Third Party & Independents Archives

Obama and Righteous Among the Nations

If the intelligence is right, Ramadi will be taken over by Shiite militias backed and organized by Iran. It’s being labelled the Iraq army, but it is in fact a Shiite force that will purge Ramadi of it’s Sunni infidels. Women and children, as well as Islamic State radicals.

The goal is a supply route to Syria and Lebanon, and Hezbollah forces operating there. That's what the options in Iraq are being reduced to: ISIS or Hezbollah. The coalition of Sunni tribes that America had previously supported has been shredded and is a largely irrelevant memory. Obama's Washington doesn't need them. So it thinks.

Once again, Obama's curious relationship with Islam sits uneasily at the heart of his version of politically correct nation building. And the results are a disaster. If George W. Bush's insistence on invading Iraq is an understandable target for criticism, Obama's obviating of the necessary follow-up strategies in Iraq, once having gone in, has opened the gates of hell.

Does Obama see himself as a bridge? A grand healer of the divisions within Islam? Even as the Middle East burns? He places climate change like a storm of locusts as a warning from the heavens. Does he think that a swank dinner in Paris is like Moses parting the Red Sea? A raised glass of expensive wine like a staff? A holy communion with a brave new world of expensive solar panels and subsidized technology?

Some 70 years ago, Master Sgt. Robbie Edmonds said the words, "We are all Jews here" at a Nazi POW stalag. He faced a pistol to his head for his refusal to hand over Jewish POW's to a near-certain death. He stood his ground, and the pointed pistol was lowered. He is to be posthumously designated as "Righteous Among the Nations", an honor reserved for those who risked their lives to aid Jewish citizens faced with death in the madness of fascist Europe.

Righteous among the nations. Our symbols and deepest beliefs and our very faith carry the gift handed us in words like these. Few of us can live up to such a blessing. Master Sgt. Edmonds did.

Let us hope that Obama appreciates what righteous among the nations really means. He might pause and reflect on the sergeant from Knoxville, and his words in the face of death.

Posted by AllardK at December 2, 2015 5:47 PM
Comment #401102

Thanks for sharing the story of Sgt. Robbie Edmonds. A heroic act of love that I will remember and honor.

The old and prescient admonition; “follow the money” is on display with the Pairs confab on MMGW.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 2, 2015 7:17 PM
Comment #401103

Global Crisis: Goldman Sachs Says That Brazil Has Plunged Into ‘An Outright Depression’

This scary headline is followed by an even more frightening article. If true, that last thing the world needs is higher taxation of wealthy nations to fund the war on MMGW.


Posted by: Royal Flush at December 2, 2015 7:43 PM
Comment #401105

I was in western Anbar, Iraq 2007-8. I used to walk around in Ramadi. I was there when we turned the place over to the Iraqis. It was a hopeful time.

We had defeated radical Islam on a battlefield of their own choosing. As CIA Director Brennan said a few days ago “I don’t think we are underestimating at all the capabilities of ISIL. Its growth over the last several years in particular – but as you know, that it had its roots in al-Qaida in Iraq. It was, you know, pretty much decimated when U.S. forces were there in Iraq. It had maybe 700-or-so adherents left. And then it grew quite a bit in the last several years, when it split then from al-Qaida in Syria, and set up its own organization.”

We had friends among the Iraqis. When I walked the streets, people would come out of their shops to talk. They were friendly and grateful for the order we helped reestablish. I sat with armed Iraqis, confident that they would protect me.

This terrorist movement is like a disease. You have to take the antibiotic until it is gone, not when it seems okay. People we had worked with started being murdered after 2011. We didn’t finish the job. I don’t think anybody there will trust us again.

We had lots of option in 2011. Today we have few, beyond maybe hoping the Russians take care of it.

Posted by: C&J at December 2, 2015 8:30 PM
Comment #401106

This is what I wrote on September 16, 2007. I had more hope in 2007 and I think we DID succeed. We just let it slip through our fingers.

Why I Volunteered to Go to Iraq

In thinking about why I decided to go to Iraq, I decided first to eliminate things that were NOT key factors. I do not feel pushed to go to Iraq. On the contrary, I am happy with my life in Virginia. My family is great. I have a job I love, probably the best job I have ever held. I own a home, a forest & just about everything I really need or want. Money is not a problem for me anymore. My retirement is reasonably secure. The Department did not push me to go. On the contrary, I got to my current job for the next two years and one of my biggest regrets has been that I am leaving bosses and colleagues who want me to stay.

So what is pulling me to Iraq?

Patriotism is my biggest pull. I feel a little embarrassed to put this front and center. Our ironic age tends to dismiss these sorts of things. It is not the patriotism of the Sousa music and the grand parades. Perhaps more a call of duty. It is something I should do. Others are doing their part; it is time for me to do mine. I supported an aggressive policy in Iraq back in 2003. It did not play out as I hoped, but I think there is still a good chance for success. Beyond that, the consequences of failure are terrible. My contribution to this success will be small, but we all need to make our small contributions to make big things happen.

Professional growth is my second reason. The PRT job description sounds exciting. Leading a multifunctional team like this is what my experience prepared me to do and it is the kind of opportunity you cannot get anywhere else. A person should do what he does well. My FS career has been good, but it is almost over. I doubt I would ever have another opportunity to lead an operation overseas, certainly doing nothing as complex or important as the PRT leader.

I cannot leave out the money I will make. The Department gives significant financial incentives for service in Iraq. But money is not a motivator. I am not doing this for the money, but I think that w/o the money I would feel like some kind of chump. It is what organization behavior people call a “hygiene factor”, something you need to have to go forward, but not something that causes the action. I will try to save almost all the additional money for retirement (Chrissy will be able to put her TSP to the maximum. Mine is already there @ 10%) or forestry. For example, I am already getting some wildlife plots put onto my land. W/o the Iraq money I could not afford to do that.

In summary, my reasons are complex. I am not sure myself why I am doing it. I suppose that I will have lots of time to think about these things in Iraq. Frankly, that is also one of the draws – time to think. My predecessor tells me that the job consists of periods of intense and sometimes scary activity punctuated by periods of profound boredom. My quarters are a 9x17 shipping container (w/o a bathroom) in the middle of a desert. I figure this will create some forced introspection. In the past, whenever I have been in these lonely and/or disrupted situations, I have come up with some new ideas that have worked out.

I am not very worried about being killed or seriously wounded. I understand the danger and am aware of the risks, but I also can figure the odds. I could be wrong. If that does happen, I will have led a good life and gone out when things were still good.

That is the story so far. My year in Iraq is about to start; let’s see how it ends.

Posted by: C&J at December 2, 2015 8:37 PM
Comment #401108

“We didn’t finish the job. I don’t think anybody there will trust us again.”

Blaming the current administration for the re-emergence of a more virulent Sunni radical organization is pure nonsense. If you want to fix blame put it on some deserving parties: the Maliki Shiite dominated Iraqi government and the Sunnis themselves. You might also give some credit to the Bush administration which allowed the establishment of a Iraqi governing structure that virtually guaranteed suppression of the minority Sunnis by the majority Shiites to say nothing about the initial de-baathification policy.

Let’s not get too weepy, though, over the plight of the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. They supported the insurgency, they gave birth to and supported al-Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS emerged from their midst.

Let’s face facts. The Sunnis and Shiites are in a power struggle.

Posted by: Rich at December 2, 2015 9:47 PM
Comment #401109


The only way that we could have followed up on the success of the “Awakening” would have been to maintain a large force in Iraq and to continue to arm and fund the Sunni militias. The purpose would not have been to suppress al-Qaeda or ISIS but rather to police the Iraqi government’s policies toward the Sunnis. But, that would have been an absurdity. We couldn’t leave because we couldn’t trust the Iraqi government that we put in place.

In my opinion, until there is a viable Sunni political alternative, there will not be a satisfactory resolution of the ISIS phenomena.

Posted by: Rich at December 2, 2015 10:07 PM
Comment #401111

IMO - we could have controlled all of western Anbar and eastern Syria with a very small force stationed at Al Asad. It is a flat and dusty area. AQI was defeated. As Brennan says, there were only a few hundred left.

In 2008, we were not fighting much anymore. We had won. The marines were bored. People were rebuilding.

I think we lost this opportunity to help shape events. Now it is all gone to hell.

The only plus side is that fracking has made oil so cheap that we don’t have to concern ourselves as much. Maybe let the Russians have it until the Chinese take it away from them. But I don’t want to hear about Obama’s compassion or foresight.

Posted by: C&J at December 2, 2015 10:46 PM
Comment #401112

The Maliki government was controlled by Iran from day one. An Iranian condition for Maliki’s third term in office was that he not allow a continued American presence in Iraq. The Bush administration set the conditions for withdrawal. The Obama administration wanted to extend it, but could not, for two reasons: 1) the Maliki government would not allow it, because of Iranian conditions, and 2) Americans wanted immunity from prosecution for killing Iraqis. Perhaps this was just the excuse.

But the truth is, we never controlled the situation. We were only doing Iran’s bidding. And the Iranians were unwilling to see 150,000 American troops permanently based in Iraq.

Posted by: phx8 at December 3, 2015 1:38 AM
Comment #401114


In anticipation of conservative skeptics,here is a source for your claims. As noted by David Cloud and Ned Parker, Sadr played a key role in preventing the continuation of the US military presence.

Unfortunately, this all comes back to the original critique made against the surge in 2006. Any effort to quell the Sunni insurgency would be fruitless without political reconciliation. Otherwise, the peace would not be sustainable as Sunnis had no manner to air their grievances against the Shia-led government. US forces can serve as a training wheels for a short while, but their purpose is not to permanently manage the internal divisions of a faraway land.

Posted by: Warren Porter at December 3, 2015 5:48 AM
Comment #401116

We see a lot of attempts to rewrite the history of the invasion of Iraq. Today we see a lot of demands for Obama to do something more than what he is already doing, but somehow, the demands never ask for anything more than he is doing right now.

If the US puts substantial numbers of troops into another war in Iraq AND Syria, I want to see two things happen: 1) pay for it, and 2) state a plan that will still work after we leave.

You summed it up nicely: “Any effort to quell the Sunni insurgency would be fruitless without political reconciliation.”

So somehow we will need to find a way to reconcile the Turks and the Kurds, and the Sunnis and the Shias. Working with the Shias means working with Iran, the Iraqi government, Assad, and Hezbollah. Working with the Sunnis means working with the Iraqi generals and tribal leaders, and ISIS and a Sunni Islamic Caliphate- which we will have to rename in order to make it palatable.

Was the War in Iraq the worst foreign policy mistake in American history? Only Vietnam and the War of 1812 compete. Was George W Bush the worst president in American history? Probably. No other president managed to make such disastrous decisions with both foreign policy and the economy.

There is a good reason Jeb! is at 5% in the latest poll. There is a good reason the GOP base has turned its back on the GOP establishment, because the establishment Neocon and economic platforms were a miserable failure. Now the base has turned to all they have left, namely, nativism, xenophobia, bigotry, and hatred. They embrace conspiracy theories on a regular basis. They cling to their guns and their religion. And it is a really, really ugly thing to behold.

Posted by: phx8 at December 3, 2015 10:51 AM
Comment #401123

That is the story so far. My year in Iraq is about to start; let’s see how it ends.
Posted by: C&J at December 2, 2015 8:37 PM

Many thanks for sharing this part of your life John. It took courage to post this on WB knowing full well that criticism would be immediate.

I admire what our military accomplished. The politics…not so much.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 3, 2015 1:51 PM
Comment #401126

“It took courage to post this on WB knowing full well that criticism would be immediate.”

Royal Flush,

Let’s be clear, neither I nor any other commentator, to my recollection, has ever criticized or denigrated Jack’s service in Iraq as a foreign service officer. It took courage and commitment. He is rightfully proud of his accomplishments and service.

The fact that I may disagree with his opinions regarding current or past Iraq policies does not detract from my respect for his service.

Posted by: Rich at December 3, 2015 4:47 PM
Comment #401130

Rich & Royal

Most Watchblog people are respectful enough. I have no continuing complaints and when I had them I have said so. When I first got back, I was a little touchy and I can see now that I sometimes overreacted. If I feel myself becoming complacent about war, I remember a particular young man, about the age of my son at the time, who was killed by a single shot as he got out of the vehicle to stretch his legs in a place we thought was secure. If I become complacent about AQI, I remember the man and his 11-year-old son beheaded for the crime of selling rice w/o AQI permission.

I am also haunted by the memory of Iraqi friends. I told them that we would be there for them. I thought it was the truth, but it was not and they died after we left. That is why I would never do that kind of assignment again. I turned down an offer in Pakistan, not because I feared the danger but because I did not want to be in that position again. It is easy to be brave when you are backed by a company of marines, you know that you can go home and that your family there is safe. Our Iraqi friends stood up to the bad guys when it was close and personal. They had experienced AQI terror. They had seen their brothers beheaded and their sisters raped and yet they still had the courage to stand up. That hell for them came back.

I post to share what I think is an uncommon experience. I had the opportunity to put my feet on the ground in more parts of western Iraq than most other people. The marines made it possible for me to travel freely. I think I had more real freedom of movement than almost anyone else in Iraq. My place in the hierarchy was high enough that I could travel as I wanted and my place was low enough in the hierarchy that I could travel as I wanted.

I thought at the time and I think now that we had a chance to make the future better than the past. I was proud of the progress we had made. It is all lost, like it never happened. Not again in our lifetimes will we have a similar chance the change the course of the river.

Anyway, that is my opinion.

Posted by: C&J at December 3, 2015 7:15 PM
Comment #401131

“Not again in our lifetimes will we have a similar chance the change the course of the river.”

Opportunity lost is bitter indeed.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 3, 2015 7:36 PM
Comment #401133

“Not again in our lifetimes will we have a similar chance the change the course of the river.”

Respect your opinion, C&J, but your statement reveals the problem of our involvement in Iraq and prior to that in Vietnam: the arrogant belief that “we” could determine the political fate of a foreign nation warring internally along sectarian and ethnic lines. If we just stayed a little longer or committed more treasury and blood, these people would eventually come to their senses and become more like…., well, us.

Liberals are often accused of being naive about human nature. Can’t we all just get along and sing Kumbaya. But, in this case, it is the neocons and conservatives that fall into that category.

When we deposed the Sunnis, the historical ruling class of Iraq, and championed a democratic government in a majority Shia country, what did anyone expect to happen? Well, revenge and resistance comes to my mind but apparently not to our policy makers at the time. Revenge and resistance it was and continues to be. It was and is a breeding ground for radical extremism, particularly for the losing side (Sunnis).

Yes, we could have stayed. We could have continued to police the two sides and make believe that Iraq was a functional democracy. But, it would be an illusion only waiting for us to leave and reveal the rot and hate. If you don’t believe me, think about the fact that we spent 25 billion dollars equipping and training the Iraqi army only to see it dissolve in the face of a few hundred Sunni radicals (ISIS).

If we want to address this ISIS threat realistically, we need to begin to respect the natural ethnic and sectarian divisions in that region. Otherwise, ethnic and sectarian violence will continue. It is an incubator for radical extremism. The Kurds deserve a country of their own (Turkey be damned). If the Shia Alawites of Syria want to be ruled by Assad’s Baath party so be it. Get a place for the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria. It such a crazy idea or without recent precedence. Yugoslavia broke into separate countries based on ethnic and sectarian factors.

Posted by: Rich at December 3, 2015 9:17 PM
Comment #401134


Such big issues are beyond my pay grade. I don’t just say that to be difficult. I was at the time allowed to comment about Western Anbar, things I had actually experienced myself.

I don’t know that we had to solve all the problems. I know that a small force along with air support could dominate much of the region from our base at Al Asad. We could have reacted quickly and conditions in Syria and Iraq would not so easily got out of hand. Another advantage to being there was that we had access to lots of intelligence. It would have been cheaper to maintain forces there than it is to be doing what we are ineffectively doing now. We also would not be facing all those refugees.

Posted by: C&J at December 3, 2015 9:30 PM
Comment #401148


I appreciate your perspective. However, it fails to address the underlying problem of the Sunni vs. Shia power struggle in Iraq and throughout the entire region. It has been argued that the US strategy employed during the “Anbar Awakening” and the surge only exacerbated the long term problem and laid the groundwork for a Sunni return to al-Qaeda (ISIS). The linked article published in 2008 outlines the problem and predicts the current state of affairs.

Posted by: Rich at December 4, 2015 6:11 PM
Comment #401149


It is always easy to predict problems. But the timeline doesn’t work. Things remained generally peaceful until 2011. The AQI -ISIS transplanted to Syria, where it grew dangerous and then leaked back into Iraq. Our Sunni friends were not lovers of Baghdad, but they were murdered by fellow Sunnis, now radicalized in Syria.

I think we could have protected them with few men and air power. We could interdict movement in the desert very easily. And if we didn’t see them moving, we could see their tracks. It is like a giant, dusty parking lot. They cannot hide if we control the sky.

I agree with the article that we were not establishing “democracy” and I don’t think that was a valid goal. The tribe have run the place forever. It is a kind of consent of the governed. In fact, IMO, we made serious mistakes in trying to make them more “inclusive”.

But it is all gone now. I do blame Obama and Hillary for this. I think Obama would make different choices today, but he just didn’t know what they heck he was doing. We are paying a big price for is lack of experience and the people of Iraq, Syria & others are paying even a bigger one.

BTW - This Sunni-Shia thing is bigger in theory and was made a bigger issue. I knew lots of mixed couples. One guy I knew had one Sunni and one Shia wife. I thought it sounded a lot like a sitcom, but it seemed to work.

I admit that I do not think about it very much anymore. After several of our friends were murdered, I actually avoided contact with the news. Nothing I can do about it. I failed and we failed.

Posted by: C&J at December 4, 2015 6:38 PM
Comment #401150


I am sorry that you don’t want to think much about it anymore. People with your insight are sorely needed.

I found the article (comment on the “Price of the Surge)” to be spot on regarding the short term gains of the “Awakening” and the long term problem. A compelling analysis of the “Awakening” deal is summarized here.

Clearly, the Iraqi government was not going to follow our lead in supporting and funding the Sunni militias when we left. They didn’t. In fact, they basically occupied the Sunni Triangle with a hostile Shia dominated Iraqi army. It is no wonder that the Sunni areas were so easily overrun by radical Sunni extremists (ISIS).

So, I understand your comment that the US betrayed the Sunnis by withdrawing completely. It left them to fend for themselves with an Iraqi government hostile to them. The re-emergence of al-Qaeda (ISIS) was entirely predictable.

But, the mistake was not that we didn’t leave troops in the Sunni Triangle. We couldn’t stay forever. The mistake was that we didn’t address the central government structure that left the Sunnis at the mercy of the Shia. We should have pushed for greater autonomy and resource allocation for the Sunni areas such as achieved by the Kurds.

The “Awakening” and the Surge gave us a blueprint for success in addressing the radical Sunni ISIS problem: give the Sunnis the resources and political power for autonomous self rule. That is what we essentially did during the “Awakening.” We ignored the central Iraqi government and gave the Sunnis self governance. Then we left.

Posted by: Rich at December 4, 2015 7:53 PM
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