Sunday, March 15, 2009

Talking Iraq

Jim: Okay, next Saturday, actions take place to protest the sixth anniversary of the never-ending, illegal Iraq War. We're doing a roundtable on Iraq and participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava, and me, Jim, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills) and Wally of The Daily Jot. I'm going to toss to Dona because she wanted to start off.


Dona: Friday's snapshot included a transcript of a US service member 'training' the Iraqi police -- you can see the video at Adam Kokesh's site -- and this was brought up in the Friday roundtable Rebecca moderated -- in fact, good for Becky, she started with it. Normally, I wouldn't want us to go with the same topic but this one really needs to be addressed further. I want to add a qualifier. Many good points were made in the Friday roundtable about how the police are not the military and the US service member did not appear to grasp that -- to put it mildly, and about the disrespect of Iraqis, which we can go into. But I want C.I.'s original critique dealt with here because it was touched on in the Friday roundtable but so were a lot of other things.

Betty: Well I participated in the Friday roundtable -- as did Kat, Ava and C.I. -- and am participating here so I'll just add quickly that there were a number of angles to cover and people were speaking very quickly. Elaine, Ava and Kat did comment on this and Elaine was rather clear about wanting to bring it back to the issue of sexism.

Jim: Okay, well, Betty, explain it. Explain what took place.

Betty: Some US service members were sent to train Iraqi police. They assembled a neighborhood's police force facing front. The police commanders were milling about in the background. The US military guy goes out in front of the Iraqi police officers and begins cursing them out. He goes out of his way to insult them. The biggest insult he can think of -- telling -- is to call them women. It was really offensive and it fed into a hatred of women that the US has culivated in Iraq.

C.I.: I just want to interject quickly that women are police officers in Iraq. And, in fact, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported Saturday that a police woman was wounded in a Mosul shooting while Reuters states she was shot dead.

Wally: And it wasn't uncommon, before the start of the illegal war, for women in Iraq to be police officers and carry firearms. But once the US installed thugs, things got much worse for Iraqi women. Nouri al-Maliki should be infamous for attempting to ban female police members from carrying guns. He truly attemtped that. And he's also the pig who cut the already meager budget of the Women's Affairs Ministry down to $1,500 a month. He has no respect for women and he attempts to destroy their rights. So for the US military to give speeches like that, there's no excuse for it. It's appalling, it's embarrassing, there should be consequences for it.

Ty: I would agree with Wally, especially on the consequences, and I have to wonder, C.I.'s talking about a police woman being shot, I have to wonder what happens when women are brought on to the force of that neighborhood. These women will have to fight twice as hard for respect and the fact that they will have to do so because the US military -- as 'trainers' -- was preaching sexism is disgusting.

Kat: I'm glad Dona asked for this to be covered. And just to give a background on that Friday roundtable. One reason that other issues were raised was that C.I. had covered the sexism in Friday's snapshot, that day's snapshot. So people were attempting to contribute in other ways. Which was fine and what C.I. expected because in dictating that snapshot, Ava, Wally and I were asked by C.I., "If I really hit hard on the sexism, do you think other elements can be covered elsewhere?" The concern was that the lack of understanding of what the police do, etc., might not be covered. But we knew they would and said, "Go for it." So, to be clear, that is one reason people were bringing up other topics. I applaud Elaine for attempting to bring it back to the issue of how destructive for women the US soldier's words were. I think if she'd been able to get that point in earlier -- and as Betty pointed out, it was a free for all -- it might have changed the discussion. As it was, it was Ava and I and then Trina spoke briefly before we moved on to the next topic.

Dona: I just think -- and let's remember that all the people posting the Friday roundtable that night were also including the snapshot in their posting so they knew the sexism would be covered in the snapshot -- that it got kind of passed over and to me it is a very important issue. We pay those salaries -- for the military -- and we pay for the US to be in Iraq. We are not supposed to be paying for hatred or hate speech. And considering all the attacks on Iraqi women, I was and am offended by it. They are always being attacked. By Iraqis, by the US military, by the press. Perfect example of the last one, Abeer Mohammed and Alissa J. Rubin offer the only story filed from Iraq, "One Good Way to Make Female Hearts Flutter in Iraq: Throw a Shoe." They like Muntadher al-Zeidi because he's cute! Those Iraqi women! They're so silly! They're so incapable of thought or action. And, if you think about it, it's part of the press' efforts to pathologize gender in the same way as their non-stop clucking about female bombers in Iraq is. There are competent women in Iraq, there are women's rights activists, etc. But we don't read about them in The New York Times. In fact, they still haven't profiled the director of the Women's Affairs Ministry. All this time later. And they're still not covering her. But they can make time to make Iraqi women come off like lovesick fools? I'm sick of it.

Ava: I'm going to agree with Dona on that. It was an insulting article -- and I loved C.I.'s response to it -- but it's just really amazing how Iraqi women are repeatedly devalued and are expected to be some masculine idea of what a 'girl' is. I'm getting tired of it and it's part of what destroyed Hillary's run, this press reaction, this insistance that a woman be this or that. There is a great deal of sexism in the media and I would really love it if some of the bloggers online who pretend to care about sexism could make time to call some of it out. In terms of the military, the US military, that hideous speech has other implications as well.

Jess: Correct. Men and women serve in the US military. What message does it send to the women serving when they hear a man trash women, a man tell a bunch of men that they act like women, and just rip apart women. If he thought they were cowardly, he could have called them cowards. If he thought they were childish, he could've have told them that. Instead he attacked women. And what does that tell the women enlisted in the US military about what their male peers really think of them?

Betty: Good point. And if he'd done that with race, if he'd told them they were acting like some derogatory word for Blacks -- maybe for Latinos as well, but I'm Black, so I'll stick with that -- we'd be appalled. He insults women -- implying they can't serve when women are serving, in the US military and in the Iraqi police force -- and he gets a pass. And what must it be like to be a woman in the US military and discover that when some man in the US military wants to insult another man, the worst thing he can think of is to call the man a "woman." I mean what does that say?

Dona: I am glad and thrilled we have C.I. online and glad and thrilled C.I.'s never been afraid to call out sexism. But a lot of people are and that's why I told Jim I wanted to start with this. I don't want to be guilty of avoiding this issue, not mentioning it. And let me be really clear because I didn't grow up as a feminist. My mother was one but I didn't think it applied to me. So let me share this and maybe speak to some women who are where I was not all that long ago. I thought that it didn't apply to me. I was a woman, yes, but the guys liked me and I stood up to them and did it on my terms. In high school, I held my own. Whether on the yearbook, the newspaper or in a class. And there are two things that come from that. You either begin trashing other women because you want to maintain your exlusive place and to fit in or you just stay silent when women are trashed and kid yourself that it's not about you, that you are the exception. Looking back, I can see how easily I could have ended up either way and I can see very clearly that those were where it ended, one of those dead ends. I had friends who moved down one of those two roads, female friends. And I would have as well. I'm not trying to act like I'm 'better' or anything. But having Ava as a roommate early on helped me tremendously and certainly from C.I. I have learned a great deal. And here's how I will boil this down: Any time you think that defending some group of people might mean you're left out or excluded, you need to do it. And if that group of people is women, you don't need to take the opinion of, "Oh, they like me!" It's not about you, it's not about you as an individual. It's about women and you are in that class even if they're being nice when you're around. The Iraq War has created how many widows in Iraq? The idiot doctor -- a woman -- for the United Nations' WHO attacked women in a Baghdad press conference, blamed them for the cholera outbreak.

Jim: The cholera outbreak that happens every summer.

Dona: Yes, thank you. And when Iraqi women are being beaten by spouses and family members, for a doctor to blame them for the cholera outbreak and not the government which refuses to invest in infrastructure repair or to provide potable water in bottles, that's just one more attack on Iraqi women and I'm damn sick of it. And I'm damn sick of paying for sexism to be taught and that's exactly what that US service member was doing when he went into his rant against women. It causes real damage. I'm tired of it.

Jim: Okay and now we have news that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani does not plan to run for re-election. His term ends when?

C.I.: December of this year.

Jess: I really don't think there's much to say on that topic, Jim. For starters, C.I.'s covered it for two years at The Common Ills, Talabani's health. That's why community members weren't surprised by the heart surgery last year. This is a health reason.

C.I.: Well, I agree with Jess, but there are also some very real tensions involving the KRG. There have been some walkouts recently. Talabani's health was the big issue from what I've heard but the health was why he's not up to the continued fight and it is becoming a fight for the party, his political party.

Ty: If I could jump in here, I do have a topic. Christopher Hill has been nominated to be the US Ambassador to Iraq. His credentials have been called into question by Republican senators. There are two questions popping up in e-mails because C.I. covered this in Friday's snapshot. The first question is people wondering if C.I. is endorsing Hill, based on the Friday snapshot?

C.I.: I thought that would be unclear. If anyone's misunderstood that, I'll eat the sin on that. I'm not endorsing him, I'm not opposing Chris. I am, I did say Chris is qualified. There are many people who are qualified. He is one of them. Is he right for the job? That's what will be determined in the confirmation hearings. I don't want to take over the roundtable but just to be clear, the criticism is that he doesn't have training in counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism and hasn't commanded the military. He's trying to replace Ryan Crocker. He's not trying to replace Gen Ray Odierno. The criticism of Hill's qualifiactions are that he's not qualified to be a military general because the tasks listed go to the military. He's not trying to be that, he's trying to be the US Ambassador to Iraq. He's qualified for that post. Meaning he has a diplomatic resume that makes him qualified to be an ambassador. Whether he's the right person for that job is something to be decided in the confirmation hearings. But, again, if my comments confused anyone, that was my fault.

Ty: The second question is raised by two who both link to a blog post by Andrew Malcolm at the Los Angeles Times. In the snapshot, you take White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs to task for his defense of Christopher Hill and praise State Department spokesperson Gordon Duguid. Malcolm reveals that Barack has been telling people to take their "whacks" at Gibbs and the two asking the question wondered if this was "an 8:45 a.m. dictate"?

C.I.: Okay, I've got to back up. 8:45 a.m. refers to a morning call the adminstration is doing with various bloggers and organizations to get propaganada out there each day. I am not -- no one in this community -- is participating in those phone calls. For myself, I don't have the time and I'd be insulted both due to the propaganda nature and due to being considered the White House's hired help. We had a very lively discussion, the last one, on Iraq Friday afternoon. The Friday snapshot was late for that reason. It, the discussion, went on and on, over an hour past when it should have ended. So I had to do a snapshot quickly and was using three phones -- one to dictate in, two for info -- and calling everyone to get what I could. A TV reporter attending the White House press briefing raised the so-called defense by Gibbs. I already had a friend at the State Department on the other phone and quickly asked about Gordon's conference and if the issue had been raised. I don't think Gibbs has shown any promise in his role -- he may at some point -- and I did call a friend in the administration to say, "I'm ripping into Gibbs in the snapshot, just FYI." That was not seen as a problem. To be clear, I'd called because I didn't hear Gibbs. I heard a friend summarize Gibbs' tone and I was read what Gibbs said. I wanted to be sure that there wasn't something else going on. For example, had I been told, "Well he was sneezing and coughing, you know that right, he had a nasty cold." If I'd been told that, I would have pulled the critique. Because Gibbs was bad but if he were sick or something similar, it would have slid. He gives a daily press briefing. There will be another one. For example, there was a day that everyone jumped on Dana Perino -- jumped on her online -- and we never commented on her performance that day in any way because there was a family health issue/concern and I was honestly surprised she was at work and going through with the press briefing. We called her out plenty of times, I have no problem doing that or calling out Gibbs. But I was about to rip into him and I'm not aware of him getting negative criticism -- I know most of the press doesn't care for him but he's not getting negative coverage yet. So since my harsh words -- he wasn't doing his job -- were going to be among the first, I did want to check and make sure he wasn't ill or something. But I received no order to "whack" him.

Jim: What was the criticism of his press briefing?

C.I.: He couldn't give a concrete answer. Gordon did. Gordon was very clear that the administration was supporting Christopher Hill. Gibbs avoided and hedged and 'answered' a question by speaking of something that did not pertain to the question. He looked like he was dodging or fumbling. He did a lousy job. And when I say "he looked," I'm basing it on having since viewed the briefing. I didn't say in the snapshot he 'looked' anyway because I did not see him. I dealt with his refusal to answer the questions asked.

Jim: Does anyone have an opinion on Christopher Hill? How about we get a sketch of him?

Wally: Okay, I'm pulling up his State Department bio. I'll read it but ask that it gets pasted in in case I leave out a word:

Term of Appointment: 04/08/2005 to present
Christopher R. Hill was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs on April 8, 2005.
Ambassador Hill is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service whose most recent assignment was as Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. On February 14, 2005, he was named as the Head of the U.S. delegation to the Six-Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. Previously he has served as U.S. Ambassador to Poland (2000-2004), Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia (1996-1999) and Special Envoy to Kosovo (1998-1999). He also served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Southeast European Affairs in the National Security Council.
Earlier in his Foreign Service career, Ambassador Hill served tours in Belgrade, Warsaw, Seoul, and Tirana, and on the Department of State's Policy Planning staff and in the Department’s Operation Center. While on a fellowship with the American Political Science Association he served as a staff member for Congressman Stephen Solarz working on Eastern European issues. He also served as the Department of State's Senior Country Officer for Poland. Ambassador Hill received the State Department’s Distinguished Service Award for his contributions as a member of the U.S. negotiating team in the Bosnia peace settlement, and was a recipient of the Robert S. Frasure Award for Peace Negotiations for his work on the Kosovo crisis. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Hill served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon.
Ambassador Hill graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine with a B.A. in Economics. He received a Master's degree from the Naval War College in 1994. He speaks Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and Macedonian.

Wally (Con't): So those are his qualifications.

Jess: Okay but let's put in Ryan Crocker's qualifications as well.

Term of Appointment: 03/29/2007 to present
[Amb. Crocker's
remarks at his swearing-in ceremony.]
Ryan Crocker was confirmed as Ambassador to Iraq on March 7, 2007. He assumed Chief of Mission duties at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on March 29, 2007 after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan from October 2004 to March, 2007. He served previously as the International Affairs Advisor at the National War College, where he joined the faculty in 2003. From May to August 2003, he was in Baghdad as the first Director of Governance for the Coalition Provisional Authority. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from August 2001 to May 2003, and served previously as Ambassador to Syria (1998-2001), Ambassador to Kuwait (1994-1997) and Ambassador to Lebanon (1990-1993). Since joining the Foreign Service in 1971, he also has had assignments in Iran, Qatar, Iraq and Egypt, as well as Washington. He was assigned to the American Embassy in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the bombings of the embassy and the Marine barracks in 1983.
He grew up in an Air Force family, attending schools in Morocco, Canada and Turkey, as well as the U.S. He received a B.A. in English in 1971 and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2001 from Whitman College (Washington). Ambassador Crocker received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 1994, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service in 1997 and the Presidential Meritorious Service Award in 1999 and 2003. He also holds the State Department Distinguished Honor Award, Award for Valor, three Superior Honor Awards and the American Foreign Service Association Rivkin Award. In January 2002, he was sent to Afghanistan to reopen the American Embassy in Kabul. He subsequently received the Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for "exceptional courage and leadership" in Afghanistan. In September 2004, President Bush conferred on him the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the Foreign Service.

Jess (Con't): That way we have something to judge it by. Crocker is the current Ambasador to Iraq.

Betty: Well, for starters, Crocker was more experienced in the area. Not just the three or so months he spent in Baghdad in 2003 but also with the surrounding areas of Turkey, Syria, Kuwait and Iran.

Ava: Well, first off, C.I. and I were begging everyone we know in the administration to consider women for the post. It would send a needed statement on women if the ambassador was a woman. Now we were proposing actual women not just asking them to invent a mythical one. And I want it noted that the qualifications of those women were comparable to Christopher Hill's. And we heard back, repeatedly, "Oh, ___ doesn't have the qualifications." It would be completely understandable if, based on that, C.I. had said Friday, "Christopher Hill's not qualified!" He is qualified. So were the women we suggested. Whether he's right for the job or not, I'm not going to weigh in but he is qualified.

Jim: Ava, I want to stay with you for a second more because everyone's nodding their heads about what you're talking about but, for drive-bys, I want to back you up on the message sent aspect.

Ava: Oh sure. al-Maliki is a sexist pig. And he's picked a sexist cabinet. I would dare anyone to find a single female ambassador Iraq has sent anywhere in the world. Their ambassadors are all men. The Foreign Ministry regularly stages events at which no women are present unless it is women from other countries, women who are diplomats. When they must credit a woman, the Foreign Ministry refers to her as "Mrs" even if she uses the title "Ms" or even if she's unmarried. Iraq has been torn apart by this illegal war and women's rights are among the wreckage. Putting a strong woman into the post of US Ambassador to Iraq would allow Iraqi women to see a female face at a time when they need to see that and it would force al-Maliki's sexist cabinet to interact with women.

Kat: Women are wiped out from Iraq. They really are. And the US Ambassador to Iraq is an important post but it is especially important in Iraq. It is a high visibility post in Iraq, one that would get daily coverage in their media. It would be a really strong message to put a woman in that position.

Jim: Six years. Thomas E. Ricks thinks we're at the half-way point in the Iraq War. Anyone disagree with him on that?

Ty: I don't know how many more years are left, but, it's not over. And how many more years are left will be determined by the people of the US. If we're not going to turn out for the events this Saturday, the war's just going to drag on and on. Let me insert the announcement:

The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War are taking part in an action this month. Iraq Veterans Against the War explains:IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st As an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)

To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.

For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or

Jim: Thank you, Ty. Okay, we're going to wind down by looking back on last week. If there was something you saw that impressed you, by all means, name it. If something bothered you, call it out. I'll kick it off by noting what I saw as a good development. Anthony Arnove called out the forces at play that keep insisting the illegal war is over or almost over and we should focus on other things and not get active and demand an end to the illegal war. What was the name of the woman on the panel last week who talked about demand?

C.I.: Elaine Brower. Stream is here.

Jim: Right. She talked about how the peace movement doesn't make demands all the sudden, about how weakened it's getting. And I applaud that and applaud Anthony Arnove.

Ty: I would go with the revelations out of the United Kingdom. We're not making that a topic because Polly's made it the topic for her newsletter, Polly's Brew, and Ava, C.I. and Mike participated in the roundtable yesterday on that. It is really something when you put together all the revelations that have come out about the lies to march into war. Especially the ones that have come out of England.

Kat: I'll say a little pork ass drama queen who cheerleaded the Iraq War awhile back, then decided he was anti-war and is now a Barry Obama cheerleader. And those are just the highlights. But I'd pick him as among the worst of the week and I know most people will know who I'm talking about. I also know that a take-down's taking place on pork ass. News of the take-down was the best news I heard all last week.

Betty: I'll grab John Ross. I thought he had a powerful piece of writing last week.

Jess: I agree with Betty, and with Jim, and am glad that there are a few people we can point to; however, I would go with a negative. Last week where did you hear about this coming weekend's actions. You saw the useless Phyllis Bennis and Tom Hayden pimp for UPFJ's non-action and act as if an event wasn't planned for this Saturday. I loved C.I.'s remark about Leslie Cagan having set her dogs free from the kennal and that is what the garbage we saw was. But where is the publicity for this Saturday's actions? Without that publicity, people will know because? It'll be interesting to see if Amy Goodman will go up against her spiritual mentor Leslie Cagan and actually promote Saturday's actions.

Ava: Jess and I hadn't talked about this but I was actually going to raise the same issues he did. I am very worried, honestly, about the turnout this Saturday and mainly, at this point, because so many people are unaware of the event at this point.

Wally: Right because we were talking the Saturday actions up all last week to every group we spoke to and I think it was Ava but it might have been Kat who said mid-week, "I can't believe how many people have not heard about this?" And that really is disturbing.

Jim: That's everyone except Dona and C.I.

Dona: To me the silence on Iraqi women is appalling every week. The continued and never-ending silence. I'm glad that Amnesty International and Oxfarm released their reports. Did we already do links?

C.I.: I'm not sure. But I'll grab it is our choice for the best. Both reports are PDF format. Oxfam International released "In Her Own Words: Iraqi women talka bout their greatest concerns and challenges." Amnesty International's released "Trapped By Violence: Women In Iraq."

Jim: So we'll end on that note and remember that actions take place this Saturday. Actions will take place on Thursday across the country as well -- marking the anniversary. But we're promoting the Saturday action. We'll be participating locally in the Thursday actions, but we're promoting the Saturday action. The reason was explained last week. We already knew about this action and started promoting it in January. If you're a regular reader and you want to cop out and refuse to take part, you can't say we didn't give you enough time. You can't pin that on us. We've given you two months heads up on this. So you either take part or take your share of the blame for the ongoing illegal war. This is a rush transcript. Illustration by Betty's oldest son.
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