Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Iraq War - let's start with the fact that 99.9% Americans sacrifice nothing (which is a new thing)

1. What American Sacrifice? -- by Derrick Z. Jackson / Boston Globe

Four years after the invasion of Iraq, Americans still behave as if there is no war at all.

President Bush marked the Iraq anniversary by saying, "It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home." He warned, "The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq."

The level to which Bush can say this without being impeached is directly related to the depths that Americans delude ourselves daily in supposed safe havens of monstrous SUVs, McMansions, "man caves" and mega televisions.

The fourth year of the Iraq war has been more bloody for Iraqi civilians than Year 2 and Year 3 combined, with 26,540 deaths, according to Iraq Body Count. The last 15 months of occupation have been nearly eight times more bloody for US soldiers than the invasion itself, and has now claimed more than 3,200 lives.

Yet, who would know? The carnage of Iraqis and the coffins of US soldiers have not yet merited a single national call to sacrifice by Bush.

It is a classic sign of the times that The Washington Post tells us how many of our 23,400 wounded troops recuperate at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with cockroaches at their feet as Americans plunk down $2.5 billion for office pools for college basketball's March Madness. The Chicago outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimates the NCAA tournament, which CBS paid $6 billion for the rights to televise for 11 years, results in $1.2 billion in lost worker productivity.

No one is claiming such lost worker productivity paying attention to the news on Iraq.

People are at least aware enough of the war to sink Bush in the polls and even throw the Republicans out of majority control of Congress. But there is no hint that awareness is changing our culture.

Before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the false-pretense Iraq war, the American way of life was already a global symbol of gluttony. If anything, the post-9/11 period has resulted in even more hoarding. In 2000, the size of the average American home was 2,266 square feet. Now it is 2,434 square feet, according to Census data, with the highest regional average right here in the Northeast at 2,556 square feet. Our homes are on average double the size of those in other Top 10 richest nations such as Japan or Switzerland according to the New York Times and the United Nations.

In 1988, 25 percent of new homes in the United States were 2,400 square feet or more. By 2000, the figure reached 35 percent. In the post 9/11 period, the figure reached 42 percent. In the Northeast, nearly half of all new homes -- 47 percent -- are 2,400 square feet and beyond. In a National Public Radio feature last summer on the exploding size of the American home, a Long Island architect said, "No one knows when the next 9/11 will happen. And these houses represent safety. And the bigger the house, the bigger the fortress."

Needless to say, these fallout shelters are stocked with more than water and crackers. War used to be a time you would ration supplies. In the modern American war, where victory is assured without sacrifice, American households throw out nearly 500 pounds of food a year, according to food loss specialist Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona. A significant percentage of food and other trash is generated as we collectively sink into the couch for the two months from Thanksgiving to the Super Bowl. In 2000, Americans spent $97 billion on consumer electronics. In 2005, three years after 9/11, Americans spent $126 billion.

And the soldiers recuperate with cockroaches as roommates.

This does not even get into SUVs, which need no introduction. It all adds up to a nation that was sucking a quarter of the world's energy and spewing out a quarter of its global warming gases with only 5 percent of the planet's population. We consume more oil than all of the European Union or as much as China, Japan, Germany, Russia, and India combined. But the hot news is not a federal plan to curb our addictions. It is 50-inch high-definition televisions and shootings, muggings and stampedes last November for the new Sony PlayStation 3.

Bush says we cannot leave Iraq because terrorists will emerge from the chaos. He can only say this because Americans have yet to emerge from our caves of consumption.

(Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

2. Man Who Toppled Hussein Statue Has Regrets -- by Robert Scheer/

Yep, you did it, George—mission impossible accomplished. Unbelievably, four years of a bungled occupation have managed to make Saddam Hussein’s tyranny look good in comparison with “liberated Iraq.”

At least, that is the view of the Iraqi weightlifter made famous through a video of him taking a sledgehammer to Saddam Hussein’s statue. “I really regret bringing down the statue,” Kadhim al-Jubouri said on British television this week. “The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day.”

That’s the judgment of a man who spent nine years in Hussein’s jails, and, unfortunately, it is one shared by a majority of his countrymen, according to an authoritative poll sponsored jointly by ABC, BBC and USA Today: Only 38 percent of Iraqis believe that the country is better off today than under Hussein, while nearly four out of five oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq.

Even more disturbing is that 51 percent of Iraqis think it is OK to attack coalition troops—triple the number that thought that way in a 2004 survey. Square that with our president’s assurances, offered since the first month of this unnecessary adventure, that the insurgency represents a small handful of terrorists. While most of the antipathy is registered among Sunnis, 94 percent of whom favor attacks on coalition forces, and by only 7 percent of Kurds, a surprising 35 percent of Shiites endorse that sort of violence.

Given the number of Kurds and Shiites who originally welcomed the invasion, it is also startling that 53 percent of all Iraqis polled agreed that “from today’s perspective, and all things considered,” it was “wrong that U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003.”

The poll, part of a series conducted each of the past three years at great risk to 150 pollsters, reveals a sharp rise in anti-American feeling and disapproval of the 2003 invasion.

When Bush didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction or ties between Saddam and 9/11, the fallback justification for the taking of tens of thousands of lives and the expenditure of over $400 billion in American taxpayer money was that Iraq would become a model for the democratic, free-market way of life. Many assumed the richest, most powerful and most technologically competent country in the world could improve life for Iraqis compared with that afforded by a vicious dictator hemmed in by international boycotts. But it didn’t happen.

What Bush has managed to do is to place the United States in a no-win position as the most likely target for failed Iraqi expectations, which he did so much to raise. He is asking Iraqis to take his word for it that the invasion was not post-9/11 posturing or a grab for oil or a blow undertaken on behalf of Israel, yet he has nothing tangible to show as proof of his sincerity.

Almost four in five of those Iraqis polled called the availability of jobs “bad,” 88 percent had the same negative judgment of the supply of electricity, and 69 percent said the same about the availability of clean water and medical care. In this nation, gifted with the world’s second-largest oil reserves, 88 percent termed the availability of fuel for cooking and driving as quite bad.

Of course, the coffers of a handful of American mercenary, construction and energy corporations have swelled, despite this lack of credible achievement. More than $20 billion in “reconstruction” contracts were given to Vice President Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, alone.

The easy answer provided by Bush apologists for this dismal performance is to place blame on the insurgency. That, however, is not the verdict of the Iraqi people. Asked to judge how the United States and other coalition forces have carried out their responsibilities in Iraq, 76 percent say they have done “a bad job.” And while a modest majority don’t want the Americans to leave “immediately,” they don’t see the increase in the U.S. troop numbers, defended stoutly by Bush on Monday, as helpful. Truly, this is a lose-lose situation.

Asked the source of violence that had occurred near the polled individual’s neighborhood, the largest group, more than 44 percent, cited “unnecessary violence against citizens by U.S. or coalition forces,” while four out of 10 said they blame the coalition forces or Bush for “the most for the violence that is occurring in the country”—and only 18 percent cited “al-Qaida and foreign jihads.” So much for Bush’s claim that U.S. troops are needed in Iraq to protect its citizens from foreign terrorists.

Surprisingly, while 82 percent lacked confidence in coalition troops, two-thirds of those polled expressed confidence in their own army and police forces—yet more indication that Iraqis could do a better job of policing themselves than we can. Our continued presence there, ostensibly in the name of fixing the place, will only continue to exacerbate anti-U.S. sentiment among the people we claim to be saving.

(E-mail Robert Scheer at

3. The Problem With Building An Embassy Fit For An Empire -- by Adil E. Shamoo / Baltimore Sun

The headline reads: "Thousands of angry Iraqis pillage billion-dollar U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." The article details the ransacking of the grandiose American Embassy by Iraqi mobs.

This is the story I expect to read one day within the next decade.

In the 1950s, when I was in high school in Baghdad, my friends and I admired the technological advances of America and the West. But we resented the colonial tendencies of the West (especially, at the time, those of the British). Many demonstrations were held in front of the British and American embassies. The Iraqis are a proud people, and they resented foreigners meddling in their affairs. And the British were, in reality, running the country through a puppet regime.

You may call it false pride; you may call it a preoccupation with dignity; or you may simply call it an honest concern about sovereignty. In any case, this is what the culture of the region dictates.

So, with this in mind, why has Washington never taken the cultural context of the Iraqis into consideration? Instead, Congress has appropriated nearly $1 billion to build the largest embassy in the world. A significant portion of that money is for security infrastructure. This future "fortress" is housed in Saddam Hussein's former palace - providing more bad symbolism to the Iraqis.

Why are we building such a mammoth embassy in the heart of Baghdad? The embassy complex is on 104 acres, with 21 buildings and facilities. It will eventually house a U.S. staff of 5,000. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, it has more than twice the staff and 20 times the budget of our Beijing embassy. The embassy will surpass all others in terms of size and staffing.

One would think that we would be more clever than that in camouflaging our occupation. Are we to believe that Iraqis will not take notice of this massive complex in the heart of Baghdad?

We will be attempting to legitimize our presence with a "negotiated" agreement with the government of Iraq. If that happens, the people of Iraq will know that their elected government no longer is representing them but rather has become another puppet government. More Iraqis will become radicalized and join foes of the government.

American forces left Saudi Arabia in order to reduce hostilities toward us and to prevent further recruitment by groups opposing the United States and the Saudi royal family. Why would our officials think that the same will not happen in Iraq?

The Roman Empire, which (depending on your definition) lasted from 1,000 to 1,500 years, was the longest-lasting empire in history. Empires are destined to decline. Despite our intentions to stay in Iraq for a long time, Iraqis will not allow their country to be an extension of the American empire.

(Adil E. Shamoo, who was born and raised in Baghdad, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus. His e-mail is

4. Defense Spending Soars to Highest Levels Since World War II -- by James Rosen/ McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - As the Iraq war enters a fifth year, the conflict that President Bush's aides once said would all but pay for itself with oil revenues is fueling the highest level of defense spending since World War II.

Even with past spending adjusted upward for inflation, the $630 billion provided for the military this year exceeds the highest annual amounts during the Reagan-era defense buildup, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.

When lawmakers approve a nearly $100 billion emergency spending bill in the next few weeks, Congress will have appropriated $607 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about 75 percent going to Iraq, according to a new Congressional Research Service study obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

Less than three months after assuming control of Congress, Democrats are moving away from their election campaign pledges to restrict or eliminate funding for Iraq.

"Nobody wants to be labeled anti-military for the crime of cutting the budget," said Winslow Wheeler, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "It makes supporting whatever the military services request a political necessity amongst both Democrats and Republicans."

Bush appealed to lawmakers Monday to pass the war supplemental measure without adding troop withdrawal dates.

"They have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay," Bush said.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded: "This week's House debate on the supplemental appropriations bill offers an opportunity to change the current course in Iraq by demanding accountability and beginning a phased redeployment of U.S. troops, which is a step that serves the interests of both the United States and Iraq."

No one disagrees that a lot of money is being sucked up in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the relentless violence grinds up tanks, planes and other aging equipment.

Beyond the immediate war costs - accelerated by the 30,000-troop increase Bush has dispatched to Iraq - defense analysts inside and outside the government cite several factors that they say are driving military spending:

Pentagon funding declined in the 1990s, under the first President Bush and President Clinton, as Americans enjoyed what would prove to be a short-lived "peace dividend" after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Aging weapons systems fell into disrepair and weren't replaced at what would have been bargain-basement prices by today's standards.
Military health care and pension costs are soaring as the recruits and officers who formed the volunteer armed forces after the Vietnam War retire and begin to age.
Pentagon planners are replacing several generations of major weapons systems simultaneously in the Army, Navy and Air Force; the new high-tech tanks, ships and planes are as much as 10 times more expensive, on a per unit basis.
Congress is likely to approve Bush's request for an increase of 92,000 soldiers and Marines in the country's active-duty forces, the largest growth spurt since the Cold War ended

About 300,000 American troops are deployed outside U.S. borders - roughly half in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the other half in 76 other countries.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee last week that winning the war on terror will require still greater resources.

"The country's not mobilized," Schoomaker said. "Less than one-half of 1 percent of the people are participating in this. And I absolutely believe that we've got to get people out of the spectator stands and onto the field. ... I believe that this is a very long, serious fight that's going to continue to get more and more dangerous."

Already, the United States is spending almost as much on its military as the rest of the world spends on combined armed forces.

Some analysts wonder whether the torrent of money is being channeled in the right directions.

"Since we are outspending the rest of the world on big-ticket weapons systems, we really don't need to worry about an enemy who fights us with those sorts of weapons," said Loren Thompson, head of the Lexington Institute outside Washington.

"The place where we seem poorly equipped is in unconventional conflicts," he said. "Maybe instead of spending billions of dollars on high-tech networks to fight wars like Iraq, we might spend a more modest amount of money on teaching our soldiers just to speak the (Arabic) language."

James Carafano, a defense analyst at the Heritage Institute in Washington, said military spending isn't nearly as high when compared to the overall size of the U.S. economy.

Current defense appropriations equal about 4 percent of the gross domestic product, Carafano said. That figure is up from the 3 percent level under Clinton, he added, but still a good bit lower than the 7 { percent share reached during the Cold War.

"When you have a bigger house, you buy more insurance," Carafano said. "When the nation is worth a lot more, we have to spend more to protect it."

History, Thompson said, will determine whether Americans are getting a fair return on their investment in defense.

"We have not had any follow-up attacks to 9/11; that's a pretty powerful success story," he said. "On the other hand, the world's best-equipped military is being fought to a standstill by a handful of zealots in Iraq. That's a powerful story of disappointment and frustration."


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