The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

More Iraq??

We have solved nothing in 12 years in Iraq. As Tony Wikrent says at Naked Capitalism,

The sheer imbecility of American leaders is brought into glaring light [by] Bush’s attempt at the transformation of Iraq from among the Middle East’s most repressive states to a multiparty democracy.

As Col Lang says, we own it [Iraq], but cannot fix it.

So naturally, we will send more troops there in the next month or so. And to a new location. This will bring American troop levels to 3,500 since we left Iraq in 2011. The air base where the additional US forces are to deploy is al-Taqqadum, which sits about halfway between ISIS positions in Ramadi, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) to the west, and Fallujah, to the east.

Pat Lang reminds us that al-Taqqadum was originally a British air force base called RAF Habbaniya, which later became an Iraqi air force base. It had been abandoned for a long time when US forces occupied it in March, 2003. We initially called it Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ridgway before settling on the more Iraqi-friendly Camp Taqqadum in 2004. Pat Lang on our plans:

Former RAF Habbaniya was the center of the…British presence in Iraq. Look at the pictures of chapels, cemeteries, and swimming pools for the British troops… Habbaniya is the place we will defend and try to make Sunni tribesmen and Shia cowards into fighters? The omens for this are not good.

Think about it: It is an airfield we know well and maintained for years, but it’s only 24 miles from the ISIS lines. We are by design putting our newest effort right where the enemy could take out our planes and our soldiers. Makes you think that it is a trip wire of sorts, leading to a large re-deployment to Iraq when ISIS crosses our wire. We will have to fortify and defend this place very heavily. Otherwise, ISIS will see it as a place to engage us directly in battle.

Da Nang anybody?

The idea behind the new site is to provide greater support for Sunni tribal fighters, who have yet to receive all of the backing and arms promised by the Shiite-led government. But there may be a glitch. The Guardian quotes Mr. Obama at the close of the G7 summit, saying that there were not enough recruits to train:

We’ve got more training capacity than we’ve got recruits…It’s not happening as fast as it needs to.

The Guardian also quoted Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar and expert on ISIS that:

Only 1,100 Sunnis had taken part in the US training program, and none of them have graduated from it. In total, about 9,500 fighters have completed the training.

Washington wants to revive the “Sunni Awakening” strategy that we used in 2007 when large numbers of Sunni tribal fighters joined with US troops to help defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised us that he would incorporate the Sunni fighters into Iraq’s standing security forces and pay them regular salaries, but failed to do so, sparking the sectarian anger across Anbar Province that left some Sunni tribal leaders amenable to working with ISIS.

Mr. Obama originally said that we did not have a strategy, now, a year later, he sends an additional 450 troops to train Iraqi recruits that he himself says don’t exist. The Wrongologist has supported President Obama, however, this has the makings of a fool’s errand.

Why do we keep talking about training Iraqis to fight? The evidence shows that lots of Iraqis already know how to fight, and many of them are fighting very effectively against the very government that America installed.

This is almost like early days in Vietnam. We dribbled in more and more advisers and support. But it’s not what’s in the hands of the soldiers, it’s what’s in their hearts, and we have no control over that.

The NYT says this will cost us $8 million per week, or $47,619.05 per hour, which is more than many people earn in one year. Do the American people want their tax dollars spent in this way? When our infrastructure is falling apart? When our kids have to take out onerous loans to go to college? When Social Security, which we paid for, is under threat from the right side of the aisle?

Thomas P. M. Barnett has advised US leaders on national security since the end of the Cold War, including the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command and Special Operations Command. Barnett said in a TED talk:

We field a 1st half team in a league that insists on keeping score until the end of the game

Barnett is correct. We have not learned how to play the 2nd half in Iraq.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 31, 2015

Get a cup of coffee and ponder a few things on this Sunday.

First, from the NYT’s Upshot, data-driven news you can use: Clinton vs. Sanders voting record. Top line numbers, they voted the same way 93% of the time. However, the 31 times that Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders disagreed happened to be on some the biggest issues of the day, including measures on continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an immigration reform bill and bank bailouts during the Great Recession. Bernie was opposed to all these actions.

Second, recycled neo-con viewpoints from the Washington Post Editorial Board on the Obama administration’s strategy in Iraq and for ISIS: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Obama administration has been unable to induce [Iraq’s] Abadi government to deliver desperately needed arms…to the Sunni tribes and Kurdish forces. Yet it [the Obama administration] simultaneously refuses to deliver materiel directly to those fighters, on the grounds this might undermine the Abadi government.

Then the Jeff Bezos team trots out Iran bogeyman:

Meanwhile, US officials watch as Iran continues to provide massive direct support to Shiite militias, including forces the US has designated as terrorist organizations.

Finally the neo-con wet dream of more troops on the ground emerges, repeating John McCain’s view:

Mr. Obama should bolster them with more US advisers, including forward air controllers, and more air support. He should insist that Mr. Abadi open a weapons pipeline to Sunni and Kurdish units. Perhaps most important, Mr. Obama should make his priority eliminating the Islamic State — as opposed to limiting US engagement in Iraq.

What we know: Experienced Iraqi army officers, who were largely Sunni, were left jobless when the Iraqi army was disbanded in 2004. Some of them joined ISIS. And Iraq’s current army officers are incompetent and corrupt appointees of an incompetent and corrupt Iraqi government. No matter what equipment we provide to the Iraqi army, all the Iraqi army will be capable of doing is spending our money and losing on the field of battle.

The editors of the WaPo have an agenda that isn’t serious about Iraq. The Iraqis do not lack weapons. We have spent nearly $40 billion on weapons and training. What money can’t buy is the will to fight. The Iraqi army apparently doesn’t have a lot of that.

If what the WaPo and Republicans really are saying is that more American men and women should die in Iraq for a country whose soldiers flee at the first sight of ISIS, then they should say that.

Let’s fight an endless war with money we don’t have. Great idea. Go ahead, you can now have your flashback to Vietnam.

On to a few cartoons.

Obama’s ISIS conundrum in a nutshell:

COW ISIS Bombing

FIFA’s story inspires others:

COW FIFA BustFIFA gets 47 count indictment:

COW Soccer Match

Texas floods delay Texas policy:

COWTexas Floods









One-third of Nigeria’s rescued girls are pregnant:

COW Nigeria Pro-Life



Sec Def Carter Says What Politicians Can’t

After Ramadi fell to ISIS, Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic, that the fall of Ramadi was a “tactical setback” in the US effort to defeat ISIS but said, “I don’t think we’re losing.” Then, because something real had to be said, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said it:

What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight…They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.

He captured the essence of the problem:

We can give them training, we can give them equipment — we obviously can’t give them the will to fight…But if we give them training, we give them equipment, and give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight, because only if they fight can ISIL remain defeated.

This was all too much for the Republicans, who are attacking President Obama’s “failed” strategy for dealing with ISIS. John Bolton said on Fox News Sunday: “We’re losing. There’s no doubt about it.” John McCain, on CBS’s Face the Nation: “We need more troops on the ground. We need forward air controllers”.

The Republican 2016 candidates also attacked Obama’s strategy, but said little about what they would do differently. Those who have spoken out, want thousands of US troops back in Iraq.

• Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum want to deploy 10,000 American troops in Iraq as part of a coalition with Arab nations
• Jeb Bush thinks additional American soldiers would have prevented ISIS from gathering strength in recent years. But an American-led force now? “I don’t think that will work,” he said last Friday
• Marco Rubio described his strategy against ISIS with a line from the movie “Taken” — “we will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you”
• Scott Walker and Rick Perry are open to a combat mission
• Rand Paul wants boots on the ground — as long as they are “Arab boots on the ground”

The Republicans offer “more troops” and movie quotes. They seem to say, “It matters not if you win or lose, it’s where you place the blame”. They also want us to believe that the “surge” defeated the Iraqi insurgency back in the day, and that if Obama had just stayed in Iraq, ISIS wouldn’t be there today.

It’s just more Republican delusion about a country we broke and can’t put back together.

Def Sec Carter was correct to rebuke the Iraqis for cutting and running at Ramadi. The Iraqi military and police forces outnumbered the attacking ISIS forces by 10 to 1, and were more heavily armed. Yet they still ran away as fast as their US-provided ground vehicles would carry them. The Iraqi forces have pointed out that they did not have as much air support as they wanted.

Ok, but it is fair to point out the total lack of air support available to ISIS forces. Any army, like the Iraqis who have air support, when facing an enemy who fights without air support, and finds itself unable to overcome that enemy, is probably fighting poorly.

The military situation is that ISIS and the Iraqi Shias are evenly matched in weaponry, and the Iraqi army has superior numbers. ISIS uses their arms and smaller numbers better, and leads their fighters more skillfully. What is keeping the Iraqi army from using the mobile, combined arms operations tactics that ISIS executes routinely? Is it lack of US air support? Lack of Iranian support?

Maybe it is a marked inferiority in leadership. How about a lack of competence in tactics, logistics, maintenance and supply, not to mention nepotism and chronic corruption?

This is not our fight, and it never was. Now that the apple cart is upside down, and the Sunnis and Shias are at each other, there is absolutely no place in this for the US. At the end of the day, we need to have both Sunni and Shia friends in the ME.

Bravo, Secretary Carter!

Keep our politicians real whenever they try to posture about the ME and ISIS.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 22, 2014

Will this be the Military Service Patch for our never-ending involvement in Iraq?

Operation Clusterfuck
















The Old Lady from South Carolina (OLFSC), on Fox a week ago: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This is a war we’re fighting! It is not a counterterrorism operation. This is not Somalia. This is not Yemen. This is a turning point in the war on terror. Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

He said the same thing a decade ago. Then-freshman Sen. Lindsey Graham (OLFSC) worried that Saddam’s (nonexistent) cache of nerve gas “could kill millions of people”.


Some people think Arabs are an existential threat, but climate change is a myth?

COW Climate


The Arab Nations really are backing our ISIS effort…Really:

COW Last American


We will see if we truly have an exit strategy:

COW Exit Strategy











In other news, independence remains elusive in Scotland:

COW Nessie


Friday Music Break – September 19, 2014

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Our political class has been banging their spoons on the table, crying for war all summer. But now that they’ve got one, they’re not sure they like it. On Wednesday, the House approved President Obama’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to counter the growing threat of the Islamic State organization. But the vote was 273 to 156, which shows widespread misgivings in both parties about the plan’s chances of success, even among lawmakers who voted in favor of it.

Since our representatives are authorizing the third significant US military operation in Iraq in the past 25 years, today’s music is about war, loss and the last Iraq war.

We start with Michael Franti & Spearhead’s “Light Up Ya Lighter” from their 2006 album “Yell Fire”:

The key lyrics:
Here’s what you get
An M-16 and a Kevlar vest
You might come home
With one less leg
But this thing will surely keep a bullet out of your chest

So come on, come on
Sign up, come on
This one’s nothing like Vietnam
Except for the bullets, except for the bombs
Except for the youth that’s gone

Tell me president, tell if you will
How many people does a smart bomb kill?
How many of em do you think we got?
The general says we never miss a shot
And we never ever ever keep a body count
We killin’ so efficiently we can’t keep count

Next, a song from the Vietnam era that still resonates today. Creedence Clearwater Revivals’ “Fortunate Son”, from their album, “Willy and the Poor Boys” is an anti-war anthem. It criticizes militant patriotic behavior, and those who support the use of military force without having to pay the costs themselves, either financially or by serving in a wartime military. Fortunate Son came out 45 years ago, in September 1969. The Wrongologist was discharged in March of that same year. He wasn’t “no millionaire’s son”.

Which, by the way, was how it worked. And how it still works. Let Congress send their sons and daughters to Iraq to degrade and destroy ISIS. That would be called “leadership”.

Let’s close with “Élegie” by Gabriel Faure´. While this isn’t an anti-war piece, it was written to express sorrow at the death of a friend. This is sad story music. It starts with an angry meditation: the person is angry, and as he mulls what is lost, his anger increases. Thus, the music grows even more intense than at the beginning. But at the very end, there is resignation.

Sort of 5 stages of grief for cello and piano.

The artist is Julian Lloyd Webber, brother of, you know, THAT Lloyd Webber. In April 2014 he announced that he would no longer be performing the cello in public, due to a neck injury:


We Have No Syrian Strategy

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Tuesday about the US policy to combat the Islamic State. It featured testimony from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey. You can find transcripts of their testimony here. During their pitch, they called each other “Chuck” and “Marty”. What happened to “Mr. Secretary” and “General”?

Is this the level of professionalism these guys show in the field, or with our allies?

Anyway, the idea of the hearing was for Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey to explain to the Senators how we will conduct the “degradation and destruction” of ISIS. It didn’t go well for those of us who think we should really have a strategy before we head off to Iraq and Syria.

The headline from the hearing is that the disconnect in the ISIS strategy, that we saw when Mr. Obama said we had no Syrian strategy, remains. We still have no Syrian strategy, at least no strategy that has a high probability of working.

Aside from the air strikes that you know about, there was a discussion of training a new force to go into Syria. General Dempsey expects that we will recruit 5,400 previously untrained Syrians from refugee camps, send them to about a year’s military training in Saudi Arabia, organize maybe a few more contingents in later training cohorts, and then send them into Syria, where they will defeat ISIS, and then move against Assad.

That’s believable. Hope you didn’t think we should be doing something sooner, because no other ME country will be sending actually breathing, trained troops to help out against ISIS in Iraq or Syria.

The Obama strategy reads as a multi-track effort. On the one hand, we will combat ISIS; then we will effect regime change in Syria. That’s a maximalist strategy, but is it realistic? The plan has additional risks, (American boots on the ground, quagmire, and creation of additional Islamists who hate America) plus, there is little chance it will work. Too many moving parts.

Maybe Mr. Obama’s real plan for training 5400 Syrians to become a new kind of “Bay of Pigs Brigade” (that didn’t go well) is to delay having to do anything about Syria and Assad, and leave that decision to his successor. The peril is, should the Bay of Pigs Brigade fail, McCain & Co then have a better reason to call for an all-out invasion of Syria, because Assad just killed off our 5400 trusty unicorns.

And because America would lose face if we let Assad get away with it.

Today in the NYT, Tom Friedman finally makes some sense:

Here’s another question: What’s this war really about?
“This is a war over the soul of Islam — that is what differentiates this moment from all others,” argues Ahmad Khalidi, a Palestinian scholar associated with St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Here is why: For decades, Saudi Arabia has been the top funder of the mosques and schools throughout the Muslim world that promote the most puritanical version of Islam, known as Salafism, which is hostile to modernity, women and religious pluralism, or even Islamic pluralism.

More from Friedman:

Saudi financing for these groups is a byproduct of the ruling bargain there between the al-Saud family and its Salafist religious establishment, known as the Wahhabis. The al-Sauds get to rule and live how they like behind walls, and the Wahhabis get to propagate Salafist Islam both inside Saudi Arabia and across the Muslim world, using Saudi oil wealth. Saudi Arabia is, in effect, helping to fund both the war against ISIS and the Islamist ideology that creates ISIS members.

In yesterday’s NYT, the above quoted Ahmad Samih Khalidi said:

The West must overcome its reluctance to offend the Saudis, and speak out much more forcefully against the insidious influence of Wahhabism and the ideological support it offers violent extremism. The Arab Gulf States must choose a side. They cannot continue to finance terrorism and use fundamentalism as a policy tool and yet claim to be fighting it abroad.

The lesson we should have learned in Iraq is that toppling a ruthless dictator does not produce spontaneous democracy. It produces spontaneous chaos that makes the ruthless dictator look, in retrospect, like the better alternative. That could be the outcome in Syria as well.

When ideology collides with reality, reality wins. Today’s reality is that if the ME nations fail to address this problem themselves, it will not get solved. It’s time for America to rethink the continuation of the wishful policies that have kept us stuck in the Middle East for so long, and at such a high cost.

As Matt Stoller said this week: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Adopting a realistic policy on ISIS means a mass understanding who our allies actually are and what they want, as well as their leverage points against us and our leverage points on them. I believe Americans are ready for an adult conversation about our role in the world and the nature of the fraying American order, rather than more absurd and hollow bromides about American exceptionalism.



Thinking About the Slurry Wall on 9/11

It’s 13 years since that beautiful sky-blue September day when our world changed.

Consider the parallelism. Today, as we remember the terrorist attack 13 years ago, we begin another “war” against yet other group of Sunni terrorists. Mr. Obama, who was elected in 2008 to get us out of wars in the Middle East, has us on track to lead another “coalition of the willing” into the ME. The purpose of this crusade sounds depressingly familiar: To blunt the threat of another attack on the Homeland, despite little evidence that an attack is possible or imminent. And we do this because the people who face a direct ISIS threat can’t (or won’t) handle it for themselves.

The rise of ISIS is in part a consequence of US policy in the ME. Our war in Iraq and the subsequent 8 years of Iraqi internal political squabble have left many Sunnis in Iraq willing to support any challenge to the Shia central government. And now, 13 years after 9/11, we’re again strapping on our weapons and heading into war.

So today, let’s talk about the slurry wall at the World Trade Center. The Wrongologist took this photo in July, 2014 of the portion of the slurry wall that remains exposed in the Foundation Hall of the National September 11 Memorial Museum:

WTC Slurry Wall

The slurry wall is the outer wall of what WTC engineers called the “Bathtub” in the 1960’s:

The bathtub is the 9-block area of the World Trade Center site that is excavated down to bedrock…and ringed by the slurry wall. The bathtub was created to enable the building of the Twin Towers’ foundations, and was ultimately filled with seven stories of basements housing the parking garage, mall, and building services.

Except that this bathtub kept water out of the 70’ deep basement. The ground water level at the WTC site is just a few feet below the surface, while bedrock is about 70 feet below the surface. Creating the bathtub required first building a 7-story dam below the water level of the adjacent Hudson River – that was the slurry wall.

After the 9/11 attack, the concern was that the slurry wall would fail. A breach in the wall and a flooding of the bathtub might have also flooded other adjacent below-grade structures, such as the PATH tunnels that passed through the bathtub. The NY subway, built below the PATH tubes could also have flooded with a breach of the wall.

On 9/11, most of the central portion of the wall’s south side (bordering Liberty Street) had moved inward by more than 10 inches. But, it held. According to the New York Times, George Tamaro, a former staff engineer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was closely involved with the construction of the trade center, believes: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[The slurry wall construction]…may have helped prevent the Hudson River from flooding parts of Lower Manhattan

According to Tamaro’s report on the aftermath of the attack, the PATH tunnels in Jersey City, New Jersey, at the Exchange Place Station, were 5 feet lower in elevation than at the WTC PATH Station. Exchange Place became a sump for fire water, river water, and broken water mains discharging into the bathtub. But the slurry wall held.

Looking up at the exposed portion of the slurry wall in Foundation Hall, one can’t help but be thankful for the work of engineers and construction workers back in the sixties who built the bathtub, and the engineers and firefighters who stabilized the walls after 9/11. Since the attack, that unseen wall is now a symbol of the resilience of both New Yorkers and America.

But the world has spun off its normal axis since September 11, 2001. Isn’t it interesting that 9/11 was supposed to be about America striking back against a foreign enemy of freedom. Yet in the process of attempting to win the “War on Terror”, American citizens have given up a significant part of their personal freedoms. And just this month, we are starting to have a national discussion about how, since 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security has transformed our local police into a paramilitary force. For example, the Los Angles School District Police got a MRAP (mine resistant vehicle) and 3 grenade launchers.

Schools need grenade launchers now? James Madison said in 1787:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home…

Today, Americans own enormous numbers of weapons. Pew Research reports that the number of guns in the US is between 270 and 310 million, or roughly one for each of us. But, estimates are that about 37% of us actually own all the weapons.

So, today on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, we need to ask each other: What are we to make of a country in which:
• Local police are militarizing
• Citizens continue to arm themselves
• The federal government tramples on our Bill of Rights

Let’s think about what has been won and lost so far in the War on Terror. And let’s think about what remains of our social fabric. Is it as strong as that slurry wall? Will it hold when attacked? Do we still have that same problem-solving genius that built a slurry wall that was strong enough to survive attack?

Is America still built to last?



Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 17, 2014

Difficult week. Ferguson MO, Iraq and RIP Robin:

COW Robin W

The media is making a thing of Robin Williams’s suicide. Media coverage and commentary is wall-to-wall, just like when Seymour Phillip Hoffman OD’ed.

They ignore that CNN says that there are 22 suicides a DAY among America’s veterans. What has happened to proportionality in the press?

A study published this week in Health Affairs states that spending on behavioral health disorders is expected to decline from 7.4% of total health spending in 2009 to 6.5% in 2020, while actual dollars spent are projected to increase from $172 billion in 2009 to $281 billion in 2020. More needs to be done.

From the police blotter:

COW Hands Up











We heard on Friday that Michael Brown may have stolen cigars from a convenience store. The media says that it shows the kid was no saint. But people aren’t shot for shoplifting, they get arrested and need help from lawyers like these philadelphia criminal lawyers to help reduce their charges. This is despite the fact that shoplifting costs American retailers approximately $14B annually. Once again, the media are conflating the dead boy and his possible crime with the right of the people to free assembly to protest a grievance against their government, as well as the threat that is posed to ordinary Americans by militarized police.

The Ice Bucket Challenge throws cold water on Obama:

COW Ice Bucket

We revise our view of Iraqi history:

COW Strongman

Iraq owns us. 4 US presidents in row have been called to action there:

COW Cakewalk


What’s Erbil Got to do With It?

David Brooks:

We are now living in what we might as well admit is the Age of Iraq. The last four presidents have found themselves drawn into that nation because it epitomizes the core problem at the center of so many crises: the interaction between failing secular governance and radical Islam.

While Lawrence of Arabia said “on to Aqaba”, President Obama says, “on to Erbil”.

From the 2-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Steve Coll, writing in The New Yorker:

To the defense of Erbil: this was the main cause that drew President Obama back to combat in Iraq last week, two and a half years after he fulfilled a campaign pledge and pulled the last troops out.

More from Coll:

Erbil is the capital of the oil-endowed Kurdish Regional Government, in northern Iraq. There the US built political alliances and equipped Kurdish Peshmerga militias long before the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, in 2003.

Erbil was the most stable place in Iraq until ISIS got near there. That caused Mr. Obama to draw a Red Line he has been thus far, unwilling to draw elsewhere in the Middle East, despite the urgings from politicians to his right. Mr. Obama, speaking with Tom Friedman in an interview last Friday:

The Kurdish region is functional in the way we would like to see…It is tolerant of other sects and other religions in a way that we would like to see elsewhere. So we do think it is important to make sure that that space is protected.

Kurdistan’s economy has boomed, attracting investors from all over. But, Kurdistan has one notable deficit as the model Middle East US ally: it isn’t a state. Nor is it a happy partner in the Iraqi national unity government. So, given that, Mr. Obama’s explanation of his rationale for war seems incomplete.

Did we say there are American oil companies on the ground there? Or, that there are American oil workers on the ground there? ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the oil and gas firms drilling in Kurdistan under contracts that compensate the companies for their political risk-taking with unusually favorable terms. Along with them came the usual sub-contractors, the oilfield service companies, the accountants, the construction firms, and logistics firms.

More from Steve Coll: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It’s not about oil. After you’ve written that on the blackboard five hundred times, watch Rachel Maddow’s documentary “Why We Did It” for a highly sophisticated yet pointed journalistic take on how the world oil economy has figured from the start as a silent partner in the Iraq fiasco.

Mr. Obama has a duty to defend American lives and interests in Erbil and elsewhere, oil or no. But, rather than evacuating US citizens, he has ordered a months-long aerial campaign to defend Kurdistan’s status quo. Why?

The DC Spin Doctors will say that it is essential to help a unified Iraq become capable of containing and defeating ISIS. But the status quo in Kurdistan also continues oil production by the international firms. We hear no mention of that, or how badly an evacuation would play for Democrats in the November elections. So, back in Iraq we are.

A little history: ExxonMobil cut its deal in Erbil in 2011. The GW Bush administration did not force Exxon’s predecessor American oil companies such as the Dallas-based Hunt Oil, to divest from Kurdistan. Bush’s team allowed the wildcatters on the ground to stay there, while insisting that Erbil’s politicians negotiate an oil-revenue sharing and political unity deal with Baghdad.

The Kurds in Erbil didn’t see the point in a final compromise with Baghdad’s Shiite politicians, so as each year passed, and the Kurds got richer, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like a de-facto state. Steve Coll concludes:

And so, in Erbil in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened Iraq’s seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront ISIS.

So we have another case of “Privatizing the Profits and Socializing the Losses”. The oil companies may or may not pay US taxes on the profits from their operations in Kurdistan, but Americans will surely pay the costs of Obama’s defense of Erbil.

We are defending an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose geopolitical appeal is as a long-term non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe. We don’t hear that spoken about in polite or naïve company.

Or in our main stream media, which is neither polite or naïve.

So, American forces are now using weapons (mostly air power) to destroy other American weapons captured by ISIS forces in Iraq, which the ISIS combatants have been using to capture even more US armaments, which Americans, in turn, will have to destroy at some point in the future.

Steve Coll reminds us that the historical Al Swearengen, Mayor of Deadwood, SD was a character in the HBO Series Deadwood. On the show, he once said that life is made up of:

“one vile task after another”


And so is American policy in Iraq.



Remember the Gulf of Tonkin Incident?

August 4th is the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, an event that led to Congress giving President Johnson the legal authorization to begin the Vietnam War. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox exchanged fire with three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later, the Maddox fired on radar targets, which it reported had launched torpedoes at the Maddox.

And on August 10th, Congress passed a joint resolution giving the president the use of “conventional” military force against North Vietnam.

Why should we remember the Gulf of Tonkin? Because the Iraq War wasn’t the first time we went to war where the intelligence and facts were fixed to conform to the policy. Jessica Desvarieux of the Real News Network interviews Daniel Ellsberg about his experience with the decision-making about the Gulf of Tonkin incident:

For those who don’t remember the Vietnam Era, Daniel Ellsberg was the Edward Snowden of his time. Ellsberg was physically present when the Gulf of Tonkin “facts” were “fixed” to conform to Vietnam policy. Daniel Ellsberg was a highly placed adviser in the Pentagon. He had been a Marine officer, assigned to a ship in the Suez Canal during the Suez Crisis in 1956. Starting in 1964, he worked in the Pentagon for McNamara, and starting in 1967, served 2 years in Vietnam as a civilian working for the State Department. Here is part of what Ellsberg says in the video: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

…my boss–the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, John McNaughton–[was] with McNamara in his office on the morning of August 4, when I came into the office at 9 o’clock they were actually already planning the possible response to an attack…because of indications that the commodore on the spot…thought that he was being shadowed for a possible ambush…a courier rushed in…with a flash cable saying that Commodore Herrick on the patrol in the South China Sea…was under attack at that very moment, that there was a torpedo coming at him, he was taking evasive action…

More from Ellsberg: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

…at about 1:30, while…McNamara…was over at the White House, and I think McNaughton was with him, conferring with the president on the exact nature of the retaliation, [in] comes a very dramatic table from Commodore Herrick saying, hold everything…All the torpedo reports except the first one are now suspect and, it turned out, he said, were reports of an overeager sonar man who was mistaking the beat of the ship’s propeller against the wake as they took evasive action, circled in the water. That was being mistaken for incoming torpedoes…

And Ellsberg tells us that the ship’s captain ultimately reported 21 torpedoes. He goes on to say that all but one were false reports, and that the captain said many years later that he was also wrong about the first torpedo: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Now, I took it for granted that anything I was seeing was, of course, also available to the president and to McNamara…So I assumed that they were quite well aware that there was a good deal of uncertainty about what had happened. The commodore at the time, Herrick, did say that there was one torpedo, but one had to take that with a good deal of salt, because he had been just as certain about the next 20 torpedoes, and it really took him many years before, looking at the evidence, he finally acknowledged that he had been mistaken about the first one as well. But even on that night, we knew that what the president proceeded to say and what McNamara proceeded to say to the press in television interviews, that the attack was unequivocal, we knew that that was false…

Just like years later, when it turned out that the assertions by Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush that they had unequivocal evidence of WMDs in Iraq, their evidence was at best, equivocal. Later, we learned it was false.

Just as there were no torpedoes in the Tonkin Gulf, there were no WMDs in Iraq.

Just like Johnson and McNamara got a blank check for war with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Rumsfeld and Bush got the Iraq Resolution, essentially a predated declaration of war given by the Congress to the president, in violation of the Constitution. We can go back further: the USA always has a pretext for war; remember the Maine! The patterns and degree of deception from Vietnam to Iraq appear to be eerily similar.

Add to that, whatever caused the downing of MH17 is not clear cut and unequivocal either. The US says it has evidence, but it has not provided that evidence to us. It is shrouded in mystery, doubt and propaganda, just as the supposed WMDs in Iraq, the Syrian government gas attacks, what started the latest Gaza/Israeli war, and many other incidents.

It is useful to add more skepticism into the current geopolitical climate. Today’s average Congressional staffer can remember GWB and WMDs, since they were 18-20 years old when that happened, while Vietnam is ancient history to them.

Both wars were started with a lie, but the equally big lie was that when the promoters got their wars, they were smart enough to know that neither war could actually be won.

So, who benefited?

And who will benefit if we engage again in Iraq? If we engage more deeply in Ukraine, or in Syria, or in Gaza?

Hint: It isn’t “freedom”.