Category Archives: Iraq

More death, heartache at Fort Hood

forthood2014Americans again have Fort Hood on their minds and in their prayers after Wednesday’s shooting spree. The gunman, an Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness, killed three people and injured 16 others before committing suicide. Though the incident stirred fears of another terrorist attack like the 2009 one in which more than a dozen died, it now seems more like another indicator of the urgent need to deliver help and hope to those active-duty military and veterans suffering from depression and other serious mental illnesses. It’s sobering, too, to realize that the military deaths on American soil followed the first month in 11 years with no U.S. fatalities in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most Americans have not earned ‘war-weariness’

Eliot A. Cohen objects to the overuse of “war-weariness” to describe many Americans’ reluctance to see the U.S. military to engage in Syria. “The families of the fallen are entitled to war-weariness,” Cohen wrote. “So are those wounded in body or spirit, and their loved ones. The mother who has sent her son to war has a right to war-weariness, as does the father who prepares to send his daughter to battle again and again. But for the great mass of the American public, for their leaders and the elites who shape public opinion, ‘war-weariness’ is unearned cant, unworthy of a serious nation and dangerous in a violent world.”

Gains by Afghan, Iraqi women at risk

With U.S. forces out of Iraq and facing a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, the impressive gains made by women in both countries are at risk. There are attempts to roll back women’s representation in both governments, noted Charlotte Ponticelli, who visited The Eagle last week while in town to address the Wichita Committee on Foreign Relations. But Ponticelli, whose government posts over 23 years included that of senior coordinator for international women’s issues at the State Department, said education has been a game-changer and technology can safeguard and further the progress, especially now that 77 percent of Iraqis and 66 percent of Afghans have mobile phone access. The gains will be “as durable as the skills and education,” she predicted.

GOP still dealing with wounds of Iraq War

The parade of commentaries looking at the Iraq War 10 years after “shock and awe” include Peggy Noonan’s blunt take on the wounds it inflicted on her Republican Party. Among her conclusions: “It ruined the party’s hard-earned reputation for foreign-affairs probity.” “It muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation.” “It ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980.” And “it undermined respect for Republican economic stewardship.” Noonan also writes that the war was bad for GOP debate: “The high stakes and high drama of the wars – and the sense within the Bush White House that it was fighting for our very life after 9/11 – stoked an atmosphere in which doubters and critics were dismissed as weak, unpatriotic, disloyal.” Meanwhile, she wonders, where are the Democrats’ self-examination and self-criticism about their foreign policy?

Petraeus scandal at CIA shouldn’t diminish military record

The shocking resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus over a sex scandal shouldn’t diminish his remarkable military record, including how he used his time in charge of the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth to craft the counterinsurgency strategy that later helped turn around the Iraq War. President Bush gave him command of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2007, and “Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency approach got American soldiers out of their massive bases in Iraq and into Iraqi neighborhoods,” noted CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. He predicted that “historians will likely judge David Petraeus to be the most effective American military commander since Eisenhower.” But the timing of the resignation – after President Obama’s re-election, but before Petraeus was due to testify to Congress on the Benghazi attack – is fueling suspicions that the Petraeus affair is about more than an affair. Among the questions, noted Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin: “Why was the White House and/or congressional members charged with national-security oversight not alerted before the election?” And “why did Petraeus, when briefing Congress on Sept. 14, purportedly push the bogus cover story on Benghazi (i.e., it was about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video) when his agency had information within two hours that it was a terrorist attack?”

Thank you, veterans

Last week’s election was made possible by the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans. On this Veterans Day and every day, they deserve our gratitude and praise. In a commentary in the Opinion pages of the Sunday Eagle, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., notes with alarm that more veterans have died by suicide since 2001 than have been killed serving in Afghanistan, and that this year the Army is averaging one suicide per day. “No less concerning is the amount of time it takes for veterans to begin receiving the benefits they were promised for their service – from disability compensation and pension benefits to education benefits and health appointments,” Moran writes, restating his commitment to use his seat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to help them.

No more ground wars?

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said in a blunt speech to West Point cadets. He also called for the nation to reshape its budget to “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.” Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about Gates’ comment, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., seconded the need for a “new kind of warfare” but said sometimes “it does require U.S. military intervention,” pointing to Afghanistan.

Marines leading charge on a green revolution

oilfield“Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by big oil and big coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives,” columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about Marine Corps plans to use renewable energy as a way to avoid roadside bombings of fuel convoys. “I don’t know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won’t be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn’t that be interesting?”

Mixed reviews on Obama’s speech

obamairaqGiven the deep political divide in this country, it wasn’t surprising that President Obama received mixed reviews for his speech Tuesday night marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said that “Obama’s effort — employing tired metaphors, culminating in a call to improve America’s ‘manufacturing base’ and ‘long-term competitiveness’ — was forgettable.” Dan Balz of the Washington Post said that the 18-minute speech tried to do too much. But Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post thought the speech was good and the gravitas was great. “One thing that worked in the speech,” Robinson said, “was his drawing a straight line between the vast monetary cost of the war and the economic slough of despond in which we’re mired.”

What would Ike think of wars?

ikeddayLamenting the record number of military suicides and the escalating violence in Afghanistan, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “have been conducted as if their leaders had been reading from a lunatic’s manual.” He noted how President Bush “took the unprecedented step of cutting taxes while waging the wars,” and President Obama “set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan without having any idea how that war might be going when the deadline arrives.” Herbert, who favors bringing U.S. troops home as soon as possible, wrote: “This is warfare as it might have been waged by Laurel and Hardy. Absent the bloodshed, it would be hilarious. I’d give a lot to hear Dwight Eisenhower comment on the way these wars have been conducted.”

Candidates silent on wars

iraqsoldierHave U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become so long-running and routine that they are no longer a high priority? Surely not. Yet the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt scanned some candidates’ websites and found military and national security issues way down the issues lists. He found the candidates’ quiet disquieting, concluding: “If the absence of debate reflects not full-bodied consensus but a wishful averting of eyes, then a spectacular attack on U.S. forces, or even a U.S. surge that yields fruit more slowly than hoped, could tip public opinion abruptly. In that case even political leaders who believe in the mission, having been AWOL from the debate, will have difficulty tipping it back.”

Friedman’s hope for Iraq

iraqfriedmanMoved by a photograph of an Iraqi expatriate woman in Michigan letting her son put her ballot in the box, columnist Thomas Friedman put into words a hope bigger than party or global politics. “I only care about one thing,” he wrote, “that the outcome in Iraq be positive enough and forward-looking enough that those who have actually paid the price — in lost loved ones or injured bodies, in broken homes or broken lives, be they Iraqis or Americans or Brits — see Iraq evolve into something that will enable them to say that whatever the cost, it has given freedom and decent government to people who had none.”

Despite violence, Iraq elections encouraging

Mideast IraqThough militants used murder and intimidation to try to keep people from the polls, millions of Iraqis still voted in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. The strong turnout is testament to Iraqis’ desire for free elections and self-determination. The elections were also a hopeful sign that the Iraqi government is starting to stand on its own, as they were the first ones organized and secured by Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 (though the U.S. military helped behind the scenes).

Second thoughts on bombing Iran

muravchikThe idea of bombing Iran’s nuclear sites has new life, thanks to Sarah Palin and other conservatives who see it as a way President Obama not only could safeguard Israel but serve his presidency. But one early advocate of bombing Iran, neoconservative Joshua Muravchik (in photo) of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, told The Eagle editorial board last week that “the game has really changed since June” because of Iran’s disputed presidential election and that there’s now a “real chance” for a regime change favoring democracy. He would like to see the Obama administration be more clear in offering moral support to the dissidents, and suggests the United States could provide a communications satellite to circumvent the Iranian government’s interference with cell phones. Muravchik, in town to address the Wichita Committee on Foreign Relations, also expressed frustration over how Ahmed Chalabi, once the darling of U.S. neoconservatives, has succeeded in having dozens of Sunni candidates barred from Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Iraq on questionable grounds that they are Saddam loyalists. “I’m grinding my teeth,” Muravchik said, “because we’re so close to having pulled victory from the jaws of defeat” in Iraq.

Petraeus against torture, wants Gitmo closed

US Iraq PetraeusFormer Vice President Dick Cheney is a “big supporter of waterboarding,” but Gen. David Petraeus is not. “I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside . . . Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables. They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.” Beyond that, Petraeus said, the approved interrogation methods work, so torture isn’t needed. Also unlike Cheney, Petraeus favors closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Will’s had his fill of Iraq, too

iraqburningcarJust three days after advocating that the United States get out of Afghanistan, Washington Post columnist George Will has turned to Iraq, declaring it an “illusion that Iraq is smoothly transitioning to a normality free of sectarian violence” and decrying the continued use of the U.S. military “to improve the instincts of corrupt elites” in Iraq. He concludes: “If, in spite of contrary evidence, the U.S. surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner.”

Roberts never forgot

speicherMany Americans had forgotten about Navy Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher (in photo), the Gulf War pilot shot down and variously presumed missing or killed in action. But Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., never stopped seeking answers about Speicher, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo. The Pentagon announced Sunday that Speicher’s remains had been identified as those found buried in an Iraqi desert. “My thoughts and prayers are with the Speicher family,” Roberts said in a statement. “The perseverance of the Navy brings closure to Scott’s family and all of us who have worked on his case after a long ordeal. As a fellow Marine, I am proud these Marines followed every lead and fought all the way to the end. This proves a military member cannot be listed as killed in action without actual evidence. I call this the ‘Speicher Law’ for that reason. Thank you to the Department of Defense for not giving up on Scott, a true American hero.”

Is anybody sorry for Iraq war?

rumsfeldrice1Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who died July 6, expressed regrets late in life about the Vietnam War, observed Bradley Graham in a Washington Post commentary. “Will anyone apologize for Iraq?” he wondered. When Graham asked Donald Rumsfeld (in photo, with Condoleezza Rice) about Iraq-related regrets in an interview for a new biography of the former defense secretary, “he dismissed the question as a favorite press query unworthy of reply.”
Former Pentagon civilian policy chief Douglas Feith said: “It’s still highly political. And I just don’t think there’s any reason for the people who are on the receiving end of a political attack to play the game of the political attackers.”
Graham concluded: “Whether anyone ever apologizes, history at least is due an honest, detailed accounting of the actions and motivations of Rumsfeld and his colleagues.”

Unruh recounts shooting at Holocaust Museum

holocaustshootingSedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh was in line with his wife and two grandkids when the shooting occurred today at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Here is an interview with Unruh by a TV station.

Clinton needs to focus on Iraq

EGYPT ObamaThe follow-up to President Obama’s speech last week in Cairo needs to be led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrote columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman. But rather than focusing on the Israeli and Palestinian issue, Friedman said, Clinton needs to “spearhead a sustained effort — along with the U.N., the European Union and Iraq’s neighbors — to resolve the lingering disputes between Iraqi factions before we complete our withdrawal. (We’ll be out of Iraq’s cities by June 30 and the whole country by the close of 2011.) Why? Because if Iraq unravels as we draw down, the Obama team will be blamed, and it will be a huge mess. By contrast, if a decent and stable political order can take hold in Iraq, it could have an extremely positive impact on the future of the Arab world and on America’s reputation.”

GOP lost edge on national security

iraqsoldiers4The public historically has preferred Republicans on national security issues. No longer. Democrats and Republicans now rate the same, according to a new Democracy Corps poll. And Democrats have moved far ahead of the GOP on specific security issues such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the poll found. The Democratic Party probably is getting a boost from President Obama, who has a 64 percent approval rating on national security among likely voters.

Latest bombing shows how deadly Iraq remains

iraqsoldiers21The suicide bombing today in Iraq that killed five U.S. soldiers is another example of how deadly and dangerous Iraq remains, despite the success of the surge. Meanwhile, author Thomas Ricks has argued that while the surge improved security, it didn’t achieve a primary goal — creating space for Iraqi political leaders to move forward. “The bottom line is that none of the basic problems facing Iraq have been addressed — the relationship between Shia, Sunni and Kurds, or who leads the Shias, or the status of the disputed city of Kirkuk, or the sharing of oil revenue,” Ricks has said.

Shoe thrower gets three years

bushshoe22The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoe at President Bush was sentenced to three years in jail. Muntadhar al-Zeidi was found guilty of aggression against a visiting head of state, a crime that under Iraqi law carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. Asked if he had anything else to say in his defense, al-Zeidi responded: “I am innocent. It was a natural reaction to the crime of occupation.”

Americans can handle sight of flag-draped coffins

iraqcoffins1It is welcome news that the Obama administration is lifting the 18-year ban on allowing news photographs of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Cameras reportedly will be OK in cases where the families of the returning war dead have given their approval. This seems a reasonable way to respect privacy concerns, while finally acknowledging that Americans need not be spared the sight of this fact of war and even arguably need to see it.

There are better ways to express feelings

bushshoe21“I did not mean to kill the leader of the occupation forces. I was expressing what’s inside of me and what’s inside the Iraqi people from north to south and from west to east.” — Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush last year