Category Iraq

Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power

[Book Review] The author, David Sanger, appears to have better access to classified information than most gov’t intel analysts; he certainly has better access to policy makers and strategists. The coverage of cyber operations, especially Stuxnet and Olympic Games, is the most powerful and revealing section of the book – given that Sanger was at the forefront of breaking these stories in the media, hardly a surprise.

The book, with its insider, high-level accounts of foreign policy strategy and operations covering much of Obama’s first term, practically puts you in the White House, but, perhaps inadvertently, it also serves as a reminder of the large gap between high level policymakers and low-level analysis/analysts. Specifically, as a former Asia analyst for the Joint Chiefs, it reminded me that academics and the media, even with only limited access to (formerly) classified information, are often better at predicting and spotting new, unexpected trends than those buried deep within government. So much intel analysis focuses on dealing with our software systems, building collections databases, and making link diagrams – all useful at a mechanical, tactical level – that the focus can narrow and turn reactive, missing broader, strategic level developments often apparent to those on the ground overseas … ala some members of the media, academia, and expat business folks.

While not an explicit message of Sanger’s book, which focuses much of its attention on how Obama’s team handled its foreign policy “inheritance” from the Bush era wars, the gap between inside intel and outside reporting becomes an easy takeaway.


Israel Considering Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities?

Interesting, and somewhat ominous article in the Times today (and another one in the Post) about Israel possibly stepping up preparations for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in Natanz. Having been on the ground in the area, I can attest to the tightness of the security – not two minutes after pulling off to the side of the road to check directions, my guide and I had soldiers pounding on the car, demanding to know what we were doing.

While Iranian air defenses are probably too weak to prevent, or perhaps even detect, a surprise Israeli strike, antiaircraft weaponry is ubiquitous in the area and would certainly strive to be a factor.

My take? Once U.S. military forces have officially withdrawn from Iraq and are no longer ‘blocking’ an Israeli strike, the possibility of one increases markedly – an interesting corollary to our presence in Iraq has been helping to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran. Definitely an issue worth keeping an eye on once the new year arrives.


Axis of Evil World Tour – An American’s Travels in Iran, Iraq and North Korea

A book on my travels in Bush’s three Axis of Evil countries. Excerpts from the book are available in the Iraq, Iran, and North Korea sections of this blog, with additional photos on the book’s website at:

My goal in writing the book is to present the countries as I saw them, without adhering to any particular branch of U.S. politics or foreign policy – if you are a diehard Democratic or Republican ideologue, I’m not your guy. For more on the book, please check out my interview with Chicago NPR station, WBEZ.

The link to the left is for the Kindle version of the book. The paperback is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. The book is also available as a Nook download.

The paperback version of the book was published in December 2006, and the e-book version (updated and with more photos than the paperback) was first published in January 2011.

UPDATE (27 August): Apple finally gave approval for the book to be sold through iTunes. You can find it by searching in iTunes/iBooks, or through Apple’s website.


My Ticket into Iraq (Book Excerpt, Iraq 1)


Qatar U.S. Air Force Passenger Terminal
Qatar – U.S. Air Force Passenger Terminal

If you’re going to Iraq from Qatar, you’re going through these doors.

It’s called a ‘tactical landing’. Wary of missiles or other ground fire, planes ferrying troops and cargo into Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) start taking evasive action a few miles from the runway – one minute you’re flying along strapped onto your bench in the packed cargo bay, the next minute you’ve suddenly been flung off a cliff. Your stomach floats up as you wonder if you’re going to pop out of your seat, when suddenly the plane banks sharply and you try not to knock over the soldier sitting to your side. Next you’re slammed into the bottom of the seat as the pilot jerks the plane higher. All this played out for miles in a windowless, fetid cargo hold stinking of fuel and sweat. Nausea and vomiting are common, with the first chunks summoning others as the smell wafts its way through the plane …


Iraq – Life on Base (Book Excerpt, Iraq 2)

As I got more comfortable with the job and figured out a routine, plus got to know some of the people I was working with, I was able to get out and explore the vast areas near the airport under the control of U.S. and coalition forces. Dominating the center of our compound was a large artificial lake dotted with a couple of small islands and stocked with fish. The whole area had been a walled-off, well-watered, rest and relaxation spot for the Hussein family and upper-level Baath Party members. Though somewhat rundown, bombed, and shot up, it was still kind of nice.