The present-day U.S. military qualifies by any measure as highly professional, much more so than its Cold War predecessor. Yet the purpose of today’s professionals is not to preserve peace but to fight unending wars in distant places. Intoxicated by a post-Cold War belief in its own omnipotence, the United States allowed itself to be drawn into a long series of armed conflicts, almost all of them yielding unintended consequences and imposing greater than anticipated costs. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces have destroyed many targets and killed many people. Only rarely, however, have they succeeded in accomplishing their assigned political purposes. . . . [F]rom our present vantage point, it becomes apparent that the “Revolution of ‘89” did not initiate a new era of history. At most, the events of that year fostered various unhelpful illusions that impeded our capacity to recognize and respond to the forces of change that actually matter.

Andrew Bacevich

Sunday, September 20, 2009

News of the Day for Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunni Muslim families gather at a cemetery in Baghdad to pray for relatives and friends on the first day of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. A man was killed and four people wounded south of Baghdad when a homemade bomb engulfed a family visiting relatives' graves as Ramadan ended and Eid al-Fitr began, police said.
(AFP/Khalil al-Murshidi)

Reported Security Incidents


One U.S. soldier is killed and 12 injured when a Blackhawk helicopter crashes inside the base. No information available on the cause.


Bomb planted in a cemetery kills a man and injures four of his family members.

Other News of the Day

Authorities announce heightened security for Baghdad during Eid al-Fitr. Indeed, today appears to have been quiet.

According to a Saudi newspaper, 30 high level officers in the suspended Mahdi Army have recently been murdered by unknown assailants who entered their homes. Others have fled to Iran by way of Syria. There is no confirmation of this report. (The original is in Arabic - this is a summary from the Jerusalem Post. It seems odd that we would not have heard something about this from other sources. We'll see if anything further develops. -- C)

Iraqi soldiers in Kirkuk [presumably in fact Peshmerga though the article does not say so] arrest three people trying to sell Sumerian artifacts. The smugglers were asking $160,000 for a group of apparently looted artifacts including a bust of a Sumerian king and stamps from the Sumerian court. Sumer was the first civilization in Mesopotamia, and fell 8,000 years ago. This serves to remind us that the plunder of Iraq's architectural heritage continues nearly unabated. -- C

Commentary and Analysis

Daniel Yergin gives his take on the present and future of petroleum. Yergin scoffs at the imminence of Peak Oil, and thinks that economic interdependence makes future resource wars unlikely. He has his detractors on both these points, but wisdom comes from understanding diverse views.

Reuters' Missy Ryan uses the odd fate of Michael Aflaq's tomb as a jumping off point for riffing on relations between Iraq and Syria. This is something of a meandering essay but it points to the essential weirdness of the foreign occupation of Iraq, and how the U.S. has injected itself into the midst of forces it cannot control. Excerpt:

The blue-domed memorial Saddam Hussein built in Baghdad to honour Baath party founder Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian who started the movement that dominated Iraq for decades and governs Syria today, has been turned into a shopping centre for U.S. soldiers. Aflaq’s tomb, sitting at the centre of a vault adorned with Koranic verses and Arabesque designs, has been boarded up to make way for a barber shop, a store selling kitschy Iraq souvenirs, a pirate DVD vendor and a ring of other stores.

The new mall at Aflaq’s tomb, located on what is now a U.S. military base in central Baghdad, has thus sealed off a powerful symbol of the deep, and often strained, shared history between Iraq and Syria, one which is being tested in a new feud between Baghdad and Damascus.

As the Chinese undertake the first new oil drilling project in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, local residents get nothing. Excerpt:

[The Chinese] drilling operation at the Ahdab field is right next to al-Mazzagh village. And, complains one resident, Abu Abed, right on top of his land. From his front door, he looks straight onto the blast walls and concrete gun towers protecting one of the Chinese drilling platforms. "When I protested, they said they would pay compensation," he says, "but I have received nothing."

There were hopes too, when the Chinese company first arrived, of an employment bonanza. "We thought everyone will find a job," said Zahi, a village elder. So far, they have taken on just a handful of al-Mazzagh's residents as guards.

But the CNPC says there is little more they can do for local people. "We are sorry, but they don't have skills and they can't speak English," says a site manager who agreed to come out to talk to the BBC. He said he wasn't allowed to bring reporters or anyone else inside.

Although some people said the Chinese were still welcome, the mood has hardened. There have been several reported acts of sabotage, including power lines to the drilling compounds being severed. The Iraqi government has increased security at the site. American helicopters from a nearby base occasionally keep watch. And with the project due to expand once full production gets underway, Zahi warned of trouble if al-Mazzagh does not start to see more tangible benefits.

"People who don't find jobs could become thieves and looters."

Afghanistan Update

Three U.S. troops die in Afghanistan, one in combat in the east, two in an unspecified non-combat incident in the south. No further details are available at this time.

Bodies of six Italian soldiers killed last week are returned home. Tomorrow will be a national day of mourning in Italy. The incident has reopened debate about Italy's role in Afghanistan. While the Italian government has ruled out any immediate withdrawal, they appear to be looking for a way to reduce or end their involvement with minimal offense to NATO allies. -- C

The total death toll from the attack on Thursday that killed the Italians now stands at 26.

LA Times' Greg Miller reports a massive surge of CIA presence in Afghanistan. Excerpt:

The CIA is deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence "surge" that will make its station there among the largest in the agency's history, U.S. officials say.

When complete, the CIA's presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. Precise numbers are classified, but one U.S. official said the agency already has nearly 700 employees in Afghanistan.

Quote of the Day

There is a growing suspicion in America that Obama has been socked into the heart of the Afghan darkness by ex-Bushie Robert Gates – once more the Secretary of Defence – and by journalist-adored General David Petraeus whose military "surges" appear to be as successful as the Battle of the Bulge in stemming the insurgent tide in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq.

Robert Fisk