Friday, April 06, 2007

It's Good Friday 

Do the Stations, eat some crawfish.

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Iraq: the microcosm (part 2) 

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Greg Jaffe wrote another insightful article (sub req) about our nearly impossible mission in Iraq. He describes how the military's effort to quell violence in particular Baghdad neighborhoods is like a microcosm of the entire nation-building project in Iraq.

The lower-middle-class neighborhoods that Lt. Col. Jeff Peterson's troops patrol have been the epicenter of Iraq's civil war for most of the past year. "Every issue facing Baghdad writ large is in our area," he says.

In recent weeks, Col. Peterson has tried a controversial approach to calming his sector. As Sunnis and Shiites have separated into their own neighborhoods, he has resisted the urge to encourage reconciliation or even dialogue. Instead, he has erected massive concrete barriers between the sects.

His vision is for a series of small, homogenous, gated communities, each consisting of a two-block square. Each would be built around a market, a mosque and a generator. "The goal is to provide the neighborhoods with a chance to protect themselves, without having to rely on coalition forces, the Iraqi government or the militias," he says.

How he got to that point -- after months of bloodshed and failed experiments -- illustrates a lot about both the possibilities and limitations of the U.S. vision for Iraq.

Currently, the U.S. strategy for stabilizing Iraq is built around getting Iraqis to reconcile and support the democratically elected, Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. It's a classic approach to fighting an insurgency, in which an outside power works to strengthen a friendly, albeit weak, government. The hope is that with help, the government will eventually win the backing of the people by providing security and meeting essential needs. Once insurgents are cut off from support among the population, they will be relatively easy to crush. That's the premise of President Bush's surge strategy, built around bolstering support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

The problem, say some commanders, is that they aren't fighting an insurgency in Iraq anymore. Today, they are trying to stop a civil war between feuding Sunnis and Shiites. "At times I have been tempted to call it a counter-civil war or counter-sectarian fight," Col. Peterson says.

This isn't just an academic point. In a civil war, building up the government and its security forces may be counterproductive, serving only to ratchet up the killing. Defusing a civil war depends on stopping everyone from fighting.

"If you are given the mission to stop hatred, how do you do that?" asks Brig. Gen. John Campbell, an assistant commander overseeing all U.S. forces in Baghdad.


The good news is that Col. Peterson's strategy successfully reduced the violence (if not the "hatred") among warring Sunnis and Shias in a neighborhood in South Baghdad. Unfortunately, Col. Peterson had to partition the neighborhood into religiously homogenous zones for his plan to work.

Perhaps, similarly, the best current solution for Iraq is to divide it into three countries: one for Kurds, one for Sunnis and one for Shiites. It's not an ideal solution (divying the oil resources would be difficult, Iran would get a client state and minorities like Turkmen and Christians would get the shaft) but if the alternative is continued sectarian conflict while the U.S. clings to the hope that Iraq Sunnis will one day start trusting a vindictive Shia government... then I guess dividing the country is the realistic way to go.

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Of course, if you wanted to obscure the nature of the sectarian conflict in Iraq you could go on Rush Limbaugh and spread lies about Al Qaeda in Iraq, or you could say what President Bush said on Wednesday:

The enemy that had done us harm would be embolden. They would have seen the mighty United States of America retreat before the job was done, which would enable them to better recruit. They have made it clear -- they, being people like Osama bin Laden or Zawahiri -- have made it clear they want to drive us from Iraq to establish safe haven in order to launch further attacks. In my judgment, defeat -- leaving before the job was done, which I would call defeat -- would make this United States of America at risk to further attack.

In other words, this is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here. That's the lesson of September the 11th. It's an integral part of my thinking about how to secure this country...

To imply that "the enemy" can't attack us as long as we're stuck in a civil war in Iraq is pure folly. Britain understands that. We're breaking our army in Iraq, while OBL and Zawahiri have already established a "safe haven" on the Pakistan border.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Duct Tape: It's not just for terrorist attacks anymore! 

When I look at these photos of newly installed, rusty, corroded, duct-taped, undersized hydraulic flood pump pipes (made by a Bush-crony company), I recall the day (1/26/06) that the Decider-In-Chief said:

I want to remind people in that part of the world that $85 billion is a lot.

I also recall when Reconstruction Czar Donald C. Powell cautioned us:

If people see tax dollars wasted, support will wane.

Tax dollars wasted while President Bush is in office? Heaven Forfend!

Engineer Matt McBride asks: "Are we supposed to have confidence in a system that isn't even protected from the moisture in the air?" That's a good question.

Apparently 120 billion trillion dollars can't even buy stainless steel bolts and painted pipes for New Orleans' flood control system. We get bolts that will corrode and (undersized) pipes that are already rusting. This is on Category 3 level flood protection systems, if you haven't forgotten. (You can be sure the insurance companies haven't.) We are building enhanced Category 3 levee protection because Category 4 or 5 protection is too expensive. You see, $120 billion trillion only goes so far.

This is how your tax dollars are being used to build the "best levee system known in the world".

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The Pretend Place 

Josh Marshall makes some trenchant political observations in this post. He writes:

On the Republican side, I think the money numbers are entirely secondary to news from the Giuliani campaign. Rudy still supports public funding of abortions. Apprently we're still supposed to be in that pretend place where we believe that Rudy Giuliani can be the Republican nominee. But let me go out on a limb. Nobody who supports public funding of abortion is going to be the nominee of the Republican party.

Not only does Rudy believe abortions are a "constitutional right", he is, as I've said, "soft on gays and hard on guns". Speaking of guns, the NRA's new battle cry is "Remember New Orleans".*

[At a meeting in Bastrop, NRA President Wayne] LaPierre told the story of a south Louisianian who said he was not an ardent gun advocate before Katrina, but now said, "I'll spend rest of my life fighting any politician who wants to take away my gun."

LaPierre said the NRA has not endorsed a presidential candidate, but predicted that any anti-gun candidate would not get elected.

One candidate the gun lobby views skeptically is Rudy Giuliani, R-New York. [Senator] Vitter has is serving as southern regional chairman of Giuliani's campaign.

On Wednesday, Vitter said Giuliani secured his endorsement only by committing not to pursue agendas contrary to conservative ideology on guns, abortion and marriage.

Jindal has made his Second Amendment position a platform in his bid for governor.

Again, I can't tell you how much I enjoy Vitty-cent constantly being on the defensive about his Giuliani endorsement. You'd think Rudy's gays/guns/abortion thing would be a total deal-killer for Republicans. I instinctively agree with Josh Marshall. This belief that Rudy will win GOP primaries after his opponent's attack ads start running does seem fanciful. But Glenn Greenwald makes an interesting counterpoint, where he contends that two major recent blunders by Giuliani will not hurt him but will actually help him. In fact, according to Glenn these blunders reveal the key reason why Rudy has a good shot at the nomination. Glenn cites two recent (fascist) statements by Giuliani, where he asserted that 1) the President can imprison American citizens at will without charge or review and that 2) the President can ignore Congress and fund wars by himself. Unbelievable, huh? Then Glenn makes the following argument:

This Salon article by Cintra Wilson remains an excellent summary of Giuliani's conduct in public life which reveals what a power-worshipping authoritarian he really is. It is for precisely that reason that I wrote a couple months ago that Giuliani's candidacy was being wildly under-estimated, because what the "base" of today's Republican Party wants far more than anything else (far more than social conservative purity) is a power-exuding authoritarian Leader -- in particular, someone who has genuine contempt for the Enemies (The Terorrists and the liberals, not necessarily in that order) and a resulting refusal to recognize any limits in his powers to fight against those enemies.

More than any other candidate, Giuliani exudes those authoritarian traits, which is what accounts for his unparalleled popularity as a candidate, including among the extremist base of the GOP.

Holy crap that's scary. Glenn is saying that, among GOP conservatives, Rudy's authoritarianism will trump his love for baby-killing, gun stealing and gay-loving, and make him a palatable candidate. It's a wild thought. Have conservative Republicans really twisted that far?

I think "no". My instincts still lie with Marshall's analysis about Rudy's "Pretend Place", though Greenwald's argument makes me pause (and shiver).



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* Just gorgeous. After Couhig Conservatives helped re-elect the NRA's current boogeyman-- Mayor Nagin-- we now have conservative politicians like Jindal and Vitter running against Nagin's unconstitutional gun confiscations. Thanks again, Couhig conservatives! You guys are so helpful.

Of course, last year, during the mayoral campaign, Jindal and Vitter dutifully kept their mouths shut about this important issue. They didn't want to dissuade Couhig Conservatives from voting strategically for Nagin-- the "Improvisor" who "understands business". Their silence was no accident. It was a coordinated, dark con perpetrated on a city (still) reeling from disaster.

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Update: As usual I've made minor edits and corrections/enhancements to this post.

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Angelina Jolie continues her quest to repopulate the city 

Already?

Angelina Jolie is planning to adopt for the fourth time, it has been claimed, just days after finalising the adoption of Vietnamese orphan Pax Thien.

The actress - who recently adopted Vietnamese son Pax Thien, and also has a Cambodian son Maddox and Ethiopian daughter Zahara - reportedly wants to adopt a girl from Chad to "balance the family".

A source discussing Angelina's family - which also consists of Cambodian son Maddox, Ethiopian daughter Zahara and Angelina's natural daughter Shiloh with lover Brad Pitt - said: "Angelina and Brad want to make sure Zahara doesn't feel alienated as the only black face in their family.

"She feels the children need a balance of faces in their life."

I've been told by reliable sources that Angelina wants a dozen kids.... which, thankfully, is an even number so that the proper "balance" of facial pigments can be maintained.

Gracious.

Dahlin, you live in New Oyuns-- just take a walk about town and you'll see a world of faces with varying pigments. You don't have to worry about "balance". Hell, some of the "black" folks you meet will have a lighter skin tone than you do!

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Units 

I own an Uptown apartment building that offers a dozen furnished 1 bedroom units for $350/month and up.

Not such a bad deal in Post-Flood New Orleans. (Did I mention that the place is 1 block off St. Charles Avenue, and utilities and furnishings are included?)

Sure, the sacred free market would allow me to dramatically raise rents on my tenants as their leases expire... but, frankly, I don't want to. The apartment is profitable as it is, there's low turnover and few vacancies. My tenants are working class native New Orleanians who get paid low wages for washing dishes, or hauling garbage, or keeping the casino pretty. Some are white, some are black, some are eccentrics, some are mysterious... and one has a Nint' Ward accent that is so gloriously thick I can barely understand the man. Because of their modest incomes and Post-K circumstances, they have very few affordable housing options right now. Yet the city desperately needs these folks to run its undiversified tourist economy.

Now, I'm not saying I'm some liberal saint of rent control-- not by any stretch-- but I do feel some civic responsibility as a landlord not to be a greedy douchebag while the city's affordable housing inventory is so depleted.

Which is why I was so heartened to see two large apartment buildings being built within a two block radius of my place. It's a good location for affordable apartments, and goodness knows there is enough demand. I didn't view the new apartments as "competition" (my rent rates would still be way lower), instead, I viewed them as a welcome addition to the N.O. housing market-- affordable housing for the working class is desperately needed for the city's recovery to continue.

You can imagine my disappointment, then, when construction was complete and I saw them put signs on the buildings reading "For Sale: 2 Bedroom Condos starting in the 150's at $197,000". Condos?!! I was pissed. The condo market is super-saturated with inventory right now, while affordable apartment units are in high demand. What a tremendous waste of resources! I expressed my frustration to a local architect who comforted me, saying that the condos would be so slow to sell, and that it was possible they would be "converted" back to rental units. I hope so.

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Note: The next few posts will be about New Orleans housing unless something unforeseen pisses me off.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iraq: the microcosm 

Last Thursday the Wall Street Journal had a front page story about an Army Officer's ongoing battle to re-open a bank branch in a Sunni neighborhood just west of Baghdad. When you view the story as a microcosm of the entire U.S. project in Iraq, it becomes incredibly illuminating. Here are some large excerpts from the story, with some highlights and commentary interjected here and there. I recommend you read this article slowly, and absorb and digest each detail. (Warning: this is a long post.)

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WSJ 3/29/07 "In Iraq, an Army Officer Battles to Open a Bank" by Greg Jaffe


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- For Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, one of the keys to bringing some semblance of order to the restive area that his troops patrol has been a small, squat bank branch.

Last July, about two dozen men wearing Iraqi police commando uniforms and driving police trucks stormed the bank branch in the once wealthy Baghdad neighborhood of Ameriyah. They shoved a rifle into the back of the bank manager, a small 48-year-old woman. Then, they began dumping the $800,000 from the bank's vault into a police body bag.

The following day, Iraq's Ministry of Finance closed the bank, saying it was unsafe.


The police forces in Iraq seem hopelessly infiltrated.


Neighborhood bank branches, which pay government pensions, are a critical economic lifeline in Iraq. Since the robbery, Col. Kuehl, who commands an 800-soldier battalion, has spent $152,000 to install new metal gates, bulletproof-glass teller windows, security cameras and a new vault. The bank remains closed.

Col. Kuehl's battle in Ameriyah shows how hard-won even the smallest victories -- like opening a bank branch -- can be in Iraq. It's also a window into how completely Iraq has changed the way senior U.S. commanders think about warfare. They increasingly see their fight as one that includes tasks usually left to politicians or diplomats, such as cajoling the Shiite-dominated government to extend basic services to Sunni areas where they have been withheld. Commanders, like Col. Kuehl, must try to reassure locals, even as nonstop violence and sectarian killings explode around them.

Read that last paragraph again. Our forces are tasked with "cajoling" the Shia-dominated government.


For decades, the U.S. military has defined warfare as separate from politics. When politics failed, war was necessary and the military took the lead. The attitude was one of the after-effects of the Vietnam War, in which the Army told itself that it had lost because politicians prevented the generals from fighting the war they longed to fight.

You can bet your bottom dollar that we'll hear the same argument after this Iraq misadventure. Conservative perma-hawks will argue: "The liberals and the media prevented us from using the required amount of ruthlessness in Iraq. They tied our military's hands and stabbed them in the back with their traitorous liberalism." However, this "appeal to victimhood" is incorrect. Informed observers understand that conflict in Iraq is not purely a military one; more bombings won't achieve our goals. In fact, our project is mostly political-- that's what makes it so difficult. We're trying to "win" hearts and minds in an ethnic, sectarian, tribal stew that spent decades simmering under a Stalinist regime. We're nation-building a democracy in the Middle East so the terrorists (in Afghanistan) don't "follow us" here. That's the project, so we're told. Is it a good one? Is it possible? Can our army carry it out?


"After Vietnam, we redefined officers as nothing but warrior-trainers," focused on teaching soldiers how to operate increasingly sophisticated weapons systems, says Lt. Col. Doug Ollivant, an Army strategist in Baghdad who has helped shape the current surge strategy. "We had a very restricted view of warfare."

In Ameriyah today, Col. Kuehl, 41 years old, says his battle is closer to armed politics than all-out war. "I need to convince the locals to have more faith in the government than the extremists," he says.

If you like your soldiers doing "armed politics", then you gotta love Iraq. American heroes like Col. Kuehl spend their days trying to convince the locals to have more faith in the (Shia-dominated) government rather than the (Sunni) extremists. Some job. Yet, more than anything else, that is what the War in Iraq is about right now. Is it worth it? Is "trying to convince Iraqi locals where to place their faith" worth a trillion dollar war that breaks our army and costs thousands of American lives? Is it comforting to know that our military is stuck in Iraq playing "armed politics" while Osama Bin Laden has reconstituted his Al-Qaeda camps on the Afghanistan border?


Before the Iraq invasion, Col. Kuehl's sector in Ameriyah was home to Iraq's elite. Its population consisted of doctors, high-level Baathists and senior Army officers. As sectarian violence has risen, many of its residents have fled to Jordan and Syria. Poorer Sunnis, driven from their neighborhoods by Shiite militias, have streamed into the area, squatting in abandoned houses. Residents now get only a few hours of electricity a day. Trash and the occasional dead body litter Ameriyah's roads.

The rich leave, and poor squatters enter. Government services deteriorate and electricity is sparse. Resentment grows as the hot summer approaches. How many Ameriyahs are there in Iraq?


U.S. military officials say the lack of services in Ameriyah reflects a broader effort on the part of elements of the Shiite-dominated national government in Baghdad to starve Sunni neighborhoods for resources. In February, U.S. military officials overseeing western Baghdad compiled a classified briefing showing that in Sunni areas, the vast majority of health clinics, gas stations, food-ration and propane-distribution sites had been shuttered or fallen into disrepair. In contrast, similar facilities are largely up and running in Shiite areas.

"It is very difficult to get the ministries to provide basic services in the Sunni neighborhoods. People aren't getting what they need," says Col. Kuehl. One senior U.S. military official in Baghdad says some elements of the Iraqi government appear to be pursuing a "strategy of exhaustion" in the Sunni areas.

AGAIN: Col. Kuehl's job is to convince poor SUNNIS to have more faith in the (retributive, vengeful) SHIA government than in the (Sunni) extremists who fight them. How the hell is he supposed to do that, you ask? With the help of some heroic Iraqis, like the bank manager.


...In Ameriyah, the bank has been central to Col. Kuehl's effort to convince Sunnis they have a future in Iraq. Ameriyah leaders who work closely with U.S. forces are often targeted by Sunni insurgents, so U.S. officials had to approach the bank manager cautiously.

The manager, a petite mother of three who wears big gold-framed glasses that dangle from a plastic chain, had worked at the Ameriyah bank for 27 years. She took the top job when her former boss, a Baathist, was fired in 2003. Because she has been threatened, she asked that her name not be used. "My husband says I am too ambitious and too stubborn," she says.

Last summer, after she had the rifle shoved into her back during the robbery, she began to meet secretly with Maj. John Maguire, who oversees reconstruction projects in Ameriyah. They worked on a plan to reopen the bank. Maj. Maguire spent five years as an armor officer, riding in tanks, before leaving the Army in 2000. After that, he worked for Goldman Sachs as a compliance officer before he was involuntarily recalled to active duty last year. He got only six weeks of training on how to do reconstruction in a war zone before landing in Baghdad. "Mostly, I have had to learn on the job," he says.

Maj. Maguire says he did Internet searches to figure out what the bank needed. Over the course of a month, he worked with local contractors to install steel doors at the bank's entrance, reinforce the vault and place security cameras throughout the facility. He and the bank manager replaced the three Shiite security guards who were watching the bank when it was robbed with 14 local men who were chosen by Ameriyah's sheiks.

In early December, the bank opened. About three weeks later, as U.S. military and bank officials were planning for the first shipment of about $1 million to pay pensions, the Iraqi government ordered the bank closed again. "We were two days from receiving the money," says the bank manager.

Colonel Keuhl, Major Maguire and the Ameriyah Bank Manager are all doing heroic work. I admire and salute their efforts to reopen this bank. However, heroes don't always win. The popularly elected Iraqi government doesn't want these heroes to win... much less the extremists and the terrorists.


...A few hours after the bank was closed, the manager called Maj. Maguire, irate. "How could you invest all that money into the bank and just let them close it?" she says she asked.

"I didn't know what to say," Maj. Maguire says. "She is risking her life to get the bank open."

The following week, Col. Kuehl lobbied his superiors for help in an email. "What everyone needs to understand is that most of the locals believe that the government of Iraq is deliberately trying to undermine development in the Sunni areas," he wrote. If the bank isn't opened quickly, he warned, local opinion of the Iraqi government "will decline even further than it has."

Well, according to this WSJ article-- which cites a February "classified briefing" and a "senior U.S. military official"-- the Ameriyah Sunni locals ARE RIGHT to believe that the (Shia-dominated) Iraqi government is deliberately trying to undermine them! Their suspicions are well-founded! Yet, AGAIN, we must remind you that Col. Kuehl is heroically trying to build a bridge of faith between the suspicious Ameriyah residents and the Shia government.


Being mired in local politics, not just warfare, Col. Kuehl is forced into almost-impossible community-relations work, as he tries to bring stability to this violent neighborhood.

Earlier this month, local Sunnis complained to Col. Kuehl that Iraqi army forces in Ameriyah went on a rampage after two insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at them. The Iraqi troops let loose a torrent of fire, killing the insurgents and, in the process, wounding an old man and woman, according to locals. Then, the locals say, the soldiers executed a 16-year-old boy in his front yard and ransacked several stores in the area.

Please reread and internalize the highlighted paragraph. Then consider the second paragraph which describes a cycle of violence that undermines all of the "community-relations work" that Col. Kuehl has somehow managed to accomplish. The cycle goes like this: Extremists attack Iraq army forces, who respond with ruthless force, and go overboard by executing a boy and trashing stores. Resentment builds among the Sunni locals, who lose ever more faith in the Shia government, and further sympathize with the extremists, who attack the army forces, which respond with ruthless force, and go overboard... and on and on.


Col. Kuehl arranged a meeting with local Sunni leaders, the victims and the Iraqi army battalion commander in the area. At first, he doubted the story. The Iraqi commander, Col. Achmed, was considered one of the best Iraqi leaders in the area by U.S. officials. And he was one of the few Sunni[!] leaders in the Iraqi army.

"The terrorists are playing a new game," Col. Achmed fumed before the meeting. (Because his family has been threatened, he asked that his first name not be used.) "It is a war of words. They are trying to dissolve the trust between our two armies."

Col. Kuehl tried to calm him down. "We've got someone trying to stir people up in Ameriyah," he said.

As Col. Kuehl and the Iraqi army commander rolled up to the meeting in Ameriyah's main government building, a roadside bomb exploded at the front gate, damaging an Iraqi vehicle. "Keep your heads on a swivel," Col. Kuehl told his troops as they filed into the building.

Inside the hall, about 20 men sat on chairs along the wall. The man who said his 16-year-old son had been executed by Iraqi troops thrust a passport photo of his son in Col. Kuehl's face. "Baby," he said, and then began sobbing.

He tore open a plastic bag full of hundreds of spent shell casings and dumped it at the feet of Col. Kuehl and his Iraqi counterpart. As the brass casings clanged on the floor, the man buried his face in his hands. A second man, who said his brother had been killed by a stray bullet fired from a police checkpoint, thrust the spent round he said had killed him at Col. Kuehl, who took it and turned it over gingerly in his hands.

Outside the meeting hall, Iraqi troops and an insurgent sniper began to exchange fire. First, the sniper shot at the Iraqi and U.S. troops guarding the entrance to the building. Then, Iraqi soldiers unloaded with their heavy machine guns into an empty building. For the next 30 minutes, the pattern continued. The sniper fired a couple of shots. The Iraqi troops responded with a steady blast of heavy machine-gun fire. U.S. troops, who couldn't determine where the sniper was shooting from, said the Iraqis were firing aimlessly.

A new cycle of violence begins while Col Kuehl and Col Achmed patiently try to sort out the public relations damage from the PREVIOUS cycle of violence.


"Why are your people still shooting?" the father of the 16-year-old boy screamed at Col. Achmed.

"You know why. Because someone is shooting at them," Col. Achmed replied.

By the end of the meeting, Col. Achmed seemed worn down by the complaints and the constant volley of fire from his own troops. "I have fixed a lot of problems in this battalion. I succeeded 70% and I cannot do any more. Maybe this is my limit," he said. He pledged to do a joint investigation of the incident with Col. Kuehl. Col. Kuehl, meanwhile, asked the locals to give the Iraqi army time. "We are working hard to get better," he said.

After the meeting, Col. Kuehl said that there was probably "more than a grain of truth" to the locals' complaints. He also conceded it was unlikely he would ever get to the truth.
...

Col. Kuehl said he would turn over results of the investigation to the sheiks in Ameriyah. He also planned to put together a phone list of local sheiks he could call when there was a firefight in the area.

"The most effective weapon I have got right now is my cellphone," he said.

So, AGAIN, to review: the next time there's a firefight, Col. Kuehl will call the local sheiks on his cellphone, because that's his "most effective weapon" right now. These calls are part of Kuehl's "community relations work", where he tries to build trust between the poor Ameriyah Sunnis and the (Shia-dominated) Iraqi government who punishes them by withholding crucial services.

Why are we breaking our army in Iraq? Apparently, so we can conference call with Iraqi sheiks during firefights on the far-flung hope that they will help us convince poor Sunnis to start trusting their vindictive Shia government. Freedom isn't free, you know.

Now, if we don't continue breaking our army this way, we're told that Osama bin Laden will up and leave Afghanistan and "follow us" to America. Does that make sense to you? Me neither. (In other words, ask yourself "how stupid am I?" Do you honestly believe that Al Qaeda was [not] prevented from bombing the London trains in 2005 because Britain's military stayed in Iraq?)

Here's a wild proposal: let's leave Iraq and let the local sheiks use their own cell phone minutes to sort out their response to the next firefight. Why are Americans stuck in the middle of these intensely tribal skirmishes in Iraq? Why are our trained warriors risking their lives to "cajole" a vindictive Shia government to help poor Sunni squatters?

Luckily, there are heroes like Col Kuehl, and Major MaGuire (and the Ameriyah Bank Manager) who are trying against all odds to put the civil war back into Pandora's box. And thank goodness they have the assistance of men like Col. Achmed of the Iraqi army, who understands the terrorists' "game", and is an excellent Sunni military leader whom the U.S. trusts. His help will be invaluable going forward.


A few days later, Col. Kuehl suffered an unexpected setback when Col. Achmed abruptly resigned, citing threats to his family.

Dammit.


Last week, after months of inaction, the logjam over the bank seemed to be ready to break. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 military officer in Iraq, asked Iraqi officials to open the bank as quickly as possible, according to U.S. officials. Iraq's Finance Minister Bayan Jabr told U.S. officials that if he received an official letter from U.S. forces indicating that Ameriyah was secure, he would reopen the bank. U.S. officials say they sent the letter.

Then, a new hurdle emerged. The Ministry of Finance refused to approve the bank's Sunni guard force, Col. Kuehl says. So the bank remains shuttered.

It's just one bank branch in one neighborhood, but it might as well be the whole bloody country. If you know how to open that Ameriyah Bank branch, then you know how to "win" the war in Iraq. But until you tell me how to open that bank, I'm not listening to you when you throw around empty words like "victory" and "win" and "enemy". Those are simple terms for simple minds. As you can see, Col. Kuehl's job is monstrously complex.

Heroic Americans like Col. Kuehl are trying to navigate the ethno-religious stew in Iraq. They're doing "community relations work", and calling sheiks during firefights, and spending 9 months trying to get a bank branch open-- all the while dodging bombs and snipers-- so that poor Sunnis in places like Ameriyah might start trusting the following entities:

1) The American Occupiers
2) the hopelessly infiltrated police force
3) the excessive, trigger happy Iraqi army, and
4) the punitive Shia government

Of course, the joke's on us, because our military has to believe entities 2, 3, and 4 are trustworthy before it can credibly convince the Ameriyah Sunnis to put their "faith" in them. How much trust do you have in entities 2, 3 and 4? A great deal? The success of the war effort literally depends on them.

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See, during the 5th year of this trillion dollar Iraq morass, conservatives warn liberals that any talk of timelines will "embolden" the terrorists. That's right: Insisting that the Iraq government get its shit together by a certain date will only comfort "the enemy". The "enemy" just hates it when America spends nine months of blood and treasure in a civil war zone trying in vain to open a bank branch... that devastates "the enemy". When Osama bin Laden receives reports about the continued U.S. presence in Ameriyah, he gnashes his teeth and throws tantrums in his refurbished base in Waziristan. "Curse the Americans for staying in Iraq, it foils all my plans", he says. Only when U.S. liberals advocate leaving Iraq does OBL become emboldened, because he can't wait to "follow" the U.S. military back to America. Until we leave Iraq, we're apparently insulated from domestic attacks. Just like Britain was in 2005.

(Btw, who is "the enemy" in Iraq? Is it Al Sadr's death squads? Foreign jihadists? Sunni insurgents? Baathist dead-enders? "Al-Qaeda type" terrorists? Radical clerics? The American-hating "Arab street"? The punitive Shia government? The looters and the criminals? The fraudsters and war profiteers? Is it anyone who sympathizes or supports one of these groups? That's a lot of people.)

Most everyone *hopes* the new "surge" strategy works. I do. But let's face reality; it likely won't, and six months from now we'll probably hear some conservatives saying the same thing liberals are saying today. The rest will continue telling us "we're turning a corner" and that we're stabbing people like Col. Kuehl in the back, and that we must stay until "victory" is achieved.

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About to burst 

Here's a packet of butterscotch from Fix the Pumps:

[All] of the pumping systems, as designed, procured, and built, have a strong likelihood of failure when placed under normal operating conditions.


Read the whole thing. When an engineer invokes the Deity, you know there's trouble in River City. Apparently the pipes that deliver the hydraulic oil to run the pumps are dangerously thin.

After all the promises made after the federal flood, you'd think that at least some portions of the rebuilt flood control systems would be impressively overengineered. At least one or two things... right?

But why do I get the feeling that, for the rest of my life, hurricane season in New Orleans will be a time of "fear and trembling", and inebriation and escapism?

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Monday, April 02, 2007

"I don't need that much money" 

My very favorite thing about this sparkling Moldy City post is the "Part 1" at the end of the title.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

This post goes out to... 

...any stalwart Saints fan who, at one time or another, called up the Buddy D show under a hard-to-pronounce pseudonym like "MitsubishiCountChocula", and made some colorful remark like "Did you see that little Fakhir run?"

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Here's a classic tale about shaving one's ass that is totally unrelated to the above comment, but is good for a laugh if you haven't read it.

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