Another week in the Warron Terra, the 1, 665 th day in Iraq.
We'll start this morning like we always do, with the latest casualty figures courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 3817
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 3679
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3356
Since Handover (6/29/04): 2958
Since Election (1/31/05): 2740
Other Coalition Troops: 301
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 449
Checking in with our friends at IAVA
, there's a very interesting story about one US officials' ride-along with Blackwater...
Janessa Gans, a former U.S. official, describes her experiences in the company of Blackwater security:
As a U.S. official in Baghdad for nearly two years, I was frequently the “beneficiary” of Blackwater’s over-the-top zeal. “Just pretend it’s a roller coaster,” I used to tell myself during trips through downtown Baghdad. I began to wonder whether my meetings, intended to further U.S. policy goals and improve the lives of Iraqis, were doing more harm than good. With our drivers honking at, cutting off, pelting with water bottles (a favorite tactic) and menacing with weapons anyone in their way, how many enemies were we creating?
Ms. Gans goes on to describe a particularly infuriating incident, after which she “shrieked” at the driver, was rebuffed, and “sulked” back in her seat. (The words in quotations are hers, not mine - read the full piece.) Conspicuously absent from the entire narrative is any mention of her lodging an official complaint or taking any sort of action at all (beyond the above-mentioned outburst) in response to what she characterizes as persistent and frequent misconduct on the part of her Blackwater escorts. A cynical man might start to think that she only truly began to see it as misconduct after such actions were no longer necessary for her personal safety.
Let me be very clear here - I am in no way endorsing actions like the ones Ms. Gans describes in her narrative, and she is absolutely correct in noting that the actions she describes are counterproductive in terms of winning hearts and minds. This was a hard lesson learned by the US military, and the necessary changes in action and mindset were and are a long time in coming.
But absent personal action by officials like Ms. Gans, similar reforms will simply not occur within the field of private security companies. The recent proposed change in law to extend MEJA restrictions to all overseas contractors, not just DoD ones, is a step in the right direction, but it will be meaningless if it is not enforced. Enforcement means prosecutions, and prosecutions will be toothless unless testimony and reports are filed by those who observe such misconduct. That means that State and other officials who ride under the protective cocoon of Blackwater et al will need to make some hard choices, and take a good, honest look at what their own organizational culture is tolerating.
The principle of collective responsibility (that is, that individuals are responsible not only for their own actions but for those of their comrades that they observe) is one that has been heavily intertwined with military ethics. It is the cornerstone of the honor codes at our nation’s service academies: “I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” It’s time for other government agencies to take a good hard look at what their comparable values are. Otherwise, like Ms. Gans, far from actually contributing to the fight, they are simply along for the ride.
Speaking of Blackwater, the Iraqi government has made demands that the US sever it's relationship
with the private security firm, as well as their paying reparations....we'll see how far that goes.
Iraq has demanded that the US end its association with private security firm Blackwater within six months.
It accuses Blackwater guards of having deliberately fired on Iraqi civilians, killing 17 and injuring more than 20.
The government has demanded Blackwater pay $8m compensation to each family bereaved by last month's shootings.
Private security employees are immune from prosecution in Iraq, but an FBI investigation into the killings raises the prospect of trials in the US.
The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says the now infamous Blackwater affair is continuing to cause huge strains between the Iraqi and US governments.
The new details of Iraq's demands were outlined in an official report issued on Monday in Arabic and subsequently translated by international news agencies.
Blackwater denies its men acted improperly, while Washington, which depends on the company to protect its embassy staff in Baghdad, has declined to comment on the Iraqi report.
Lastly this morning...apparently the recruiting front is weaker than ever, as recruiting is down
among one of the traditionally strongest sectors of the population.
WASHINGTON - African-Americans, whose longstanding relationship with the US military helped them prove their abilities and offered a way to get ahead, have turned away from the armed forces in record numbers since 2000, a period covering the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the start of the Iraq war.
Defense Department statistics show the number of young black enlistees has fallen by more than 58 percent since fiscal year 2000. The Army in particular has been hit hard: In fiscal year 2000, according to the Pentagon statistics, more than 42,000 black men and women applied to enlist; in fiscal year 2005, the most recent for which a racial breakdown is available, just over 17,000 signed up.
The unpopular Iraq war is the biggest reason, according to military analysts, Pentagon surveys, and interviews with young African-Americans. But they say mistrust of the Bush administration is adding to the problem - along with the notion that black soldiers are being steered to combat jobs, a lingering perception from the Vietnam War.
The decline in enlistment applications among blacks is by far the fastest of any demographic group. Between fiscal 2000 and 2005, white applicants declined by more than 10 percent. Hispanic applicants dropped by almost 7 percent.
The Army Recruiting Command acknowledged that the Iraq war has presented special challenges in the African-American community, but said it continues to reach out to black recruits.
"The main thing everyone has to realize is that an all-volunteer force is just that," said S. Douglas Smith, public affairs officer for the US Army Recruiting Command. "We try to make sure we communicate to every part of society and let them know what we have to offer. We try to be as open as we can about the risk of service and the benefits of service. After that, it's a matter of people choosing if they want to come in and serve."
But some military specialists worry that the trend could persist long after the current administration and war are over.
"African-Americans have been such a key part of the modern military," said Michael O'Hanlon, military analyst for the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. "There's obviously been a degree where the black community in the United States has seen [military service] as culturally valuable and promoted it. That whole culture and value system is at risk in the black community. That is a big, big change. To me, it portends the possibility of a longer-term loss of interest. It can be tough to get it back."
Interviews with young African-Americans confirmed a lack of faith in the president and the war.
Nathaniel Daley, a young African-American from Atlantic City, N.J., said he doesn't believe in the Iraq war and won't enlist because of it. Daley, 28, and two friends, Brian Jackson, 27, and Eddie Mickle Jr., 26, talked one recent afternoon at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Va., a vast shopping complex just blocks from the military's nerve center. As they talked, uniformed servicemen and women, some wearing battle fatigues, passed by.
In high school during the late 1990s, Daley said, he signed a letter of intent to join the Army upon graduation, "to pay for my college, get a better job, and better myself." He said he broke that commitment for a higher-paying job at a nearby casino.
Though the Army would likely consider them ideal recruits - young, fit, high school-educated - each said the Iraq war and Bush's presidency, particularly after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, has kept them out of uniform.
"Why would we go over there and help them [Iraqis], when [the US government] can't help us over here?" he said, referring to the cleanup after Katrina.
The war "is unnecessary," Jackson said. "It's not our war. We got our own war here, just staying alive," he added, noting his hometown of Philadelphia has racked up more than 200 homicides so far this year, most involving young black men.
The tide is starting to turn, methinks...