Friday, November 7, 2014

West of Eden: A couple of updates

Images from the National Library of Medicine.
Three weeks or so ago, as Leon Panetta was out hawking his memoir of youthful defiance back in the old days of 2011 or so when he was a stripling Defense Secretary of 72 or 73, you may have noticed the particularly ghastly story about Saddam's Real WMD.

They had nothing to do with the fantasies that Cheney and Rumsfeld and the gang used as a phony casus belli, the smoking mushroom and the clouded guns; they were merely the tactically useless but extremely dangerous old chemical weapons that US troops found lying around unprotected in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, supplied to Saddam Hussein by his pals in the Reagan administration 20 years earlier for his war against Iran—and the Times found 17 US service members and seven Iraqi police officers who had been seriously hurt by the things, who weren't getting proper care, while their cases had been kept secret by the authorities for a decade or more, apparently out of nothing more than embarrassment.

And if you did notice it, you may have noticed what the Pentagon said when it was asked for a comment, and shaken your head and clicked your tongue:
Rear Adm. John Kirby, spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, declined to address specific incidents detailed in the Times investigation, or to discuss the medical care and denial of medals for troops who were exposed. But he said that the military’s health care system and awards practices were under review, and that Mr. Hagel expected the services to address any shortcomings.

“The secretary believes all service members deserve the best medical and administrative support possible,” he said. “He is, of course, concerned by any indication or allegation they have not received such support. His expectation is that leaders at all levels will strive to correct errors made, when and where they are made.”
Sure, Chuck, I'll bet you will, I said to myself.

So the remarkable thing is that Admiral Kirby wasn't kidding, at least in this instance, as we learn from today's Times. Hagel really had put this matter under review, and the results are not merely disclosed but we get an open admission of how bad they are:
More than 600 American service members since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, but the Pentagon failed to recognize the scope of the reported cases or offer adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, defense officials say.
I'm just finding myself really impressed by the thought that we have a Defense Secretary who isn't a hack. At least in this instance, and although he's a Republican. It took the Obama administration five years to find one, working its way through the Bush holdover Bob Gates and our California chucklehead old Leon, but that's a lot sooner than most administrations manage, which is never.

Speaking of hacks, Michael Weiss of the Institute for Modern Russia, Foreign Policy, and not least the Weekly Standard showed up on BBC (audio here starts something like 20 minutes in) to complain about Obama sending a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, which, he thought, would discourage Syrian Sunnis from signing up to fight against the Da'esh. Well, for one thing, it couldn't have done so if it had been kept secret, as it obviously should have been at this particular time—that was really a pretty stupid or pretty malevolent leak, or both, as the case may be. In any case the recruitment of Sunni groups in Iraq will have to depend on the Baghdad government, not anything the US does, and in Syria it should be clear that they are the ones who must beg the US for help, not the other way around. If they don't like Obama's foreign policy, let them get air support from King Abdullah Abdilaziz.

What Weiss said that kind of concerned me was that the US is alienating Sunni anti-Assad groups by killing civilians with airstrikes, a remarkable thing for an American neoconservative to be objecting to, but certainly what I would regard as an extremely bad move, as I've said often enough. Killing civilians is not only immoral but also a terrible tactical error, the most irreparable one the US made in Iraq in the first place, and the reason why an attack on Assad's territory last year was going to be such a very bad idea. But is it really happening, and why haven't the rest of us been noticing?

The answer seems to be no. As far as I can tell from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, there haven't been any civilian casualties caused by coalition airstrikes since the ones I denounced on October 18; and there seems to be every reason to keep hoping, as I said then. that US forces might be learning not to kill civilians. Weiss has an agenda, of course (a Saudi-Israeli agenda, to be precise, of trying to stop Obama's accommodation with Iran; that's the agenda of this leak, which like so many leaks is not just public-interest journalism but hidden-interest politics); he's just another neocon, making shit up.

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