Monday, April 02, 2007

Baquba, Iraq

BAQUBA, Iraq, March 31 — In the last moments of his life, Sgt. First Class Benjamin L. Sebban saw the flatbed truck speed into the concertina wire guarding his small Army patrol base near Baquba.

“Everybody get down! Get down!” he screamed. Soldiers dropped to the ground.

A combination of the strong wire and muddy gravel stopped the bomber, who then detonated explosives packed into the truck bed. A 50-foot-wide fireball enveloped the base, an L-shaped school that weeks earlier had served as an insurgent hide-out. Soldiers were slammed into walls and windows, they later recalled, battered by pieces of brick and glass turned into shrapnel.

Unaware of a deep wound beneath his body armor, Sergeant Sebban, a 29-year-old medic, shook off the blast and staggered to his first-aid station to treat casualties, other soldiers recalled. “Let’s get ready!” he shouted, one soldier said. Then he collapsed. He bled to death even before the evacuation helicopter arrived to carry him away, 17 minutes after the 6 p.m. attack.

At almost precisely the same time another helicopter landed in Baquba. It carried Col. David Sutherland, commander of the American combat brigade in Diyala Province. He was returning from the large military base in Balad, where he had visited wounded soldiers and gone to the morgue, where he saluted and then prayed as he placed his hands on a long black body bag containing the body of a military policeman killed that day by a sniper in Baquba.

It had been a long day for Colonel Sutherland and his brigade chaplain, Maj. Charlie Fenton, who have taken it on themselves to visit every dead and badly wounded soldier in the 5,000-strong unit, the Third Brigade Combat Team of the First Cavalry Division.

But it was still not over. After arriving in Baquba, Major Fenton walked into the brigade headquarters and heard Colonel Sutherland on a loudspeaker informing officers that a soldier from another brigade had committed suicide in Muqdadiya. Then he was handed a list of nine new casualties, the dead and the wounded. At the top was Sergeant Sebban. Four hours later, he and Colonel Sutherland climbed into another helicopter, bound once again for Balad. “We’ve never had to see this many at once,” Major Fenton said as he walked in darkness in helmet and body armor to the landing pad just after 11 p.m., trailed by soldiers grasping stacks of Purple Hearts in navy blue leather cases.

The two officers have made the round trip to Balad more than 70 times since arriving in October. But on that day, March 17, the brigade suffered its highest daily toll, with two dead and 14 wounded.

Altogether, the unit has seen 39 soldiers die in five months, more in that brief span than the number killed in any brigade that preceded it in yearlong deployments here. Names of the dead are written on a piece of metal affixed to a tall concrete barrier on Forward Operating Base Warhorse, near Baquba. With the death of Sergeant Sebban, the barrier ran out of space. A new barrier was just erected next to it.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Win war on terror by leaving Iraq


This month, I delivered on one of my campaign promises when I voted to get the Bush administration refocused on winning the war on terror.

America removed a brutal dictator, and with $400 billion of your hard-earned money and our brave men and women's blood, sweat and tears, we have given the Iraqi people the hope of a better life through democracy. Now, it is the time for the Iraqi people to stand up.

It is their country. It is their children's future. For the first time in more than four years, the Iraqi government has a date by which it must be accountable for its people's own security. Our efforts must be focused on destroying Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and terror networks throughout the world. We must bring Osama bin Laden to justice. We must let Syria and Iran know that we are resolute in our mission and will hold them accountable.

I came to my decision after briefings with the generals, the secretaries of state and defense and the president's staff. I have spoken to soldiers and their loved ones. I have conferred with returning veterans. I have been to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and met with our wounded. I have spoken with Lee Hamilton and considered the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group he co-chaired and the 9/11 commission.

The conclusion was inescapable: The Sunni and Shia are engaged in a bloody religious civil war in Iraq and our troops should not be put in harm's way by being asked to be the local cop on the beat. While our presence may temporarily reduce the violence, we never will be able to change the Iraqis' hearts.

The House-passed bill is not a withdrawal from Iraq; it is an end to America's participation in Iraq's religious civil war. The president can continue to deploy troops in Iraq as long as he wants, provided they are fighting terrorists, training Iraqi security forces, and providing diplomatic protection, not engaging in nation-building or police work.

The emergency spending bill gives the president all the money he asked for, and more.

We increased financing for our troops in Afghanistan as they prepare for a spring offensive by a resurgent Taliban.

We stepped up and made sure that our returning soldiers had the money to get the best medical care available, and we increased financing for our veterans. We also provided the military with money to buy the equipment necessary to rebuild our army and get our troops combat-ready.

Finally, my vote exercises my constitutional responsibility to hold the president accountable to the American people for the promises he made to us when he chose to go to war in Iraq. After more than four years of mismanagement and broken promises, it would be unwise to give the administration another blank check.

An emergency supplemental bill it just that; it provides financing for all of America's emergencies including the Iraq War. Don't let politicians interested in winning back political power confuse the issue. Congress acted responsibly by increasing financing for veterans, by purchasing avian flu vaccine to protect our children and by taking care of farmers on the brink of bankruptcy. I would like to see those same politicians tell a citrus grower going broke, or a veteran waiting months to get an appointment, or a parent with a sick child that they are "pork projects."

I am proud that I voted to make America safer.

I am proud to have sent Osama bin Laden a message that America is committed to winning the war on terror and that we are no longer willing to allow a religious civil war to sap our strength.

I am proud to stand with our soldiers and our veterans and I am proud to represent the people of Florida's 16th Congressional District.


Canada phone cards India phone cards France phone cards Russia phone cards UK phone cards USA phone cards

Look at what is really going on in Iraq

Bill Sandt runs down the media. I noticed MDN ran his right-wing agenda letter twice (Feb 11 & 15). He said President George Bush is guided by Christian principles. Some of those should include the Ten Commandments, namely, "Thou shall not bear false witness (don’t lie)."
When the first three reasons we stated for war with Iraq failed, namely WMD, buying yellow cake for A-bombs and funding Al-Qaeda, suddenly they found a fourth reason – give the Iraqis democracy.
The last reason not voted on by Congress.
People who oppose the war are branded as cut and run cowards. What is the flip side of cut and run? We are doing something stupid – let’s do more!
The Bush people won’t talk to foreign governments but they can go halfway around the world to kill them. The right-wing Christians help put Bush in office and they claim to respect and protect human life from Terry Schivo down to the embryo. I have news: war kills people. Our country doesn’t torture people, we just fly them to countries that do.
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and current World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz had their chance to serve in war and all opted out. Bush couldn’t even find time to attend his National Guard meetings. All the people who think war is the only answer should ask themselves, "Do you believe in this war so firmly that you would send your own son or daughter to fight? Or is it okay if they send someone else’s son or daughter?"
Most of the troops in our military come from poor and middle class families while the rich people hide their children in prep school. The Army recruiters promise sign on bonuses and college help to join and if the recruits survive services they can go to college and have a chance to compete with rich kids for the good jobs.
Most people say our troops shouldn’t complain because they joined a volunteer army, just do your duty. They didn’t sign on for a suicide mission or to be ducks in a shooting gallery in a civil war.
The Republicans say we are fighting a war. President Bush landed on the carrier, Abraham Lincoln, and declared the war was won. He was right. The Iraqi Army was defeated and disbanded.
When a war is over and you stay in that country, it is called occupation. Nobody wants to use this word. Our troops are caught between Sunni and Shiite who are fighting over division of Iraq’s oil, money and religious reasons since the death of the prophet Muhammad in the year 632, and both of them want American troops out of their country.
My grandson has done two turns in Iraq and is scheduled for a third. Have you not served your country until you return in a body bag or missing body parts? Sandt would have us click our heels and walk in lockstep with the White House like our congressman, Rep. Dave Camp. Letting people run wild without limits or accountability is part of the problem that got us into the Iraq mess. This kind of thinking got Germany in trouble in 1939 and then dragged the rest of the world into the conflict, They continue to say we are fighting a war on terror. Terror is a concept of a way to persuade people same as the Mafia, KKK and street gangs do.
You can’t defeat terror. However, you can defeat a terrorist.
How much war profit has been made by companies like Halliburton and defense contractors paid for by American blood? I think the god they talk about is Ben Bernanke from the Federal Reserve Board (Money god). The God most of us refer to must be Republican because they seem to think he gives sanction to all that they do and say. I believe they would like a government in Iraq who would work with us like the Shah of Iran did in the past for sweet oil deals.
There are other bad leaders in the world like Kim Jong Ill, but he doesn’t have oil. He needs some instead, hence, no invasion. President Bush said he is "the decider." I didn’t know we elected a one-person government. It sounds more like a dictatorship. Where was Bush and Cheney when the rehab center, Intrepid for Fallen Heroes, was dedicated, or didn’t they want to see what their handiwork caused?
It’s time more right-wing supporters take off their rose-colored glasses and see what is really going on in Iraq. They think if they get abortion stopped and the gays put back in the closet, the world problems will have been solved. We need the news media to keep the average person informed so devious people in high places can be held accountable.
When dictators take over a country, they grab the newspapers, radio and TV stations so the only message you get is their propaganda. The Patriot Act has nothing to do with patriotism. It should be called the Anti-terrorism Act, but then we would have to go after all terrorists such as the KKK, which the government turned a blind eye to since 1865, the end of the Civil War.
Our southern Christians push their Bibles and Ten Commandments in your face at the same time they belong to the KKK. The government of the people, for the people, and by the people has been sold to a shadow government controlled by lobbyists, corporations and some very rich people. Both parties spend millions of dollars to get elected and the people who give the money want influence so by the time they get elected they can’t make a decision for the people. Abe Lincoln couldn’t get elected in this crowd.
Mr. Bush spent years drunk and then found God and became president. Good for him. Mr. Sandt give me a call. I would like to discuss the Ten Commandments.

Charles E. Reid is a resident of Saginaw.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Leaving Iraq: Apocalypse Not

By Robert Dreyfuss, Washington Monthly

The Bush administration famously based its argument for invading Iraq on best-case assumptions: that we would be greeted as liberators; that a capable democratic government would quickly emerge; that our military presence would be modest and temporary; and that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for everything. All these assumptions, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Now, many of the same people who pushed for the invasion are arguing for escalating our military involvement based on a worst-case assumption: that if America leaves quickly, the Apocalypse will follow. "How would [advocates of withdrawal] respond to the eruption of full-blown civil war in Iraq and the massive ethnic cleansing it would produce?" write Robert Kagan and William Kristol in the Weekly Standard. "How would they respond to the intervention of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, Syria, and Turkey? And most important, what would they propose to do if, as a result of our withdrawal and the collapse of Iraq, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups managed to establish a safe haven from which to launch attacks against the United States and its allies?"

Similar rhetoric has been a staple of President Bush's recent speeches. If the United States "fails" in Iraq -- his euphemism for withdrawal -- the president said in January, "[r]adical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions ... Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people."

This kind of thinking is also accepted by a wide range of liberal hawks and conservative realists who, whether or not they originally supported the invasion, now argue that the United States must stay. It was evident in the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, which, participants say, was alarmed by expert advice that withdrawal would produce potentially catastrophic consequences. Even many antiwar liberals believe that a quick pullout would cause a bloodbath. Some favor withdrawal anyway, to cut our own losses. Others demur out of geostrategic concerns, a feeling of moral obligation to the Iraqis, or the simple fear that Democrats will be blamed for the ensuing chaos.

But if it was foolish to accept the best-case assumptions that led us to invade Iraq, it's also foolish not to question the worst-case assumptions that undergird arguments for staying. Is it possible that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces will lead to a dramatic worsening of the situation? Of course it is, just as it's possible that maintaining or escalating troops there could fuel the unrest. But it's also worth considering the possibility that the worst may not happen: What if the doomsayers are wrong?

The al-Qaeda myth

To understand why it's a mistake to assume the worst, let's begin with the most persistent, Bush-fostered fear about post-occupation Iraq: that al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremists will seize control once America departs; or that al-Qaeda will establish a safe haven in a rump, lawless Sunnistan and use that territory as a base, much as it used Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The idea that al-Qaeda might take over Iraq is nonsensical. Numerous estimates show that the group called Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its foreign fighters comprise only 5 to 10 percent of the Sunni insurgents' forces. Most Sunni insurgents are simply what Wayne White -- who led the State Department's intelligence effort on Iraq until 2005 -- calls POIs, or "pissed-off Iraqis," who are fighting because "they don't like the occupation." But the foreign terrorist threat is frequently advanced by the Bush administration, often with an even more alarming variant -- that al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a headquarters for the establishment of a global caliphate. In December 2005, Rear Admiral William D. Sullivan, vice director for strategic plans and policy within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a briefing in which he warned that al-Qaeda hoped to "revive the caliphate," with its capital in Baghdad. President Bush himself has warned darkly that after controlling Iraq, Islamic militants will "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia."

The reality is far different. Even if AQI came to dominate the Sunni resistance, it would be utterly incapable of seizing Baghdad against the combined muscle of the Kurds and the Shiites, who make up four fifths of the country. (The Shiites, in particular, would see the battle against the Sunni extremist AQI -- which regards the Shiites as a heretical, non-Muslim sect -- as a life-or-death struggle.)

Nor is it likely that AQI would ever be allowed to use the Sunni areas of Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks on foreign targets. In Afghanistan, al-Qaeda had a full-fledged partnership with the Taliban and helped finance the state. In Iraq, the secular Baathists and former Iraqi military officers who lead the main force of the resistance despise AQI, and many of the Sunni tribes in western Iraq are closely tied to Saudi Arabia's royal family, which is bitterly opposed to al-Qaeda. AQI has, at best, a marriage of convenience with the rest of the Sunni-led resistance. Over the past two years, al-Qaeda-linked forces in Iraq have often waged pitched battles with the mainstream Iraqi resistance and Sunni tribal forces. Were U.S. troops to leave Iraq today, the Baathists, the military, and the tribal leaders would likely join forces to exterminate AQI in short order.

It's also worth questioning whether the forces that call themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq have any real ties to whatever remains of Osama bin Laden's weakened, Pakistan-based leadership. Such ties, if they exist, have always been murky at best, even under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. With al-Zarqawi's elimination in 2006 and his replacement by a collegial group, these ties are even muddier. Although it's convenient for the Bush administration to claim that al-Qaeda is a Comintern-like international force, it is really a loose ideological movement, and its Iraq component is fed largely by jihadists who flock to the country because they see the war as a holy cause. Once the United States withdraws, Iraq will no longer be a magnet for that jihad.

The Sunni-Shiite civil war

The doomsayers' second great fear is that the Sunni-Shiite sectarian civil war could escalate further, reaching near-genocidal levels and sucking in Iraq's neighbors. "The biggest danger as we draw down is that the Shiites will run roughshod over the Sunnis," says Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress, whose exit strategy, "Strategic Redeployment 2.0," is a blueprint for many Democrats on Capitol Hill. Similarly, Wayne White, who advised the Baker-Hamilton ISG, says that because of Baghdad's importance, both Sunni and Shiite forces would probably rush to fill a vacuum in the capital if the United States withdraws.

In fact, it's hard to find an analysis of the Iraq crisis that doesn't predict an expanded Sunni-Shiite war once the United States departs. But let's look at the countervailing factors -- and there are many.

First, the United States is doing little, if anything, to restrain ethnic cleansing, either in Baghdad neighborhoods or Sunni and Shiite enclaves surrounding the capital. Indeed, under its current policy, the United States is arming and training one side in a civil war by bolstering the Shiite-controlled army and police.

In theory, Baghdad is roughly divided into Shiite east Baghdad on one side of the Tigris River, and Sunni west Baghdad on the other side. But in isolated neighborhoods such as Adhamiya, a Sunni part of east Baghdad, and Kadhimiya, a Shiite enclave in west Baghdad, ugly ethnic cleansing is proceeding apace. The same is true along a necklace of Sunni towns south of the capital, in an area that is predominantly Shiite; in mixed Sunni-Shiite towns such as Samarra, the largest city of predominantly Sunni Salahuddin Province, north of Baghdad; and in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad. In these areas, it is facile to assert that U.S. troops are restraining the death squads and religiously inspired killers on both sides. And it would be impossible for us to do so even with a much greater increase in American troops than the president has called for.

Second, although battle lines are hardening and militias on both sides are becoming self-sustaining, the civil war is limited by physical constraints. Neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites have much in the way of armor or heavy weapons -- tanks, major artillery, helicopters, and the like. Without heavy weaponry, neither side can take the war deep into the other's territory. "They're not good on offense," says Warren Marik, a retired CIA officer who worked in Iraq in the 1990s. "They can't assault positions." Shiites may have numbers on their side. But because the Sunnis have most of Iraq's former army officers, and their resistance militia boasts thousands of highly trained soldiers, they're unlikely to be overrun by the Shiite majority. Equally, the minority Sunnis won't be able to seize Shiite parts of Baghdad or major Shiite cities in the south. Presuming neither side gets its hands on heavy weapons, once you take U.S. forces out of the equation the Sunnis and Shiites would ultimately reach an impasse.

Even if post-occupation efforts to create a new political compact among Iraqis fail, the most likely outcome is, again, a bloody Sunni-Shiite stalemate, accompanied by continued ethnic cleansing in mixed areas. But that, of course, is no worse than the path Iraq is already on under U.S. occupation.

A third fear is that Iraq's neighbors will support their proxies in this fight. Indeed, they probably will -- but within limits. Iran, which is already assisting various Shiite parties (especially the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), would continue to do so. And Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan would line up behind Iraq's Sunnis. Even so, neither Shiite Iran nor the Sunni Arab countries would likely risk a regional conflagration by providing their Iraqi proxies with the heavy weapons that would enable them to wage offensive operations in each other's heartland.

The only power that could qualitatively worsen Iraq's sectarian civil war is the United States. Washington continues to arm and train the Shiites, although so far it has resisted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's pleas to provide Iraq's Shiite-led army and police with heavy weapons, armor, and an air force. Only if that policy changed, and the United States began to create a true Shiite army in Iraq, would the Sunni Arab states likely feel compelled to build up Iraq's Sunni paramilitary militias into something resembling a traditional army.

Thus, even if we assume that Iraq's parties cannot achieve some sort of reconciliation as the United States withdraws, an American pullout is hardly guaranteed to unleash unbridled chaos. On the contrary, each year since 2003 that American troops have remained in Iraq, the violence has escalated steadily.

A Kurdish power grab?

The third major concern about a post-occupation Iraq -- although it gets less attention than it deserves -- is the possibility of a crisis triggered by a Kurdish power grab in Kirkuk, the city at the heart of Iraq's northern oil fields. Since 2003, the Kurds have been waging a systematic, ugly round of ethnic cleansing, packing Kirkuk with Kurds, kidnapping or driving out Arab residents (many of them settled there by Saddam), and stacking the city council with Kurdish partisans.

Though Kurdish Iraq is mostly quiet and relatively prosperous under the Kurdistan Regional Government that controls three northeastern provinces, the Kurds may be tempted to expand their territory and secede from Iraq. Under the occupation-imposed constitution, the Kurds have the right to hold a referendum in Kirkuk later this year that would probably put that oil-rich area under the control of the KRG; the Baker-Hamilton ISG called the referendum "explosive" and recommended that it be postponed. Alternatively, the Kurds might opt to take advantage of the Sunni-Shiite civil war to seize Kirkuk by force. Either way, most Kurds know that a Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk is an essential precondition for their ultimate independence from Iraq.

It's hard to exaggerate the dangers inherent in a Kurdish grab for Kirkuk. Such a move would inflame Iraq's Arab population (both Sunnis and Shiites), impinge on other minorities (including Turkmen and Christians), and provoke an outburst of ethnic cleansing in the city. Iraq's two-sided civil war would become a three-sided affair.

But although this scenario sounds alarming, the reality is that, in the event of an American withdrawal, the Kurds would find it exceedingly difficult either to take Kirkuk or to declare independence. An independent Kurdistan would be landlocked, surrounded by hostile nations, and would possess a weak paramilitary army incapable of matching Iran, Arab Iraq, or Turkey. If Kurdistan were to secede without gaining Kirkuk's oil, it would not be an economically viable nation. Even with the oil, the Kurds would have to depend on pipelines through Iraq and Turkey to export any significant amount. Nor would Turkey, with its large Kurdish minority, stand for a breakaway Kurdish state, and the Kurds know that the Turkish armed forces would overwhelm them.

Conversely, under the U.S. occupation -- or, perhaps, because of it -- the Kurds apparently feel emboldened to press their advantage in Kirkuk, despite the dire consequences. And if the United States were to adopt the idea floated by some in Washington of building permanent bases in Kurdistan, it would embolden the Kurds further. (The threat of a Turkish invasion is the chief deterrent to any move by the Kurds against Kirkuk, but as long as the United States maintains a presence in Kurdistan, the Turks will be reluctant to check the Kurds, for fear of running into U.S. troops.) Thus, by staying or by creating bases in Kurdistan, the United States is more likely to foster a Kurdish-Arab civil war in Iraq.

Will the center hold?

Not only is the worst-case scenario far from a sure thing in the event of an American withdrawal, but there is also a best-case scenario. Precisely because the idea of all-out civil war and a regional blowup involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey is so horrifying, all the political forces inside and outside Iraq have many incentives not to go there.

Certainly, four years into the war, passions on all sides have been inflamed, communal tensions bared, and the secular, urban Iraqi middle class has either fled or been decimated. The mass terror perpetuated by armed gangs of extremists now occupies center stage. The broken Iraqi state has ceased to exist outside the Green Zone, the economy is devastated, and unemployment is believed to be hovering around 50 percent.

Yet the neoconservatives and the Bush administration weren't entirely wrong in 2003 when they expressed confidence in the underlying strength of the Iraqi body politic. Though things have gone horrendously awry, there are many factors that could provide the glue to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, Iraq is not a make-believe state cobbled together after World War I, but a nation united by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, just as the Nile unites Egypt. Historically, the vast majority of Iraqis have not primarily identified themselves according to their sect, as Sunnis or Shiites. Of course, as the civil war escalates, more Iraqis are identifying by sect, and tensions are worsening. But it is not too late to resurrect some of the comity that once existed. The current war is not a conflict between all Sunnis and all Shiites, but a violent clash of extremist paramilitary armies. Most Iraqis do not support the extremists on either side. According to a poll conducted in June 2006 by the International Republican Institute, "seventy-eight per cent of Iraqis, including a majority of Shiites, opposed the division of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines."

In addition, the country's vast oil reserves, conceivably the world's largest, could help hold Iraq together. Iraqi politicians are currently devising a law that would ratify the central government's control of all of the country's oil wealth. Even the corruption that now cripples Iraq tethers Iraqi political leaders to the central government and to the idea of Iraq as a nation-state. "None of the big players really want civil war," says an Iraqi military official closely affiliated with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. "None of them want to give up the regular flow of funds that they get now from corruption."

What most Iraqis do seem to want, according to numerous polls, is for American forces to leave. Even within the current, skewed Iraqi political system, a majority of Iraq's parliament supports a U.S. withdrawal. If we add to the mix the powerful Sunni-led resistance, including former Baathists, Sunni nationalists, and tribes, an overwhelming majority wants to end the occupation.

This shared desire could be another crucial force in helping maintain the integrity of Iraq. The catch-22 of Iraqi politics is that any Iraqi government created or supported by the United States is instantly suspect in Iraqi eyes. By the same token, a nationalist government that succeeds in ushering U.S. forces out of Iraq would have overwhelming support from most Iraqis on most sides of the conflict. With that support, such a government might be able to make the difficult compromises -- like amending the constitution to give minority protections to Sunnis -- that the Maliki government has been unable or unwilling to make but that most observers believe are crucial to any political settlement that might end the fighting.

It is clear that there are many features of Iraq's current landscape that lend themselves to the eventual creation of a stable, postwar nation -- although rebuilding the country will take generations. It is, at this point, the best we can hope for. Like all best-case scenarios, it might or might not happen. But the very same can be said of the worst-case scenario -- a scenario that war hawks portray as a certainty and wave, like a bloody shirt, to scare decision-makers and members of Congress into supporting a failed strategy.


Friday, February 02, 2007

$300 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan

By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — President Bush will propose on Monday spending nearly $300 billion more through 2009 for the war on terror, which is dominated by the war in Iraq, a senior administration official said today.
The funding, sure to be closely scrutinized by Congress, will include:

•$100 billion for the 2007 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, which when added to spending already in the pipeline would bring the year's total to $170 billion.

•$145 billion for 2008, a figure derived from this year's troop levels and expenditures.

•$50 billion to get started on 2009. More funds likely will be needed.

This marks the first time the administration has estimated war costs so far ahead or been as specific about how the Pentagon and State Department intend to spend the money. The added detail is a response to past criticism from Congress. The senior official has direct knowledge of the budget plans and did not want to be identified because the fiscal blueprint has not yet been officially released.

WAR SPENDING: Experts worried about budget's scope

Since 2001, the United States has spent or will spend at least $504 billion on the war on terror — including $334 billion on Iraq, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The latest spending proposals will push the total over $800 billion. The 2008 estimate is $25 billion lower than the 2007 total because it does not include as much money for fixing and replacing equipment, the official said. It also does not include money for the additional 21,500 combat troops being sent to Iraq under Bush's new war plan. The administration estimates the troop increase, which will be covered by existing funds, will cost $5.6 billion; the Congressional Budget Office says it could cost at least $13 billion.

The additional requests for funding will come in two forms: a $100 billion supplemental budget bill for 2007, and the president's 2008 budget. Both will be delivered to Congress on Monday.

The Democratic-controlled Congress has promised to closely vet all new spending on the Iraq war. House Democrats have proposed making dramatic changes in how the money is spent, diverting money from Iraq to be used for military readiness at home. In particular, Democrats and Republicans alike have been critical of spending on reconstruction in Iraq. The budget also will include an increase in spending on veterans, largely for medical care as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs will get the largest percentage increase of any domestic agency, the administration official said.

Other highlights of the proposed fiscal 2008 budget, expected to top $2.8 trillion:

•The expected increase in Medicare spending would be trimmed by $66 billion, nearly twice the savings Bush sought last year. Higher-income seniors would be asked to pay more for doctors' bills and prescription drugs. Most of the other cuts would affect hospitals, doctors, clinics and labs.

Even with the reductions, Medicare spending would rise by 6.7% annually over the next 10 years, down from a projected 7.6%.

•The maximum Pell grant for low- and middle-income college students would increase from $4,150 to $4,600 in 2008 and to $5,400 by 2012.

•A total of 141 programs will be eliminated or substantially reduced for a savings of $12 billion over five years. That's the same number of programs Bush tried to cut in the current year's budget. Most of them survived when Congress last year failed to complete the budget process.


Sunday, January 14, 2007


January 14, 2007 -- Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, 22, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bush on Thursday for saving several men in his unit when he jumped on a grenade in Iraq. His mother, Deb Dunham, a teacher in upstate Scio, tells her memories of him.

I'll leave it to others to debate the politics of the war in Iraq. I'm a mother, not a politician. For me, discussing my son is personal, not political.

I want to remember Jason and to offer some thoughts to other parents whose sons and daughters are in combat serving this country.

There were so many facets to Jason's personality, you can't lock into any one thing.

He had a mischievous sparkle in his eye. You could play a joke on him and he would roll with it, but you could be pretty sure that he would come back with something when you weren't expecting it.

He was competitive and sports were often the way that he channeled that spirit. Jay played soccer, basketball and baseball - he still holds his high school's record in baseball.

Jason's teams often won. When he won, he wouldn't make the other team feel bad. He would congratulate his teammates and then go shake hands with the other team.

But it was his quiet sense of kindness that I remember most. He would always want to help out the little guy, the underdog, even when he was young.

Jason received the Medal of Honor for sacrificing himself to save others. What he did is great. But my son would have said, "Oo-rah! Let's go have a beer."

There was always one more challenge for him to find and meet in his life.

Like many families across America, my husband Dan and I would not have been able to afford college for our four children. Jason knew that and in the summer of his junior year in high school, we would sit in the living room and talk about what he wanted to do.

My husband was in the Air Force and he believes that everyone should serve a few years in the military, because it polishes you.

So Jay went into the Marine Corps - because it's the toughest training and something he could hold over his father's head. He'd say, "I work in the men's department of the military."

Jason joined the Corps before 9/11, but he believed in what he was doing in Iraq.

His sense of right and wrong was keen. He thought that when someone has a lot of power and a lot of strength, you have a responsibility to help the little brother.

I just miss him.

For those parents who still have children in Iraq, I say, support your child.

This is a volunteer military that we have - these men and women have more courage, more dignity and more patriotism than I have seen in years.

Take the phone calls, send the letters and the care packages. They know you are scared, but they don't need to go through two types of war.

It's not a political issue when it's your child. They are doing what they believe is right.

Jason may be gone, but we've gained thousands of new sons.

That has helped the healing for us.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Medal for a Marine

This one is for the Marines. For the guys and gals in the uniforms with the red trim; for the tired, dirty, brave bunch on duty in the Middle East; for the kids in her son Jason's outfit who phone Deb Dunham each Christmas and Mother's Day, to check up on her and see how she's doing.

Jason died in Iraq in April 2004. He was a Marine corporal, leading a rifle squad on patrol near the Syrian border.

The Americans stopped a car. An Iraqi leaped from the door. Jason struggled with him. The Iraqi let go a grenade.

Jason covered the grenade with his Kevlar helmet, absorbing much of the blast. His unprotected head was pierced by shrapnel, but his sacrifice saved two of his men.

He was 22, the son of Deb, a school teacher, and her husband, Dan. He was treated in Iraq, then flown to a military hospital in Germany and on to Bethesda Naval Hospital, not far from here, where he died, as his mother held one hand and his father the other.

Jason was a high school athlete in Scio, N.Y., a rural community of 1,800 souls where his family works a dairy farm, some 70 miles southeast of Buffalo. For his bravery, he became the first Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in Iraq.

President Bush told Jason's story on Thursday, on a bright, cold morning, a few hours after addressing the nation with the news that the U.S. will dispatch another 21,000 troops to Iraq.

"He was the kind of person who would stop patrols to play street soccer with the Iraqi schoolchildren. He was the guy who signed on for an extra two months in Iraq so he could stay with his squad. As he explained it, he wanted to 'make sure that everyone makes it home alive.' Corporal Dunham took that promise seriously and would give his own life to make it good," Bush told a solemn audience in the East Room of the White House.

Bush's cheeks glistened with tears.

"With this medal, we pay tribute to the courage and leadership of a man who represents the best of young Americans," the president said. "With this medal, we ask the God who commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves to wrap his arms around the family of Corporal Jason Dunham, a Marine who is not here today because he lived that commandment to the fullest."

The East Room was not short of heroes for the medal ceremony. Barney Barnum and Bob Foley and Gary Littrell were there, wearing the cornflower-blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor, which they earned under fire, rallying comrades in Vietnam.

And Bob Howard, who was nominated for three Medals of Honor for his daring as a Green Beret in Vietnam, though you're only allowed to receive one; Al Rascon, an Army medic, who was wounded using his own body to shelter the shot-up soldiers under his care; and Brian Thacker, who, after helping his men beat back a North Vietnamese attack, stayed behind while they escaped, firing an M-16 and calling in U.S. artillery fire on his own position to buy them time. The young Marines in the crowd took turns, stepping up to shake their hands.

There was a reception at the White House, where a Marine pianist played a Chopin polonaise. Then the Dunhams stepped out of the West Wing.

The breeze whipped the flags at the mansion on the bright cold morning, as they walked out on the driveway. A stoic Marine, in dress uniform, stood guard at the West Wing door.

"We're very honored," Deb Dunham said. "We wish Jason could have been here.

"I wanted him here and I couldn't have him," she said, when asked what thoughts she had when accepting the medal. Just a mom, remembering, missing her eldest son.

Her husband Dan's thoughts went to the other dead and wounded soldiers who have suffered, and the other parents who have mourned. He seemed uncomfortable, being singled out.

"They are all courageous," he said. "They all have valor. They are part of this medal."

They've marched a long, emotional journey since the day in 2004 that they got the phone call, telling them that their boy had been mortally wounded, Deb said.

"I've lost my son. It still hurts," she said.

But the Dunhams are proud of their lost hero, and take comfort in the love and the sacrifice he displayed. They see in Jason's selflessness "an example of the good that is in men," said Dan. And so take comfort.

Their son didn't write many letters; he preferred to phone home to hear their voices. He talked sometimes of the cause for which he fought.

"Jason believed that all men on this earth should be free," said Dan. "As do I."

Maybe mostly, Jason "believed in his friends," his father said. In the bonds formed in combat, in a frightening and dangerous place, on a mission so far away.

Believed enough that he gave his life for theirs.


Bizon phone card Jupiter calling card Mozart calling card Continental calling card