Tag Archives: Iraq

Our War . . . on drugs! Reflections on Iraq

The snake pit that is Iraq

In the previous century we watched Europe self-destruct twice, then clamber out of the ruins and put itself back together again, sort of like the Scarecrow after his near death experience at the hands of the Wicked Witch of the West, reconstituting himself with fresh straw.  Of course it was painful; of course it took time.  But not that much time.  Not really.

Why is that?

Well,  for one thing, we could have jammed both world wars into the better part of a decade that we have been in Iraq  and, although part of the legacy of those wars was the dissolution of European-based empires, the countries that had given their names to those empires were established entities with relatively intact institutions. They could be right-sized, the fat trimmed, the belt tightened without too much attendant angst.  Winging, yes.  Bleeding out, no.

Not so the Middle East.

Saddam Hussein was a nasty piece of work.  Tyrannical dictators usually are. But let’s not forget that our opprobrium towards him has far more to do with his nationalization of Iraq’s oil fields than any cruelties he perpetrated on Iraqis, Kurds, et al.  After all, we have given ample proof of our tolerance of corruption and bad behavior from Heads of State, provided they align themselves with our objectives.  What was unforgivable about Hussein (besides testing nerve gas on dogs) was his attempt to keep Iraq and Iraq’s oil for himself/his cronies, not the atrocities to which his regime gave rise nor the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction he was rumored to have stockpiled.

I’m not sure what we expected when we marched into Baghdad in 2003. . . .  Oh, right — to be hailed as liberators.   Well, those whose job description includes administering  lipstick to sows point to some improvement seven years down the line.  However,  far as I can see, Iraq remains war-torn, ravaged, occupied by a loathed foreign power (us), and swarming with mercenaries, Al Qaeda infiltrators, tribes with genocide on their minds and suicide bombers lining up for the chance to blow the whole shebang to Kingdom Come.  Not a place I’d want to live in, but the place in which we, in large measure, have condemned the Iraqis to live.

The use of heroin and other hard drugs, virtually unknown in Iraq under Saddam’s regime, has increased dramatically since the U.S. led invasion; even more disturbing has been the spike in use among children. To be fair, this is partially due to Hussein’s draconian drug laws (it was pretty much “Off with her head!” if you were caught changing your mind) and the presence of troops along Iraq’s various borders, now porous conduits for hashish and heroin from Iran and Afghanistan and cocaine from Turkey. That the Iraqis are lighting up, that they are turning on and tuning out, that they are hopping aboard the white horse should come as no shock, given what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  As I said in a previous blog about Afghanistan – who can blame them? I’d take drugs too.  So would you.

And, so, it turns out, do our troops, only in their case, it may not be so much a case of abusing drugs as it is of  using them — prescription drugs, that is, although I’m quite certain that some of our troops are up to some type of less quantifiable psychotropic shenanigans in their down time.   On the record, however, are Department of Defense statistics showing that, from 2005 to 2008, there was a 400% increase in the prescription of antidepressants and other drugs used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia among our troops and that, as of 2007, 12% of combat troops in Iraq took antidepressants or sleeping pills.  Do they need them?  Hell, yes, and don’t you be thinking of taking them away from them!  In 2009, 160 active-duty Army suicides were reported – a 15% increase from the previous year — and a whopping 1 in 10 of the men and women who serve in this theatre of war will return home to wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – our Evil Fairy’s gift to them that  keeps on giving and giving and giving, year after year, one shitty thing after another.  And, by the way, “Thanks for your service. No, really.”

In the immortal words of Edwin Starr: “War! huh-yeah/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing.”

Praise the Lord and pass the pipe!

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A Warrior Falls on His Sword . . . or Shoots Himself in the Foot. Which is it, McChrystal?

When asked by PBS Newshour what General Stanley McChrystal could have been thinking when he mouthed off to Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, retired generals Dan McNeill and Merrill McPeak appeared genuinely baffled. They alluded to McChrystal’s no-nonsense, gruff and blunt manner and pointed out that he had evidently spent insufficient time in situations requiring tact and diplomacy. However, it was pretty clear that they were not convinced that this was the whole story.   McPeak, who appeared stunned throughout, referred to McChrystal twice as a “Warrior,” hesitating a moment before he uttered the word as though he wasn’t sure how that word, so loaded,  would play in the modern world outside gaming circles.

I have no doubt that McChrystal is a Warrior . . . one with a capital W.  Joe Klein describes him as an extraordinary soldier, but one who is pathologically incapable of not speaking his mind.  However, I’m not sure McChrystal . . . or it . . . is that simple.

Let’s review the history of our engagement in Afghanistan.  Bush plunged us into this war in retaliation for 9/11 and to get Osama Bin Laden dead or alive.   I’m actually not going to fault him for that.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Probably we should have looked before we leapt . . . and realized that  Afghanistan defies military occupation and has for millennia, that the words that greet visitors as they arrive at the Kabul International Airport might properly be those that  greeted sinners entering Hell in Dante’s Inferno:  “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”   Instead, we came, we saw, we thought we conquered, we declared premature victory and off we dashed to Iraq to destroy that country.   Having accomplished  Operation Iraqi Ruination, we turned our sites back on Afghanistan to discover that it had – OMG! – metastasized.    What to do?

What to do, indeed?

That was the  conundrum with which Obama had to deal when he took office (conundrum in the sense of a logical postulation evading resolution):  1) how to slink out of Iraq while saving sufficient face to show ourselves on the world stage after that particular embarrassing and devastating debacle; and 2) how to get out of Afghanistan without looking like a bunch of tribal yahoos whopped our technologically superior asses. In an earlier blog, I referred to the war in Afghanistan as a tar pit – easy enough to clamber into, hard as Hell to get out of, and virtually impossible to emerge from not besmirched.

What are Obama’s current options in Afghanistan? The Left wants him to bail; the Right wants him to hunker down and win.  The Left wants out yesterday.  The Right doesn’t care how long it takes, so long as we WIN, goddam it!  Of course, this is all hypothetical because victory in Afghanistan is impossible. This isn’t a conventional war, after all; it’s a police action and, boy, are those bad guys are winning! Worse and much more conclusive, they’ll be there long after we leave and, possession being nine tenths of the law, that’ll be the end of that.

So, what’s a President to do?  After a lengthy review of the war effort and much consultation with generals, Obama decided to compromise.  (Was this a good idea?  How the Hell do I know?  Can you have a good idea when it comes to Afghanistan?)  He nearly triples the force he inherited as Commander in Chief, giving the Generals and the Right more or less what they wanted; then, to appease the Left, he promises to start drawing down troops in July 2011, to, in effect, end the war at a more or less specific point in time.  In other words, he gave the Generals what they said they needed to win on their terms and then he’s getting us the Hell out of there, no matter what. He’s ending the war and trying to put the best face on it that he possibly can.

Oh, now, stop your fulminations!

Lefties, remember the scene in Saigon when we all of a sudden pulled out of Vietnam.  Do we want to a repeat of that in Afghanistan?  I don’t know if I’m prepared to sit through a performance of Miss Saigon set in Kandahar.

Righties, stop foaming at the mouth.  We’re losing! Sometimes America loses!  No, really. Suck it up.

As for the military brass. . . .

Well, that is where McChrystal’s very public insubordination comes in. As McPeak pointed out, McChrystal is a Warrior.  He’s not a police chief.  He’s not an administrator.  He sees that our offensive is on the defensive, that our “war” effort is circling the drain, that our attempts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people are offset by their desire to keep their heads.  And, as a Warrior, a proud Warrior, he can’t stomach it; for sure, he doesn’t want to be associated with it.  I don’t believe for a nano second that McChrystal did not fully intend for his remarks and those of his closest aides to appear in print. I don’t know whether he knew he’d be fired, but I suspect he did.  After all, that way there could be no question that the unspeakable nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan is Obama’s war and not McChrystal’s.

Move over you three Afghan officers who,  as reported by Time, shot yourselves in the foot when your battalion’s combat tour was extended so that you could get medevacked the Hell out of Hell.  Make a little  room on the heli  for Stanley.

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