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, said his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.

As a summary (by Brian Knowlton of the New York Times) of a Senate Armed Services Report declassified in April puts it:

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“I don’t see your @** in my hometown”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th March 2009

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, things appear to be going swimmingly, if this video is any indication:

Since nothing to the contrary has surfaced since the video first appeared on YouTube in late January, I’ll assume it really is of recent vintage. Writing for “Foreign Policy,” Thomas Ricks mentions the video and declares earnestly that there’s a right way to do Iraq, and the wrong way, and that this is the wrong way gosh darn it: “everything I’ve seen about Iraqis tells me that publicly disparaging them is not the way to go.”

Well, sure; I don’t think that’s some sort of tribal peculiarity of Iraqis either. But it’s also possible there *is* no right way to “do” Iraq, and that’s what this officer is up against, assuming he cares. “Raise your hand if you’re in the Mahdi militia” is pretty much the definition of admitting you have no idea what’s going on with the people in front of you, you know you never will, you’ve given up pretending you will, and all that’s left is to make an Armed Forces Clueless Home Video about it.

I’m tempted to excerpt it at some length, but it really has to be heard to be believed.  This may be a particularly bad day, or bad assignment.  But it seems to me we’d best be out of there as quickly as possible.  And if it were me, I’d just keep going and get the rest of the “residual” force out of there on the same timetable.  I’m not sure Obama will have much choice.

EDIT, 3/12: title changed to try to avoid the wrong kind of Google hits.

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Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq: candidate updates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2008

While the economy has taken center stage in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign, Iraq remains a critical issue as well — the war costs billions of dollars each month, and costs American and Iraqi lives, limbs, and health as well.

The “Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq” was developed by congressional candidates Darcy Burner, Donna Edwards, and others as a campaign platform and legislative agenda. For more on the plan — which seeks both to end the war in Iraq, and prevent failures like it in the future — follow the link and/or see my blog posts about it.  The plan calls for

  • Ending U.S. military action in Iraq
  • Using U.S. diplomatic power
  • Addressing humanitarian concerns
  • Restoring our Constitution
  • Restoring our military
  • Restoring independence to the media
  • Creating a new, U.S.-centered energy policy

…with specific legislative proposals for each goal.  Here’s a quick rundown on how some of the candidates who developed the plan are doing.

  • Donna Edwards (MD-04): an incumbent by now, and a prohibitive favorite — no Republican has received more than 25% of the vote in this district since 1994.
  • Eric Massa (NY-29): Up 51-44, (10/7/08, SurveyUSA)
  • Tom Perriello (VA-05): Down 42-55 (10/7/08, SurveyUSA); has gained 12 points in 2 months
  • Chellie Pingree (ME-01): Up 44-33 (10/2/08, PolitickerME);  22% undecided!
  • Jared Polis (CO-02): “heavy favorite” (9/10/08, PolitickerCO)
  • George Fearing (WA-04): can’t find recent poll information; debate on 10/16 attended by about 200 people (
  • Larry Byrnes (FL-14): out earlier this summer.
  • Stephen Harrison (NY-13): out in September primary (9/9/08,
  • Sam Bennett (PA-15): “Republican favored” (CQ Politics); recent mistake about the solvency of two banks in a televised debate was blurred and muted at Bennett’s request by the broadcasting TV station — probably not a good development.
  • Darcy Burner (WA-08): Up 49-44 (10/14/08, DCCC); had been down 44-54 (9/9/08, SUSA).

Obviously, all of them deserve our help and many are in close races. To help with a non-tax-deductible donation, go to the Responsible Plan ActBlue web site and give to any or all of them.

UPDATE, EDITS, 10/16; Bennett, Harrison, Fearing information updated.

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War or Car?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd October 2008

This is kind of brilliant:

The total cost of the Iraq War will be over $3 trillion, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard public finance professor Linda Bilmes.  That’s enough to buy a new Toyota Prius for every household in America.

Here are some other things we could’ve done for the price of the Iraq War.

…and each “War or Car?” blog post is an example. Some recent ones:

10/02/2008: Buy a California home every 20 seconds since Greenspan promoted alternative mortgages
09/29/2008: Give every American a community college economics degree
09/26/2008: Make everybody in Philly a Scottish baron
09/25/2008: Buy each panda an Arleigh Burke class destroyer
09/13/2008: Build Large Hadron Colliders all the way up the West Coast
09/11/2008: Put a tank staffed by Petraeus duplicates on every square mile of Afghanistan:

For the price of the Iraq War, we could’ve hunted down Osama Bin Laden by placing a fully equipped M1 Abrams battle tank on every square mile of Afghanistan and staffing them entirely with duplicates of General Petraeus.

The heavily armored 67-ton M1 Abrams battle tank, which carries four crew members, is the principal combat tank of the American armed forces. A fully equipped M1 Abrams costs $4.30 million. General David Petraeus, who oversaw all US forces in Iraq, earns $180,000 per year. The area of Afghanistan is 251,772 square miles Putting an M1 Abrams on each square mile of Afghanistan and staffing them entirely with Petraeus duplicates drawing a salary equal to his would cost $1.26 trillion, which is less than half of Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes’ estimate of $3 trillion for the cost of the Iraq War.

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Rating the Debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th September 2008

I didn’t get to see the knockout blow by Obama last night I confess I’d been crossing my fingers for; instead, the debate was a vivid demonstration of how narrow the field of debate is, and/or how unwilling Obama is to run outside the hash marks and set up some of that change he’s been promising. Examples (debate transcript via the New York Times):

I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons  […]

Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.  […]

And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements, and they should have a membership action plan immediately to start bringing them in.  […]

[Iran has] gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon.

To the contrary: if we’re ever hit by a nuclear weapon in the U.S., it will almost certainly arrive here not by missile, but in a container on a ship, truck, or train. The surge didn’t reduce violence, the successful conclusion to ethnic cleansing and al-Sadr’s decision to pocket his gains did. Fast-tracking Georgia into NATO is of less than no value to American interests compared to locking down loose nukes, something Obama said in the next breath was something he also wanted; he may have to choose. And while I seem to be the last person on the East Coast who remembers it, it was not one year ago that a National Intelligence Estimate stated, and I quote, We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.

Even on Iraq, Obama couldn’t forebear to lead his criticisms with the observation that “We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens,” as if our capacity to project power is itself the goal and point of American foreign policy.

I think Josh Marshall misses the point here: “I know that many Obama supporters are disappointed that he passed on various opportunities to deliver a smackdown that McCain couldn’t recover from. But having watched the guy for 18 months now, for better and worse, that’s not who he is.”  I realize that Obama is temperamentally not inclined to go for the jugular, and that may even be smart politics.  As hilzoy argued, his graciousness compared to McCain’s rudeness may be the dominant impression that many take away from the debate — something that burnishes his “bipartisan, get it done” credentials (not to mention his “not an angry old coot” credentials) much more than McCain’s.

The point wasn’t that Obama failed to smack McCain down, though I wish he had — say, on voting against the Webb G.I. bill, given McCain’s teary praise for vets.  (Bonus: would have got McCain mad, always good to watch for those just tuning in.)  No, it was actually and simply that he agreed on too much with McCain. As Jim Henley wrote after the debate:

As a symptom of the constriction of elite opinion, the debate was instructive less for the answers than even the questions. “Foreign policy” consists of wars and nothing but wars. It’s about whom you bomb or don’t, and whom you do or don’t convince to help you bomb someone.

The debate certainly also proved that there’s plenty of important stuff Obama is right about and McCain is wrong about.  But even if and when Obama wins this election, that will not be the end of all that’s wrong with our military and foreign policy.

Not all of that is Obama’s fault by any means.  Tonight, I saw a video by a group heretofore unknown to me: United Against Nuclear Iran.  It featured lots of ominous music, and repeated yet again the claim that Iran was building nuclear weapons. The video has one Richard Sokolsky talking about military measures as a way of stopping Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. And while known neocons Fouad Ajami and James Woolsey were two of the talking heads involved, so were ex-Clintonistas Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke.

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