Tag: Iraq

Consequences of a very different sort.

Another in the endless series of the strange affairs of man!

Regulars will know that frequently I republish essays from the stables of TomDispatch. Many of you will ask why, I don’t doubt. What have these essays got to do with learning from our closest animal companion; the dog?

Well, the answer is that it is about integrity.  Dogs offer mankind a wonderful example of what flows from having a deep sense of integrity. And when it comes to examples of mankind’s ambivalence, to put it mildly, towards integrity, there is no better example than war!

Thus with no further ado, here is a recent essay from TomDispatch that illustrates the long-term relationship of the United States of America with war! Republished with both Tom Engelhardt’s and Peter Van Buren’s kind permission.  (NB: In the original essay there are many links to other sources of information.  The links were too many for me to ‘copy’ across so please go to the essay on TomDispatch if you wish to see and follow the links. Recommended follows, by the way.)


Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Back to the Future in Iraq

Posted by Peter Van Buren at 8:01am, September 23, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New York City titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it, he went after the war of that moment and the money that the U.S. was pouring into it as symptoms of a societal disaster. President Lyndon Johnson’s poverty program was being “broken and eviscerated,” King said from the pulpit of that church, “as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war… We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.” Twice more in that ringing speech he spoke of “the madness of Vietnam” and called for it to cease.

Don’t think of that as just a preacher’s metaphor. There was a genuine madness on the loose — and not just in the “free-fire zones” of Vietnam but in policy circles here in the United States, in the frustration of top military and civilian officials who felt gripped by an eerie helplessness as they widened a terrible war on the ground and in the air. They were, it seemed, incapable of imagining any other path than escalation in the face of disaster and possible defeat. Even in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when there was a brief attempt to paint that lost war in a more heroic hue (“a noble cause,” the president called it), that sense of madness, or at least of resulting mental illness, lingered. It remained embedded in a phrase then regularly applied to Americans who were less than willing to once again head aggressively into the world. They were suffering from, it was said, “Vietnam syndrome.”

Today, almost 25 years into what someday might simply be called America’s Iraq War (whose third iteration we’ve recently entered), you can feel that a similar “madness” has Washington by the throat. Just as King noted of the Vietnam era, since 9/11 American domestic programs and agencies have been starved while money poured into the coffers of the Pentagon and an increasingly bloated national security state. The results have been obvious. In the face of the spreading Ebola virus in West Africa, for instance, the president can no longer turn to civilian agencies or organizations for help, but has to call on the U.S. military in an “Ebola surge” — even our language has been militarized — although its forces are not known for their skills, successes, or spendthrift ways when it comes to civilian “humanitarian” or nation-building operations.

We’ve already entered the period when strategy, such as it is, falls away, and our leaders feel strangely helpless before the drip, drip, drip of failure and the unbearable urge for further escalation. At this point, in fact, the hysteria in Washington over the Islamic State seems a pitch or two higher than anything experienced in the Vietnam years. A fiercely sectarian force in the Middle East has captured the moment and riveted attention, even though its limits in a region full of potential enemies seem obvious and its “existential threat” to the U.S. consists of the possibility that some stray American jihadi might indeed try to harm a few of us. Call it emotional escalation in a Washington that seems remarkably unhinged.

It took Osama bin Laden $400,000 to $500,000, 19 hijackers, and much planning to produce the fallen towers of 9/11 and the ensuing hysteria in this country that launched the disastrous, never-ending Global War on Terror. It took the leaders of the Islamic State maybe a few hundred bucks and two grim videos, featuring three men on a featureless plain in Syria, to create utter, blind hysteria here. Think of this as confirmation of Karl Marx’s famous comment that the first time is tragedy, but the second is farce.

One clear sign of the farcical nature of our moment is the inability to use almost any common word or phrase in an uncontested way if you put “Iraq” or “Islamic State” or “Syria” in the same sentence. Remember when the worst Washington could come up with in contested words was the meaning of “is” in Bill Clinton’s infamous statement about his relationship with a White House intern? Linguistically speaking, those were the glory days, the utopian days of official Washington.

Just consider three commonplace terms of the moment: “war,” “boots on the ground,” and “combat.” A single question links them all: Are we or aren’t we? And to that, in each case, Washington has no acceptable answer. On war, the secretary of state said no, we weren’t; the White House and Pentagon press offices announced that yes, we were; and the president fudged. He called it “targeted action” and spoke of America’s “unique capability to mobilize against an organization like ISIL,” but God save us, what it wasn’t and wouldn’t be was a “ground war.”

Only with Congress did a certain clarity prevail. Nothing it did really mattered. Whatever Congress decided or refused to decide when it came to going to war would be fine and dandy, because the White House was going to do “it” anyway. “It,” of course, was the Clintonesque “is” of present-day Middle Eastern policy. Who knew what it was, but here was what it wasn’t and would never be: “boots on the ground.” Admittedly, the president has already dispatched 1,600 booted troops to Iraq’s ground (with more to come), but they evidently didn’t qualify as boots on the ground because, whatever they were doing, they would not be going into “combat” (which is evidently the only place where military boots officially hit the ground). The president has been utterly clear on this. There would be no American “combat mission” in Iraq. Unfortunately, “combat” turns out to be another of those dicey terms, since those non-boots had barely landed in Iraq when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey started to raise the possibility that some of them, armed, might one day be forward deployed with Iraqi troops as advisers and spotters for U.S. air power in future battles for Iraq’s northern cities. This, the White House now seems intent on defining as not being a “combat mission.”

And we’re only weeks into an ongoing operation that could last years. Imagine the pretzeling of the language by then. Perhaps it might be easiest if everyone — Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and Washington’s pundits — simply agreed that the United States is at “war-ish” in Iraq, with boots on the ground-ish in potentially combat-ish situations. Former State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren spent his own time in Iraq and wrote We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People about it. Now, he considers the mind-boggling strangeness of Washington doing it all over again, this time as the grimmest of farces. Tom

Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition

Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over 
By Peter Van Buren

I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you’re gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

I couldn’t do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it. After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

The Sons of Iraq

Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I’d been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women’s empowerment,” “democracy building.”)

We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked.

In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.

I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they’d been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.

False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk — over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons — shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers’ struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.

tomjoadU.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.

The Grandsons of Iraq

The staggering costs of all this — $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than 190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) — can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today’s front pages.

According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America’s war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren’s days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.

Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them — depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.

The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.

And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared? They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.

The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.

It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle

The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.

One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.

Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse — and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran’s wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.

Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.

Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region — he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry — was deputy commander in Iraq’s Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year’s war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.

Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.

On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.

If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can’t be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine “success,” however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

Apocalypse Then — And Now

America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.

We’ve been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn’t say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.

As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America’s failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America’s war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who’ll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren


This is not an easy essay to read; far from it!  Let alone make wise reflections!  I spent a number of minutes wondering how to close the post but, in the end, couldn’t think of anything useful to add. There was something overpoweringly sad about Peter’s essay. That something encapsulated in a sentence Peter wrote in the first half: “Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

The strange affairs of man!

After George comes Brutus

Big thanks to Cynthia S. for forwarding this to me.

Before writing about Brutus, did you read yesterday’s item about George, the rescue dog, and the wonderful effort to raise funds for more life-saving efforts?  If not, read it here. Whatever you can spare, please donate to this super cause.

Now to Cynthia’s item, that has been fairly widely spread across the internet.

How to hug a baby


Thought you might like to know about this dog and his history, I especially like the ending, Cynthia.

The dog above is Brutus, a military dog at McChord.. . He’s huge, part Boxer and part British Bull Mastiff, and tops the scales at 200 lbs. His handler took the picture and explains, “Brutus is running toward me because he knows I have some Milk Bone treats, so he’s slobbering away! I had to duck around a tree just before he got to me in case he couldn’t stop, but he did.”

Brutus was the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor last year from his tour in Iraq.  His handler and four other soldiers were taken hostage by insurgents.  Brutus and his handler communicate by sign language and he gave Brutus the signal that meant ‘go away but come back and find me’.  The Iraqis paid no attention to Brutus.  He came back later and quietly tore the throat out of one guard at one door and another guard at another door.  He then jumped against one of the doors repeatedly (the guys were being held in an
old warehouse) until it opened.  He went in and untied his handler and they all escaped.  Brutus is the first dog to receive this honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.  If he knows you’re ok, he’s a big old lug and wants to sit in your lap.  Enjoys the company of cats..

Instructions for properly hugging a baby with Brutus

(A quick Google search found that the words accompanying the same pictures on Daniela’s website, The Daily Tail, were perfect, thus they have been used.)

Step One – Place the baby on a flat, uncluttered surface. Important: Do not attempt this without the assistance of a qualified parent.

Step One

Step Two –  Conduct a sniff test to verify the specimen is actually a baby. The scent of baby powder is usually sufficient evidence.

Step Two

Step Three – Carefully adjust the baby’s position until its head faces the mother’s camera. Note: Babies have two ends. The end covered with a hat or hair is the head. The end covered with a diaper is the butt. Babies do not have tails.

Step Three

Step Four – Lay your body down over baby. Do not apply pressure. While gently placing your paws around the baby’s body, lick your lips to condition them for the kiss (essential part of the hug).

Step Four

Step Five – Lean in toward the baby and let your heart melt. Repeat as necessary until the parent finds the camera and takes a perfect picture.

Step Five

Thanks Cynthia for this lovely story.

Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan

A book review

While being born an Englishman in 1944 has me slightly ahead of the so-called Baby Boomer period, which in American terms, ergo the U.S. Census Bureau, is defined as those born between January 1st, 1946 and December 31st, 1964, American and British people born in those ‘boomer’ years after WWII share many attitudes.

However, there is one stark difference between the UK and the USA regarding that period; the Vietnam War.

U.S. military advisors arrived beginning in 1950 and that U.S. involvement escalated in the early 1960s, with U.S. troop levels tripling in 1961 and tripling again in 1962.

Many good young Americans paid the ultimate price for that involvement (58,220 U.S. service members died in the conflict).

Why do I mention this?  Because just as so many Americans have no idea of the scale of enemy bombing that England suffered during WWII, just as many Brits have no idea of the scale of the ‘draft’ (i.e. conscription) that was employed by the U.S. Government as the Vietnam involvement grew.

Now keep that in mind as a means of adding context to what follows.

Until Tuesday is a book of many extremes.  It is a powerful book, a disturbing book, and a book about the beauty, dignity and, sadly, the madness of man.

I have been talking to a good friend of my life-long Californian pal, Dan Gomez.  Let me just call him Tom.  Tom saw service in Vietnam.  This is how Tom describes his early experiences.

I was young and keen for some adventure.  I had watched many war movies so I knew exactly what war was all about.  So I enlisted as a soldier and was shipped out to Vietnam.  After 60 days, I had experienced sufficient to know that things were not as they were portrayed by the media and the reality of Vietnam was very different to those movies. I had seen enough and was ready to come home.

Except that it didn’t work that way. I was there for a full tour of duty.

It became increasingly apparent by our behavior that we were not there to liberate the masses. We were there because some politicians had a theory and because of it didn’t want the locals to have a democratic election.  So good people were put into harm’s way, died or were severely injured for no other reason than some politicians had a theory – that proved to be false in the end.

Through it all, the biggest pain that I suffered was to see my Government operating under false pretences, with no integrity and no dignity.   It left me with a deep anger and mistrust of government that is still deep inside me.

Tom’s very personal and intimate sharing of his experiences of Vietnam resonates powerfully with what Captain Montalvan experienced in Iraq.  Here’s an extract from the book,

I am an American soldier.  I am an expert and I am a professional.

But at the same time, I was coming unmoored, my mind dwelling on the hand-to-hand struggle for my life, the Syrian ambush, the sandstorms, the riots, and Ali, Emad and Maher, the men left behind.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

The wife of one of my best men from Al-Waleed had become pregnant during his midtour leave.  The foetus was fatally deformed, but Tricare, the army’s health service, doesn’t provide abortions under any circumstances, and she was forced to carry the child to term.  I will never accept defeat.  Little Layla was born without a nose and several internal organs.  Her parents had no financial resources on a soldier’s pay to provide her comfort.  I emailed everyone I knew for help – hundreds of dollars were sent to the sergeant and his family.  Nevertheless, it was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, to hold Layla in my hands.  I will never quit.  She lived eight weeks, and the difficulty of her life, and the inhumanity of forcing that existence not only from her but her parents too – I will never leave a fallen comrade – fuelled my downwards drive.

I was angry with the army. Not on the surface, but underneath, in the depth of my mind.  Why did Layla and her parents have to endure that pain, especially after everything they had already endured?  Why were they forcing our regiment back to Iraq just ten months after our return?  Why weren’t they helping us cope with our pain?  We were badly banged up.  We were undermanned and underequipped.  The army didn’t care.  They were churning us through.  They cared more about getting us back to Iraq and making the numbers than they did about our health and survival.

It was the summer of 2004.  Victory was slipping away.  Everyone could see that, but the media kept pounding the message: ‘The generals say there are enough men.  The generals say there is enough equipment.  The generals say everything is going well.’  It was a lie. The soldiers on the line knew it because we were the ones suffering.  We were the ones who endured days of enemy mortar fire when we arrived in Iraq without weapons or ammunition, as my eighty troopers had in Balad in 2003; we were the ones going back in 2005 without adequate recovery time or armour for our Humvees.  And that is the ultimate betrayal: when the commanding officers care more about the media and the bosses than about their soldiers on the ground. [Chapter 5, An American Soldier, pps 88-89]

So the first thing that most definitely comes out of the pages of Until Tuesday is the depth of disconnect between Montalvan as an active soldier in the front line and his nation.  Just like Tom in Vietnam!

It’s not until Chapter 8, The Thought of Dogs, that the author moves on from his obsessiveness about his military experiences to his future world.  Please realise that when I use the word ‘obsessiveness’, in no way is it used as a derogatory term.  One of the symptoms of mental insecurity is the ease with which we can obsess on things in our lives.

Here’s how Chapter 8 starts,

I can’t tell you how much my life changed when I read the email on 1 July 2008. (A Tuesday, I just realised.  I’ll have to add that to my list of fake reasons for Tuesday’s name.)  The Wounded Warrior Project, the veteran service organisation I went with to the Bruce Springsteen concert, forwarded the message.  They forwarded messages every day, actually, but I usually didn’t read them.  This tagline intrigued me: ‘WWP and Puppies Behind Bars’.  Puppies behind bars?

The message was almost as simple: ‘Dear Warriors, please note below.  Puppies Behind Bars has 30 dogs a year to place, free of charge, with veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan who are suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries or physical injuries.  I’ve attached the Dog Tags brochure which explains the programme, as well as the Dog Tags application.’

As soon as I read the attached description, I knew the programme was for me.  I suffered from debilitating social anxiety, and the dogs were trained to understand and soothe emotional distress.  I suffered from vertigo and frequent falls, and a dog could keep me stable.  Because of my back I could barely tie my own shoes, and a dog could retrieve and pick things up for me.  I was the perfect candidate.  I was down, but I was working towards a future.  I was a leader, so I would never give up.  And I was lonely.  Terribly, terribly lonely.

From this point onwards the remaining 189 pages of Until Tuesday are about Luis Montalvan’s recovery built upon the foundation of his beautiful relationship with Tuesday, his service dog.

Of course there are ups and downs, as there are in all our lives, but the overall message is clear.  A dog loves a human in the most beautiful and purest fashion of all.  That unconditional, undemanding love for the humans in that dog’s life unlock even the most damaged souls.  Tuesday unlocked the private hell that Captain Montalvan endured for so long.

In the privacy of a deep hug of your dog lays release.  From that release comes peace, understanding and the desire to re-connect with the larger world.  There is no greater gift than that.

So standing back in terms of reviewing this book (I reviewed the UK edition) here are my thoughts.

  • It’s a deeply moving book which many, but especially dog owners, will be touched by.
  • It’s a book that offers real hope and inspiration, most certainly for those who are going through their own private hell.
  • It’s a very American book and, at times, when reading it I did wonder if some UK readers might find themselves culturally disconnected.
  • Overall, this is a book that needs to be read.

Perhaps I should close by saying this.  I didn’t have to pay for the book, it was sent to me on a complimentary basis once I had agreed to do the review.  In the UK Until Tuesday is published by Headline Publishing.  However, having read the book I realise that to have missed the opportunity of reading it would have left my life a little poorer.


A note for all those that have been good enough to read to the end!  This post published today is the 1,000th post since Learning from Dogs first saw the light of day on July 15th, 2009.  That it has reached this point is a direct result of the number of readers and the support that so many of you give to this rather crazy enterprise!  Thank you all!

Blood and Oil

Continuing the thoughts of Michael Klare.

(My apologies, this is a difficult week for me as I prepare for a course that starts on the 11th May.  So posts may be a little thinner than usual.)

Yesterday, I wrote about an article by Michael Klare on the theme of the avenging planet.  While researching for that piece, I came across a film that Klare has produced called Blood and Oil.  It seemed worth mentioning it on Learning from Dogs.

Here’s the synopsis,

The notion that oil motivates America’s military engagements in the Middle East has long been dismissed as nonsense or mere conspiracy theory. Blood and Oil, a new documentary based on the critically-acclaimed work of Nation magazine defense correspondent Michael T. Klare, challenges this conventional wisdom to correct the historical record. The film unearths declassified documents and highlights forgotten passages in prominent presidential doctrines to show how concerns about oil have been at the core of American foreign policy for more than 60 years – rendering our contemporary energy and military policies virtually indistinguishable. In the end, Blood and Oil calls for a radical re-thinking of US energy policy, warning that unless we change direction, we stand to be drawn into one oil war after another as the global hunt for diminishing world petroleum supplies accelerates.

Here’s a trailer for the film.

UK Iraq Enquiry Update

The UK Iraq enquiry produces some odd insights

I found this on the BBC website last Sunday:

“Gordon Brown was ‘marginalised’ by Tony Blair in the build-up to the Iraq war”, former International Development Secretary Clare Short has said.

“The then chancellor neither opposed nor supported the invasion but was ‘preoccupied’ by other concerns,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Frankly, it is surreally ludicrous. Is she really saying that while the country was preparing to go to war in extraordinarily-controversial circumstances, with hundreds of thousands marching in protest and all the rest, that

Clare Short

Brown had “other concerns”? And during the whole process these “other concerns” prevented him from AT ANY TIME having an input or indeed an opinion?

Is this some sort of attempt to disassociate him from responsibility? Whatever one thinks about the rights or wrongs of the invasion it was in the end a COLLECTIVE DECISION. Blair could NOT have done it without the support of the British Cabinet, especially Brown and Straw. If they had felt strongly enough about it, they could have resigned, or more likely have told Blair they WOULD resign if he pressed on, and thereby thwarted him.  Now, it isn’t easy to resign, or even threaten to – your bluff could always be called and your career go down the spout – but if you can’t do it when it is a matter of your country going to war when the hell CAN you do it?

Gordon Brown

As for “neither supported nor opposed” the invasion, what a PATHETIC verdict on someone who went on (without an election) to “lead” the country.

“Well, I’m neither supporting nor opposing it since that way I can take either position later depending on how it pans out.”

I can’t recall having seen a more pathetic, fumbling, cowardly shambles. You may love or – more likely – hate Tony Blair, but as with Margaret Thatcher, you certainly knew where he stood.

By Chris Snuggs

The “Vicar of Baghdad”

Christianity and the Anglican church in Baghdad

After many years of coverage of Iraq on the television I was surprised to see reference to an Anglican church in Iraq, because I was convinced that the country was completely based on the Muslim religion, with the main two sided Shia, and Sunni always fighting each other.

Iraq, if you follow the news is still considered a dangerous place, and yet some of the major airlines regularly fly through its air airspace, and so the other day when flying north from the Middle East I was able to look down on the very different countryside of Iraq.

Iran to the East is mostly high ground, mountain regions and few obvious signs of habitation other than the main cities. Saudi Arabia to the West by contrast is sand.

Iraq was very green and seemingly flat. The two major rivers Euphrates, and Tigress were clearly visible, and over Baghdad you could see what must have been one of the grand palaces of Sadaam Hussein. All the pictures I have in my mind are from that which I have seen in the paper or seen on the television.

Anglican church

What struck me was the sudden idea that there could be an Anglican community, and from the story which was being covered, the Vicar of the church in Baghdad had been instrumental in the release of the hostage Peter Moore.

I looked up on the magic website the Anglican church in Baghdad, and there discovered the history of Christianity in Iraq, and the role the church has played in the past, and the work it continues to do today.

The Vicar, Andrew White, suffers with Multiple Sclerosis and has seen many things during his work. Until now it has not been interesting to show such an image of Iraq, but now it makes news. If only we could show good in the world rather than sensationalist detail.

By Bob Derham