Iraq


David Isenberg wrote in his Dogs of War column Friday discussing whether or not PMCs are cost effective.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it countless times: Governments and corporations turn to private military contractors because it is more cost-effective than using regular military forces. But is it true?

But whether it’s true that contractors are cost effective is at best an open question, the answer to which depends, in part, on what you mean by cost.

While outsourcing can be effective, doing things in-house is often easier and quicker. You avoid the expense and hassle of haggling, and retain operational reliability and control, which is especially important to the military.

Then there is the fact that outsourcing works best when there’s genuine competition among suppliers. …

The Bush/Cheney administration has greatly reduced competition:

An analysis showed that fewer than half of all “contract actions” -­ new contracts and payments against existing contracts -­ were now subject to full and open competition. Just 48 percent were competitive in 2005, down from 79 percent in 2001.

Many academics who examine the issue of the relative cost of private versus public point to the politics behind the ways one can measure cost. What you include or exclude can be a complicated, and highly political, exercise. Economists disagree on how to answer the question at least in part because they use different variables when measuring cost.

… What little cost-benefit analysis there has been to date has focused on narrow economic cost comparisons and generally avoided addressing equally important political factors, such as avoiding tough choices concerning military needs, reserve call-ups and the human consequences of war.

As Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, wrote, “Excessive use of private contractors erodes checks and balances, and it substitutes market transactions, controlled by the executive branch, for traditional political mechanisms of accountability. When it comes to Iraq, we’ve yet to see the evidence of a large practical gain in return; instead, use of contractors may have helped to make an ill-advised venture possible.”

And related to the “human consequences of war”, one big question is who pays which costs? The military budget, and the government’s operating budget are hardly the only ones affected. Many employees of the PMC corporations are finding that their immediate employer is a shell incorporated outside the US to avoid US laws, such as medical coverage for the PMC employees. Quite a number of PMC employees are third country nationals, and as individuals, may have to carry a lot of the cost of their participation. The other cost may be to their countries of origin. What needs or expectations will they bring back? And how will their training in Iraq affect their participation in society and government at home?

Outsourcing is a way of cost shifting rather than cost saving. I see it every day. The young Spanish speaking woman who cleans our offices daily is our colleague. She does a superb job. Yet the contractor she works for pays her minimum wage and no benefits. My employer “saves” money by not paying permanent employees salaries and benefits to do the cleaning. The costs are shifted onto the individual at the bottom of the pay scale who is least able to bear these costs. And of course, the costs come back to government, which must deal with the emergency situations this cost shifting generates. Walmart is famous for these cost shifting “savings”, but its size makes it visible, it is hardly alone.

As Isenberg says, it depends on what you mean by cost.

1. — South Africa has been most vocal in its opposition, and its skepticism about US motives in creating AFRICOM. Peter Pham, who has been actively promoting Bush administration rhetoric on AFRICOM, has played the opening notes of a typical Bush administration smear attack on the South African government. His primary theme: because the ANC used to be called terrorists, they don’t mind, and even harbour terrorists. And his secondary theme is that South Africa is encouraging Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Pham appears to regret that South Africa is a democracy, and his sympathies seem to be with the security people left over from the good old days of apartheid. So once again US voices are attacking a democratically elected government, because that government questions US motives:

. . . it needs to be borne in mind today’s South Africa is a democracy and thus policy direction comes not from the security professionals, but the political echelons of the ANC among whom the “anti-Western” and “revolutionary” rhetoric of the bin Ladens and Ahmadinejads of the world still resonates.

Pham treats this as an extremist statement:

“the global anti-terror industry, chaired by the U.S.A., has led to many unfortunate assumptions made by governments and the public alike.”

Pham concludes his article by hyping terror threats against the World Cup.

2. — Then from Nigeria comes this rather noteworthy bit of doublespeak:

Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. General Andrew Owoye Azazi yesterday allayed the fears of Nigerians on the continued presence of United States military in the Gulf of Guinea.
. . .

“US wants relative peace to be able to undertake their business” he said pointing out that there is no other motive behind their troops presence to worry anybody.

On the Niger Delta situation, the Defence chief said that military have lost sizeable number of personnel in the troubled region but refused to give the exact figure of casualties. He said that Nigerians should not expect a military solution to Niger Delta problem but assured that the military will try to stabilize the place for the much-needed political solution.

On the intelligence capability of Nigeria military to cope with the Niger Delta situation, General Azazi said the military have it but noted that successful intelligence work depends largely on the people and their willingness to give information.

General Azazi also spoke on the role of the military in the last general election and said that they were only asked to ensure stable environment for the poll to take place.

The Chief said that a guideline was drawn out for those military personnel who participated in ensuring stability during the elections.He noted that most of the allegations of military involvement cannot be substantiated but assured that any obvious case will be dealt with in a military way.

“We will deal with the identified ones” but wondered how it can be substantiated.

Nothing to see here, just move along.
Trust us to take care of any problems, we have your best interests and the best interests of the country and the continent at heart. You don’t need to know anything, we’ll take care of it. Trust us.

Nigeria has voiced opposition to AFRICOM. But the US government has been working on them. This looks like Nigeria may be yielding.

3. — Meanwhile, in Iraq, the Iraqi government may be evicting Blackwater. And the Iraqi government has officially rescinded the ruling that gave security contractors immunity from prosecution. So the mercenary corporations may feel the need to leave Iraq. This is not good news for Africa. Theresa Whelan, Defense undersecretary, has encouraged the use of military contractors in African countries. The contractors have been acting with violent impunity in Iraq. The pattern of behavior of the developed countries in military engagement with Africa has always been to assume they are entitled to act with violent impunity (it is civilizing, or now, globalizing). If military contractors leave, or are evicted from Iraq because they can no longer act with violent impunity, they’ll be looking for more jobs, where they can continue their violent behavior unrestrained. African oil and resources seem likely to draw their attention, which is very bad news for people living in African countries.


b real added a comment to my previous post, quoting Sy Hersh, that I thought I’d post here. It demonstrates once again how truth simply does not play a part in Bush/Cheney management. And the press continues to act as an oblivious enabler:

sy hersh on democracy now may 24th:
…the thing that’s amazing about this government, the thing that’s really spectacular, is even now how they can get their way mostly with a lot of the American press. For example, I do know — and, you know, you have to take it on face value. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know a lot of the things I write are true or come out to be more or less true. I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command — this was a month ago — and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech. He did so just the other day this week — al-Qaeda this, al-Qaeda that. All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem. It’s not the Sunni and Shia insurgents or militias. And this policy just gets picked up, although there’s absolutely no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell you the foreign fighters are a couple percent, and then they’re sort of leaderless in the sense that there’s no overall direction of the various foreign fighters. You could call them al-Qaeda. You can also call them jihadists and Salafists that want to die fighting the Americans or the occupiers in Iraq and they come across the border. Whether this is — there’s no attempt to suggest there’s any significant coordination of these groups by bin Laden or anybody else, and the press just goes gaga. And so, they went gaga a little bit over the Syrian connection to the activities in Tripoli. It’s just amazing to me, you guys.
b real


Straight reporting, disguised as satire, from Jesus’ General:

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the Department of Defense issued a press release Wednesday touting its capture of one of the top leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid. And in a stroke of sheer luck, interrogators were able to get him to confirm all of the Administration’s talking points about Al Qaeda’s involvement in Iraq just as the Democratic leadership in the Senate was moving to end a Republican filibuster of the Levin-Reed Troop Withdrawal plan.

And for true, a truly classic quote from the US Secretary of State:

From Maria Bartiromo’s interview of Condi Rice in the current issue of BusinessWeek:
MB
: Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?
CR: I don’t know what I’ll do long-term. I’m a terrible long-term planner.

I read an interview today with Mike Davis about his book, Planet of Slums. I have copied some key quotes from the article, though I recommend reading the whole article. It has implications for people on every continent. It has relevance to the US and US policies, most immediately in Iraq. It also has particular relevance to West Africa and citizens of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. Here follow some passages from the interview:

Sadr City, at one point named Saddam City, the Eastern quadrant of Baghdad, has grown to grotesque proportions — two million poor people, mainly Shia. And it’s still growing, as are Sunni slums by the way, thanks now not to Saddam but to disastrous American policies toward agriculture into which the U.S. has put almost no reconstruction money. Vast farmlands have been turned back into desert, while everything focused, however unsuccessfully, on restoration of the oil industry. The crucial thing would have been to preserve some equilibrium between countryside and city, but American policies just accelerated the flight from the land.
. . .
In my book, I looked at the relationship between the pervasive global slum, everywhere associated with sanitation disasters, with classical conditions favoring the rapid movement of disease through human populations; and on the other side, I focused on how the transformation of livestock production was creating entirely new conditions for the emergence of diseases among animals and their transmission to humans.

We have the:

. . . urbanization of livestock . . . millions of chickens living in warehouses, in factory farms. Bird densities like this have never existed in nature and they probably favor, according to epidemiologists I’ve talked to, maximum virulence, the accelerated evolution of diseases.
. . .
At the same time, wetlands around the world have been degraded and water diverted.
. . .
This is a formula for biological disaster and avian flu is the second pandemic of globalization. It’s very clear now that HIV AIDS emerged at least partially through the bush-meat trade, as West Africans were forced to turn to bush meat because European factory ships were vacuuming up all the fish in the Gulf of Guinea, the major traditional source of protein in urban diets.
. . .
the future of guerrilla warfare, insurrection against the world system, has moved into the city. Nobody has realized this with as much clarity as the Pentagon, or more vigorously tried to grapple with its empirical consequences. Its strategists are way ahead of geopoliticians and traditional foreign-relations types in understanding the significance of a world of slums…
. . .
The question of the exchange of violence between the city of slums and the imperial city is linked to a deeper question — the question of agency. How will this very large minority of humanity that now lives in cities but is exiled from the formal world economy find its future? What is its capacity for historical agency?
. . .
Well, here you have an informal working class with no strategic place in production, in the economy, that has nonetheless discovered a new social power — the power to disrupt the city, to strike at the city, ranging from the creative nonviolence . . . to the now universal use of car bombs by nationalist and sectarian groups to strike at middle-class neighborhoods, financial districts, even green zones. I think there’s much global experimentation, trying to find out how to use the power of disruption.
. . . I’ll tell you what I suspect may be the greatest of disruptive powers — the power to disrupt global energy flows. Poor people with minimal technology are capable of doing that across the thousands of miles of unguardable pipeline on this planet.
. . .
The city is our ark in which we might survive the environmental turmoil of the next century. Genuinely urban cities are the most environmentally efficient form of existing with nature that we possess because they can substitute public luxury for private or household consumption. They can square the circle between environmental sustainability and a decent standard of living. I mean, however big your library is or vast your swimming pool, it’ll never be the same as the New York Public Library or a great public pool. No mansion, no San Simeon, will ever be the equivalent of Central Park or Broadway.

One of the major problems, however, is: We’re building cities without urban qualities. Poor cities, in particular, are consuming the natural areas and watersheds which are essential to their functioning as environmental systems, to their ecological sustainability, and they’re consuming them either because of destructive private speculation or simply because poverty pours over into every space. All around the world, the crucial watersheds and green spaces that cities need to function ecologically and be truly urban are being urbanized by poverty and by speculative private development. Poor cities, as a result, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disaster, pandemic, and catastrophic resource shortages, particularly of water.

Conversely, the most important step toward coping with global environmental change is to reinvest — massively — in the social and physical infrastructures of our cities, and thereby reemploy tens of millions of poor youth.

The Green Zone from BBC graphics and Google Maps courtesy of Booman Tribune.

How big is the Green Zone? It is 4.5 square miles. Look here to see a comparison to the Minnesota Twin Cities.

From Talking Points Memo:

By saying that Korea is the model for the US military presence in Iraq, the president is saying that he envisions the US military presence in Iraq continuing for many decades into the future.

Or let’s put that in more stark terms, for most of you reading this post, the president envisions US troops remaining in Iraq long after you’re dead. (emphasis mine)

Also reader DS at TPM points out:

I have believed, from the beginning – though I have always hoped to be proven wrong – that the Bush White House (i.e. Cheney) has had as its principal goal in Iraq the establishment of a permanent military presence in that country. . . . (for) energy security and therefore the control of energy supplies. This means control of the flow of oil from the Middle East.
. . .
Cheney, in particular, is vicious enough to contemplate a long-term presence at the cost of a daily toll in the dozens or hundreds as well as ongoing domestic opposition.

. . . there’s only one goal that makes sense of that strategy. And that is to permanently dominate the cluster of oil fields in southern Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. Nothing to do with democracy, as though that needed saying. But also nothing to do with terrorism. We’re permanently occupying Iraq to lock down the world oil supply.

But all that is commentary. The headline is clear enough to get the message out: the president wants US troops in Iraq for decades to come.

We have had this information around for awhile. Two years ago, in June 2005, I read in Baghdad Burning about how the Green Zone was being built as permanent city:

What people find particularly frustrating is the fact that while Baghdad seems to be falling apart in so many ways with roads broken and pitted, buildings blasted and burnt out and residential areas often swimming in sewage, the Green Zone is flourishing.
. . .
The price of building materials has gone up unbelievably, in spite of the fact that major reconstruction has not yet begun. I assumed it was because so much of the concrete and other building materials was going to reinforce the restricted areas. A friend who recently got involved working with an Iraqi subcontractor who takes projects inside of the Green Zone explained that it was more than that. The Green Zone, he told us, is a city in itself. He came back awed, and more than a little bit upset. He talked of designs and plans being made for everything from the future US Embassy and the housing complex that will surround it, to restaurants, shops, fitness centers, gasoline stations, constant electricity and water- a virtual country inside of a country with its own rules, regulations and government. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Republic of the Green Zone, also known as the Green Republic.
. . .
. . . if you could see the bases they are planning to build- if you could see what already has been built- you’d know that they are going to be here for quite a while.

The Green Zone is a source of consternation and aggravation for the typical Iraqi. It makes us anxious because it symbolises the heart of the occupation and if fortifications and barricades are any indicator- the occupation is going to be here for a long time. It is a provocation because no matter how anyone tries to explain or justify it, it is like a slap in the face. It tells us that while we are citizens in our own country, our comings and goings are restricted because portions of the country no longer belong to its people. They belong to the people living in the Green Republic.

Then recently I read in Firedoglake:

The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington’s National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls.

. . . we are building a huge, permanent infrastructure in Iraq. We are putting in the latest equipment, and it is not there to support some temporary military presence. What’s going up is not something to be taken down and removed when our troops withdraw or respond to some uncertain Congressional appropriation. And the facilities that are being constructed, and the way they are being linked, indicate a more or less permanent military presence.

We’re spending billions upon billions on this, and it’s not slowing down. My friend has been there three times, and each time he goes back, he marvels at the tremendous change — in how much more there is now than there was last time. Much more sophisticated; more permanent.

This sure looks like the delusional bungling of Dick Cheney.


Dick Cheney and his ilk think we can wait them out (even though they live there!) as long as the American public can be numbed to the ongoing death toll.

He remains delusional as always, and has missed the point.

For example, you know that oil law the U.S. has been so hot and heavy to get the Iraqis to pass? It turns out that after months of massaging, the text of the law doesn’t guarantee Western oil companies anything; it just doesn’t exclude the possibility that they may get some lucrative deals. Oh, and during those months, billions of dollars’ worth of oil is unaccounted for, with one of the prime suspects being the Shiite militias/political parties that make up the government. I don’t think they’re about to pass a law that gives them a worse deal than what they’re getting off the books now.

The Americans aren’t the only ones who can play realpolitik, you know.

Appreciation to Dr. Doom for the image.

Bad judgment is Dick Cheney’s trademark.
. . .
What is always overlooked with Dick Cheney is how he performs when he arrives in his various jobs. The answer is, in truth, not very well.
. . .
An examination of Cheney’s career reveals that it is marked by upward mobility and downward performance.
. . .
The issue of Dick Cheney’s judgment must be raised because he is the catalyst, architect, and chief proponent of Bush’s authoritarian policies.
. . .
It was Cheney, and his mentor, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who convinced Bush to go to war in Iraq.
(from: Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, ISBN 0-670-03774-5, p.159-161)

This is the background on Dick Cheney, as Josh Marshall writes in Vice Grip:

Dick Cheney is a man of principles, disastrous principles.

. . . mistakes–on energy policy, homeland security, corporate reform–abound. Indeed, on almost any issue, it’s usually a sure bet that if Cheney has lined up on one side, the opposite course will turn out to be the wiser. Yet somehow, in Washington’s collective mind, Cheney’s numerous stumbles and missteps have not displaced the reputation he enjoys as a sober, reliable, skilled inside player.

Cheney is conservative, of course, but beneath his conservatism is something more important: a mindset rooted in his peculiar corporate-Washington-insider class.

. . . few groups are so accustomed to self-dealing and self-aggrandizement as the cartel-capitalist class. And few are more used to equating their own self-interest with the interests of the country as a whole.

I am a member of a commission that awards about half a dozen scholarships per year to the local community college. A scholarship pays for a full year of in state tuition, and students can reapply for more than one year. This two year college does a very good job of educating students who come from all over the world, providing them with associate degrees that will give them chances to get better jobs, and to further their careers. Many of the applicants come to the US from other countries. Most came here with their families when they were younger. Some are separated from their families. Many of them were displaced from their homes by war. And the US has often had varying degrees of involvement or responsibility for these wars.

Last night we reviewed the applicants for this year. They were a good group, most with real potential. There was one girl applying this year who fled Sudan. Her family fled and she heard her father had died. Her mother kept them together, fed and sheltered. But war came again. Her mother had a breakdown, and they had to drug her in order to bring her with them when they fled. Eventually she and her family arrived in the United States, and she attended public schools. Another young applicant had fled war in Guatemala, a country in which the US has had a long involvement, managed to get to the United States and attend public schools. Over the six years I have been on this commission we have read many biographical essays by many students who have fled horrors, and suffered here, but refuse to quit.

There are opportunities in the United States, but it is not a kindly place, particularly these days. If you are undocumented it can be brutal. People here, including citizens, often live isolated lives with no support network. If you have a child, or children, there is often no one to turn to for help. And undocumented immigrants often have no legal protections. Many immigrants, in fact many citizens, have to work multiple jobs, because one job may not even pay housing costs. The young applicants we review lead complicated lives, and their stories are often heart breaking. Making the scholarship decision is often very difficult because all the applicants have financial need, and all are deserving. Not all our applicants are immigrants, among those who are immigrants, some are economic refugees, but many are here because their families fled war. In their essays many of these young people say they wish to be back in their own countries, without war.

After spending my evening reviewing these applicants and their stories, and the mostly glowing recommendations from their teachers, this morning I read the latest post from Riverbend in Baghdad. She and her family are leaving Baghdad. She writes:


The Great Wall of Segregation…
…Which is the wall the current Iraqi government is building (with the support and guidance of the Americans). It’s a wall that is intended to separate and isolate what is now considered the largest ‘Sunni’ area in Baghdad- let no one say the Americans are not building anything. According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will ‘protect’ A’adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn’t empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, “Oh look- we’re just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!” And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn’t enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It’s time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of “Shia areas” and Shia out of “Sunni areas”.

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.
(emphasis mine)

The United States needs to deal with other countries in ways in which the military is the last option, not the first. Oil has been behind a number of the wars that have sent refugees fleeing into other countries and to the US. Oil is behind the Iraq war. And oil is behind recent US interest in Africa, including Ghana. That is the background for creating the US Africa Command. The people involved in Africom talk about leading with diplomacy, and talk about peaceful intentions. I recently heard a soldier interviewed on TV who said, the job of soldiers is to kill people and break their stuff (he said as opposed to police, whose job is to protect people and protect their stuff.) As long as your military is your lead contact with a country, the people you contact are in danger. The US should not be making it unsafe for people to stay in their own countries.

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