Tag Archives: Iraq

Why the U.S. outspends the world on defense

WASHINGTON – Evan Siff comes from a military family. His great grandfather was a general, his grandfather was in the navy and so was his father. For Siff, staying close to that tradition was second nature.

But, he chose the academic route and pursued an MA in International Relations at Durham University in England. In his dissertation, he examined NATO as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, and how that relates to US military spending.

If you ask him what he learned as a result of the degree, his answer will be unorthodox.

“When I was writing my thesis, I really examined why NATO didn’t go away. The fall of the USSR made it obsolete,” Siff said. “I found out some things that didn’t help my outlook on things at all…I had gotten pretty cynical. The more you study, you more you will realize how much lobbyists actually determine legislation in the U.S.”

And while most of his fellow-classmates moved into government jobs, Siff chose to work in public relations at Topaz Partners, a Boston-area technology PR firm, because he was disappointed in how “political” the military had become, especially when the U.S. is pouring millions and billions of dollars into two wars that seem too expensive. (Continued below graphic)

In U.S. Dollars. Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Graphic by Catherine Ngai

The current U.S. defense budget proposal of $708 billion for fiscal 2011, a 6.7 percent increase from the year prior of $663.8 billion. According to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, this number surpasses defense spending in the next 10 countries combined. Some question why this number is so big and whether reducing it would help lower the nation’s budget deficit.

“The US military is the pillar upon which the stability and safety of the international system rests,” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Arlington, VA, in an interview. “It’s not in our interests to see the Middle East exploding into war or to see South Korea overrun by North Korea.”

Goure says that although the U.S. military budget is large, it acts as an international defense mechanism. He argues that the U.S. uses its military to keep peace internationally.

He also points out that if the entire defense budget were cut to zero, it would further exacerbate the debt situation instead of alleviating it. He reasons that eliminating the defense budget would mean firing the nearly 1.4 million men and women on active duty and the another 1 million in the Reserves and the National Guard. This would mean increasing the already high unemployment rate.

Coming home from Iraq

Soldiers are coming home from Iraq, an important milestone that was captured in Steven Lee Myers’ New York Times Aug. 19 article.

As he wrote, Iraq has become unimportant, at least for people living in the United States. “These days it is no longer even a divisive national argument like Vietnam.” For the troops, explained Myers, “It is a job. Even with the formal cessation of combat operations this month, it is a job that remains unfinished — tens of thousands of troops will stay here for at least another year — and one that, like many jobs, inspires great emotion only among those who do it.” What goes unsaid in his article is that, unlike other jobs, men and women are dying for these ones, or they are sometimes maimed for life. 

Documentary photographer Eugene Richards’ new book, “War Is Personal,” captures their homecoming in a series of wrenching images and first-hand accounts about their experiences: One Iraq veteran, Dustin Hill, is shown holding his baby with a prosthetic hand; in the book, he explains that he was badly burning in a suicide bomb attack in September 2004 in Iraq. Another veteran, Jose, 32, was wounded so gravely that he will probably never speak again; he is shown in a hospital room with his skull caved in on the left side as his mother wraps her arms tightly around him.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University history professor, wrote an Afterward for the book, describing how his only child was killed while serving in the Iraq war.

            “In the political realm, blighted with fraudulence and immodesty, I find myself hard-pressed to make that case that good causes even exist for war,” Bacevich wrote. “Those who disagree – keen to succor the afflicted or to advance the cause of freedom in some dismal land on the far side of globe – mostly propose to do so by sending someone else’s kid into harm’s way. To which I say: send your own kid.”

“War Is Personal” will be available in bookstores in September.

War Reporting: How to live and tell the tale

WASHINGTON–The War on Terror continues to claim the lives of soldiers, innocent civilians, and journalists. Safety training experts say war reporters have a lot to learn about protecting themselves while trying to get their story.  

“Too many times journalists are the only professionals on the battlefield or in a disaster zone quite unprepared for what they are going to encounter,” said Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute. “International journalists do not appreciate the risks and local journalists have neither the means nor the opportunity to access safety training,” he said.

Since the start of the War on Terror, hundreds of journalists have died trying to cover the war. In 2010 alone, 46 journalists have been killed trying to report in hostile environments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. When compared to the Vietnam War, which claimed about 70 news media lives, these numbers reported by the INSI are shocking.

“Those who target journalists are professional killers – we need to be as professional in protecting ourselves,” said Pinder, adding that  hostile environment training can potentially save the lives of journalists, and help them save the lives of others.

INSI is an organization dedicated to the safety of­ journalists working in dangerous environments. Its goal is to “help journalists survive the story” by raising funds to provide training for free to journalists in need. Training programs come in around $3,000 a week and can seem cost prohibitive to freelance reporters. The program teaches journalists about the many aspects of personal safety, pre-deployment planning, conflict management, hostile crowd situations, ballistic awareness, safety from fire-arms, passage through checkpoints, coping with kidnapping, and basic first aid skills.

Technological innovation and smaller, lighter equipment, has made war reporting more dangerous than ever before. Now, more and more reporters are covering the news from the front lines, including camera operators. 

“Those in the military like reporters who­ embed in the battlefield because it establishes a trust between the media and those deployed, said Dr. Conrad Crane, lead author for the U.S. Army Manual on Counterinsurgency and director of the US Army Military History Institute, a part of the Army War College.

To live up to the networks standards of immediacy, fortifying this trust relationship between reporters and the military is necessary. But consequently, a reporter’s­ safety is often at risk­. However, despite how dangerous war reporting can be, it is an essential job that someone must do.

“Our job is to keep the outside world informed. Wars must not, cannot, be conducted in secret,” said Pinder. He believes that transparency in war reporting holds “the government and military accountable. Our reporting counters their spin and reveals actions they would like to keep secret,” said George Espers, a veteran Gulf War and Vietnam War reporter.

 “[War reporters are] the unsung heroes behind most of the news footage we see on our screens every day,” according to Pinder on the institute’s website.

 Being in a war zone is dangerous for anyone, but reporters can take certain steps to educate themselves before entering a combat zone. INSI is just one of many organizations dedicated to the safety of journalists. But at the end of the day, how to proceed successfully often relies on common sense.  

 “There is no guarantee in War. . . .Ask yourself, is this story worth the risk? No story is worth getting killed for,” said Espers.

Could Academic/Pro Collaborations Rejuvenate Embedded War Reporting?

DENVER – As budget cuts have decimated national security journalism, one of the first things to go has been the kind of deep and prolonged embedded reporting that keeps the public abreast of what is happening in the two wars that the United States is waging, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The University of Oklahoma and veteran broadcast reporter Mike Boettcher have come up with an intriguing model for how to help sustain that kind of journalism, while also using it as a tool for teaching the next generation of national security journalists.

Boettcher , a visiting professor at OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will work with students to produce multimedia content based on his reports from Afghanistan, for ABC News platforms including ABCNews.com, starting Sept. 1. The school and ABC will divvy up the costs, making it more affordable for both, Boettcher said in an interview here at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

This is AEJMC’s 94th annual conference (it runs through Aug. 7), and more than 1,600 educators are spending their days and nights figuring how they – and their students – can best adapt to the cataclysmic changes in the media landscape.

A full day of pre-conference workshops Aug. 3 focused on how university journalism programs can help fill the gaps left by the cuts at mainstream media outlets. Many schools, including Medill, have established programs through which student journalists are working in cooperation with their professional counterparts on groundbreaking projects.

Under the auspices of the OU-ABC partnership, Boettcher and his son Carlos will spend a year embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, recording footage and interviewing people involved at the front lines of that conflict. Multimedia material will be transmitted to Norman, Okla., where undergraduate and graduate students will prepare it for ABCNews.com and other ABC outlets.

Sarkeys Foundation, which is based in Norman, is funding the project.

Boettcher, who reported from Afghanistan for ABC News last summer, spent many years with NBC News after starting his career with CNN in 1980. He said that he plans to deliver lectures to students from the front lines, via Skype.

“I want to tell the personal stories of the men and women that are fighting this war,’’ said Boettcher. “This project will let me do that and still work with the great students at OU.’’

Charles Self, an OU journalism faculty member and past president of AEJMC, said in an interview that such partnerships are a tremendous boon to students, who get to work with a world-class journalist, even as he reports from the front line of the war in Afghanistan. But he said it could ultimately prove to be a model that could “save’’ foreign reporting, especially long-term embeds in war zones and other conflict areas.

“We know it works because we’ve done it,’’ said Self, referring to a recent pilot project in which Boettcher did a similar reporting/teaching effort in Iraq. “It’s a bargain for us because we don’t have to pay Mike’s entire salary, and it’s a bargain for the news agency because they don’t have to either.’’

On reporting hypocrisies and hypocrisies in reporting

Disclosing the gay-bashing preacher who hires his own rent-boy is a satisfying feeling on a purely personal level; all cultures have a special distaste for the hypocritical and two-faced, especially by the intolerant.

On a more professional level, it is even more gratifying when journalists uncover the nation’s policies that clash and contradict. In these cases, they range from the absolute hypocritical to the simply inept.

Whether the two front-page reports in The New York Times in recent weeks will have any lasting impact remains to be seen, but they revealed how our ostensible allies in the Kurdish region of Iraq are supplying oil to Iran in contravention of American calls for an embargo. The Times noted with interviews and photos that this trade is not a surreptitious activity but a daily caravan of more than 1,000 oil tanker trucks traveling U.S. protected roads that are helping Iran sustain itself against the embargo.

On another topic that is even more directly contradictory, the Times reported that the IRS allows tax deductions for religious groups that are funding Israeli settlement activity in the Palestinian West Bank, contrary to U.S. declarations, agreements and policy interests in the region. Whether the interests are political or religious, The Times’ story showed interest groups can find support and work around policy despite the nation’s expressed intentions.

You might uncover dozens of examples of such policy contradictions but finding the journalists and the institutions willing to fund that type of international reporting is becoming more difficult. Sure there are inspector general reports and there is at least some congressional oversight, but without independent eyes and ears paying attention to hypocrisy and two-faced policy, it will be a lot easier to get away with it.

Finally, it’s not that the press comes through unscathed by its own hypocrisy and contradictions: A study conducted by students at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University looked back at reporting during several years of the Bush administration and detailed how the most influential print news media generally stopped using the word “torture” after administration officials insisted on using the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe waterboarding prisoners.

Officials, from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on down, were adamant that waterboarding was not “torture.” Almost overnight, according to the study, the nation’s largest newspapers changed their language. Almost as soon as it was challenged by the administration’s political supporters, the media stopped using the word “torture” supposedly because they didn’t want to “take sides” in the debate. Of course, as Glen Greenwald of Salon and other commentators have pointed out, that is taking a side, the administration’s side. Never mind that the media have used the word “torture” for decades to describe the same painful and frightening interrogation technique. It was correct to call it that from the Middle Ages to Japanese treatment of American POWs in World War II, but not between the years 2004-2008.