Saturday, February 21, 2009

Goodman, Stewart, Maddow, Colbert, Olberman

The contribution to this country and to the world by Amy Goodman, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Colbert and Olberman is profound.


* They must be relentlessly watched, studied, learned from, followed, and gone beyond!
* We owe them a HUGE debt of gratitude, AND SUPPORT..
* We owe it to humanity to learn from them, to spread the word.
* We owe it t0 ourselves to live with the wisdom and She/He/roism they embody.

Huge, Huge Patriots.

** Israel's targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall
GUARDIAN: Israel's targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall proves the two-state solution is now just a meaningless slogan. 

it is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been "occupation as normal", there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.

For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony.

** Wired for war
ASSOCIATED PRESS/U.S. AIR FORCE A picture taken from a computer-animated video shows the next generation of  drones envisioned by military engineers, called micro aerial vehicles. They could be as tiny as bumblebees and capable of flying undetected into buildings to photograph, record and even attack insurgents and terrorists.WASH TIMES: From their cockpit at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the pilot and co-pilot are flying a pilotless Predator on a bombing mission over Afghanistan, 8,000 miles away. Ordnance aboard includes four Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs. A forward air controller in another unmanned drone spots the target and the Predator bomber takes off under local control from Kandahar in Afghanistan. Minutes later, control of the bomber is handed over to satellite control in the cockpit at Creech.

*** Wake Up Call: Activists Visit 'The Army Experience'

COMMON DREAMS: On Monday, February 16th about 50 activists decided to take a trip to the Franklin Mills Mall right outside Philadelphia, PA to get their look at a new "store". "The Army Experience" (AEC), as it is called, built by the taxpayers to the tune of $12 million, attracts local kids to play video games, most of which are high tech simulations of combat situations.

The group was made up of members from all over the area. World Can't Wait from New York City and Philadelphia; Delaware Valley Veterans of America; Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); Veterans for Peace from the Philadelphia area; CodePink Women for Peace; Granny Peace Brigade; and, the Brandywine Peace Center converged on the mall at about 10:30 AM, greeted by a heavier than usual security force.

Antiwar Rep. Waters to pressure Obama on Afghanistan
WASH TIMES: Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who co-founded the Out of Iraq Caucus, told Maher she is concerned about President Obama's announcement he is sending 17,000 more troops and support to Afghanistan.

Obama Nixed Full Afghan Surge After Quizzing Brass

ANTIWAR: President Barack Obama decided to approve only 17,000 of the 30,000 troops requested by Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander, after McKiernan was unable to tell him how they would be used, according to a White House source.

But Obama is likely to be pressured by McKiernan and the Joint Chiefs to approve the remaining 13,000 troops requested after the completion of an Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review next month.

Obama's decision to approve just over half the full troop request for Afghanistan recalls a similar decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to approve only part of the request for U.S. troop deployments in a parallel situation in the Vietnam War in April 1965 at a comparable stage of that war. Johnson reluctantly went along with the request for additional troops within weeks under pressure from both the field commander and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

White House Calls for Urgent Action Against Iran.

ANTIWAR: Fresh off the charge that Iran had understated the amount of uranium it had enriched, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today that Iran 'continues to renege' on its international obligations and called the nation an "urgent problem that has to be addressed."

Other than giving the Obama Administration an opportunity to make  bellicose statements, the understatement appears to have little impact. The IAEA conceded that it was almost certainly a "technical mistake," and Iran has continued to enrich uranium only to the low levels needed for its soon-to-be-operational nuclear power plant, not to the levels required for nuclear weapons.

*** Don't Bet on Obama Reining in Defense Spending
WORLD POLITICS REVIEW: Many Americans believe that Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress will lower defense spending and restrain the militaristic foreign policy it underwrites. The coming years should destroy that myth. America's overly aggressive and fiscally reckless defense policy will survive the Democratic majority.

Critics say DoD spending more, getting less
AIRFORCE TIMES: The Defense Department is spending more money for less capability and fewer planes, Army divisions and combat ships compared with past years, and spending with the wrong focus, according to defense experts who spoke at an event hosted by the Project on Government Oversight on Thursday.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Iran markedly slows atom enrichment expansion-IAEA
REUTERS: Iran has considerably slowed down the expansion of its contested uranium enrichment programme, said a confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters on Thursday. The U.N. watchdog said Iran had increased the number of centrifuges refining uranium, a process that can produce fuel for civilian energy or potentially for atom bombs, by only 164 from 3,800 in November, an insignificant change.

U.S.-Israel Storm Clouds Ahead? [With Jesus and King we just sat back and watched. With Obama?]
ANTIWAR: But the clear priority stabilizing Southwest Asia is being given by the new administration and the abrupt change in the rhetoric emanating from Washington about Iran – not to mention abiding concerns regarding Iran's ability to destabilize Iraq – clearly run counter to Israel's efforts to depict Tehran's nuclear program as, in Netanyahu's words, "the greatest challenge facing the leaders of the 21st century..." And it will surely make it more difficult for him or anyone else in the next Israeli government to "harness the U.S. administration to stop the threat."

**** Obama [has a DANGEROUSLY] rising tide of dangers around him.

CONSORTIUMNEWS: Only one month into his presidency, Barack Obama is finding himself confronting not only George W. Bush's left-behind crises but an array of influential enemies in the military, financial circles, the political world and the media – determined to thwart Obama's agenda for "change."

Though Obama has maintained his trademark equanimity in the face of this resistance, he appears to be sensing the rising tide of dangers around him.

N.Y.U. Students Continue Occupation to Press Demands
NYT: students who had barricaded themselves in a third-floor cafeteria on Wednesday night vowed on Thursday to continue their occupation until they were able to present a list of demands to school administrators.

A surge of new protesters pushed their way past security guards and into the cafeteria about 9 p.m., according to students who were contacted on their cellphones. VIDEO:

** Do we dare begin excising the war budget
HUFF POST: "we accounted for fully 46 percent of the $1.2 trillion in world military expenditures in 2006, and 80 percent of the increase from 2005, according to This brings to mind another famous Eisenhower speech, his 1953 "Cross of Iron" remarks to the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

"All these war-weary peoples shared too this concrete, decent purpose: to guard vigilantly against the domination ever again of any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive power."

The hellish vision of unchecked military spending he invoked 55 years ago is now here, and humanity is hanging, and I paraphrase, from a cross of irony.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

NYT FRANK RICH: Misunderstimating the RepuGicans has all but killed us. [WATCH THIS]

8MIN:   Misunderstimating the RepuGicans has all but killed us.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice - there is not twice. We're out of time.

US Generals Oppose Obama on Iraq
CONSORTIUMNEWS: President Barack Obama appears to be encountering resistance from senior U.S. military commanders to his plan for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq over the next 16 months, as some generals apparently hope to delay a U.S. pullout indefinitely.

Barack Obama Administration Continues US Military Global Dominance
GLOBAL RESEARCH: "The Barack Obama administration is continuing the neo-conservative agenda of US military domination of the world— albeit with perhaps a kinder-gentler face. While overt torture is now forbidden for the CIA and Pentagon, and symbolic gestures like the closing of the Guantanamo prison are in evidence, a unilateral military dominance policy, expanding military budget, and wars of occupation and aggression will likely continue unabated.

The military expansionists from within the Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, G. W. Bush administrations put into place solid support for increased military spending. Clinton's model of supporting the US military industrial complex held steady defense spending and increased foreign weapons sales from 16% of global orders to over 63% by the end of his administration..."

Don't Bet on Obama Reining in Defense Spending
WORLD POLITICS REVIEW/CATO: "Obama's vision of American security requirements is nearly as grandiose as his predecessor's. He sees security as indivisible, defining all instability as a danger to Americans that requires our management. He wants to preserve and expand our Cold War alliances, which long ago ceased to serve our security. He embraces Washington's hubristic notion that our national security bureaucracy can "fix" failed states. Bush chose to fight "terror" by targeting "evil." Obama plans to do so by attacking "hopelessness."

Obama will hear little official dissent from these ambitions. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tend to agree with neoconservatives on the need for a large military that intervenes in places like the Balkans, Iraq, and Sudan -- as do, in general, the chairmen of the relevant Congressional committees. Republicans, of course, will shout "surrender" at any defense spending cut.

Obama will not deliver a humble defense policy. What we can hope for is better management of our empire. But that, too, will require an enormous military.

Benjamin H. Friedman is a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Not so fast on Afghanistan, top Democrat warns

RAW STORY: "Feingold hasn't made a secret of his skepticism of augmenting US troops in the country the Soviet Union once tried to hold.

"If the devastating policies of the [Bush] administration have proved anything, it's that we need to ask tough questions before deploying our brave service members â€" and that we need to be suspicious of Washington 'group think,'" he wrote in a Christian Science Monitor editorial last October. "Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for failure." "

February 19, 2009 Washington's Praise of Venezuelan Vote Suggests Détente
"Praise by the U.S. State Department for Sunday's referendum in Venezuela suggests that President Barack Obama is hoping to ease long-strained relations with President Hugo Chávez, according to regional experts here.

ANTIWAR: While State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid Tuesday noted that Washington had received "troubling reports of intimidation," he added that, "for the most part, this was a process that was fully consistent with [the] democratic process."

Asked whether Washington approved of the poll's results – which changes the country's constitution to enable Chávez to run for a third term in 2012 – Duguid said the question "was a matter for the Venezuelan people."

'Sustained' Push Seen in Afghanistan
WASH POST: "The United States will have to keep about 60,000 troops in Afghanistan for at least the next three to four years to combat an increasingly violent insurgency, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said yesterday, warning that 2009 will be "a tough year."

At least 10,000 additional U.S. troops are required in Afghanistan beyond the 17,000 that President Obama announced Tuesday would go to Afghanistan this spring or summer, with decisions on two additional brigades -- one focused on training and one on combat -- expected later this year, said Gen. David D. McKiernan, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan..."

After Stimulus Package, Pentagon Officials Are Preparing to Pare Back. [So now we watch Obama get Crucified?]
NYT: "WASHINGTON — Having signed into law nearly $800 billion in new spending, President Obama will now be under pressure to identify at least some budget cuts — and the Pentagon may be particularly vulnerable...Among those opposed to cuts, military industry lobbyists and members of Congress are likely to question whether cutbacks in arms purchases, with the threat of shutting down production lines, would be the proper response to an economic crisis already marked by deep job losses....On Monday at the White House, the president will convene what he has called a "fiscal responsibility summit" with budget experts and members of both parties in Congress to discuss potential savings initiatives."
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Speculation says Obama administration will keep projects running

Speculation says Obama administration will keep projects running
Texas A&M The Battalion - College Station,TX,USA
Future combat systems, unmanned aircraft and other Department of Defense spending programs help modernize the US military, and in many cases directly take ...
See all stories on this topic

Push Renews for 4% GDP Floor on Defense Spending

Push Renews for 4% GDP Floor on Defense Spending (subscription) - USA
DEFENSE NEWS: By BILL MATTHEWS For the second time in as many years, defense hawks in Congress are calling for a defense spending floor set at 4 percent of the US gross ...
See all stories on this topic

*** Apocalypse now... this could be America. (Hey, let's ignore him TOO.)

February 17, 2009, 12:36 pm


Everyone should be paying attention to the political/fiscal catastrophe now unfolding in California. Years of neglect, followed by economic disaster — and with all reasonable responses blocked by a fanatical, irrational minority.

This could be America next.

My Friends: If the shoe does not fit, PLEASE DON'T WEAR IT!!!! :-) Yes some of my comments are VERY CAUSTIC!!!! SL

Yes some of my comments are VERY CAUSTIC!!!!


But, if they do NOT apply to you, YOU WOULD BE THE FIRST TO UNDERSTAND AND FORGIVE ME, because then, you too are living in the horror that all but a minuscule few of our brothers and sisters are dying in morbid apathy and inaction - from which WE ARE ALL DYING.

Army rethinking plan to cut US troops in Europe

Army commanders rethinking plan to cut US troops in Europe, want to leave at current 42,000

AP News

Feb 17, 2009 15:33 EST

The U.S. Army is again reconsidering its plan for drawing down troops in Europe and thinking of leaving more troops there than earlier planned.

Gen. Carter Ham, the head of Army troops in Europe, said Tuesday that because U.S. troops in Europe have been used so much in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they cannot participate in exercises with European allies as much as he'd like.

There are 42,000 soldiers in Europe, but a plan already approved by the military would reduce that number to 32,000 in the next few years.

Ham told a Pentagon news conference that he is recommending leaving the force at its current size, a recommendation that would have to be approved by superiors.

He said the force in Europe must be able to stay engaged and exercise with allies to build partnerships.

The idea of cutting troops dramatically in Europe was part of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's initiative to transform the military into a leaner, more cost-effective force. Other commanders have said since then that parts of the plan should be reconsidered.

Along with the original plan to cut the Army presence in Europe from 62,000 to 28,000, the idea also was to reduce the Navy there from 35,000 to 25,000, and the Air Force from 15,000 to 8,000.


On the Net:

European Command

Source: AP News

Iran cooperation poor, but slows nuclear growth-IAEA

REUTERS: PARIS, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Iran is still not helping U.N. nuclear inspectors find out whether it worked on developing an atom bomb in the past but Tehran has slowed its expansion of a key nuclear facility, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.

Speaking in Paris, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran had not been installing a significant number of centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, as quickly as it could have been.

"They haven't really been adding centrifuges, which is a good thing," ElBaradei said at a think-tank in Paris, adding: "Our assessment is that it's a political decision".

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for failing to suspend enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, bombs.

Major powers and ElBaradei suspect Iran is trying to develop the capacity to make nuclear weapons. Iran says it only wants to master atomic technology to meet its growing electricity needs.

In its last report on Iran in November, the IAEA said Tehran planned to start installing another 3,000 centrifuges early this year, adding to 3,800 already enriching uranium and another 2,200 being gradually introduced.

ElBaradei's comments, made two days before his next report on Iran is due to be issued, suggested that progress on installing more centrifuges at Iran's Natanz enrichment site was much slower than had been expected.

"Natanz is supposed to have 50,000 centrifuges. Right now they have 5,000," he said, adding that Iran had not added a "significant" number of centrifuges.


Iran had allowed access to nuclear sites to monitor activity there, but ElBaradei criticised Iran for its continued failure to cooperate with an IAEA probe aimed at clearing up the true nature of Iran's past nuclear work.

Various suspicious materials have been uncovered in more than five years of inspections, including a document showing how to craft uranium metal into hemispheres, which could only be used to make weapons. Iran says it never used the plan.

"No, I'm not obviously happy with the degree of cooperation ... They shut off any cooperation with the agency over the past few months," said ElBaradei, who has for years called on Iran to do more to help his agency's investigations.

"Iran right now is not providing any access or any clarification with regard to those studies or the whole possible military dimension," he added.

ElBaradei played down fears of an imminent Iranian bomb.

"They will have probably in a year or so enough low enriched uranium which, if converted to highly enriched uranium, and if they have the know-how to weaponise it and to deliver it, then they can have one nuclear weapon," he said.

But many other steps would have to be taken to produce a wepaon, such as walking out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelling U.N. nuclear inspectors and mastering the technology to produce a nuclear explosion, he said.

"If I go by the intelligence comunity in the U.S., they are saying that they still have 2-5 years to be able to do that -- to develop a weapon -- which to me means that we have at least enough time for diplomacy," he said. (Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Israel launches covert war against Iran

TELEGRAPH UK: Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran's nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed.

Tzipi Livni: Israel launches covert war against Iran
Israel foreign minister Tzipi Livni Photo: EPA

It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime's illicit weapons project, the experts say.

The most dramatic element of the "decapitation" programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran's atomic operations.

Despite fears in Israel and the US that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build atom bomb, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since President Barack Obama took office.

They privately acknowledge the new US administration is unlikely to sanction an air attack on Iran's nuclear installations and Mr Obama's offer to extend a hand of peace to Tehran puts any direct military action beyond reach for now.

The aim is to slow down or interrupt Iran's research programme, without the gamble of a direct confrontation that could lead to a wider war.

A former CIA officer on Iran told The Daily Telegraph: "Disruption is designed to slow progress on the programme, done in such a way that they don't realise what's happening. You are never going to stop it.

"The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach. We certainly don't want the current Iranian government to have those weapons. It's a good policy, short of taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks."

Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with Stratfor, the US private intelligence company with strong government security connections, said the strategy was to take out key people.

"With co-operation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear programme and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain," she said.

"As US-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama administration's outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against Iran is likely to result."

Mossad was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran's Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported "gas poisoning" in 2007.

Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli "hits", intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the programme, according to Western intelligence analysts.

"Israel has shown no hesitation in assassinating weapons scientists for hostile regimes in the past," said a European intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. They did it with Iraq and they will do it with Iran when they can."

Mossad's covert operations cover a range of activities. The former CIA operative revealed how Israeli and US intelligence co-operated with European companies working in Iran to obtain photographs and other confidential material about Iranian nuclear and missile sites.

"It was a real company that operated from time to time in Iran and in the nature of their legitimate business came across information on various suspect Iranian facilities," he said.

Israel has also used front companies to infiltrate the Iranian purchasing network that the clerical regime uses to circumvent United Nations sanctions and obtain so-called "dual use" items – metals, valves, electronics, machinery – for its nuclear programme.

The businesses initially supply Iran with legitimate material, winning Tehran's trust, and then start to deliver faulty or defective items that "poison" the country's atomic activities.

"Without military strikes, there is still considerable scope for disrupting and damaging the Iranian programme and this has been done with some success," said Yossi Melman, a prominent Israeli journalist who covers security and intelligence issues for the Haaretz newspaper.

Mossad and Western intelligence operations have also infiltrated the Iranian nuclear programme and "bought" information from prominent atomic scientists. Israel has later selectively leaked some details to its allies, the media and United Nations atomic agency inspectors.

On one occasion, Iran itself is understood to have destroyed a nuclear facility near Tehran, bulldozing over the remains and replacing it with a football pitch, after its existence was revealed to UN inspectors. The regime feared that the discovery by inspectors of an undeclared nuclear facility would result in overwhelming pressure at the UN for tougher action against Iran.

The Iranian government has become so concerned about penetration of its programme that it has announced arrests of alleged spies in an attempt to discourage double agents. "Israel is part of a detailed and elaborate international effort to slow down the Iranian programme," said Mr Melman.

But Vince Canastraro, the former CIA counter-terrorism chief, expressed doubts about the efficacy of secret Israeli operations against Iran. "You cannot carry out foreign policy objectives via covert operations," he said. "You can't get rid of a couple of people and hope to affect Iran's nuclear capability."

Iran has consistently asserted that it is pursuing a nuclear capability for civilian energy generation purposes. But Israeli and Western intelligence agencies believe the 20-year-old programme, which was a secret until 2002, is designed to give the ruling mullahs an atom bomb.

Commanders in Iraq Challenge Petraeus on Pullout Risk

February 18, 2009

by Gareth Porter

ANTIWAR: CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus and Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) Commander Gen. Ray Odierno have submitted assessments of Iraq combat-troop withdrawal plans to President Barack Obama based on the premise that his 16-month withdrawal plan would pose significantly greater risk to "security gains" than the 23-month plan they favor.

But a senior commander in Iraq appeared to contradict that premise last week by declaring that security gains in the Shi'ite provinces of Iraq are "permanent," and a field commander in Iraq says there is no objective basis for any Petraeus-Odierno finding that Obama's plan carries greater risk than their 23-month plan.

Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, U.S. commander for the eight southern provinces of Iraq, denied in remarks to reporters Feb. 12 that the security gains in that region were fragile, contrary to the premise that Odierno has publicly asserted. Oates cited the dramatic reduction in activities by Shi'ite militia fighters and the holding of the Jan. 31 elections without any major attacks.

In a previous press briefing Jan. 14, Oates had told reporters that, even if violence were to break out after provincial elections, Iraqi security forces "are well prepared to handle that."

He also cast doubt on Iranian involvement with Shi'ite militias in the south, saying he had "no evidence or reports of people training in Iran," despite periodic "anecdotal intelligence reports" of such training camps.

Oates said he had already reassigned combat forces in the region to non-combat missions, either training or economic development, despite grumbling by soldiers.

Although Oates did not explicitly address the issue of drawdown plans, he has been known to favor a more rapid withdrawal from Iraq than Petraeus and Odierno for some time, according to a military officer who served under Odierno and is familiar with Oates' views. "His belief is that we need to get out of the country and let the Iraqis take responsibility for their areas," the officer, who asked not to be identified, told IPS.

A field commander in Iraq, who spoke with IPS on the understanding that he would not be identified, asserted flatly that there is no greater risk associated with President Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan than with the 23-month plan, contrary to Petraeus and Odierno.

The officer said that the U.S. military presence has already "passed the tipping point of diminishing returns" in relation to stability and security in Iraq. "The longer we stay now, the less we achieve," he said.

Neither Petraeus nor Odierno has offered any public explanation for their argument that a 16-month drawdown plan would pose greater risk to stability and security than one lasting seven months longer. However, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, an adviser to Petraeus, argued in Foreign Affairs last fall that the U.S. military presence is "essential to stabilize a system of local ceasefires" between Sunnis and Shi'ites and between the militias loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite-dominated government.

But the field commander now serving in Iraq told IPS that the U.S. military mission in Iraq has "little correlation" with the present cease-fire between Sunnis and Shi'ites. The Sunni-Shi'ite conflict, said the officer, "is now one for political supremacy, not a counterinsurgency as defined in the Army's counterinsurgency manual."

He said he had been briefed recently on the U.S. mission in Iraq and had been told it is still a counterinsurgency mission, as it has been for several years. There was "no mention of any peacekeeping function aimed at maintaining cease-fires," the officer said.

The idea of enforcing ceasefires is advocated by some in the U.S. command, he said, but that would be "a very different mission from counterinsurgency."

Biddle confirmed in an interview with IPS that the U.S. military peacekeeping role he advocates has not been adopted by the MNF-I command. A number of officers in the command, he said, still believe the U.S. objective in Iraq is "the gradual elimination" of all forces competing with the Iraqi government's security forces.

Ironically, it was Biddle who revealed in congressional testimony last April that the reduction in sectarian violence in and around Baghdad beginning in 2007 for which Odierno had credited the U.S. troop surge was actually the result of the heavy defeat of Sunni insurgent forces in a year-long battle with Shi'ite militias for control of Baghdad in 2006. Biddle observed that the U.S. military tried to stop the sectarian violence but played "no decisive role" in the ultimate cease-fire between Sunni and Shi'ite.

In an online discussion on the Washington Post Web site Feb. 9, Biddle conceded that U.S. troop strength had been insufficient in 2006 to prevent the sectarian violence in Baghdad.

That revelation undercuts the Petraeus-Odierno argument that keeping combat troops in Iraq longer than 16 months would help maintain the present cease-fire between Sunni and Shi'ite forces. In 16 months, U.S. combat troop strength will be only a fraction of its 2006 level, even under the Petraeus-Odierno plan.

The U.S. field commander said that, even if U.S. troops were given the mission of enforcing cease-fires, it would not give the U.S. military any additional influence over either side to remain several more months beyond the 16-month withdrawal period.

"At some point [U.S. troops] are going to have to leave," said the commander. "The Iraqis are going to resolve political differences without American military muscle to enforce it. It doesn't matter if that process begins in 16 months, 23 months, or 23 years. We gain nothing with the additional time."

"The 1st Cavalry Division cannot make the Shi'ites and Sunnis kiss and make up," he observed. "They can't make the problems of oil revenue sharing get resolved. Those are issues only Arabs and Kurds can resolve."

A second U.S. officer now serving in Iraq, who also asked not to be identified, expressed doubt that a 16-month withdrawal is logistically feasible, based on his experience in a specific area south of Baghdad. But he agreed that it is time to complete the turnover of responsibility to the Iraqi army and rapidly withdraw U.S. combat troops.

"It's time for us to get out," he said in an interview. "If the U.S. military continues to do the job, the Iraqis are going to be lazy, and they won't do it themselves."

The officer conceded that the Iraq army "is nowhere near as competent as the U.S. Army," and that "there may be some breakout of bad things" after the troop withdrawal. Nevertheless, the officer warned, "If you don't give the Iraqis the mantle of responsibility, we will be there for another 25-30 years."

(Inter Press Service)

Looting Social Security (wo we have $$$$$ for war!!!!)

THE NATION: Is Social Security threatened by entitlement reformers? David M. Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation responds to William Greider's essay here. Read William Greider's answer to Peterson's criticism here.

Governing elites in Washington and Wall Street have devised a fiendishly clever "grand bargain" they want President Obama to embrace in the name of "fiscal responsibility." The government, they argue, having spent billions on bailing out the banks, can recover its costs by looting the Social Security system. They are also targeting Medicare and Medicaid. The pitch sounds preposterous to millions of ordinary working people anxious about their economic security and worried about their retirement years. But an impressive armada is lined up to push the idea--Washington's leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly.

These players are promoting a tricky way to whack Social Security benefits, but to do it behind closed doors so the public cannot see what's happening or figure out which politicians to blame. The essential transaction would amount to misappropriating the trillions in Social Security taxes that workers have paid to finance their retirement benefits. This swindle is portrayed as "fiscal reform." In fact, it's the political equivalent of bait-and-switch fraud.

Defending Social Security sounds like yesterday's issue--the fight people won when they defeated George W. Bush's attempt to privatize the system in 2005. But the financial establishment has pushed it back on the table, claiming that the current crisis requires "responsible" leaders to take action. Will Obama take the bait? Surely not. The new president has been clear and consistent about Social Security, as a candidate and since his election. The program's financing is basically sound, he has explained, and can be assured far into the future by making only modest adjustments.

But Obama is also playing footsie with the conservative advocates of "entitlement reform" (their euphemism for cutting benefits). The president wants the corporate establishment's support on many other important matters, and he recently promised to hold a "fiscal responsibility summit" to examine the long-term costs of entitlements. That forum could set the trap for a "bipartisan compromise" that may become difficult for Obama to resist, given the burgeoning deficit. If he resists, he will be denounced as an old-fashioned free-spending liberal. The advocates are urging both parties to hold hands and take the leap together, authorizing big benefits cuts in a circuitous way that allows them to dodge the public's blame. In my new book, Come Home, America, I make the point: "When official America talks of 'bipartisan compromise,' it usually means the people are about to get screwed."

The Social Security fight could become a defining test for "new politics" in the Obama era. Will Americans at large step up and make themselves heard, not to attack Obama but to protect his presidency from the political forces aligned with Wall Street interests? This fight can be won if people everywhere raise a mighty din--hands off our Social Security money!--and do it now, before the deal gains momentum. Popular outrage can overwhelm the insiders and put members of Congress on notice: a vote to gut Social Security will kill your career. By organizing and agitating, people blocked Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security. Imagine if he had succeeded--their retirement money would have disappeared in the collapsing stock market.

To understand the mechanics of this attempted swindle, you have to roll back twenty-five years, to the time the game of bait and switch began, under Ronald Reagan. The Gipper's great legislative victory in 1981--enacting massive tax cuts for corporations and upper-income ranks--launched the era of swollen federal budget deficits. But their economic impact was offset by the huge tax increase that Congress imposed on working people in 1983: the payroll tax rate supporting Social Security--the weekly FICA deduction--was raised substantially, supposedly to create a nest egg for when the baby boom generation reached retirement age. A blue-ribbon commission chaired by Alan Greenspan worked out the terms, then both parties signed on. Since there was no partisan fight, the press portrayed the massive tax increase as a noncontroversial "good government" reform.

Ever since, working Americans have paid higher taxes on their labor wages--12.4 percent, split between employees and employers. As a result, the Social Security system has accumulated a vast surplus--now around $2.5 trillion and growing. This is the money pot the establishment wants to grab, claiming the government can no longer afford to keep the promise it made to workers twenty-five years ago.

Actually, the government has already spent their money. Every year the Treasury has borrowed the surplus revenue collected by Social Security and spent the money on other purposes--whatever presidents and Congress decide, including more tax cuts for monied interests. The Social Security surplus thus makes the federal deficits seem smaller than they are--around $200 billion a year smaller. Each time the government dipped into the Social Security trust fund this way, it issued a legal obligation to pay back the money with interest whenever Social Security needed it to pay benefits.

That moment of reckoning is approaching. Uncle Sam owes these trillions to Social Security retirees and has to pay it back or look like just another deadbeat. That risk is the only "crisis" facing Social Security. It is the real reason powerful interests are so anxious to cut benefits. Social Security is not broke--not even close. It can sustain its obligations for roughly forty years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, even if nothing is changed. Even reports by the system's conservative trustees say it has no problem until 2041 (that report is signed by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the guy who bailed out the bankers). During the coming decade, however, the system will need to start drawing on its reserve surpluses to pay for benefits as boomers retire in greater numbers.

But if the government cuts the benefits first, it can push off repayment far into the future, and possibly forever. Otherwise, government has to borrow the money by selling government bonds or extend the Social Security tax to cover incomes above the current $107,000 ceiling. Obama endorses the latter option.

Follow the bouncing ball: Washington first cuts taxes on the well-to-do, then offsets the revenue loss by raising taxes on the working class and tells folks it is saving their money for future retirement. But Washington spends the money on other stuff, so when workers need it for their retirement, they are told, Sorry, we can't afford it.

Federal budget analysts try to brush aside these facts by claiming the government is merely "borrowing from itself" when it dips into Social Security. But that is a substantive falsehood. Government doesn't own this money. It essentially acts as the fiduciary, holding this wealth in trust for the "beneficial owners," the people who paid the taxes. This is the bait and switch the establishment intends to execute.

Peter Peterson, a Republican financier who made a fortune doing corporate takeover deals at Wall Street's Blackstone Group, is the Daddy Warbucks of the "fiscal responsibility" crusade. He has campaigned for decades against the dangers that old folks pose to the Republic. Now 82 and retired, Peterson claims he will spend nearly one-third of his $2.8 billion in wealth--he ranks 147 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans--alerting the public to this threat (leave aside the fact that old people have already paid for their retirement or that Social Security's modest benefits are equivalent to minimum-wage income). The major media treat him adoringly. Most reporters are too lazy (or dim) to check out the facts for themselves, so they simply repeat what Peterson tells them about Social Security.

It is a frightful message. Peterson describes a "$53 trillion hole" in America's fiscal condition--but the claim assumes numerous artful fallacies. His most blatant distortion is lumping Social Security, which is self-funded and sound, with other entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. Those programs do face financial crisis--not because the elderly and poor are greedily gaming the system but because the medical-industrial complex has the profit incentive to drive healthcare costs higher and higher. Healthcare reform can solve the financing problem only if it imposes cost controls on private players like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Peterson is financing a media blitz. His tendentious documentary--I.O.U.S.A.--opened in 400 theaters and was broadcast on CNN with appropriate solemnity. Last September Peterson bought two full pages in the New York Times to urge the next president to create a "bipartisan fiscal responsibility commission" once he was in office (Peterson was for John McCain). This group of so-called experts would be authorized to design the reforms for Congress to enact. But Peterson does not want Congress to have a full, freewheeling debate on the particulars. The reform package, he suggests, should be submitted to a single "up-or-down vote by Congress, as is done with military base closings." That's one of the gimmicks intended to give politicians cover and protect them from their constituents. It is profoundly antidemocratic. But that's the idea--save the government from the unruly passions of citizens. Peterson's proposal also resembles the notorious fast-track provision, which for years enabled presidents to steamroll Congress on trade agreements, no amendments allowed.

Peterson's proposal would essentially dismantle the Social Security entitlement enacted in the New Deal, much as Bill Clinton repealed the right to welfare. Peterson has assembled influential allies for this radical step. They include a coalition of six major think tanks and four tax-exempt foundations.

Their report--Taking Back Our Fiscal Future, issued jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation--recommends that Congress put long-term budget caps on Social Security and other entitlement spending, which would automatically trigger benefits cuts if needed to stay within the prescribed limits. The same antidemocratic mechanisms--a commission of technocrats and limited Congressional discretion--would shield politicians from popular blowback.

The authors of this plan are sixteen economists from Brookings and Heritage, joined by the American Enterprise Institute, the Concord Coalition, the New America Foundation, the Progressive Policy Institute and the Urban Institute. "Our group covers the ideological spectrum," they claim. This too is a falsehood. All these organizations are corporate-friendly and dependent on big-money contributors. No liberal or labor thinkers need apply, though the group includes some formerly liberal economists like Robert Reischauer, Alice Rivlin and Isabel Sawhill.

The ugliest ploy in their campaign is the effort to provoke conflict between the generations. "The automatic funding of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid impedes explicit consideration of competing priorities and threatens to squeeze out spending for young people," these economists declared. Children, it is suggested, are being shortchanged by their grandparents. This line of argument has attracted financial support from some leading foundations usually associated with liberal social concerns--Annie E. Casey, Charles Stewart Mott, William and Flora Hewlett. Peterson has teamed up with the Pew Trust and has also created front groups of "concerned youth."

Trouble is, most young people did not buy this pitch when George W. Bush used it to sell Social Security privatization. Most kids seem to think Grandma is entitled to a decent retirement. In fact, whacking Social Security benefits, not to mention Medicaid, directly harms poor children. More poor children live in families dependent on Social Security checks than on welfare, economist Dean Baker points out. If you cut Grandma's Social Security benefits, you are directly making life worse for the poor kids who live with her.

The assault sounds outrageous and bound to fail, but the conservative interests may have Obama in a neat trap. Their fog of scary propaganda makes it easier to distort the president's position and blame him for any fiscal disorders driven by the current financial collapse. He will be urged to "do the right thing" for the country and make the hard choices, regardless of petty political grievances (words and phrases he has used himself). Obama's fate may depend on informing the public--now, not later--so that people are inoculated against these artful lies.

The real crisis, in any case, is not Social Security but the colossal failure of the private pension system. Most people know this, either because their 401(k) account is pitifully inadequate, or their company dumped its pension plan, or the plummeting stock market devoured their savings. Obama can protect himself with the public by speaking candidly about this reality and proposing a forceful, long-term solution. He should expand the guarantees that ordinary people need to get their families through these adverse times. Instead of taking away old promises to people, the president should make some new ones. Healthcare reform is obviously an important imperative, but so is retirement security.

The solution to retirement insecurity is the creation of a national pension, alongside Social Security, that would be the bedrock social insurance. Improving Social Security benefits is one step, but it cannot possibly restore what so many middle-class families have lost. Tinkering with the 401(k) would be doomed, because it is basically a tax subsidy for the middle and upper classes, another way to avoid taxes that failed utterly to produce real savings [see Greider, "Riding Into the Sunset," June 27, 2005].

The new universal pension would be mainly self-financing--that is, funded by mandatory savings--but the system would operate as a government-supervised nonprofit, not manipulated by corporate executives or Wall Street firms. A national pension would combine the best qualities of defined-benefit plans and individual accounts. Each worker's pension would be individualized and portable, moving with job changes, but the savings would be pooled with others for diversified investment.

There is nothing radical about this approach. It follows the form of the government's thrift savings plan for civil servants and members of Congress, TIAA-CREF for college professors or other union pension plans jointly managed by labor and management trustees. The crucial difference is that since the new universal pension would be nonprofit, nobody would get to play self-interested games with the money that employees are storing in it for retirement. People could check their accumulated balance at any time.

Washington would set the performance standards and enforce proper behavior, but the operations of retirement programs could be widely decentralized among many private organizations or sector by sector. Other nations, like Australia, have proved this can be both democratic and reliable. Economist Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School has designed a promising and plausible plan (available at the Economic Policy Institute's website,, or in her book When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them). With payroll savings of 5 percent and government-guaranteed returns on investment, average workers could count on pensions that would replace 70 percent of pre-retirement earnings when combined with Social Security. Low-wage earners could be subsidized by government to make up for inadequate pay. Private retirement plans that collect a higher percentage of pay and provide higher benefits could continue, so long as they exceed the federal standard. One great virtue of this approach is that nobody gets left behind, dependent on charity, the predatory instincts of the financial system or the magic of the marketplace.

Another great virtue is that a national pension would confront the country's glaring economic weakness--the collapse of national savings. As the economy digs out of its hole, restoring household savings will be crucial for ultimate recovery and for reduction of our dangerous dependence on foreign capital. Obviously, any system that adds a new payroll tax cannot be introduced at the depth of a recession, but the work of constructing it can begin right now, with the new system phased in gradually, as economic conditions permit. Instead of second-guessing the past and destroying its accomplishments, this reform would look forward and create conditions for a more promising future. Nobody gets a free lunch, and everybody has to take personal responsibility. But unlike what the governing elites are attempting, nobody gets thrown over the side.

About William Greider

National affairs correspondent William Greider has been a political journalist for more than thirty-five years. A former Rolling Stone and Washington Post editor, he is the author of the national bestsellers One World, Ready or Not, Secrets of the Temple, Who Will Tell The People, The Soul of Capitalism (Simon & Schuster) and--due out in February from Rodale--Come Home, America. more...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Mr. Obama is under pressure from his military commanders... [SO YOU AND ME DO WHAT???]

NYT: "Mr. Obama is under pressure from his military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been pressing for reinforcements of about 30,000 soldiers, almost twice as many as the president has so far decided to send. The commanders hope to have additional forces in place by late spring or early summer as part to help counter growing violence and chaos in the country, particularly in advance of the upcoming presidential elections, which are expected to take place in August."

Obama to Send 17,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — President Obama will send an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer in the first major military move of his presidency, White House officials said on Tuesday.

The increase would come on top of 36,000 American troops already there, making for an increase of nearly 50 percent. In issuing the order, Mr. Obama is choosing a middle ground, addressing urgent requests from commanders who have been pressing for reinforcements while postponing a more difficult judgment on a much larger increase in personnel that the commanders have been seeking.

In a written statement issued by the White House on Tuesday evening, Mr. Obama said that deteriorating security in Afghanistan demands "urgent attention and swift action" to address a problem that "has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires."

White House officials said that 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will deploy in the next few weeks, aiming to be on the ground in Afghanistan by late spring, while an Army brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., composed of 4,000 soldiers, will deploy in the summer.

An additional 5,000 Army support troops and so-called "enablers" will also be deploying in the summer, administration officials said, which will bring the number of troops deployed as part of this presidential order to 17,000. The decision does carries some political risks for Mr. Obama, whose election was interpreted by many Americans as a mandate to bring troops home from Iraq. But Mr. Obama has now announced additional American troops are headed to Afghanistan before he has withdrawn any troops from Iraq.

But White House officials said both of the units being sent to Afghanistan were originally supposed to be going to Iraq.

"We have the ability to do this because we will be drawing down in Iraq," a senior White House official said.

Mr. Obama is under pressure from his military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been pressing for reinforcements of about 30,000 soldiers, almost twice as many as the president has so far decided to send. The commanders hope to have additional forces in place by late spring or early summer as part to help counter growing violence and chaos in the country, particularly in advance of the upcoming presidential elections, which are expected to take place in August.

Mr. Obama will still have to make a decision on the additional troops that are part of Gen. David D. McKiernan's standing request. Defense officials say that Mr. Obama cannot satisfy the full request from Gen. McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, without withdrawing a substantial number of forces from Iraq.

Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is on his way home from his first trip to the region, is helping to conduct the administration's review of policy in Afghanistan. Administration officials say the review needs to be completed before Mr. Obama makes his first overseas trip as president, when he attends the NATO summit in France and Germany in April.

Mr. Obama is expected to press America's European allies at the summit for additional troops for Afghanistan, along with more development help.



BUZZFLASH: Afghanistan, not Againistan


It's not nearly as glamorous for legacy-seeking commanders in chief, but often it's the militaristic road not taken and the martial step not advanced that protects this nation's welfare far more impressively than does any overseas deployment of gun-blazing Marines.

One thinks, for instance, of JFK's embattled resistance to flooding Southeast Asia with U.S. regulars, not to mention his final rejection of razing Castro's Cuba, or Jimmy Carter's anguished restraint in the face of Iran's revolutionary affronts. But these and other tales of presidential caution look smarter -- and tougher -- from a national security point of view with every passing year of interventionist folly.

To the former, I hope, we can add some determined presidential follow-through to the Politico's headline of yesterday, "Obama slows down troop boost decision."

It's been a nervous month since the Inauguration, waiting for what seemed the inevitable: U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, as promised by the president for 18 previous months on the campaign trail. I regularly inveighed against candidate Obama on that foreign policy note, but held out hope that his spoken intentions were but rhetorical defenses against the slanderous GOP's routine accusations of Democratic weakness.

Whether privately he had always meant to rein in his martial enthusiasm once the electoral prize was achieved, we'll perhaps never know. For now, however, I'll settle for this tentative reversal: "President Barack Obama is refusing to be rushed into his first decision to send troops into combat, an early sign he may be more independent-minded than U.S. military leaders expected."

Obama has, it seems, seminal if not primal doubts about the whole mess, the whole shootin' match, the whole wretched potential of a bottomless snake pit of American commitment in Afghanistan. In what undoubtedly is the most welcome news I've read since Palin's formation of SarahPAC, the Politico reports that "Obama and his aides are questioning the timetable, the mission and even the composition of ... new forces."

It does remain "likely" that he'll "approve one or two additional brigades ... and put off a decision on the third brigade until later," says the story. But in an untethered trial balloon of "How 'bout some common sense instead?" anonymous officials are also leaking that "he has been given multiple options ... including sending no additional forces...."

Said the president of the Center for a New American Security, John Nagl, in a tour de force of prodigious understatement: "I'm personally hopeful that President Obama will do something that President Bush didn't do particularly well" -- that being the "thinking through [of] the implications of committing troops, not just the first order but the second and third order effects."

I never thought I'd see these words dropped into cyberprint by my unforgiving fingers, but it further appears we can thank a former Bush appointee, the still-defense secretary Robert Gates, for hitting the brakes and unleashing the balloons.

He's been schmoozing Congress of late, whispering possible sweet Do-nothings into its ear, labeling as "entirely appropriate" Obama's deliberate deacceleration, and last week, in a profound intimation of a fresh and evolving policy, said "My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and its allies" -- which of course could apply to any Middle East nation.

In short, Leash the hounds.

In the Feb. 9 issue of Newsweek, foreign-affairs journalist Fareed Zakaria inserted an instructive vignette:

In May 2006 a unit of American soldiers in Afghanistan's Uruzgan valley were engulfed in a ferocious fire fight with the Taliban.... [W]hat was most revealing about the battle was the fact that many local farmers spontaneously joined in, rushing home to get their weapons. Asked later why they'd done so, the villagers claimed they didn't support the Taliban's ideological agenda, nor were they particularly hostile toward the Americans. But this battle was the most momentous thing that had happened in their valley for years. If as virile young men they had stood by and just watched, they would have been dishonored in their communities. And, of course, if they were going to fight, they could not fight alongside the foreigners.

Perhaps the many encrustations of Afghanistan's cultural hostility to Western intrusion embedded in that report could be peeled away in the optimistic course of a few dozen or hundred years, at an unpredictable cost, but we simply haven't the resources, either human or fiscal, to find out.

And the very worst timing in which to find that out is embedded in those two little words of inexpressible sorrow and regret: too late.

So please tell us it's true, Mr. President, tell us it's undeniably real: that your primal doubts are getting the better of you.

Please respond to P.M.'s commentary by leaving comments below and sharing them with the BuzzFlash community. For personal questions or comments you can contact him at


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Your brother in Peace-Building, Start Loving ... WAGE LOVE OR DIE


Monday, February 16, 2009

Fw: The war in Iraq isn't over. The main events may not even have happened yet.

Staying in Iraq is a long, slow suicide for America. No utility or honor in that.

Pres. Obama needs to immediately acknowledge the truth of this article (below) - that Bush's mistake was infinitely larger than anyone has realized - AND GET US OUT OF THIS DEATH TRAP. NOW.


MUST AMERICA DIE TOO?!?!?! Only if we are complete fools.
" "I don't think it does end," he replied. "There will be some U.S. presence, and some relationship with the Iraqis, for decades. . . . We're thinking in terms of Reconstruction after the Civil War." "

The war in Iraq isn't over. The main events may not even have happened yet.

By Thomas E. Ricks
Sunday, February 15, 2009; B01

In October 2008, as I was finishing my latest book on the Iraq war, I visited the Roman Forum during a stop in Italy. I sat on a stone wall on the south side of the Capitoline Hill and studied the two triumphal arches at either end of the Forum, both commemorating Roman wars in the Middle East.

To the south, the Arch of Titus, completed in 81 A.D., honors victories in Egypt and Jerusalem. To the north, the Arch of Septimius Severus, built 122 years later, celebrates triumphant campaigns in Mesopotamia. The structures brought home a sad realization: It's simply unrealistic to believe that the U.S. military will be able to pull out of the Middle East.

It was a week when U.S. forces had engaged in combat in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- a string of countries stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean -- following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, the Romans and the British. For thousands of years, it has been the fate of the West's great powers to become involved in the region's politics. Since the Suez Crisis of 1956, when British and French influence suffered a major reduction, it has been the United States' turn to take the lead there. And sitting on that wall, it struck me that the more we talk about getting out of the Middle East, the more deeply we seem to become engaged in it.

President Obama campaigned on withdrawing from Iraq, but even he has talked about a post-occupation force. The widespread expectation inside the U.S. military is that we will have tens of thousands of troops there for years to come. Indeed, in his last interview with me last November, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told me that he would like to see about 30,000 troops still there in 2014 or 2015.

Yet many Americans seem to think that the war, or at least our part in it, is close to being wrapped up. When I hear that, I worry. I think of a phrase that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz often used in the winter of 2003, before the invasion: "Hard to imagine." It was hard to imagine, he would tell members of Congress, the media and other skeptics, that the war would last as long as they feared, or that it could cost as much as all that, or that it might require so many troops. I worry now that we are once again failing to imagine what we have gotten ourselves into and how much more we will have to pay in blood, treasure, prestige and credibility.

I don't think the Iraq war is over, and I worry that there is more to come than any of us suspect.

A smaller but long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq is probably the best we can hope for. The thought of having small numbers of U.S. troops dying for years to come in the country's deserts and palm groves isn't appealing, but it appears to be better than either being ejected or pulling out -- and letting the genocidal chips fall where they may.

Almost every American official I interviewed in Iraq over the past three years agreed. "This is not a campaign that can be won in one or two years," said Col. Peter Mansoor, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus's executive officer during much of the latter's tour in Iraq. "The United States has got to be willing to underwrite this effort for many, many years to come. I can't put it in any brighter colors than that."

Many worried that as the United States withdraws and its influence wanes, the Iraqi tendency toward violent solutions will increase. In September 2008, John McCreary, a veteran analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, predicted that the arrangement imposed by the U.S. government on Iraqi factions should worry us for several reasons. First, it produces what looks like peace -- but isn't. Second, one of the factions in such situations will invariably seek to break out of the arrangement. "Power sharing is always a prelude to violence," usually after the force imposing it withdraws, he maintained.

Many of those closest to the situation in Iraq expect a full-blown civil war to break out there in the coming years. "I don't think the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet," one colonel told me. Others were concerned that Iraq was drifting toward a military takeover. Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen worried that the classic conditions for a military coup were developing -- a venal political elite divorced from the population lives inside the Green Zone, while the Iraqi military outside the zone's walls grows both more capable and closer to the people, working with them and trying to address their concerns.

In addition, the American embrace of former insurgents has created many new local power centers in Iraq, but many of the faces of those who run them remain obscure. "We've made a lot of deals with shady guys," Col. Michael Galloucis, the Military Police commander in Baghdad, said in 2007, at the end of his tour. "It's working. But the key is, is it sustainable?"

One of the least understood of those "shady guys" is also one of the most prominent -- Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The U.S. government has consistently underestimated him, first in going into Iraq and then in 2004, when he violently confronted the American superpower. He not only survived those encounters but also emerged more powerful and was brought into the U.S.-created Iraqi government. If he can stay alive, more power is likely to flow to him.

For reasons of nationalism, if Sadr can be drawn into the political arena, he may effectively become an ally of convenience to the Americans. "It should not be forgotten that the Sadrists are Tehran's historical main enemy among the Shiites of Iraq," noted Reidar Visser, an Oxford-educated expert on Iraqi Shiites. But others contend that Sadr is just lying low until the United States draws down its troops and declares its combat role concluded.

The role of Iran remains problematic. At this point, that country appears to be the biggest winner in the Iraq war, and perhaps in the region. "Iran's influence will remain and probably grow stronger," said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency specialist in Middle Eastern security affairs. "The Iranians have many contacts and agents of influence in Iraq, their border with Iraq is a strategic factor of permanent consequence and their role in the Iraqi economy is growing."

What's more, noted Toby Dodge, a British defense expert who was an occasional adviser to Petraeus, "the current Iraqi government is full of Iranian clients. You'll almost certainly end up with a rough and ready dictatorship . . . that will be in hock to Iran."

But many U.S. soldiers who have served in Iraq believe that the biggest threat to American aspirations won't be the Iranians but the Iraqis themselves. The Iraqi military is getting better, but it is still a deeply flawed institution, even with tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers keeping an eye on it.

Maj. Matt Whitney, who spent 2006 advising Iraqi generals, predicted that once U.S. forces were out of the way, Iraqi commanders would relapse to the brutal ways of earlier days: "Saddam Hussein taught them how to [suppress urban populations] and we've just reinforced that lesson for four years," he said. "They're ready to kill people -- a lot of people -- in order to get stability in Iraq."

In my last interview with him, Odierno countered this thinking. He believes that Iraqi commanders have improved and that they will no longer automatically revert to Saddam-era viciousness. "I think two years ago that was true," he said. "I think maybe even a year and a half ago it was true. I think a year ago it was a little less true. I think today it's less true." But, he added, problems clearly still remain, which is one reason the U.S. military presence will be required for some time.

But his hopeful assessment conflicts with the frequent statements of Iraqi commanders themselves. "When you got to know them and they'd be honest with you, every single one of them thought that the whole notion of democracy and representative government in Iraq was absolutely ludicrous," said Maj. Chad Quayle, who advised an Iraqi battalion in south Baghdad during the surge.

So, to address the perceptive question that Petraeus posed during the invasion: How does this end?

Probably the best answer came from Charlie Miller, who did the first draft of policy development and presidential reporting for Petraeus. "I don't think it does end," he replied. "There will be some U.S. presence, and some relationship with the Iraqis, for decades. . . . We're thinking in terms of Reconstruction after the Civil War."

The quiet consensus emerging among many who have served in Iraq is that U.S. soldiers will probably be engaged in combat there until at least 2015 -- which would put us at about the midpoint of the conflict now.

"What the world ultimately thinks about us and what we think about ourselves," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said to me last year, "is going to be determined much more by what happens from now on than what's happened up to now."

In other words, the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably haven't even happened yet.

Thomas E. Ricks is a special military correspondent for The Washington Post and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. This article is adapted from his book "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008."