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Monday, December 19, 2011

Toxic entrenchment — U.S. in Iraq story

U.S. State Department staffer Peter Van Buren’s account in We meant well: How I helped lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people is illustrative of an endemic pattern of criminal recklessness in U.S. foreign relations.
Excerpting, editing by Carolyn Bennett

“This story really began in the early 1990s,” says the Foreign Service Officer who had been posted in Iraq with an embedded-with-military U.S. State Department  Provisional Reconstruction Team (ePRT) before writing We Meant Well. From that time forward, Van Buren writes, “Iraq had been continually under siege by the United States. It was a seamless epic as the war of 1990-91 continued through the non-fly zones and the sanctions of the nineties — to be capped off by the 2003 invasion and the ensuing years of occupation.

“During Desert Storm, we [U.S. and allies] destroyed large portions of Iraq’s infrastructure. We had gone out of our way to make a mess, using clever tools such as cruise missiles that spat metallic fibers to short out entire electrical systems we would have to reconstruct.

“In the years that followed Desert Storm, three [four] U.S. Presidents bombed and rocketed Iraq, running up the bill we would later have to pay.

“Sanctions meanwhile kept [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] fat and happy on black-market oil profits while chiseling away Baghdad’s cosmopolitan First World veneer and plunging most of Iraq’s population into poverty.…

“The Script for the 2003 invasion did not include an extended reconstruction effort.” What the Americans imagined, Van Buren says, was a greeting “as liberators like in post-D-day France with cheerful natives rushing out to offer our spunky troops bottles of wine and frisky daughters.”

63 billion, still counting

However, “the reconstruction of Iraq was the largest nation-building program in history, dwarfing in cost, size, and complexity even those undertaken after World War II to rebuild Germany and Japan,” Van Buren writes. “At a cost to the U.S. taxpayer of over $63 billion and counting, the plan was lavishly funded, yet, as government inspectors found, the efforts were characterized from the beginning by pervasive waste and inefficiency, mistaken judgments, flawed policies, and structural weaknesses” [Chapter 1 “Help Wanted, No experience necessary,” pp. 3. 5-6].

Reconstruction a lot like the war itself — almost existential, he says.  
We fought the war because we were in Iraq to fight the war.
We ran projects because we had money for projects [Chapter “Midcourse correction,” p. 149].

Burning billions

“What the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) called a ‘legacy of waste’ in an August 2010 report included —
A $40 million prison that was never opened,
A $104 million failed sewer system in Fallujah,
A $171 million hospital in southern Iraq (that Laura Bush ‘opened’ in 2004 but that still has never seen a patient), and
More totaling $5 billion

“Audits resulted in the restitution of only $70 million worth of embezzled funds, practically a rounding error, given the $63 billion spent overall on reconstruction” [Chapter “Everyone was looking the other way,” p. 214].

Vatican-size Emerald City U.S. Embassy

“The World’s Biggest Embassy” sits on “104 acres with twenty-two buildings, thousands of staff members, and a $116 million vehicle inventory.” Physically, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq was “larger than the Vatican” — a sign, Van Buren says, “of our commitment, at least our commitment to excess.

Vice President Biden
U.S. Embassy
“‘Along with the Great Wall of China,’” he quotes the U.S. Ambassador, “‘it’s one of those things you can see with the naked eye from outer space.’

“The new Embassy compound isolated American leadership at first physically and soon mentally as well. It generated its own electricity, purified its own water from the nearby Tigris, and processed its won sewage, hermetically sealed off from Iraq.
Vice President Biden
U.S. Embassy

“In the process of deposing Saddam, we [the United States Government] placed our new seat of power right on top of his [Saddam Hussein’s] old one…. Saddam’s old palaces in the Green Zone were repurposed as offices; Saddam’s old jails became our new jails. …The place you went to visit political prisoners who opposed Saddam [had become] the place you went to look for relatives who opposed the Americans [Chapter “The Embassy laws, where the grass is always greener,”154-155].

Notes and sources
We meant well: How I helped lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people Peter Van Buren. New York: Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Company, 2011

ePRT: embedded Provisional Reconstruction Team
FOB: Forward Operating Base
SIGIR: Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
FSO: Foreign Service Officer

Author Peter Van Buren at the time of the book’s publication had served with the 
U.S. Foreign Service for more than 23 years. The book jacket notes say, Peter Van Buren has served overseas as a State Department Foreign Service Officer for more than two decades in places such as Thailand, Japan, and Iraq, among other places.

Bush dynasty through Barack Obama

Occupied Persian Gulf 
Persian Gulf War (1990–91)
The international conflict that was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990.

Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, ordered the invasion and occupation of Kuwait with the apparent aim of acquiring that nation’s large oil reserves, canceling a large debt Iraq owed Kuwait, and expanding Iraqi power in the region.

On August 3, the United Nations Security Council called for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait; on August 6, the council imposed a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq. (The Iraqi government responded by formally annexing Kuwait on August 8)

Occupied Kuwait
Iraq’s invasion and the potential threat it then posed to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer and exporter, prompted the United States and its western European NATO allies to rush troops to Saudi Arabia to deter a possible attack. Egypt and several other Arab nations joined the anti-Iraq coalition and contributed forces to the military buildup, known as Operation Desert Shield. Iraq meanwhile built up its occupying army in Kuwait to about 300,000 troops.

The Persian Gulf War began on January 16–17, 1991, with a massive U.S.-led air offensive against Iraq that continued throughout the war. Over the next few weeks, this sustained aerial bombardment, named Operation Desert Storm, destroyed Iraq’s air defenses before attacking its communications networks, government buildings, weapons plants, oil refineries, and bridges and roads. By mid February, the allies had shifted their air attacks to Iraq’s forward ground forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq, destroying their fortifications and tanks.

Operation Desert Saber, a massive allied ground offensive, was launched northward from northeastern Saudi Arabia into Kuwait and southern Iraq on February 24; and within three days, Arab and U.S. forces had retaken Kuwait city in the face of crumbling Iraqi resistance.

Meanwhile, the main U.S. armored thrust drove into Iraq some 120 miles (200 km) west of Kuwait and attacked Iraq’s armored reserves from the rear. By February 27, these forces had destroyed most of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard units after the latter had tried to make a stand south of Al-Baṣrah in southeastern Iraq. By the time that U.S. President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire for February 28, Iraqi resistance had completely collapsed.

Occupied Iraq
No official figures for Iraqi military operation

Estimates of the number of Iraqi troops in the Kuwait theatre range from 180,000 to 630,000; estimates of Iraqi military deaths range from 8,000 to 100,000.

By contrast, the allies lost about 300 troops in the conflict.

The terms of the peace were, inter alia [among other things], that Iraq [should] recognize Kuwait’s sovereignty and divest itself of all weapons of mass destruction (i.e., nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons) and all missiles with ranges exceeding 90 miles (150 km). Pending complete compliance, economic sanctions would continue.

Post-U.S.-led Gulf War on Iraq

[KURDS: Estimated to be the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East after Arabs, Turks, and Persians, important Kurdish minorities are in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, and Iraq’s Kurds are concentrated in the relatively inaccessible mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is roughly contiguous with Kurdish regions in those other countries. Kurds constitute a separate and distinctive cultural group. They are mostly Sunni Muslims who speak one of two dialects of the Kurdish language, an Indo-European language closely related to Modern Persian.]

No-fly action
Kurds in the north of the country and Shīites in the south rose in a rebellion that was suppressed by Saddam with great brutality.

The United States and Britain then prohibited Iraqi aircraft from operating in designated ‘no-fly’ zones over the areas in conflict. Other allies gradually left the coalition but U.S. and British aircraft continued to patrol Iraqi skies and UN inspectors sought to guarantee that all illicit weapons were destroyed.

Operation Desert Fox  and no-fly zones

Iraq’s failure to cooperate with inspectors led in 1998 to a brief resumption of hostilities (Operation Desert Fox). Iraq thereafter refused to readmit inspectors into the country, and regular exchanges of fire between Iraqi forces and U.S. and British aircraft over the no-fly zones continued into the 21st century.

Rising U.S./UK aggression

In 2002, the United States sponsored a new UN resolution calling for the return of weapons inspectors, who then reentered Iraq in November.
Member states of the UN Security Council differed in their opinion of the degree to which Iraq had cooperated with inspections.

2003 U.S./UK re-invasion of Iraq, “The Iraq War”

The United States and the United Kingdom had previously begun to mass troops on Iraq’s border. On March 17, 2003, the U.S. and UK dispensed with further negotiations.

[Pattern similar to that used this year by the U.S. and UK before invading Libya]
U.S. President George W. Bush — seeking no further UN endorsement — issued an ultimatum demanding that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein step down from power and leave Iraq within 48 hours or face war.

President George W. Bush even suggested that if the Iraqi leader did leave Iraq, U.S. forces might still be necessary to stabilize the region and to hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

When Saddam Hussein refused to leave, the Untied States and allied forces launched an attack on Iraq on March 20 and thus began what became known as the Iraq War.


            41st     George H.W. Bush 1989–93
            42nd    William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton [William Jefferson Clinton, original name:  William Jefferson Blythe III] 1993–2001
            43rd     George W. Bush 2001–09
            44th     Barack Obama 2009–


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