Thursday, January 01, 2009

Saying Hello To 2009

By Carol Gee

And soon we will be saying goodbye to George W. Bush, The Decider, the commander in chief. On the 20th day from today President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office. Between now and then gives us a chance to make judgments about what we would hope our next President might avoid or modify during his tenure. But one thing is certain; there will be change and uncertainty for some time to come.

More than meets the eye -- Many of us are still asking, as did AlterNet's Gary Brecher, "How did we let this guy get away with being a war president#?" Unfortunately, the bill for our current president's so-called "war on terror" is not going away anytime soon. Time Magazine reported recently that the tab will be a trillion dollars#. They say that it is even costlier than expected, "$775,000 a year for one soldier in Afghanistan." In December of 2006, the NYT reported, "The Iraq war will cost more in 2007 than the $110 billion projected by the White House, said the head of the administration’s budget office#." This figure was just a tad off, I would say.

We wondered whether this would ever happen -- "Iraq takes control of the Green Zone from the U.S.," is the headline from the 1/1/09 Yahoo! News. To me war has never been about the threat of WMD, the politics of sectarian divisions within the country, or which brilliant General was in charge. To me the war has always been about the fatalities, both American and Iraqi. To quote:

The United States handed over control of the Green Zone and Saddam Hussein's presidential palace to Iraqi authorities on Thursday in a ceremonial move described by the country's prime minister as a restoration of Iraq's sovereignty.

. . . Violence around Iraq had plunged in 2008, with attacks declining to an average of 10 a day from 180 a year ago. The murder rate in November was less than 1 per 100,000 people — far lower than many cities in the world. U.S. military deaths in Iraq also plunged by two-thirds in 2008 from the previous year, a reflection of the improving security following the U.S. military's counterinsurgency campaign and al-Qaida's slow retreat from the battlefield. According to a tally by The Associated Press, at least 314 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in 2008, down from 904 in the previous year. In all, at least 4,221 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003. For Iraqis, the fatalities had also plunged: During 2008, at least 7,496 Iraqis died in war-related violence according to an AP count, including 6,068 civilians and 1,428 security personnel, down 60 percent from 2007.

And we have no idea what will happen in Iraq in 2009 -- On C-SPAN last evening I watched a fascinating presentation by U.S. News' author Linda Robinson, who wrote "Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search For a Way Out of Iraq." Her analysis was solid, her reporting excellent and her conclusion open-ended. In the same vein about a month ago Time Magazine asked, "When the U.S. Leaves, Will Iraq Strut or Stumble?"# To quote:

. . . don't expect peace to break out anytime soon. In a country seething with ancient animosities, it's almost certain that politics will be attended by violence. Ahead of provincial elections in January, there's a potentially explosive Shi'ite-vs.-Shi'ite clash brewing in the south. In Sunni areas to the west and north of Baghdad, a new alliance of tribal sheiks, many of them U.S.-funded ex-insurgents, are challenging the Sunni parties currently in power.

But it is in Kirkuk where the disputes seem most intractable. At its simplest, this is an old-fashioned turf war. The Kurds want the city and its hinterlands to be folded into the northern province of Kurdistan. Turkomans (a distinct ethnic group sharing ancestry with modern Turks) and Arabs would prefer it to remain outside Kurdish hegemony, in the separate Tamim province. Each group points out that the city was once ruled by its forebears. All know that outside Kirkuk is one of Iraq's largest oil fields. Also at stake is the larger, constitutional question of whether Iraq should have a powerful central government, favored by Turkomans and Arabs, or highly autonomous regions, as the Kurds wish. And finally, there are outside influences: Turkey backs the Turkomans and, with Iran, opposes greater Kurdish power.

Even in these tough economic times the remainder of the Military Industrial Complex continues to thrive. See this 12/15/08 essay from Mother Jones: "Back to the future with the Complex." To quote:

Is it possible that one of the Pentagon's contractors has a tripartite business model for our tough economic times: one division that specializes in crock-pots, another in adult diapers, and a third in medium caliber tactical ammunition?

. . . It isn't hard to imagine more civilian firms, especially ones which are already Pentagon contractors, getting into (or back into) the weapons game. After all, when the Big Three Detroit automakers were scrounging around for a bailout just a few weeks ago, they used America's persistent involvement in armed conflict as one argument in their favor. For example, Robert Nardelli, Chrysler's chief executive, told the Senate that the failure of the auto industry "would undermine our nation's ability to respond to military challenges and would threaten our national security." While that argument was roundly dismissed by retired Army Lt. Gen. John Caldwell, chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association's combat vehicles division, it probably wouldn't have been if the automakers made more weapons systems.

Will Presto be the back-to-the-future model for Pentagon contractors in the lean times ahead? Only time will tell. At the very least, it seems that, as long as Americans allow the country to wage wars abroad, require their salads to be shot, and have bladder issues, National Presto Industries has a future.

The wars will move to Afghanistan, or Palestine, or Iran, or Pakistan, or India or . . . We will arm our own soldiers or sell arms to others. The complex seems dug in for the foreseeable future.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo*" and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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