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Tolstoy On Iraq

One of the great pleasures of travel is long uninterrupted stretches of time for reading. I’m on the road for a long trip, including a visit to Russia, and took a copy of War and Peace with me. It’s really long, and therefore perfect for this kind of travel, and I was able to read it in a month amid the sightseeing and wandering that are the other great things about travel. On a visit to St. Petersburg last year, I saw the Military Gallery at the Hermitage, a long barrel-vaulted room with 332 portraits of the generals who took part in the Patriotic War of 1812, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the destruction of his Grande Armée by the Russian people and their army under the leadership of M. I. Kutusov. Wikipedia has a nice entry on this part of the museum, including pictures of several of the people who appear in Tolstoy’s book including one who is kin to the author..

Tolstoy was a drinker, a rake and a gambler as a young man, but that changed about the time he joined the army for a war between Russia and Turkey in 1851 and he began to write. His military experience gives the crackle of reality to the descriptions of the battles in War and Peace, and on the lengthy discussions of strategy and tactics. His explanation of the Russians crushing the French is fascinating, as is his lack of respect for the historians before him whose explanations he rejects abusively. I was particularly taken by the discussion in Chapter 1 of Book 14. This is from the translation of Louise Maude and Alymer Maude published in 1942. There are more recent and arguably better translations, but this one was easier to read in the Kindle edition.

All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases.

Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy’s army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation – even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army – a hundredth part of a nation – should oblige that whole nation to submit. A army gains a victory, and at once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment of the defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses its rights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers a complete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.

So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and so it is to our own day. All Napoleon’s wars serve to confirm this rule. In proportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, and the rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French at Jena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.

But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken and after that with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history; to say that the field of battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that after Moscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon’s army, is impossible.

The difference is this. After the defeats of Austria nnd Prussia, the residents of Vienna and Berlin stayed home, surrendered, and more or accepted the rule of Napoleon. This is perfectly natural. What difference does it make in the private lives of the people which monarch rules? For the rich and the prosperous, the French seemed charming and cultivated, and if that charm and culture were somewhat different from that of their prior rulers, it was not a great difference and was one with which they were already familiar. As to the craftsmen and artisans, they continued to live as before, carrying out their trades for the new and old aristocracies, and the poor at least were free from conscription and misery in the army.

But that didn’t happen in Russia. As Napoleon advanced towards Moscow, almost everyone left town. There is a funny scene where Napoleon plans his speech to the expected deputation from the city, at which he will explain his good intentions and his demands. It reads as if he were thinking the people of Moscow would welcome him and his enlightened rule with open arms and shower him with flowers. No deputation arrives, and the French generals argue about which of them is going to have to tell the Emperor the bad news.

As most people left, those who remained, peasants, convicts and lunatics, began looting and squatting in the emptied homes. The loot left town a bit later. When the French moved in, they found a nearly empty city, and they themselves began to loot and camp out in the vacant palaces and nicer homes. Then Moscow caught fire, in Tolstoy’s explanation not by arson, but by carelessness and the lack of a fire department, and vast sections were reduced to rubble. Napoleon practically begged peasants to bring their hay and other provender to the city, offering extraordinary prices (which according to Tolstoy he planned to pay for with counterfeit rubles), but the peasants burned their produce rather than sell it to the invaders. Meanwhile the Russian Army is watching for an opportunity to attack. Suddenly the French Army breaks and runs. The Russians under M. I. Kutusov follow as the French run at a breakneck pace towards the border. Kutusov sends detachments of guerillas to harass the baggage trains and cannon, and to capture stragglers. Few of the French troops get away.

As Tolstoy explains it, the French thought they were in a ritual duel with rapiers between two honorable combatants. Suddenly the Russian side realizes its danger, picks up a cudgel and beats its rival senseless. Tolstoy says that Napoleon complained to the Russian Emperor Alexander I and General Kutusov that the war is carried on “…contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people.”

The publisher of my version explains that a new edition was warranted especially by Hitler’s invasion of Russia. We might see it as a good time to understand a lesson ourselves. The US Army and its allies destroyed the Iraqi Army, but the people were not defeated. The US Army won many battles with the army of North Viet Nam and conflicts with guerrillas in Viet Nam, but the people were not defeated. And the debacle in Afghanistan is even harder to understand in light of that country’s history. Tolstoy makes this lesson clear:

The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was the French army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudgel was the Russion people …,

Or, you know, the Iraqis, the Vietnamese or the Afghans.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

Monday Morning: Let’s Mambo

When your Monday begins to drag — and you know it will at some point — put on a little mambo.

Especially Perez Prado‘s Mambo Number 5 and Mambo Number 8. They’ll spice up your day, get it back on track. There are some more recent covers and mashups of Prado’s mambos, but they just aren’t the same as the originals.

Be careful where you play this stuff; it’ll make your mother or grandmother move in ways you may not want to watch.

Let’s cha-cha-cha…

“Damn it Jim, what the hell is the matter with you?”*
FBI-Comey_TakeADeepBreath_21FEB2016
FBI was still trying to dig itself out of a hole on Saturday evening, resorting to damage control mode yesterday. Note, though, Director James Comey’s statement at Lawfare and subsequent coverage at the Los Angeles Times don’t mention at all the screwed up handling of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone. Take that deep breath, then save it to cool your soup, eh?

So I’m following the map that leads to you
Nope, not Maroon 5, but Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, building a map of the network it claims will help it understand how best to reach populations with poor to no internet. A map, to people not on the map? Creepy, like a stalker ex-boyfriend with global reach. Can’t wait for the conditions by which the U.S. government claims it needs access to that.

Radioactive materials gone walkabout in Iraq now found
This is a strange story. Not the part about a testing device containing radioactive Ir-192 used by a Turkish oil pipeline inspection services company that went missing in November but not reported by media until last week, or the part where the device turned up this weekend, dumped by a gas station. Nor even the odd description of the discovery:

“A passer-by found the radioactive device dumped in Zubair and immediately informed security forces,” the chief of security panel in Basra provincial council, Jabbar al-Saidi, said.
“After initial checking I can confirm the device is intact 100 per cent and there is absolutely no concern of radiation.”

What’s strange is the coverage of this story: picked up by mostly conservative outlets, not widely covered in large news outlets. Huh. Weird. Pick out some key words from the story and do a search yourself, compare to coverage on other stories. Heck, it doesn’t even show up on Reuter’s Middle East and Africa site this morning, though they first broke the story.

Not-so-happy anniversary, Q-1 Predator drone
15 years now this death-from-the-sky has been in use. Sadly, it’s become embedded in our culture now.

All right, time to set this aside and put on my dancing shoes. ¡Vamonos! ¡Baile!

* gratuitous Star Trek quote, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy to Captain James T. Kirk.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

US Shocked That Islamic State Capable of Military Training

From the context provided in Prothero's article, the guy in the middle is a suicide bomber even though he looks to me more like a member of a ZZ Top tribute band.

From the context provided in Prothero’s article, the guy in the middle is a suicide bomber even though he looks to me more like a member of a ZZ Top tribute band.

The US has been mired in its failed training of “troops” in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long that analysts have now been watching one of the latest Islamic State videos in awe. It turns out that IS has actually managed to institute a few basic military disciplines into its troops and to capture footage of that expertise in action. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero talked to a number of these analysts and collected their comments. As a long-time critic of US training in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was intrigued by what the analysts would consider “good” training and how that would differ from the farces that have been perpetrated by US trainers. My cynic’s eye immediately went to this paragraph:

In several scenes that were filmed under fire, for example, Islamic State fighters moving into the Baiji refinery complex appeared to be employing textbook infantry tactics. They also were carrying not only sufficient ammunition for a military operation but also backpacks stuffed with additional supplies, including water – a sign that the Islamic State has a well oiled logistical network for supporting front-line fighters.

What a shock! Troops fighting in a desert have the foresight to enter battle with water bottles in their backpacks! Now why didn’t the US think of that in training the Iraqis?

Snark aside, though, one of the main points of the article is that IS has managed to develop a logistics network that puts the Iraqis to shame. It turns out that in Iraq (and Afghanistan, for that matter), the “government” that the US has set up is too corrupt and inept for a supply chain to work properly:

The military experts said the video provided a disconcerting comparison with Iraqi government troops. They noted, for example, that the scenes of packs filled with ammunition and food contrast with constant complaints from Iraqi troops that the government regularly fails to deliver ammunition to combat forces and often leaves them in the field to fend for themselves for food and water, a circumstance that can lead to the looting of civilian homes and shops.

It seems pretty clear that Prothero feels that the inability to deliver supplies is at least partly due to corruption. From his Twitter feed last night:

As for where those supplies for IS come from, I’ve seen at least one report of IS stealing and redistributing supplies from relief agencies. It seems logical that if they are doing this, those supplies would also find their way to IS fighters as well as civilians.

Prothero also notes that IS has learned to cover their heavy artillery so that it is harder to see from the air:

The video also revealed that the Islamic State appears to have adapted to American airstrikes. Most of the images of artillery, rocket launchers and even heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on the beds of trucks include a level of camouflage designed to mask the weapons’ positions’ from the air.

Given the constant barrage of US bombs, it’s not too surprising that IS would figure out that they should hide their weapons from jets and drones. Although I’m hardly a weapons expert, one thing that stood out to me about these heavy weapons, though, was the failure to brace against recoil. It seems impossible that IS would have had any kind of accuracy in targeting with the degree of recoil seen in these weapons as shells were fired.

In the end, though, one thing stands out. This propaganda video, for all its purported slick production values and military expertise on display, covers a military operation that eventually failed in the face of those unrelenting US bombs.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

New York Times Comes Tantalizingly Close to Admitting “Training” in Iraq Doesn’t Work

Never forget the ass-kissing little chickenshit who has been the driving force most failed training of Iraqi troops.

Never forget the ass-kissing little chickenshit who has been the driving force for most of the failed training of Iraqi troops.

In today’s New York Times, Rod Nordland speaks to a number of US troops currently deployed to Iraq yet again to train Iraqi troops. Shockingly, Nordland comes very close to explaining that the current deployment is likely to be meaningless since the repeated failures of earlier training make it likely that the current round of training also is likely to fail:

The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.

Yes, indeed. We already know that all of the previous rounds of training Iraqi troops failed miserably. That indisputable fact allows Nordland to pose the question of whether this new round of training could be expected to somehow be successful after all those failures. Since the article offers no description of any changes in strategy or methods in this new round of training, it’s hard to see how the answer is anything other than a strong probability that this round of training also will fail.

The catastrophic demise of Iraq’s forces is staggering with the numbers Nordland presents. At its peak, the Iraqi military numbered 280,000. And yet once ISIS advanced, the melting away of multiple whole divisions of troops whittled Iraq down to a force that perhaps was as low as only 50,000. This current training effort, being carried out by 3000 US forces, is expected to add, at best, 30,000 Iraqi troops. Nordland admits, however, that the number is likely to be “far fewer”. Despite this depressing math, Nordland doesn’t get around to pointing out just how little impact such a small increase in Iraqi forces is likely to have even if their training somehow turned out to be successful.

But don’t despair. Our intrepid Speaker of the House is on duty to make sure that we continue repeating our training failures:

Boehner blamed “artificial constraints” on the 4,500 American trainers and advisers to the Iraqi army, suggesting that a slight increase in U.S. troops could occur if the Pentagon’s commanders suggested they were needed to help direct fighting against Islamic State forces. “They’re only there to train and advise the Iraqi army, and the fact is it’s just that – training and advising,” he said, dismissing fears that his proposal would lead to tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops locked in another bloody ground war.

“There’s more that we can do, with limited risk, and it wouldn’t require that many more people,” the speaker said.

“Please,” Boehner seems to be saying, “Let’s get back to a full war in Iraq, but without calling it war.” Presumably because the last one worked out so well.

Postscript: Marcy has been the one tracking maneuvers around the issue of an AUMF (even as recently as yesterday), but the Boehner quote above comes from a larger article about a possible new Iraq AUMF. Boehner is fighting Obama’s proposed AUMF. But he’s fighting it because he doesn’t want Obama to give back some of the unlimited war powers of the Executive:

“Until the president gets serious about fighting the fight, until he has a strategy that makes sense, there’s no reason for us to give him less authority than what he has today, which is what he’s asking for,” Boehner told a group of reporters Tuesday, following his trip with lawmakers to several Middle East hot spots during the congressional recess.

Take that, Mr. President. We won’t give you authority for this war until you ask for even more unfettered power than we already grant you!

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Iran Sends Missiles to Iraq: US Finally Shows Concern for Sectarianism, Civilian Casualties

From the very beginning, when George W. Bush and his co-defendants wanted to invade Iraq over the 9/11 attacks, the US war in Iraq has been promoted, waged and defended with a complete lack of self-awareness of the illegal nature of the war and the devastation that can be laid directly at the feet of the US. Today we have a new chapter in that stunning absence of conscience, as the US engages in hand-wringing over the discovery of Iranian missiles in Iraq:

Iran has deployed advanced rockets and missiles to Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Tikrit, a significant escalation of firepower and another sign of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

United States intelligence agencies detected the deployments in the past few weeks as Iraq was marshaling a force of 30,000 troops — two-thirds of them Shiite militias largely trained and equipped by Iran, according to three American officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence reports on Iran.

So, why is the US so concerned about this development? Read on:

Iran has not yet launched any of the weapons, but American officials fear the rockets and missiles could further inflame sectarian tensions and cause civilian casualties because they are not precision guided.

That is just effing unbelievable. Iranian missiles might “further inflame sectarian tensions and cause civilian casualties”? Really?

How about those sectarian tensions that are already in Iraq? Where did they get their biggest push? Recall that when we invaded, Saddam ruled through the Baath Party. The Baath Party was secular. The very first act (pdf) by the US military after overthrowing Saddam’s government was to disband the Baath Party. With its one secular ruling political party disbanded at the point of a gun, Iraq turned to organizing around the sectarian faiths that encompassed both mosques and militias. Much of the remaining time the US military spent on active combat duty in Iraq involved pitting Shias against Sunnis while paying lip-service to the need for “reconciliation”.

And then there are the civilian casualties. Although Iraq Body Count puts the number at a more conservative 100,000 or so, a more encompassing study documents that half a million civilians have died in Iraq as a direct result of the US invasion. And don’t get me started on the effects of the depleted uranium used in Fallujah.

The hubris involved in the US suggesting that Iran’s missiles could inflame sectarianism or cause civilian casualties is nothing short of staggering. But none of the idiots engaging in this hand-wringing will ever be forced to account for the real source of sectarian tensions and civilian casualties in Iraq.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Brilliant New Iraq Strategy Unveiled: Promote Sunni-Shia Reconciliation

Once again, the brilliant leaders of the US military have shown a complete ignorance of both the centuries-long Sunni-Shia rift in Islam and more recent US failed efforts to deal with it.

Think back to those heady days in the fall of 2007, when the ass-kissing little chickenshit David Petraeus returned from Iraq to Washington to defend his vaunted Iraq surge and to convince Congress to keep up the effort (while also shoring up political support for the Bush Administration, a long tradition for Petraeus). Perhaps because of all the false furor stirred up over the inane “General Betrayus” ad, Congress and the American public gave Petraeus and the military a pass despite a report card from GAO showing that by meeting only 3 of 18 benchmarks (pdf), the surge was an utter failure. As that document and other materials of the day pointed out repeatedly, the aim of the surge was to provide space for political reconciliation.

That effort, of course, failed miserably. Despite a relative stretch of peace, the Iraqi government that the US proudly hailed turned out to be brutally repressive and sectarian. And when the Sunni-led Islamic State invaded, Iraq’s military that Petraeus proudly trained (several times!) melted away, leaving as the final line of defense the Shia militias that Iraq never disbanded. Those militias promptly set about committing atrocities.

And so what is to be done now? The geniuses at the Pentagon have decided that all we have to do is to mend the Sunni-Shia rift in Iraq:

The U.S.-led air war against Islamic State militants has frozen the immediate threat from that group, and now is the time for Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government to mend its rift with disenfranchised Sunnis, U.S. military officials said on Tuesday.

“Quite frankly, we need to see in Iraq political outreach that addresses the fact that some 20 million Sunnis are disenfranchised with their government,” Lieutenant General William Mayville told a hearing on global threats facing the United States.

Inexplicably, not only did the next speaker, with an “intelligence” affiliation, not laugh at Mayville, he agreed with him:

Mark Chandler, acting director for intelligence for the Joint Staff, agreed, saying “one of the things that really concerns me going forward is if the Shi’ite forces believe that they can control ISIL (Islamic State) without reconciliation with the Sunnis.”

Okay, maybe it is too much for me to expect these guys to know that the Sunni-Shia rift started in 632 and has ebbed and flowed in the intervening thirteen hundred and eighty-some years. But these guys really should be aware of the kerfuffle just seven and a half years ago. Even paying just a tiny bit of attention to what the military and the Bush Administration were saying in the fall of 2007 and then following the thread of what happened on the reconciliation front in the intervening years should show them that this idea has zero chance of success.

Pinning hopes for success in Iraq on reconciliation didn’t work in 2007. Simply calling for it again while changing no other parts of US policy for the region is doomed to the same outcome.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Shell Announces $11 Billion Petrochemical Plant for Iraq: What Could Go Wrong?

Today’s entry in the “What Could Go Wrong?” sweepstakes is quite a beauty, courtesy of Reuters:

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has signed a deal with Iraq worth $11 billion (7 billion pounds) to build a petrochemicals plant in the southern oil hub of Basra, Industry Minister Nasser al-Esawi said on Wednesday.

Esawi told a press conference in Baghdad the Nibras complex, which is expected to come on line within five to six years, would make Iraq the largest petrochemical producer in the Middle East.

“The Nibras complex will be one of the largest (foreign) investments (in Iraq) and the most important in the petrochemical sector in the Middle East,” Esawi said.

Proponents of the deal undoubtedly will point to the fact that Basra is in the far southeastern part of Iraq, far from the swathe of territory controlled by ISIS. Others will even point to the apparent defeat of ISIS in Kobane and how that might signal a turning of the tide in the battle against them. And yes, oil output in Iraq has been steadily rising since that little blip in 2003. As of the time of that linked report from the US Energy Information Administration from 2013, there were other plans for another $24 billion or so in new refineries in Iraq’s oil-producing regions, so why not jump on this Shell plan?

It turns out that there is plenty of fodder for fans of Lee Corso to shout “Not so fast, my friend!” when it comes to this deal. Back in June, there were already rumblings that the big uptick in Iraq violence could threaten expansion of Iraq’s oil sector. Even that article, though, attempted to support the notion that the Basra area remained relatively safe:

As grim as the worst-case situations may be, most analysts still say there is no immediate threat to Iraq’s southern oil fields, which account for approximately 90 percent of the country’s production and oil export. Basra, the heart of Iraq’s oil economy, is situated in an area strongly dominated by Shiites who generally support the central government and are implacable enemies of the Sunni forces on the march in the north.

Badr H. Jafar, chairman of Pearl Petroleum, a consortium that operates in Iraqi Kurdistan, said it was “highly unlikely” that terrorists could disrupt production and operations in southern Iraq.

The New York Times article containing the quote above is dated June 13, 2014. Just a couple of days later, though, we have this:

Turkey’s consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra has been evacuated due to security concerns, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced June 17. The 18 staff members at the consulate, including the consul general, were were taken to Kuwait, Davutoğlu wrote via his Twitter account.

And that wasn’t just a one-off thing. Consider this tweet from October:

A number of airlines discontinued flights to Baghdad because a civilian airplane was hit by bullets there yesterday while landing, but coverage of that halt notes that flights continue in and out of Basra. There was a report January 12 of a plot to attack the port just 20 miles or so from Basra.

There is one more situation that suggests future problems around Basra:

Thousands of Iraqis are living in penury and running out of money after fleeing fighting and settling in the south of the country, the UN’s food agency said on Tuesday, warning that the situation was becoming critical for families in Najaf, Kerbala and Babil.

Jane Pearce, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) country director for Iraq, said structures had not yet been put in place to cater for the people fleeing into the three southern provinces.

WFP is distributing food to 50,000 displaced families in Basra, Dhi Qar, Qadisiya, Missan, Wasit, Muthanna, Najaf, Kerbala and Babil.

/snip/

WFP needs $292m for its operations in Iraq this year, and has a shortfall of $200m.

Imagine that. Yet another region where the US has no trouble finding funds for bombs, weapons and “training” and yet the WFP is facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars. But never fear, I’m sure my adorable little troll will be around shortly to stamp his foot and inform us how disaster responders in all their glory have the situation safely in hand and the US can continue its work to create even more refugees because sufficient scraps will be found just in time to avert the worst.

And of course, folks living on the edge of starvation and death from exposure will never, ever be radicalized by such an experience. Sure, go ahead and build that $11 billion petrochemical plant. The US war-industrial complex will be happy to spend hundreds of times more than that amount defending the facility.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Pentagon Slowly Coming to Realization That There Might Possibley Be Civilian Deaths from Airstrikes On ISIS

Hell froze over yesterday:

The United States military is investigating reports of civilian casualties that may have occurred as part of the American-led fight against the Sunni militancy known as the Islamic State, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters during a news conference that investigators with the United States Central Command had begun looking into whether coalition airstrikes, which have targeted Islamic State fighters, equipment and oil depots, may have inadvertently hit civilians. Admiral Kirby said he had no additional information. It was the first time that the Pentagon had acknowledged that the air campaign against the Islamic State may have caused civilian deaths.

Recall that US air strikes began in early August. In late September I looked into some of the reports of civilian casualties, and it was not difficult at all to find credible reports. Later on the same day of that post, Michael Isikoff reported that the White House had exempted ISIS air strikes in Iraq and Syria from the new standards of preventing civilian deaths in drone strikes that Obama had announced in 2013.

The Pentagon provided the flimsiest of excuses for having no evidence of civilian deaths at that time:

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon admitted that some assessments of civilian casualties were “inconclusive” since the U.S. was only using drones to assess the results of strikes from the air.

“The evidence is going to be inconclusive often. Remember we’re using [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to determine the battle damage assessment,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday.

A defense official told The Hill earlier this month that accurate assessments of damage from strikes are impossible without U.S. forces on the ground to exploit the attack sites, since Iraqi and Syrian partners did not have the capability.

So the Pentagon claims that they have sufficient intelligence resources to choose targets for attacks, but those same resources magically become incapable of determining the outcome of those attacks.

It’s not like the Pentagon would have to work hard to find credible reports of civilian deaths in their air strikes. Reuters reported back in October that in Syria alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had documented 32 civilian deaths from US air strikes in a one month period.

The numbers are much worse when we move to Iraq. CNN cited Iraq Body Count data for 2014:

But according to Iraq Body Count’s analysis, 1,748 civilians were reported killed by Iraqi military airstrikes, while 4,325 were killed by ISIS. There were also 118 civilians reported killed by U.S. coalition airstrikes last year.

So while Iraqi air strikes dwarfed US strikes in terms of civilian deaths, it still is remarkable that the Pentagon is finding it so hard to find incidents to investigate when there are over a hundred known dead from our strikes in Iraq in the last year.

Despite those staggering numbers, here is all Central Command could come up with in followup to Kirby’s statement at the top:

Sgt. First Class Sheryl Lawry, a spokeswoman for Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said in an email that Centcom was investigating two instances, one in Iraq and one in Syria, that may have resulted in civilian casualties. The investigations are a result of Centcom’s internal review process. Another three reports of civilian casualties are pending an internal assessment before determining whether they need to be investigated, she said.

The military has examined the credibility of 18 allegations that coalition airstrikes led to civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria from Aug. 8 to Dec. 30 last year, Sgt. Lawry said. Of those, 13 have been determined not to be credible.

Imagine that. Of the the 13 investigations completed, all 13 have cleared the US of killing civilians. There are two that are credible enough that they are still under investigation. Presumably, it is taking some time to manufacture a basis for claiming the reports are not credible. And who knows what those three events still under “assessment” means; we can only guess that they are more recent events and the Pentagon is merely determining how large the whitewash brush needs to be.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Attack at Saudi-Iraq Border Kills Three Saudi Guards

Reuters reports the location of the attack as near the Suweif border station, about 40 km from Arar, Saudi Arabia and 80 km from al-Nukhayb, Iraq (marked by red pin).

Reuters reports the location of the attack as near the Suweif border station, about 40 km from Arar, Saudi Arabia and 80 km from al-Nukhayb, Iraq (marked by red pin), putting the attack roughly where the road connecting them crosses the border.

I’ve long followed events along the porous Pakistan-Iran border area, as there are often events taking place there that have very different descriptions on opposite sides of the border. As recently as December 28, three Iranian IRGC members were killed in the area. This is a departure from the usual pattern, where border guards instead of IRGC are the usual targets. Iran retaliated by firing mortars over the border into Pakistan, who claimed as many as 7 injuries from the attack. Iran is also reporting today that they have arrested a team of “terrorists” south of where the December event took place.

By contrast, even though it as remote as the Iran-Pakistan border, the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border is more heavily fortified and patrolled on the Saudi side. That makes today’s report of three Saudi guards being killed in an attack near a border crossing with Iraq stand out:

Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq, defended by earth barriers and fences and monitored by camera and radar, has been attacked in the past by mortar bombs fired from a distance, but more targeted strikes are rare.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, which hit a remote desert area next to Iraq’s Anbar province where both the Islamic State militant group and Shi’ite Muslim militias close to Riyadh’s foe Iran operate.

/snip/

Monday’s attackers, described by the ministry only as “terrorist elements”, shot at a border patrol near Arar and when security officers responded, one of the attackers was captured and detonated an explosives belt, the ministry statement on state media said.

One of those killed was a senior officer, ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki told Reuters. Local media, including al-Arabiya television, named the dead officer as General Oudah al-Belawi, the head of a border sector. A third officer was wounded, the ministry said.

The Reuters article quoted above [the quote above is from an earlier version of the article which has since been updated] relied on a single expert to blame the attack on ISIS based on the presence of a suicide bomber.

AP, on the other hand, assigned no blame, but noted (as did Reuters), that Saudi Arabia has joined the fight against ISIS in Syria.

It will be interesting to see whether any group claims responsibility for the attack and whether there are additional attacks along the Saudi-Iraq border. For now, I’d place about as much authority on the pronouncement that the presence of a suicide bomber means the attack came from ISIS as I do on Iran’s latest “documentation” that the US is controlling ISIS operations out of the embassy in Baghdad.

 

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Emergency Fundraising Succeeds: World Food Programme Restarts Suspended Aid for Syrian Refugees

A week ago today, I pointed out the moral depravity of a situation in which the US never hesitates to find funding to increase air strikes and the flow of weapons into Syria and other fronts in the battle against ISIS while the UN World Food Programme was forced to suspend emergency food aid to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a funding shortfall. There is a rare bit of good news on that front, as the WFP announced today that the emergency appeal for funds has made up for the shortfall and food aid is restarting. In fact, more than $80 million has been raised, so some funding will carry over into January.

It appears that private donations made up only a small part of this influx of funds:

Among individuals contributing online through wfp.org, the third largest number by nationality were Syrians, after Americans (first) and Canadians (second). The online campaign featured Aloe Blacc’s song “I Need A Dollar” as the soundtrack for the #ADollarALifeline video which launched on social media channels. Almost 14,000 individuals and private sector donors in 158 countries contributed US$1.8 million dollars.

It is indeed heartwarming to see so many individuals step up to do what they can. However, considering how many US amoral contractors are making outrageous amounts of money shipping weapons into the region, I find it repulsive they didn’t make up the funding shortfall entirely on their own. Just their lobbying funds alone could have taken that hit without affecting their other funds. We have not yet gotten the list of countries that stepped up for the bulk of the emergency funds nor how much each gave, but we can only hope that the countries doing the most meddling in the region are also providing the most funding for the residents they have displaced.

Sadly, this stopgap funding is merely the beginning. The New York Times reports this morning that the UN’s budget request for 2015 for all humanitarian assistance will go up 27% over the amount needed in 2014:

The appeal, a barometer of the global impact of wars and disasters, calls for 27 percent more funding in 2015 than the amount requested a year ago for 2014 and is intended to aid more than 57 million people in 22 countries.

The number of people affected by conflict “has reached record levels” for the post-World War II era, Valerie Amos, the United Nations emergency aid chief, told a news conference in Geneva. She said that aid agencies had assessed that 78 million people were in need of assistance, but the appeal targeted only the most vulnerable.

Nearly three-quarters of the funds were designated for just four crises: in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the protracted but little-reported conflict in Sudan. Other priorities included the Central African Republic, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.

The number of people displaced by conflict reached the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013 but is still rising “exponentially,” António Guterres, the United Nations refugee chief, told the news conference, climbing to 32,000 a day last year from 14,000 a day in 2011. In 2014, he said, the figure would certainly have increased further.

Given the US role in those countries leading the way in terms of number of refugees, it is fitting that a large portion of the costs of caring for the refugees should fall to us as well. And of course, those first two are problem areas very much because of our meddling. We broke Iraq and have continued to feed its dysfunction ever since. We helped start the unrest in Syria, too. In fact, as the torture report drops today, don’t forget that we relied on Bashar al-Assad as an “ally” for outsourcing of torture early in that program, so getting rid of him is needed to help hide what we did.

However, I still long for the day when the US response to a crisis gets out of the “which group do we fund” approach and instead looks to “how can we help the people” as the approach that will work. As we see from the record numbers of displaced people, our approach now spreads hunger and death. What would happen if instead of sending in weapons, we sent in food, housing construction materials and medical assistance? What if we even actively excluded weapons from these areas?

Of course, that has little chance of happening in our lifetimes. In the meantime, your donations for assistance to Syrian refugees can be made here and the WFP provides updates here.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.