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Peter van Buren

Hope for Iraq? Depends on What You’re Hoping For…

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Is there hope for Iraq? It depends on what you are hoping for.

It is becoming clearer that there is little hope of destroying Islamic State in Iraq. Islamic State has no shortage of new recruits. Its fighters capture heavy weapons with such ease that the United States is forced to direct air strikes against equipment abandoned by the Iraqis — even as it ships in more. Islamic State holds territory that will allow it to trade land for time, morph into an insurgency and preserve its forces by pulling back into Syrian territory it controls even if Iraq’s government, with Iranian and American help, launches a major assault.

Islamic State maintains support among Iraq’s Sunnis. The more the Shi’ites align against it, the more Sunnis see no other choice but to support Islamic State, as they did al Qaeda after the American invasion in 2003. Stories from Tikrit, where Shi’ite militia-led forces defeated Islamic State, describe “a ghost town ruled by gunmen.” There are other reports of ethnic cleansing in the Euphrates Valley town of Jurf al-Sakhar. Absent a unified Iraq, there will always be an al Qaeda, an Islamic State or another iteration of it to defend the Sunnis.
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Iraq and Another Memorial Day

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Iraq? On another Memorial Day, we’re still talking about Iraq?

Remembering

I attended the 2015 commencement ceremonies at Fordham University in New York. The otherwise typical ritual (future, global, passion, do what you love, you’ll never forget this place) began oddly, with an admonition to pause for a moment in honor of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a special congratulations to veterans among the graduating class. No other group was so singled out.

At William and Mary, a university that counts Thomas Jefferson as an alumnus, Condoleezza Rice was granted this spring an honorary degree in public service; William and Mary’s chancellor is former head of the CIA and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
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Love, Visas, and Marriage in Post-Constitutional America

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The government can block your foreign husband or wife from living with you in America, based on secret information you can’t see or contest. Like with the No-Fly list, in post-Constitutional America the walls are built of secret databases.

Taking Visas to the Supreme Court

On February 23, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kerry v. Din. The U.S. government is seeking a writ of certiorari agreement by the Justices to review a lower court decision granting Ms. Din and her Afghan husband judicial review of his immigrant visa—green card—application. The State Department permanently denied permission for the husband to live in the US because he is supposedly a “terrorist,” based on secret information that will not be shared with Ms. Din or her spouse to allow rebuttal. Under present law, the state department’s decision to refuse the green card is subject to no outside review.
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FBI Monitored Peaceful Demos in Baltimore with High-Tech Surveillance

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The FBI surveilled peaceful protests in Baltimore following the police killing of Freddie Gray, protest acts protected by the First Amendment, from the air, using high-tech monitoring aircraft.

The surveillance aircraft can be equipped with infrared and other surveillance gear that extend the intrusion into privacy far into unconstitutional territory.

When violence rocked Baltimore recently, local Police Captain Jeff Long told reporters “When you’ve got something like this, you’ve got people running all over the place, throwing rocks and looting and starting vehicles on fire and destroying vehicles like this, really the best vantage point you can get is from the air.”
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State Department Won’t Review Clinton Ethics

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When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009, the Obama White House required her to sign an agreement promising to have her family’s charities, under the umbrella of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI; now known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation) submit new donations from foreign countries to the State Department for review.

The Agreement

The agreement was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, given her new government role. The arrangement was made by an Obama administration covering its flanks over the appearance, at a minimum, of impropriety, given the significant sums of money the charities pulled in from overseas. Many of the countries and foreign corporations who gave the most money also had issues in front of the State Department, where a positive decision could change the donor’s fortunes.
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$416 Million Afghan Program to Empower Women: No ‘Tangible Benefit’

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The American reconstruction campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have, and continue, to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on pointless projects seemingly designed solely to funnel money into the pockets of US government contractors.


Empowering Women

These projects (Iraq War examples are detailed in my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People seem to bounce between the merely pointless, such as dams that are never completed and roads to nowhere, to the absurdly pointless.

One ongoing theme under the absurdly pointless category has been the “empowerment of women.” In both countries, the US has acted on the assumption that the women there want to throw off their hijabs and burkas and become entrepreneurs, if… only… they knew how. Leaving aside the idea that many women throughout the Middle East and beyond prefer the life they have been living for some 2000 years before the arrival of the United States, the empowerment concept has become a standard.
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White House Email Archiving Office Exempts Self from FOIA Disclosures

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Hot on the high heels of the Clinton email atrocity, where one individual determined for her own campaign and indeed for all of history which parts of her work as a taxpayer-paid government official would be forever sent down the Memory Hole, the White House announced it is deleting a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), making official an unofficial policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to simply reject requests for records to that office.

And in case you proles still have not got it, the White House announcement comes in the middle of “Sunshine Week,” an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information.

And in case you proles really still have not gotten the message, the White House made the announcement on March 17, National Freedom of Information Day.
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The Future of Mosul is Kobane

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It was necessary to destroy the Syrian town of Kobane (above) in order to save it from ISIS. The rubble and ruin of what was once a place more than 200,000 people lived is now free. Want to know the future of Mosul? Look to Kobane.

Destroying Kobane

Kobane once mattered nearly nothing at all, at least when ISIS was winning there in the face of NATO-ally Turkey choosing not to intervene. In October 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry, said preventing the fall of Kobani was not a strategic US objective. “As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobane, you have to step back and understand the strategic objective.” That objective was something about destroying ISIS’ command centers.

After the US abandoned the goal of bringing Turkey into the fight, and, against Turkey’s wishes, facilitated the movement of Kurdish forces across Iraq to attack Kobane, the city suddenly did become a US strategic objective. Speaking a little over two months after his earlier dismissive statement, Kerry said with the recapture of the Kurdish city of Kobane, ISIS was “forced to acknowledge its own defeat. Daesh – ISIL as some know it – has said all along that Kobane was a real symbolic and strategic objective.” Kerry continued to say that pushing ISIS out of Kobane was “a big deal.”

By all accounts, the over 700 airstrikes the US conducted on a round-the-clock basis on Kobane devastated the town. The civilian death toll has never been calculated. No plans to rebuild the city have been announced. Kobane was saved from ISIS by destroying it.
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State Department Gives 87 Percent of Afghan Funds to Only Five Recipients

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The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a scathing report showing the Department of State gave a staggering 87 percent of all Afghan reconstruction funds to only five recipients.

In fact, 69 percent of all taxpayer money spent went to just one contractor.

Much Money into Few Hands

SIGAR tells us the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients, who averaged about $676,000 each in total obligations.
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Libya: A Perfect Storm of Interventionist Failure

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Libya is the perfect storm example of the failure of US interventionist policy in the Middle East.

The Obama-Clinton Model

In 2011, Libya was to be the centerpiece of Middle East Intervention 2.0, the Obama-Clinton version.

Unlike the Bush model, that of Texas-sized land armies, multi-year campaigns and expensive reconstruction efforts, the Obama-Clinton version would use American air power above, special forces and CIA on the ground, and coordinate local “freedom fighters” to overthrow the evil dictator/terrorist/super-villain of the moment. “We Came, We Saw, He Died,” cackled then-Secretary of State Clinton as Libyan leader Moamar Quaddafi was sodomized by rebels on TV.

The idea was that the US would dip in, unleash hell, and dip out, leaving it to the local folks to create a new government from scratch. So how’d that strategy work out in Libya?
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