Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Twenty-First-Century Colonialism in Iraq

July 10, 2009

July 9, 2009
Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Twenty-First-Century Colonialism in Iraq

One of the earliest metaphors President George W. Bush and some of his top officials wielded in their post-invasion salad days in Iraq involved bicycles. The question was: Should we take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike (of democracy)? Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, commented smugly on the way getting Iraq “straightened out” was like teaching your kid to ride a bike:

“They’re learning, and you’re running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you’re just barely touching it. You can’t know when you’re running down the street how many steps you’re going to have to take. We can’t know that, but we’re off to a good start.”

That image (about as patronizingly colonial as they come) of the little pedaling Iraqi child with an American parent running close behind, was abandoned when around the first corner, as it turned out, was an insurgent with an rocket-propelled grenade. Many years and many disasters later, though, Americans, whether in the Obama administration, the Washington punditocracy, or the media are still almost incapable of being patronizing when it comes to Iraq. Take a typical recent piece of “news analysis” in the New York Times by a perfectly sharp journalist, Alissa J. Rubin. It was headlined in print “America’s New Role in Iraq Prompts a Search for Means of Influence” and focused, in part, on Vice President Joe Biden’s recent trip there supposedly to “assuage” Iraqi feelings that they are being “moved to the bottom shelf.”

Rubin writes (and this sort of thing has been written countless times before) that the Americans are now in search of a “new tone” for their dealings in that country. (In the Bush years, this was often called — in another strange imperial metaphor — “putting an Iraqi face” on things.) “They have,” she comments, “a reputation for being heavy-handed, for telling Iraqis what to do rather than asking what they want.” But of course, as the piece makes clear, whatever his tone, Biden arrived in Iraq to tell Iraqis what they should do — or as she puts it, to try to “solve” the “troubles… that stymied three previous ambassadors and President George W. Bush”: continuing sectarian animosities, the passage of an Iraqi oil law, and the Kurdish problem.

These, it seems, are still our burden and we really can’t imagine it any other way. As the Iraqis quoted in Rubin’s piece make clear, the dominant role played by the U.S. is resented by the occupied — especially the elite — who have contempt for the occupiers, even if they find it hard to imagine life without them.

I mention this only because the tone of American writing and thought on Iraq has always been tinged with what Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch regular and author of a superb study, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, says is a deeper colonial urge, one that unfortunately may not be fading, even as discussion of a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq grows. (Catch a TomDispatch audio interview with Schwartz by clicking here.) Tom

Colonizing Iraq
The Obama Doctrine?
By Michael Schwartz

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Recent Posts
2 days ago…
Tomgram: Are Afghan Lives Worth Anything?

1 week ago…
Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Baseless Expenditures

1 week ago…
Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, A Secret History of Dissent in the All-Volunteer Military

1 week ago…
Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, The Weeks of Living Dangerously

Recent Highlights
2 weeks ago…
Tomgram: Ira Chernus, West Bank Settler Violence and the Path to Peace

3 weeks ago…
Tomgram: Greg Grandin, The Collapse of America’s Imperial Car Industry

ICH: Conned Again…

November 10, 2008

These are just a few of the informative articles from this weekend’s edition of the Information Clearing House (ICH) newsletter:

Conned Again
By Paul Craig Roberts
Obama’s selection of Rahm Israel Emanuel as White House chief of staff is a signal that change ended with Obama’s election. The only thing different about the new administration will be the faces.
Obama vs. Medvedev
Nuclear Smackdown in New Europe
By Mike Whitney
Most of what is written about Medvedev is nonsense. The same corporations that own the politicians own the media as well. Naturally, they want to demonize their rivals. In truth, most Americans would have a lot more in common with Medvedev than they would with Bush, Cheney or any of their “silver spoon” elitist cronies.
The Machine Grinds On
By Morton Skorodin
The machine grinds on relentlessly. Now it’s: give Obama a chance. This means: Public, go back to sleep. In the meantime Obama and the state machinery work at feverish pace.
Tough Sledding Ahead
Surviving A Coming USD Collapse
By Christopher Laird
The Two insoluble problems that will lead to a depression and ultimately the final USD collapse.
Pakistan attacks kill 54: :
Jets from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombed hills in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal district, killing at least five people.
U.S. Missile Attack Kills at Least 10 in Pakistan:
Missiles fired from a remotely piloted United States aircraft slammed into a village in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan along the Afghan border on Friday and killed 10 to 13 people, according to a local intelligence official, a Pakistani reporter and two Pakistani television channels.
U.S. Admits Killing 37 Afghan Civilians :
The U.S. military Saturday admitted it while responding to an insurgent ambush has killed 37 civilians and wounded 35 others in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar, a Taliban heartland.
Afghanistan: The Promise and the Reality
Reckless Soldiers, Slappers and Smack
By Yvonne Ridley in Afghanistan
The day after US war planes bombed an Afghan wedding party killing more than 30 women and children, I drove from Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas to the border crossing.
Number Of Iraqis Slaughtered Since The U.S. Invaded Iraq “1,284,105”


Number of U.S. Military Personnel Sacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In America’sWar On Iraq 4,193

The War And Occupation Of Iraq Costs

See the cost in your community


Ottawa arms show CANCELLED! Campaign continues!

September 26, 2008

A couple months ago I put up a post from COAT about the Arms Show scheduled to take place in Ottawa this month. Well, I am happy to report that this show has been cancelled. Thank you everyone who wrote letters and signed petitions protesting this show.  However, COAT’s campaign against all future Ottawa arms shows continues and there is an even bigger arms bazaar slated for next spring: “CANSEC 2009”.  Read about it here and please continue with your petitions and support:

YES, an upcoming Ottawa Arms Show has been CANCELLED!!
However, COAT’s campaign (including our online petition) CONTINUES against all other Ottawa arms shows!
For details on the cancellation and our continuing struggle, see the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) website:

Please sign COAT’s Online Petition to Stop ALL of these Arms Bazaars!
If you haven’t done so already, it is not too late to sign our online petition to ensure that “CANSEC 2009” and ALL other military trade shows remain banned from City of Ottawa facilities.  Please encourage your friends, colleagues and fellow activists across Canada to sign this important petition!
—–> <—–

“Secure Canada 2008,” the military trade show that was scheduled for Lansdowne Park, Ottawa (Sept.30 – Oct.1) has been “cancelled until further notice.” So says the official website of “Secure Canada 2008.” Feast your eyes on their cancellation notice here:

This indeed calls for celebration! However, we need to make sure that City Staff do not just sign another contract with the organizers of “Secure Canada.”

And, more importantly, there’s an even bigger arms bazaar looming on Ottawa’s horizon calledCANSEC 2009.” This huge weapons exhibition is scheduled for May 27-28, 2009 and the City has been negotiating a contract with its organizers. This too must be stopped!!

Join COAT in celebrating the cancellation of “Secure Canada 2008” by helping us to STOPCANSEC 2009.”

Now that they’re on the run, let’s drive them ALL right out of town!
Can we do it?    Yes we can!
Please join us!

Thanks very much for your help in continuing this important campaign!
Richard Sanders, Coordinator, COAT
Editor, Press for Conversion!

P.S. The Candlelight Vigil outside “Secure Canada 2008” (Sept.30) has been cancelled, due to the demise of “Secure Canada 2008.”

MidEast Dispatches: ARTS-US: Iraq War Vets Transforming Trauma

September 21, 2008

ARTS-US: Iraq War Vets Transforming Trauma

Inter Press Service

By Dahr Jamail

MARFA, Texas, Sep 19 (IPS) – By using the written word and art, veterans of the U.S. occupation of Iraq are transforming their trauma into a message of both healing and resistance to the failed U.S. adventure.

“If I say nothing, I have failed,” writes veteran Drew Cameron, “If I do nothing, I am guilty. If I live by these ideals of democracy I can see that war is failure.”

Cameron began writing about his experiences in Iraq after he turned against the occupation when he had several personal realisations.

“It wasn’t until after I’d been back that I tried to shut off my experiences in Iraq,” Cameron told IPS. “I kept to myself, and was going through my memories and realised we’d destroyed their infrastructure and weren’t there to help. I realised it wasn’t about freedom and democracy, and the way we conducted ourselves, and the way we brutalised the people, made me against the occupation.”

“We were trained to fight and win battles,” he said. “I was in artillery, I was trained to blow shit up. We weren’t there to rebuild anything or help the Iraqi people.”

His writing became some of the first of what would evolve into the Warrior Writers Project, which uses writing and artistic workshops based on veterans’ experiences in the military and Iraq to bring their experiences to light and connect with one another, creating a context for both healing and resisting what their experience in the military has done to them.

“The writing from the workshops is compiled into books, performances and exhibits that provide a lens into the hearts of people who have a deep and intimate relationship with the Iraq war,” their mission statement reads.

Writings from the first workshops were made into the book, “Warrior Writers: Move, Shoot and Communicate”. A second book, “Re-making Sense”, has also been released.

“The title comes from the goal of remaking sense of our relationship with the war, of our lives, of what we do now, as veterans,” Cameron told IPS.

The Warrior Writers have also organised exhibits that showcase photographs taken by members in Iraq, as well as artwork. At the exhibits, veterans read from the books and perform pieces they had written in the workshop earlier that same day.

Cameron told IPS he feels the work is important “for catharsis and reconciliation, and also so people can hear our side of the story.”

Cameron was based at Camp Anaconda, a massive U.S. airbase just north of Baghdad. While there, he had access to satellite television and was stunned by how the corporate media was covering the occupation.

“I remember the images and stories coming out were different from what we were seeing on the ground,” he explained. “Our intelligence reports that briefed us on attacks against us and how we were getting hit, almost none of this was in the news. I remember being hit for seven days straight by mortars, but none of this was ever in the news.”

“The fundamental civil society and infrastructure has been so changed and altered in Iraq that it’s absolutely devastated,” Cameron told IPS, while speaking of the current situation there. “It’s been so altered…it’s not an argument of being on the road to victory because the surge is working, but the fact is that the country has been totally devastated. We need to understand where these people are in just trying to survive on a daily basis.”

This influenced Cameron heavily. He feels that both projects he is involved in are ways to show the truth to the U.S. public about what their government has done to Iraq.

Cameron co-founded and operates a paper mill called the People’s Republic of Paper (PRP) with artist Drew Matott, who founded the Green Door Studio in Burlington, Vermont, where the PRP is based, and together with Cameron, helped create the idea of pulping soldiers’ uniforms. Thus was born the Combat Paper Project.

By turning their uniforms into paper, soldiers utilise art to heal their trauma from the occupation of Iraq. The uniforms worn in combat are cut up, beaten and formed into sheets of paper, as veterans use a transformational process of papermaking to reclaim their uniform as a piece of art. The goal is for this to be a reconciliatory process for their experiences as soldiers in an occupation.

“The whole point is to create a space for vets to come in and in a closed context talk with each other about what they experienced in Iraq,” Matott told IPS.

“My energy is focused on helping folks heal,” he added. “One thing we do is show before and after art pieces. Usually the first pieces are very, very dark, when they [veterans] first came in. Then we show their later projects, which reveal the healing that has taken place within them, so it’s pretty optimistic.”

Cameron told IPS that for him, “To be able to take the uniform and reclaim it into what I want it to be is a deeply transformational and healing act.”

John Michael Turner, a former U.S. Marine machine gunner, was the second veteran to join the project.

Turner was still in the military when he moved to Burlington and heard about the project.

“I heard about the project that day and had a stack of uniforms in my trunk,” Turner told IPS. “So my first night in Burlington I ended up starting to make paper out of my uniforms.”

Turner, who gave powerful testimony at the Winter Soldier hearings last spring, added, “It is heartbreaking to see there are still people that believe we should be over there. Open your eyes and listen to what we have to say! I just want people to open their eyes and see what is going on, and what is being done over there.”

Through the project, Turner has found a conduit for healing what his time and actions in Iraq have wrought upon him. “All the experiences I’ve gone through, and all my built up frustration and thoughts and anger, instead of transferring that energy into another human being, I can transfer it into my uniforms, my writing, my drawings.”

By transforming his experiences and feelings into art, Turner said, “I can take a desert blouse and cut it up and turn it into a piece of paper. Then I have a blank piece of paper and put one of my poems there for other people to experience it, and for that minute they read it, they can see it through my eyes.”

Turner admitted to IPS that while he has found some relief for his trauma, “I still struggle. The problem is there is so much I need to reclaim.”

Cameron believes the work is ongoing as well.

“I can see it in my own writing — that the anger, gore and graphic frustration flows out, then transitions into a deeper reflection and contemplation about how do we approach the cultural relationship between militarism and our society,” he told IPS. “The military [in U.S. society] is so deeply rooted in us — it’s in our subconscious, and we have to root that out and be able to transcend it.”

Turner feels the work is critical. “We have to take this work and work together, all of us veterans, and help each other, or we’ll destroy ourselves.”

The project has had exhibitions around the country in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, and San Francisco, with many more to come.


** Dahr Jamail’s MidEast Dispatches **
** Visit the Dahr Jamail website **

Dahr Jamail’s new book, Beyond the Green Zone is NOW AVAILABLE!

“International journalism at its best.” –Stephen Kinzer, former bureau chief, New York Times; author All the Shah’s Men

“Essential reading for anybody who wants to know what is really happening in Iraq.” –Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent; author of The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq

Order Beyond the Green Zone today!

Winner of the prestigious 2008 Martha Gellhorn Award for Jounalism!

*** Think Dahr’s work is vital? We need your help. It’s easy! ***

(c)2008 Dahr Jamail.

All images, photos, photography and text are protected by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to reprint Dahr’s Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright notice and a prominent link to the website. Any other use of images, photography, photos and text including, but not limited to, reproduction, use on another website, copying and printing requires the permission of Dahr Jamail. Of course, feel free to forward Dahr’s dispatches via email.

More writing, commentary, photography, pictures and images at

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Legacy of the MBA President

September 15, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Part two of Frida Berrigan’s three-part series on the expansion of the Pentagon is just the sort of post — a major story of the Bush era — that you can only get at this site. The expansion and privatization of the Pentagon should, of course, be the subject of front-page pieces in newspapers across the country as the dark legacy of the Bush presidency begins to be considered. In the light of just this sort of work from TomDispatch, let me mention a new feature at the site. If you look to your right while at the main screen, you’ll see a clickable button (“Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch.”) that leads you to a secure page where, if you wish, you can give modest $$ to help this site fund projects like Berrigan’s and do outreach work of various kinds. I’ve always enjoyed the “freeness” of TomDispatch, but readers, from time to time, have sent in contributions anyway. Now, this added feature makes it easier, if you are so disposed, to do so and, believe me, I’ll be grateful. We’ll use whatever you send our way to improve the site. (Just make sure you never send in even a dollar that you need!) And, by the way, click over to Book TV on C-SPAN2, if you want to catch an appearance I made with Michael Schwartz for the new book, The World According to TomDispatch.]

Having laid out the staggering expansion of a budget-busting Pentagon — as diplomat, arms dealer, spy, intelligence analyst, domestic disaster manager, humanitarian caregiver, nation-builder, and global viceroy — in part one of her series on the Bush military legacy, Frida Berrigan, arms expert at the New America Foundation, turns to the issue of privatization. In these last seven years, the Pentagon’s key role as war fighter has increasingly become a privatized operation. In Iraq, for instance, a Congressional Budget Office report in August revealed that the U.S. has already spent at least $100 billion on private contractors. (Pentagon auditing has, however, been so bad that that’s considered a low-ball figure.)

Approximately one out of every five war dollars spent on the war went private. That’s not so surprising, as James Risen of the New York Times reported, since private contractors now outnumber the 146,000 U.S. troops in that country. At 180,000, they represent, as Risen writes, “a second, private army, larger than the United States military force, and one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view.”

Moreover, as modest drawdowns of U.S. troops occur, American taxpayer dollars going to private contractors in Iraq, especially private security contractors, are actually on the rise. Part of the charm of privatizing war, of course, is that you can also privatize information about it, so we really have little idea just how many armed, Blackwater-style mercenaries there are in that country (though the number may rise into the tens of thousands). No less curious, amid all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, you seldom see any serious discussion of those hired guns in the mainstream. When withdrawal does come, who withdraws them? Who decides that? Who knows?

In the meantime, let Frida Berrigan take you past the obvious Blackwater issues and into the deeper quagmire of the massive privatization of the American military. It’s an issue whose time should long ago have arrived, but don’t hold your breath till the media discussion and debate begins. Tom

Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

VIDEO: American Troops Going Insane

September 14, 2008

This YouTube video made by some US soldiers in Iraq shows how the troops have devolved into atavistic creatures their families back home would not recognise. They are shown taunting children and suggesting sexual acts to Iraqi civilians, shooting a herd of sheep, killing a puppy by hurling it against rocks, all the while using steady streams of grossly indecent obscenities. Their actions are interspersed with George Bush’s inane logorrhea… Is it any wonder the Americans are so despised by the Iraqis? Progressing well with winning hearts and minds, aren’t they??


Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Is American Success a Failure in Iraq?

September 8, 2008

Recently, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has shown striking signs of wanting to be his own man in Baghdad, not Washington’s (as has Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul). What happens when parrots suddenly speak and puppets squawk on their own? The answer, it seems, is simple enough: You listen in; so, at least, the lastest revelations of journalist Bob Woodward seem to indicate. “The Bush administration,” reports the Washington Post, “has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. ‘We know everything [Maliki] says,’ according to one of multiple sources Woodward cites about the practice.” This is perhaps what is meant when it’s claimed that President Bush and Maliki have a “close working relationship.”

An Iraqi government spokesman responded to the revelation with shock: “If it is a fact, it reflects that there is no trust and it reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spying on their friends and their enemies in the same way. If it is true, it casts a shadow on the future relations with such institutions.”

“Trust”? Please… Wasn’t that always just a synonym for electronic eavesdropping?

As for “success” in Iraq, which we’ve been hearing quite a lot about lately in the U.S., here’s one way to measure the administration’s trust in its own “success”: The Pentagon, we now learn, has just “recommended” to President Bush that there should be no further troop drawdowns in Iraq until a new president enters office in January 2009 — and even then, possibly in February, that no more than 7,500 Americans should be withdrawn, and only if “conditions” permit. So the administration’s “success” in Iraq could, in terms of troop levels, be measured this way: The U.S. invaded and occupied that country in the spring of 2003 with approximately 130,000 troops. According to Thomas Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco, by that fall, its top officials fully expected to have only about 30,000 troops still in the country, stationed at newly built American bases largely outside major urban areas.

In January 2007, when the President’s desperate “surge” strategy was launched, there were still approximately 130,000 U.S. troops in the country, and, of course, tens of thousands of hired guns from firms like Blackwater Worldwide. Today, there are approximately 146,000 troops in Iraq (and the U.S. is spending more money on armed “private security contractors” than ever before). By next February, according to Pentagon plans, there would still be about 139,000 troops in Iraq, 9,000 more than in April 2003, as well as more than early in Bush’s second term, as Juan Cole pointed out recently — and that’s if everything goes reasonably well, which, under the circumstances, is a big “if” indeed.

As Michael Schwartz indicates below, for all the talk over the years about “tipping points” reached and “corners” turned, it’s just possible that — while the Bush administration and the McCain campaign are pounding the drums of “success” — the U.S. might be heading for an unexpected and resounding defeat. Moreover, it might well be administered by the very government Washington has supported all these years, whose true allies may turn out to be living not in Camp Victory, the huge U.S. base on the outskirts of Iraq, but in Tehran. Let Schwartz, whose superb new history of this nightmare, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, is due out later this month, explain to you just how the Bush administration is likely to wrest actual defeat from the jaws of self-proclaimed victory. Tom

Who Lost Iraq?

Is the Maliki Government Jumping Off the American Ship of State?
By Michael Schwartz

Click here to read more of this dispatch.