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November 22, 2006

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They're pretty good at blaming things on Clinton...

1. They are perfectly competent at hoovering up money for Republicans,

2. Not training the Iraqis means they never will be forced to leave,

3. They can wait until the money well runs dry, or 2009, whichever comes first.

is there anything this administration does competently?

Yes: make large American corporations lots of profit.

I watched a kind of a documentary the other night, Bremner: Beneath Iraq and a hard place. Rory Bremner is a standup comedian who specialises in imitating political figures: his regular show, Bremner, Bird, and Fortune is a weekly mock of political news, with Bremner doing imitations of the current politicians. (In Beneath Iraq and a hard place he does imitations of Bush and Blair. He's very good at Blair: I'd like to know what an American would think of his mockBush. You might be able to view it on this page.)

As Bremner points out: the one thing that has for sure been done in Iraq is that large American corporations have made lots of money, and large amounts of money that belonged to the Iraqis (Saddam Hussein's private funds, Oil for Food money, revenues from sale of Iraqi oil) and large amounts of money that had been provided by US Congress, had gone to Iraq in cash dollars and disappeared without oversight.

I'd almost forgotten about the cost-plus contracts awarded without a bidding process and without auditing to Halliburton, back in 2003. But as they say:

Now cynics claim a little of the cash has gone astray
But that's not the point my friends
When the money keeps rolling out you don't keep books
You can tell you've done well by the happy grateful looks
Accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way

2. Not training the Iraqis means they never will be forced to leave

Ding ding ding ding. We have a winner.

OT - Moe Lane finds out one of his Bizarro World companions is a religious bigot.

I understand that by the end of 1942 the Marine Corps had already created a large and growing pool of skilled military interrogators relatively fluent in Japanese and familiar with Japanese popular culture, geography etc. They did so by putting selected uni-lingual American recruits into an intensive 6-month immersion course. The reason for training these people was the recognition that gleaning information from prisoners was of crucial importance.

Why is it that years into what so many have described as the epic struggle of our times (the WW II of this generation!!) the US military cannot seem to teach its, e.g., selected trainers of the Iraqi Army, enough of the language to do their jobs? And why cannot the various intelligence agencies teach enough of their carreer officers enough of the language(s) of interest to do their jobs?

The imagination boggles

Ugh: I wasted too much of one afternoon arguing with that Cella character. I even tried conceding a lot of things and sounding more, well, aggressive than would otherwise be, trying to see if I could coax moderation into any of them. Instead, the more I pushed towards the center, the more their grip on reality loosened. I'm never going to Redstate again after that. I think it is plain that:

(1) Many of those people have a disturbed attitude towards aggression.
(2) Their wack-o belligerence doesn't represent more than a sliver of the country.

I'd also recommend David Morris's article in Salon: Inside the Iraqi Forces Fiasco. I've recommended it here before when it first came out this summer. The US Army is not the only branch struggling to meet their goals.

It's pretty clear that, whatever the lip-service paid to the priority of training Iraqi forces, the US military is not well suited to this sort of mission. All the institutional structures are optimized for warfighting, and unless someone changes the organizational structure and agrees to the resulting resource and staffing changes we will not succeed -- assuming that success is still a possibility.

Ugh: I wasted too much of one afternoon arguing with that Cella character.

Well that was an interesting thread, though I didn't make it all the way throug, did you get to experience a banning?

Isn't Paul Cella just Tacitus without the charm?

IIRC, shortly after we "liberated" Iraq, several of the surrounding countries, including Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia volunteered to bring recruits for both the army and police force to their countries for training.

Imagine what might be different today if Bush et al hadn't been so arrogant as to refuse this offer.

Ara: I think my main argument with Cella might have been before your time (unless you were lurking in early 2005.) Cella enters the comment thread here, but doesn't say much, and what he does say is pretty stunningly unconvincing.

I had forgotten that he seems to take 'X has a monopoly on the truth' to mean not 'X alone is right about everything', but 'X is right on a particular question'. So denying that anyone has a monopoly on the truth just means denying that there are such things as right answers. Which is, um, a unique way to take it.

Cella on Mill and TtWD on Honest Abe, all in a single thread.

Good Times!

I just have to ask: is there anything this administration does competently?

Cronyism?

Affirmative action for undeserving Republican prep-school grads?

Leaving a mess while hiding as much evidence they created the mess as they can, to make it look like the people that do the cleanup are the ones to blame.

This last one is like the plot of "New Adventures of Old Christine" last night - where the divorced mom complains that her house is the "homework house" while the dad (who has the kid on the weekends) has the "fun house" because the dad never asks the kid to do anything the kid doesn't want to.

What makes it infinitely worse is that the options were pretty clear from the moment that the overthrow of Saddam was planned (i.e., Sep 12, 2001):

1) Install one or more of his subordinates, with most stuff intact. Basically, decapitate the regime, and rename it.

2) Destroy/dismantle large chunks of the regime and government, set up a replacement system (which is what we were supposedly doing). This, of course, could be expected to take several years, and mucho bucks and troops.

3) Destroy/dismantle large chunks of the regime and government, then walk away, or sit passively in fortified bases, while Iraq's neighbors/internal factions did whatever. This is what we did, to an unfortunately large degree. Except that we combined it with the violent aspects of (2), so that the Iraqi people got the worst of two options.

Yukoner,
The point you raise is interesting. While the government was interning Japanese issei and nisei on the west coast, the military (the army as well) was trying to work thru the bureaucracy to get recruit them to help train the Americans you mention. They also turned to Japanese-Americans (who, as it turned out, were generally not so good at Japanese) Contrast this with the current efforts, which seem to automatically assume those who are Muslim are security risks (cf James Yoo)

Yes, before my time.

Too many things to express about that thread, from just sinking disappointment that it isn't the instinct of conservatives to think that the broadest distribution of liberties ought be the starting point of our political discourse, to amazement that Cella dreams up self-refuting arguments hinged on equivocations.

I was an E-2 in the 101st airborne, 327th infantry. As a grunt I got to experience the worst of it. We diden't even have armored hummers. We were fortunate to have bullet proof vest. That is just the basics and doesen't protect against bombs very well. The other problem is the size of the Army. It's so small that each soldier is expected to multitask. Each soldier is required to go to all kinds of extra schools to get basic training. Before they even master the training they just went through they'er sent off to more training. So it takes at least 10 years to raise up a soldier who has mastered his training. I was satisified just to make it through 6 months of drill seargeants screaming at me and making me do push ups. I diden't want to go to air assult school. I had a real hard time learning in Advanced Individual Training because I only got 5 hrs sleep on averge a night. Every day was intense physical labor. Showers were hose bibs with one side extremely cold and one side extremely hot. The highlight of my day was the time I got to spend in bed away from everyone in silence. You don't really master your training for your job in AIT. You go to your unit then they shove you through more schools. Then they ship you off to some 3rd world nation that smells like a farm. It's why I left the Army. Each soldier has to carry the weight that should be carried by 10 men. Then you get paid lower than minimum wage when you take into account the hours you work.

That's why there aren't enough American troops qualified to train the Iraqis. Ameican needs to train up battalions of Iraqis for the sole purpose of training other Iraqis.

an intensive 6-month immersion course.

I agree and shake my head in bafflement that we haven't done this with arabic. I did a German immersion program my first year of college (all german, all the time) and it does not take long at all to gain a certain level of competency. The starting out learning a language is slow at first but it does snowball quite quickly after the initial hump.

"Why is it that years into what so many have described as the epic struggle of our times (the WW II of this generation!!) the US military cannot seem to teach its, e.g., selected trainers of the Iraqi Army, enough of the language to do their jobs?"

Because they keep firing the guys and gals who know those languages because they are TEH GAY. Or possibly because they're Muslim.

If they'd stop firing people with the skills that they need just because of their sexual orientation or their religion, I might believe that the folks in the Pentagon actually wanted to rebuild the country, instead of just using it as a testing ground for new theories of warfare and playing "how few troops can we use to conquer a country" games.

Fledermaus, German is much easier than Arabic to learn, for English speakers, by all reports. German is basically English in disguise, in my experience; most of the linguistic structures and a tremendous amount of the vocabulary is the same as English, if you just reject anything you know etymologically comes from French and apply some simple transformations.

That said, there's no reason the Army couldn't have pumped up its efforts for gaining Arabic speakers -- immersion courses seem a no-brainer.

That said, there's no reason the Army couldn't have pumped up its efforts for gaining Arabic speakers -- immersion courses seem a no-brainer.

Um, guys, this IS the Bush Administration we're talking about here....

The Army rates Arabic as one of the hardest languages to learn. The Defense Language Institute's tries to teach all of their languages by immersion and the basic Arabic course is still over a year long (64 weeks at 40+ hours aweek).

james: As a grunt I got to experience the worst of it. We didn't even have armored hummers. We were fortunate to have bullet proof vest. That is just the basics and doesen't protect against bombs very well... I was satisfied just to make it through 6 months of drill seargeants screaming at me and making me do push ups. I diden't want to go to air assult school. I had a real hard time learning in Advanced Individual Training because I only got 5 hrs sleep on averge a night. Every day was intense physical labor. Showers were hose bibs with one side extremely cold and one side extremely hot. The highlight of my day was the time I got to spend in bed away from everyone in silence. You don't really master your training for your job in AIT. You go to your unit then they shove you through more schools. Then they ship you off to some 3rd world nation that smells like a farm. It's why I left the Army. Each soldier has to carry the weight that should be carried by 10 men. Then you get paid lower than minimum wage when you take into account the hours you work...

james, not to be rude, but given that, why on earth did you join in the first place?

ajay, not to be rude, but that is an inappropriate question. How many soldiers really know what life is like once they join, particularly in a war zone? You wouldn't get any idea of it from all the commercials.

Yes, but I'm assuming here that any sentient adult would know that signing up for the infantry would mean having a fairly tough time of it.

I may be naïve, or wrong too, but I'm not sure that knowing Arabic (which Arabic by the way ?) would guarantee being able to make oneself understood by all parties in Irak for training purposes. Which brings up another interesting point : when you live abroad, out of sheer frustration you end up understanding that globalisation means globalisation of capital. Period. There is no such thing as globalisation of populations, institutions, languages (no, not even American (English)). Things which are done one way in one country are done another way in another, or perhaps they are simply not done at all. Which means that it takes a lot of time, and training to have access to a country's structure and makeup. (Information that you must have as an occupier doing nation building.)
I know this sounds like prattle, but I never cease to be amazed at what I can only qualify as the colonist's mentality (one that is acutely American while we're at it...) : what's not done the American way simply CAN NOT EVEN EXIST ! It's invisible, (not even dumb...)
Which is not to say that other people in other countries don't do exactly the same thing... They are perhaps a little less arrogant though.
And it doesn't excuse the U.S. military not at least making an effort to give foreign language training to their personnel. (If they've got the funds, right ?)

Yes, but I'm assuming here that any sentient adult would know that signing up for the infantry would mean having a fairly tough time of it.

There's a huge qualitative difference between "having a fairly tough time of it" and what James is describing, IMO. Although that said, I too would be interested in hearing why he signed up, though not for any reason beyond my own curiosity.

Debra: knowing Modern Standard Arabic, plus a bit of training in the Iraqi dialect, will get you understood by pretty well everyone in Iraq. The Kurdish population are largely bilingual. As noted above, Arabic is a difficult language to learn, certainly much harder than other European languages (even Russian); I don't know how it compares to Japanese, though.

Anarch: he had to do pressups, he got shouted at, he didn't get much sleep, he didn't get paid very much and he had to walk long distances with a very heavy bergen in smelly foreign countries. That's a very good description of the typical infantry experience. It's not fun a lot of the time, but what on earth was he expecting?

Isn't Paul Cella just Tacitus without the charm?

Okay, are you going to come over & clean the coffee/saliva mixture off my monitor & keyboard now? Because that was just too funny for you to write without some kind of advance warning.

It's why I left the Army. Each soldier has to carry the weight that should be carried by 10 men. Then you get paid lower than minimum wage when you take into account the hours you work.

Not to be facetious, but it sounds like working in any major corporation. I just quit a job at a large entertainment company where they laid off 650 people without reducing the workload by one iota. Their only answer was that we should work longer hours to get the work done, but I was already there 10-12 hours a day even before the layoffs.

I think we've got some trickle-down of the current "do more with less" corporate mentality into the armed forces, which is unfortunate.

All we are doing is training people who are not loyal to us or to "Iraq" but to their own tribes. We are creating killers and arming them. The civil war will be even worse when the US trained soldiers and their weapons are turned wholesale upon civilians.

Japanese may be one of the easiest languages to learn to the point of being understood, if not to fluency. Its grammar seems much simpler than European languages and it's atonal, unlike almost every other East Asian language.

Iraq had an Army and a Police Force. Bush eliminated them. He put 350,000 trained, armed, angry men out of a job and on the street. Instant insurgency. Couldn't have "Stay The Course" without this disasterous decision.

"is there anything this administration does competently"

Yes, redistributing income and wealth upward from working people and the poor to the haves and have mores.

The Iraqi officers interviewed by an Army team also had complaints; the top one was that they were being advised by officers far junior to them who had never seen combat. (...)

That reminded me of something that, really, should have been obvious since 2003 or whenever talk about training Iraq's army became common. I haven't really thought about it much, probably just because with so much tragedy and farce going on at once, it's easy to miss yet another good example of a well-known theme.

Anyways, what I noticed, which that paragraph reminded me of, was this: Iraq already had an army. It was the bulk of a lot of jokes in the early 1990s, but no army belonging to a country the size of Iraq would have done any better against America. An army generally entails generals, troops, some training, the whole ball of wax. So why was training so high on the list of what our troops are supposedly doing?

There would obviously be things we do better than them, apart from the differences in resources and needs, but no pre-existing army in the world could be bad enough to justify the amount of energy and stuff that we apparently put into improving Iraq's. The only reason to put so much focus on training and skills is just colonialism — "those people should be glad we're here to tell them how things work".

I just have to ask: is there anything this administration does competently?


In a word: No!


But it's really worse than that. For the full scope of this catastrophic clusterfuck, much of it intentional, take the time to read and absorb this, a stunning synthesis of "known knowns" and "known unknowns" about the War on Iraq.


A tidbit:
The kernel of an answer to what is the most painful and intractable question about the Iraq war—how could US officials repeatedly and consistently make such ill-advised and improbably stupid decisions, beginning with their lack of planning for "the postwar"— can be found in this little chamber play in the Oval Office, and in the fact that at least two thirds of the cast seem wholly incapable of comprehending the script. In Woodward's account, Rice, who was then the official responsible for coordinating the national security bureaucracies of the US government, found what was being said "a rather theoretical discussion," somehow managing to miss the fact that she and the National Security Council she headed had been cut out of decision-making on the Iraq war—and cut out, further, in favor of an official, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who, if we are to believe Woodward, did not bother even to return her telephone calls.

The Iraq occupation would have all the weaknesses of two chains of command, weaknesses that would become all too apparent in a matter of days, when Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the junior three-star in the entire Army, replaced General Franks and L. Paul Bremer replaced Garner, leaving the occupation in the hands of two officials who despised one another and hardly spoke. And both chains would end not in the White House but in the Pentagon, a vast bureaucracy not known for the delicate political touch that would be needed to carry out an occupation of this degree of complexity.

There's more. Much, much more. The article covers it all, the ideologicals and the idiots as well as the incompetents.



This sounds to me like the same people who thought up the Coalition Provisional Authority thought up this Iraqi training program...as well as thought up our government's response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

How much you wanna bet that the private contractors hired by the Bush administration as part of their "privatization" scheme over in Iraq (and elsewhere) got everthing they wanted and needed...and in a timely fashion??

What the Bush administration has done is unconscionable and unforgiveable. Scores (if not hundreds) of our troops over in Iraq have been killed because they weren't provided adequate body and vehicular armor. And then to add insult to injury, once they returned to the bases Bush had built over in Iraq, many soldiers were sickened by unsanitary water and food supplies provided by the private contractors. Plus, our soldiers were also faced with the distasteful realization that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld-hired private contractors were being paid 5 to 10 times more than they were being paid.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all the neo-con architects of this disaster in Iraq are war criminals. It is a crime (during war) what they have done to our military and our soldiers, both regular and reserves.

Rumsfeld resigned. Cheney should resign. Bush should resign. Anyone responsible for this lethal fiasco should resign, so maybe someone more competent and caring can replace them.

Our soldiers deserve this. Our nation demands this.

hey Phredd, thanks for linking to that article -- must reading.

Efficiency? What for? The whole attempt at training an IRAQI army is futile anyway.
Many of the soldiers are sectarian fanatics who infiltrated the troops. The others don't see the point in fighting and dying for the US puppet regime. Sooner or later all will be fighting for their sects or tribes in the civil war.

The US options are already reduced to staying til the bitter end, when the casualty numbers will become too high, or retreating and watching from the sidelines until exhaustion of the sectarian forces determines the new borders of former Iraq.

Japanese may be one of the easiest languages to learn to the point of being understood, if not to fluency. Its grammar seems much simpler than European languages and it's atonal, unlike almost every other East Asian language.

Ooo! Language learning threadjack! Here is the State Department scale for languages. The key is professional speaking AND reading ability, which jacks Japanese up. I've never studied Arabic, but diglossia (which is more like triglossia because you have classical Arabic, standard Arabic and the local dialect and to manage, you really need to know the last two, and make inroads on the first) plus the the non-Roman script is what probably makes that difficult. Boronx is correct that Japanese is an easy language to get basic communicative ability in, and it is possible to have very good verbal fluency and be totally crap at writing (waves) or even reading.

One of the neatest things about arabic is that the grammar is rather strict, so the root of the word is a series of consonants (ktb for read/book) and by changing the vowels, you get your related words. Some people have minds that make this easy, others have a really hard time with it. Here's a blog post that discusses this while talking about the beauty of Arabic poetry. Here's the part about Arabic, but the whole post is worth reading

It's difficult to explain exactly how the basic structure of Arabic lexicography could result in the language being substantially more allusive than English, but here goes: individual Arabic words are formed from simple three letter roots. To these simple roots suffixes, prefixes, and infixes are added, and vowels are changed to produce a large number of individual words which have, either actually or metaphorically, meanings somehow related to the idea behind the simple root. For example, the Arabic root k-t-b is expressed as a verbal infinitive as kataba, meaning "to write". From that basic root we can then get the words kitab "book", kAtib "writer", maktUb "written" (with a metaphorical meaning of "predestined"), maktab "office", maktaba "library", makAtaba "correspondence", kutubi "bookseller", kuttAb "elementary school", istiktAb "dictation", makAtib "correspondent" or "reporter", muktatib "subscriber", and about a hundred more variations all produced from that original three letter root.

All of the words springing from the triliteral root k-t-b have that similar three letter sound to bind them together, which means that each of the words shaped from the root, when spoken, are capable of evoking any of the other words shaped from that same root. To this, an extra layer of complexity and evocativeness is added by the fact that many of the Arabic consonants sound remarkably similar, so that there are two h's, one "hard" and one "soft", two s's, two t's and so on. This means that when you say k-t-b you're also evoking q-t-b "hunch" as in "hunchback", q-T-b (with the "hard" T ) which gives the root meaning of "to gather or collect", and about a dozen other groups of words. To the native speaker all of these various meanings resonate at either the conscious or unconscious level. This is what I mean when I speak of evocative and allusive, this feature of Arabic which links together hundreds of words, many of them with very different meanings.

While the sample of people I know who have learned Arabic as a second language is populated by linguists who are susceptible to this sort of stuff, I have found that people who do study Arabic often end up waxing rhapsodic about the language which probably leads to an suspicion that they have gone native.

Peripherally related to the army issue, Reuters has Karpinski on record saying that she saw a Rumsfeld-signed memo authorizing prisoner abuse. On the one hand, Karpinski has her own credibility issues; on the other, can you say "subpoena"?

Shades of Rwanda: al-Sadr followers take over TV station and issues a call to arms vs. Sunnis.

This. is. bad.

Thanks for posting that spartikus. Within the space of a week I've read the following about Iraq - Record high number of violent deaths last month, people being burned alive as revenge for previous killings, kidnappings in broad daylight, the morgue is full and now televised calls for sectarian killings.

Please tell me again how this isn't civil war?

What should hurt us (Americans) the most is knowing that because of the way we conducted the post-war period we created this situation and made it nearly unsolvable, especially in the short term. IOW, these deaths are on our hands.

And, to top it all off, after we pull out of Iraq, Republicans will simply slough off all responsibility for this disaster of epic proportions and blame liberals and the media for "losing". They'll claim that if we only had withheld reporting the truth about torture, or the death squads; only authorized spending another $100 billion or sending another 500,000 more troops in Iraq; or whatever - we would have won.

It makes me sick to my stomach. I can only hope the American public will finally wise up to what the Republicans continually do whenever things go awry (i.e. blame somebody else, including the same Americans who initially voted for the Republicans' "plans" but now want to change course given that reality has shown us the plans didn't work out). We need to stop electing these yahoos - the consequences are too severe.

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