Friday, March 8, 2013

The chicken drones come home to roost

I pulled this long quote, from an even longer, blistering, piece on the upcoming 10th Anniversary of W.Bush's invasion of Iraq at TomDispatch.  The noteworthy point of the piece is that beyond going into the foolishness of two administrations, and our cultures inability to win its battles, little less wars, it critizes our lack of critical thinking. In this case our inability to realize when we have lost. 

I pulled this part of the article aside because it takes place so late in the day, and thus cannot be viewed as early in the learning curve.  Michael Lind somewhere around 2006, was noting that he realized that we had no clue, and had lost the peace when our anti-insurgency campaign involved using the Air Force to bomb Iraq train stations.  In the brilliance of our time, Lind, who is clearly a militarist and deeply admires the German Czar, has been labeled as an extreme liberal because of his attacks on Bush's, and our military's inept policies.  That someone who supports the German Czar, is published in Salon says something for our day's odd political discourse.

As a note, the General Ray Odierno below was first made notable in the 2006 book Fiasco, for his inept heavy handed methods with the Iraq populace that did so much to help welcome the Talaban into the arms of preciously secularist Sunni Arabs.  He became famous when troops under his command captured Saddam Hussein.  I have never figured out what the bases for his repeated promotions were, other than he does not seems to be able avoid the  public embarrassments that McChrystal or "All In" Petraeus spectacularly accomplished.

Mission Unaccomplished: Why the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History ; Peter Van Buren, Tom, 7 March 2013 (no ht); links in original.
By 2009, when I arrived in Iraq, we were already at the last-gasp moment when it came to salvaging something from what may yet be seen as the single worst foreign policy decision in American history. It was then that, as a State Department officer assigned to lead two provincial reconstruction teams in eastern Iraq, I first walked into the chicken processing plant in the middle of nowhere...
[T]he U.S. spent some $2.2 million dollars to build a huge facility in the boondocks. Ignoring the stark reality that Iraqis had raised and sold chickens locally for some 2,000 years, the U.S. decided to finance the construction of a central processing facility, have the Iraqis running the plant purchase local chickens, pluck them and slice them up with complex machinery brought in from Chicago, package the breasts and wings in plastic wrap, and then truck it all to local grocery stores. Perhaps it was the desert heat, but this made sense at the time, and the plan was supported by the Army, the State Department, and the White House.
Elegant in conception, at least to us, it failed to account for a few simple things, like a lack of regular electricity, or logistics systems to bring the chickens to and from the plant, or working capital, or... um... grocery stores. As a result, the gleaming $2.2 million plant processed no chickens. To use a few of the catchwords of that moment, it transformed nothing, empowered no one, stabilized and economically uplifted not a single Iraqi. It just sat there empty, dark, and unused in the middle of the desert. Like the chickens, we were plucked.
In keeping with the madness of the times, however, the simple fact that the plant failed to meet any of its real-world goals did not mean the project wasn't a success. In fact, the factory was a hit with the U.S. media. After all, for every propaganda-driven visit to the plant, my group stocked the place with hastily purchased chickens, geared up the machinery, and put on a dog-and-pony, er, chicken-and-rooster, show.
In the dark humor of that moment, we christened the place the Potemkin Chicken Factory. In between media and VIP visits, it sat in the dark, only to rise with the rooster’s cry each morning some camera crew came out for a visit. Our factory was thus considered a great success. Robert Ford, then at the Baghdad Embassy and now America's rugged shadow ambassador to Syria, said his visit was the best day out he enjoyed in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq, sent bloggers and camp followers to view the victory project. Some of the propaganda, which proclaimed that “teaching Iraqis methods to flourish on their own gives them the ability to provide their own stability without needing to rely on Americans,” is still online (including this charming image of American-Iraqi mentorship, a particular favorite of mine).
We weren’t stupid, mind you. In fact, we all felt smart and clever enough to learn to look the other way. The chicken plant was a funny story at first, a kind of insider’s joke you all think you know the punch line to. Hey, we wasted some money, but $2.2 million was a small amount in a war whose costs will someday be toted up in the trillions. Really, at the end of the day, what was the harm?
The harm was this: we wanted to leave Iraq (and Afghanistan) stable to advance American goals. We did so by spending our time and money on obviously pointless things, while most Iraqis lacked access to clean water, regular electricity, and medical or hospital care...
Note that we re-elected Bush after the first round of this fiasco, and it was not much of an issue in the Obama's re-election.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely unbelievable! Our govt. at work.

russell1200 said...

Anon: Yes the Potemkin Chicken Factory and domestic use of drones. If someone in the 1970s had been asked which country this would be 40 years from "now", I am sure the Soviets would have been at the top of the poles.

Anonymous said...

How could it have been anyone but the Soviets, they were totalitarians! They even had survelance camras in Red Square!!!


russell1200 said...

Dan: Camaras in Red Square! Oh my! I do stand corrected. LOL

As an aside, we also used to be horified how the Soviets would put disdents in Psych ward and dope them up. Yet we now labal most of our home grown terrorists "crazy".