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"My Guilt Will Never Go Away"

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

“My guilt will never go away,” former Marine Matthew Hoh explained to me. “There is a significant portion of me that doesn’t believe it should be allowed to go away, that this pain is fair.”

If America accepts the idea of fighting endless wars, it will have to accept something else as well: that the costs of war are similarly endless. I’m thinking about the trillions of dollars, the million or more “enemy” dead (a striking percentage of them civilians), the tens of thousands of American combat casualties, those 20 veteran suicides each day, and the diminished lives of those who survive all of that. There’s that pain, carried by an unknown number of women and men, that won’t disappear, ever, and that goes by the label “moral injury.”

When I started Hooper’s War, a novel about the end of World War II in the Pacific, I had in mind just that pain. I was thinking—couldn’t stop thinking, in fact—about what really happens to people in war, combatants and civilians alike. The need to tell that story grew in large part out of my own experiences in Iraq, where I spent a year embedded with a combat unit as a US State Department employee, and where I witnessed, among so many other horrors, two soldier suicides.

The new book began one day when Facebook retrieved photos of Iraqi children I had posted years ago, with a cheery “See Your Memories” caption on them. Oh yes, I remembered. Then, on the news, I began seeing places in Iraq familiar to me, but this time being overrun by Islamic State militants or later being re-retaken with the help of another generation of young Americans. And I kept running into people who’d been involved in my war and were all too ready to share too many drinks and tell me too much about what I was already up all too many nights thinking about.

As these experiences morphed first into nightmares and then into the basis for research, I found myself speaking with more veterans of more wars who continued to suffer in ways they had a hard time describing, but which they wrestled with everyday. I realized that I understood them, even as they seemed to be trying to put their feelings into words for the first time. Many of them described how they had entered the battle zones convinced that “we’re the good guys,” and then had to live with the depth of guilt and shame that followed when that sense didn’t survive the test of events.

Sometimes they were remarkably articulate, sometimes anything but. It seemed not to matter which war we were talking about—or whether I was reading a handwritten diary from the Korean War, an oral history of the Pacific War, or an old bestseller about a conflict ironically labeled “the Good War.” The story always seemed to be the same: decisions made in seconds that lasted lifetimes, including the uncomfortable balancing of morality and expediency in situations in which a soldier might believe horrific acts like torture could save lives or had to accept civilian casualties in pursuit of military objectives. In war, you were always living in a world in which no action seemed ideal and yet avoiding acting was often inconceivable.

Matthew Hoh, that former Marine, now a veterans advocate, introduced me to the phrase “moral injury,” though the term is usually attributed to clinical psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. He coined it in 1991 while working for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We are, of course, beings with a complex sense of right and wrong, which can be messed with in disastrous ways. There are boundaries inside us that can’t be crossed without a great price being paid. Though the term moral injury is fairly new, especially outside military circles, the idea is as old as war. When people sent into conflict find their sense of right and wrong tested, when they violate deeply held convictions by doing something (such as killing a civilian in error) or failing to do something (such as not reporting a war crime), they suffer an injury to their core being.

Examples of this phenomenon are relatively commonplace in popular culture. Think of scenes from Tim O’Brien’s iconic Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried, William Manchester’s World War II odyssey, Goodbye Darkness, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, or films like William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and Oliver Stone’s Platoon.

You can find similar examples as far back as the Iliad and as recently as late last night. Lisa Ling, for instance, was a former Air Force technical sergeant who worked in America’s armed drone program before turning whistleblower. She was perhaps typical when she told the makers of the documentary film National Bird that, in helping carry out drone strikes which killed people across the globe by remote control, “I lost part of my humanity.”

Once upon a time, society expressed skepticism or worse toward such formulations, calling those who emerged visibly suffering from the acts of war “cowards” or dismissing them as fakes and frauds. Yet today post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a widely acknowledged condition that can be identified by MRI tests.

PTSD and moral injury often occur together. “I think having both PTSD and moral injury are the normal things for us,” Ling says of those in the drone program. Moral injury, however, takes place at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, and so is, in a sense, all in someone’s head. When experiencing moral injury, a person wields guilt and/or shame as a self-inflicted penalty for a choice made. PTSD is more physical, more fear-based, and often a more direct response to an event or events witnessed in war.

Think of it this way: PTSD is more likely to result from seeing something terrible, moral injury from doing something terrible.

Moral injury doesn’t just affect soldiers, but civilians, too. Noncombatants are not just victims or targets, but often complex participants in war. This reality led me, as my book developed, to interview now-elderly Japanese who had experienced World War II as children. They described the horrific choices they faced, even at a young age. In a wartime landscape of hunger, survival often depended on small, grim acts that would never be forgotten.

Sometimes, I sensed in talking to them, as in interviewing former soldiers, that the psychic injuries of wartime don’t end until the sufferers do. Moral injury turns out to be a debt that often can never be repaid.

Those survivors of the end of the war in Japan who got the food necessary to live had to pay a price for knowing what happened to those who didn’t. In a landscape ravaged by war, just because something wasn’t your fault doesn’t mean it won’t be your responsibility. An act as simple as which of her children a mother offered a disappearing supply of water to first could mean the difference between life and death. And though, in truth, it might have been impossible in such circumstances and at such an age to know that you were responsible for the death of your sister or brother, 70 years later you might still be thinking about it with an almost unbearable sense of guilt.

And here’s a small footnote: Did you know that it’s possible to sit quietly on a Tokyo park bench in 2017, perfectly aware of whose distant relatives and countrymen dropped the bombs that took away the water that forced that mother to make that decision, and still shamefully continue taking notes, saying nothing as you witness someone else’s breakdown?

What help can there be for something so human?

There are, of course, the bad answers, all too often including opioids and alcohol. But sufferers soon learn that such substances just send the pain off to ambush you at another moment, and yet, as many told me, you may still look forward to the morning’s first throat-burning shot of something strong. Drinking and drugs have a way, however temporarily, of wiping out hours of pain that may stretch all the way back to the 1940s. You drink in the dark places, even after you understand that in the darkness you can see too much.

Tragically, suicide is never far from moral injury. The soul isn’t that big a place.

One former soldier told me he’s never forgiven his neighbor for talking him out of going into the garage with his rifle. Another said the question wasn’t why he might commit suicide, but why he hadn’t. Someone I met knows vets who have a “designated driver,” a keeper not of the car keys but of their guns during emotional rough patches.

The Department of Veterans Affairs counts a stunning average of 20 veteran suicides a day in America. About 65% of those are individuals 50 years old or older with little or no exposure to the country’s twenty-first-century conflicts. No one tracks the suicide rate for civilians who survive war, but it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t high as well. The cause of all those self-inflicted deaths can’t, of course, be traced to any one thing, but the pain that grows out of moral injury is patient.

For such sufferers, however, progress is being made, even if the trip back is as complex as the individual. The Department of Veterans Affairs now acknowledges moral injury and its effects, and in 2014 Syracuse University created the Moral Injury Project to bring together vets, doctors, and chaplains to work on how to deal with it. In the meantime, psychologists are developing diagnostic assessment tools for what some call “soul repair.”

One effective path back seems to be through helping patients sort out just what happened to them and, when it comes to remembered transgressions, what part of those may be their own responsibility (though not necessarily their own fault). What doesn’t work, according to Matthew Hoh, is trying to convince veterans who view themselves as damaged that, in the present American manner, they are really heroes.

Others suffering moral injury may try to deal with it by seeking forgiveness.

Lisa Ling, for example, traveled to Afghanistan, with a desire to truly grasp her role in a drone program that regularly killed its victims from thousands of miles away. To her surprise, during an encounter with the relatives of some civilian victims of such drone strikes, they forgave her. “I didn’t ask for forgiveness,” Ling told me, referring to what she had done in the drone program, “because what I did was unforgivable.”

Killing by remote control requires many hands. Ling worked on databases and IT networking. Analysts studied the information in those databases to recommend humans to target. Sensor operators manipulated lasers to pinpoint where a drone pilot would eventually slam his missile home for the kill.

“Like all of us,” she added, “I spent time on the mission floor, or at briefings where I saw and heard devastating things, or blatant lies, but to actually connect my individual work to single events wasn’t possible due to the diffusion of responsibility. For sensor operators, it is more like stepping on ants. For analysts, they get to know people over time. As watchers and listeners they describe an intimacy that comes with predictably knowing their family patterns. Kissing the kids, taking children to school, and then seeing these same people die.”

Another way back is for the sufferer to try to rebalance the internal scales a little by making amends of some sort. In the case of moral injury, this can often mean drawing a line between who one was then and who one might be now. Think of it as an attempt to re-inscribe those internal borders that were transgressed so long ago.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the connections between moral injury and whistleblowing, like those between moral injury and suicide, appear to run deep.

For example, Iraq War whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s decision to leak video of civilian deaths caused by members of the US military may have been her version of amends, driven by guilt over silently witnessing war crimes. Among the acts she saw, for instance, was a raid on a printing facility that had been billed as an al-Qaeda location but wasn’t. The US military had, in fact, been tricked into shutting down the work of political opponents of Iraq’s then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Until Manning finally tells her story, this remains speculative, but I was at the same forward operating base in Iraq as she was and know what happened and how it affected me, as well as the others around us.

Whistleblowers (and I was one of them) talk of conscience, of a realization that we were part of something that was wrong. Jonathan Shay suggests that the failure of moral agency does not have to rest with the individual alone. It can involve witnessing a betrayal of “what’s right” by a person in legitimate authority.

That part of moral injury could help explain one of the most significant whistleblowers of our time. In talking about his reasons for blowing the whistle, Edward Snowden invoked questions of right and wrong when it came to the actions of senior American government officials. It would be a worthy question to put to Snowden: How much guilt and shame—the hallmarks of moral injury—do you retain from having been part of the surveillance state, and how much was your whistleblowing driven by trying to rid yourself of it?

After all, for those suffering from moral injury, the goal is always the same: to somehow reclaim the good parts of oneself and to accept—but not be eternally defined by—what one did or didn’t do.

I know, because for me, this is so much more than fiction.

“You mean that Vietnam helicopter thing?” A well-meaning family doctor asked me this when I got back from Iraq in 2010, referring to the way some vets react to the sound of a helicopter, sending them “back to the jungle.” No, no, far more than that, I responded, and told him a little about my sorry role in administering reconstruction projects in Iraq and how it left me more interested in vodka than my family. That was my own personal taste of moral injury, of a deeply felt failure to accomplish any of the good I’d hoped to do, let down by senior leaders I once believed in. It’s why I tell the story in Hooper’s War in reverse order, opening with a broken Nate Hooper in his late eighties finally finding a form of redemption for the events of a few weeks at war when he was 18. By moving toward an innocent boy as far away in rural Ohio as one can be from war, I felt I was working through my own experience of the damage war causes deep inside the self.

In tallying the costs of war, what’s the price of a quick death versus a slow one? A soldier who leaves his brains on the wall in the den two decades after his war ended or one whose body remains untouched but who left his mind 10,000 miles away?

The price of endless war is beyond calculation. As our wars continue to morph and roll on, the costs—financial, emotional, and in blood—only pile up as the men and women who have been welcomed home as if it were all over continue to be torn apart. The nasty conclusion on the scales of moral injury: that our endless conflicts may indeed have left our society, one that just can’t stop itself from making war, as one of the casualties.

Peter Van Buren, a former State Department official, blew the whistle on waste and mismanagement during the Iraq “reconstruction” in his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book, Hooper’s War, is a novel set in World War II Japan.

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"My Guilt Will Never Go Away"

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Trump Once Called for Sending US Ground Troops to Fight ISIS and "Take That Oil"

Mother Jones

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GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly said he has a secret and “foolproof” plan for defeating ISIS. This is not to be confused with his “detailed” public plan for crushing ISIS released by his campaign. In that public plan, Trump states, “My administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS.” (That happens to be President Barack Obama’s current plan.) Trump’s public plan does not say anything about sending US combat troops into Iraq and Syria to engage ISIS. In fact, it includes no proposals related to the level of US troops in the region. But in a 2015 interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on the day Trump entered the Republican presidential contest, the celebrity mogul indicated that he would deploy US combat forces to battle ISIS directly in order to grab oil fields that would then be handed over to US companies.

During this conversation, which was filmed in Trump’s office, O’Reilly asked the reality television star what he would do to beat back ISIS. Trump first answered with rhetoric: “I would hit them so hard your head would spin.” And he claimed, “I said in ’04, we should not go in and do that whole thing with Iraq.” (That was inaccurate—and the invasion of Iraq was in 2003.)

Then O’Reilly asked if Trump would send American ground troops into Syria. Trump replied with a vague statement: “I have a way that would be very effective with respect to ISIS.” O’Reilly pushed him on this: “You’d put American ground troops in to chase them around?” This exchange ensued:

Trump: Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil, they have nothing.

O’Reilly: But how do you take it back?

Trump: You have to go in. You have to go in.

O’Reilly: With ground troops?

Trump: Well, you bomb the hell out of them, and then you encircle it, and then you go in.

This was a clear signal that Trump favored sending in US ground troops to fight ISIS to gain control of oil facilities. After that, he said, US oil companies could move in and seize the oil. “Once you take that oil,” Trump noted, “they have nothing left.” It seems obvious, though, that US oil companies—which actually are transnational companies—would only be able to “take that oil” if large areas of the region were secured by a great number of US ground troops.

Throughout the campaign, Trump has insisted that the United States should “take the oil” from Iraq and areas controlled by ISIS—an idea widely derided by military, international law, and energy experts—without ever explaining how this could happen. The idea of deploying US combat troops (after a bombing campaign) to fight ISIS and then win and control territory with oil facilities in Syria and Iraq—essentially, a US invasion—does not appear in Trump’s public plan. But it’s what Trump had in mind during his O’Reilly interview. Perhaps this is the big secret Trump has steadfastly refused to share with American voters before the election.

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Trump Once Called for Sending US Ground Troops to Fight ISIS and "Take That Oil"

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Here’s More Evidence That Trump Did Not Oppose the Iraq War Before It Began

Mother Jones

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One of the many mysteries of the bizarre 2016 presidential campaign is how GOP nominee Donald Trump has seemingly gotten away with the big lie that he opposed the Iraq war. The celebrity mogul has repeatedly boasted that he had the foresight and judgment to be against George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet there is nothing in the public record suggesting that Trump was anti-war before it began. The only known public statement from Trump on this subject shows the opposite: that he favored the military action. In September 2002, he appeared on Howard Stern’s show, and the shock-jock asked him if he supported invading Iraq, a move that the Bush-Cheney administration was obviously prepping for. “Yeah, I guess so,” Trump replied. Not very Churchillian, but it was definite.

Yet Trump has insisted—as he did during a speech in June—that he “was among the earliest to criticize the rush to war, and yes, even before the war ever started.” And during this campaign he has not always been called out when bragging that he opposed the war. During a joint 60 Minutes interview in July with his running mate Mike Pence, Trump asserted, “I was against the war in Iraq from the beginning,” and he added, “Frankly, I’m one of the few that was right on Iraq.” Interviewer Lesley Stahl did not challenge Trump on this point and instead focused on the fact that Pence had voted for the war while serving as a member of Congress.

Now there is more evidence that Trump was not a foe of the war before it was launched.

In a 2011 video interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump was asked by the newspaper’s Kelly Evans about the ongoing US intervention in Libya. He indicated that he was no fan of this Obama move and that he was opposed to intervening in Libya on humanitarian grounds: “I’m only interested in Libya, if we take the oil. If we don’t take the oil, I have no interest in Libya.” Trump then turned toward the subject of Iraq: “I always heard that when we went into Iraq, we went in for the oil. I said, ‘Ah that sounds smart.'”

This suggests that Trump was not initially opposed to the invasion and, moreover, that he was fine with it, as long as the United States somehow ended up with control of Iraq’s oil. The remark is hardly the comment of someone who prior to the invasion considered the war a big mistake. It indicates that Trump came to see the war as wrong because his initial expectation—the United States would seize Iraq’s oil—was not met.

After making this comment, Trump had a difficult time answering Evans’ follow-up questions about his assertion that the United States could still take over Iraq’s oil supplies and make a profit. It was typical Trump: he just insisted that were he in charge he could do it. (At the time, Trump was considering entering the 2012 presidential race, a contest he eventually avoided.)

By the way, in this WSJ interview, Trump contradicted his own position on Libya. Weeks earlier, he had called on Obama to intervene in Libya—not to grab oil but to stop Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi from slaughtering rebel forces and civilians. In a video blog, Trump had proclaimed, “I can’t believe what our country is doing, Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around we have soldiers all over the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage and that’s what it is. It’s a carnage.”

Policy consistency is not a Trump trait. He often appears to spout whatever he thinks is politically necessary at the moment. On the campaign trail, he has attacked President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for withdrawing US troops from Iraq—actually, it was Bush’s decision, not theirs—even though that was what Trump himself called for at the time. And he keeps citing his opposition to the Iraq war as proof of his national security savvy. But this claim is more likely proof of a penchant to change positions and a willingness to say anything.

Watch Trump’s full Wall Street Journal interview below.

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Here’s More Evidence That Trump Did Not Oppose the Iraq War Before It Began

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Americans Aren’t Really Very Angry — Except Toward Uncle Sam

Mother Jones

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Are voters really angry this year? The Associated Press says no:

All that talk of an angry America?

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that most Americans are happy with their friends and family, feel good about their finances and are more or less content at work. It’s government, particularly the federal government, that’s making them see red.

Hmmm. People are generally pretty happy with their finances and their personal lives, but they’re really pissed off at the federal government. We’ve seen this dynamic before. Here’s a long-term look at polling data from the Washington Post:

Anger toward the federal government has been on a steady upward trend ever since 2003 (though voters in 2016 are less angry than they were in 2014). And this trend is notably unaffected by economic conditions. Anger didn’t spike during the 2000 dotcom bust and it didn’t spike during the 2008 crash. So what’s going on? The obvious culprits are:

Fox News and the rest of the conservative outrage machine
The Iraq war, which explains why anger started to rise in 2003
The tea party, which explains the spike in 2010
The election of Barack Obama, which would explain a spike beginning around 2008 (there’s no data between 2004-2010)

Take your pick. Maybe it’s a combination of things. But the bottom line seems fairly simple: there’s voluminous data suggesting that, in general, Americans are fairly happy with their personal finances and fairly happy with their lives in general. As happy as they’ve ever been, anyway. But they’re pretty pissed off at the federal government. If there’s anything interesting to be said about voter anger, this is the puzzle to focus on.

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Americans Aren’t Really Very Angry — Except Toward Uncle Sam

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A "Staggering Number" of Vets End Up Homeless After Experiencing Sexual Violence in the Military

Mother Jones

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Researchers have identified a new risk factor for homelessness among veterans: military sexual trauma. Nearly 1 in 10 veterans who experienced sexual assault or harassment in the military became homeless within five years—a “staggering number,” noted an editorial in JAMA Psychiatry, which published the study Wednesday.

The research, funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, drew on a national sample of 601,892 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were discharged between 2001 and 2011. Those who reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while they were in the military were twice as likely to become homeless within five years as those who did not, and the results held true even after controlling for PTSD, alcohol and drug addiction, and serious mental illnesses.

The trauma of violence during a military deployment can make returning to civilian life more difficult, the study’s authors point out, with homelessness exemplifying “an extreme case of poor reintegration.” Military sexual trauma, or MST, includes forcible and coerced sexual assault, as well as harassment (uninvited or unwanted sexual attention, including cornering, touching, pressure for sexual favors, or verbal remarks). According to the VA, around 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the military have experienced some form of MST.

Interestingly, the researchers found a slightly higher rate of homelessness among male veterans who experienced sexual violence as compared to women. “Men with a positive MST screen are a particularly vulnerable group,” the authors wrote. “In addition to the burden of issues regarding masculinity, sexuality, and self-concept among males who have experienced sexual trauma,” they also may be less likely to seek mental-health treatment than women—potentially leading to worsening psychiatric symptoms and homelessness.

The link between homelessness and the experience of different kinds of traumatic events—childhood abuse, domestic violence, even homelessness itself—is well documented. The study also adds homelessness to an already long list of MST’s public health consequences. Past research has found that experiencing MST increased a person’s odds of mental illness by two to three times—most notably post-traumatic stress disorder, but also alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety disorders, depression, dissociative disorders. That’s not to mention the links between MST and certain medical conditions: liver disease, chronic pulmonary disease, obesity, hypothyroidism, and HIV/AIDS.

According to researcher Adi Gundlapalli, an associate professor at the University of Utah medical school, potential consequences of military sexual violence include low social support, poor interpersonal relationships, and revictimization. “These types of problems may compromise employment and put one at risk for financial instability,” Gundlapalli says. “Ultimately, this may lead to homelessness.”


A "Staggering Number" of Vets End Up Homeless After Experiencing Sexual Violence in the Military

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25 Years Later: Photos From the First Time We Invaded Iraq

Mother Jones

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Twenty-five years ago, former President George H.W. Bush took to the airwaves to announce the launch of what is now known as Operation Desert Storm, a US-led military operation to drive Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait. “Just two hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait,” Bush said on the evening of January 16, 1991. “These attacks continue as I speak.” For five weeks, coalition forces bombarded Iraqi positions from the air and sea. When a ground invasion followed in February, it took only 100 hours to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

Operation Desert Storm marked a shift in how Americans experience combat when the US military deploys in far-flung countries. For the first time, the beginning of a conflict played out on live TV, and viewers could “watch the war” from the comfort of home as it unfolded.

It was billed as a smashing success: an “accurate” bombing campaign, followed up by a swift, four-day ground assault that led to Iraq’s expulsion from Kuwait and a ceasefire. Then again, how does one define success in Iraq? Coalition losses reached the hundreds, while Iraqi troop deaths reached into the tens of thousands, and another 2,000-plus civilians were killed.

The anniversary of Operation Desert Storm is a reminder of the unfinished history of the United States at war in Iraq. After all, here we are 25 years later, still dropping bombs there.

Here is a collection of images from the first Gulf War.

Stephen Levin of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, watches President George H.W. Bush announce allied forces’ airstrikes against Iraq at an appliance store in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on the night of January 17, 1991. Amy Sancetta/AP

CNN took Desert Storm as a moment to show the power of what a 24-hour news channel could do.

Source: YouTube.

Iraqi anti-aircraft fire is launched on January 18, 1991, from Baghdad in response to a US and allied aircraft attack on the city. Dominique Mollard/AP

Three US nationals wearing gas masks listen to a news broadcast on a short-wave radio as Iraqi Scud missiles hit the city on Friday, January 18, 1991, in Tel Aviv. People in the city spent most of the night on full alert for a gas and chemical warfare attack. Martin Cleave/AP

A protester in a skull mask and wearing an American flag holds up the late-afternoon edition of the San Francisco Examiner during a demonstration in downtown San Francisco on January 16, 1991. Thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown San Francisco calling for a peaceful solution to the Gulf crisis. The San Francisco protests turned violent, with protesters burning a police car. Paul Sakuma/AP

Senior Airman Richard Phillips of Mobile, Alabama, steps along a line of 2,000-pound bombs at a US airbase on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. AP

F-16A, F-15C and F-15E flying during Desert Storm US Air Force

US Marines in full combat NBC gear as part of a chemical-weapons drill during Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia DOD/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Aerial view of a destroyed Iraqi T-72 tank, a BMP-1, and Type 63 armored personnel carriers and trucks on Highway 8. Staff Sgt. Dean Wagner/DOD

US President George H.W. Bush talks to reporters in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, February 12, 1991, in Washington after meeting with advisers to discuss the Persian Gulf War. From left: Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Vice President Quayle, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, the president, Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Colin Powell. Dennis Cook/AP

A US Marine honor guard carries the casket bearing the remains of Marine Captain Manual Rivera Jr. outside St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx borough of New York. Rivera was killed when a Harrier jet he was flying crashed on a training mission in the Persian Gulf. Mark Lennihan/AP

An Iraqi prisoner waits with his hands up while a Saudi trooper inspects papers at an Iraqi bunker complex in southern Kuwait. The coalition advance, and massive surrenders by Iraqi troops, continued throughout the second full day of Operation Desert Storm’s ground warfare in the Gulf War. Laurent Rebours/AP

A motorist in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates holds a special afternoon edition of Gulf News, published in response to Saddam Hussein’s Tuesday announcement on Baghdad Radio of the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait on February 27, 1991. Gill Allen/AP

A humvee drives along a road in the Kuwaiti desert following Operation Desert Storm. Oil wells set ablaze by retreating Iraqi forces burn in the background. DOD

A wounded Ken Kozakiewicz, left, cries after being given the dog tags and learning of the death of a fellow tank crewman, body bag at right. The widely published photo came to define the Persian Gulf War for many. At right is wounded comrade Michael Santarakis. The soldiers were from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division. David Turnley/DOD Pool/AP

Desert Storm trading cards

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25 Years Later: Photos From the First Time We Invaded Iraq

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Carly Fiorina Really Likes to Make Shit Up

Mother Jones

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Carly Fiorina said this last night:

One of the things I would immediately do, in addition to defeating them here at home, is bring back the warrior class — Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know. Every one was retired early because they told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.

In real time, I mentioned that David Petraeus wasn’t “retired early” because he told Obama something he didn’t want to hear. He resigned after it was discovered that he was having an affair. And how about Jack Keane? Here’s what he said on Fox Business:

STUART VARNEY: Did you in fact, general, give advice to President Obama, which he didn’t want to hear and didn’t take?

JACK KEANE: No, I have never spoken to the president. That’s not accurate, and I never served this administration. I served the previous administration.

McChrystal, of course, famously resigned after he and his aides trashed a bunch of civilian officials in the pages of Rolling Stone.

Remarkably, though, Mattis and Flynn really did have disagreements with the White House. So Fiorina was 40 percent right. That kind of dedication to accuracy explains a lot about her tenure at HP, I guess.

And as long as we’re on the subject of explicit lies, how about Donald Trump doubling down on his claim that he “strongly” opposed the Iraq war? Why is it that none of the other candidates have ever called him on that? Are they really that afraid of him?

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Carly Fiorina Really Likes to Make Shit Up

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The US Is Preparing to Ramp Up Its Ground War in Syria

Mother Jones

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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Tuesday that the United States is willing to add more soldiers to its small but controversial deployment of special operations troops in Syria—and allow soldiers stationed across the border in Iraq to conduct raids into the country.

The administration announced last month that it was sending a group of fewer than than 50 special operations soldiers to northern Syria to work with the Kurdish-Arab opposition forces fighting ISIS. Carter said those soldiers had produced better intelligence, helped ramp up airstrikes against ISIS, and aided the opposition forces in making important gains. “Where we find further opportunity to leverage such capability, we are prepared to expand it,” he told the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing on Tuesday.

Carter said the United States would deploy a “special expeditionary targeting force” to Iraq that would conduct raids to kill or capture ISIS leaders and create a “virtuous cycle of better intelligence which generates more targets, more raids, and more momentum” against the terrorist group. While the force would be based in Iraq, Carter pointed out that such soldiers would be able to strike into neighboring Syria, where the Defense Department says special operations soldiers aren’t yet taking part in combat. “This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria,” he said. “The enemy doesn’t respect boundaries. Neither do we,” added Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was testifying alongside Carter.

While neither Carter or Dunford provided more details on the targeting force at the hearing, the rough outline sounded much like the special operations machine that conducted daily raids and intelligence gathering on Al Qaeda fighters and other insurgents during the Iraq War.

Carter also called out the international community for inaction in Syria. “We all—let me repeat, all—must do more,” he said. He praised a “galvanized” France for its airstrikes against ISIS following the terrorist attacks in Paris, but attacked Russia’s air campaign in support of the Syrian government and pointed out that Persian Gulf countries have barely taken part in airstrikes by the coalition against ISIS in months.

“American leadership is essential,” he said. “But the more contributions we receive from other nations, the greater combat power we can achieve.”

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The US Is Preparing to Ramp Up Its Ground War in Syria

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Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi Politician Who Heavily Influenced the U.S. Decision to Invade Iraq, Dies at 71

Mother Jones

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Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who had a significant role in persuading U.S. officials to invade Iraq, died on Tuesday from a heart attack in his home in Baghdad. He was 71.

Both state media and the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Lukman Fally, confirmed the news:

Following the attacks on September 11th, Chalabi was seen as strongly influencing President George W. Bush’s 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein by way of faulty intelligence.

For more on Chalabi’s influence on the Bush administration and events leading up to the invasion, read our special investigation, “The Lie Factory,” here.

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Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi Politician Who Heavily Influenced the U.S. Decision to Invade Iraq, Dies at 71

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Jim Webb Misses His Moment

Mother Jones

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Jim Webb needed to make a splash at Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, and his chance to do it arrived early. As the rest of the field sparred over the Iraq War and use of force in Libya and other countries, Webb tried to interject. It was time for the former Marine infantryman, the only person on stage with military experience, to lay the hammer of his combat experience and Pentagon leadership down on the rest of the field.

But when he finally got a chance to speak, Webb’s answer was more of a lecture than a smackdown. He wandered from ethnic divisions in Iraq to a nuclear Iran before unexpectedly diving into the issue of China’s rising power, one of the former Virginia senator’s pet themes. He then finished by picking the first of many fights with moderator Anderson Cooper over his speaking time.

It’s those moments, which came off as petulant, that may define Webb among voters who know little about him. That, or for his jarring answer to the final question of the night, where he said the enemy he was proudest of making was one he killed in Vietnam:

Outside of that, Webb’s debate performance was mostly soft. He was seen as the “wild card” in the days before the debate, an intelligent and unpredictable candidate whose straight talk could catch Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton off-guard. But during the debate he was more often heard demanding airtime than he was seen on camera. When he was, his answers tended to be discursive, with essentially no big moments like Sanders’ “damn emails” line or effective policy shots like Clinton’s jabs at Sanders’ gun record that might grab the attention of media or voters.

His finest moment was a respectful exchange with Sanders, in which Webb gracefully declined to take shots at Sanders’ status as a conscientious objector during Vietnam and Sanders praised Webb’s service and key role in passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Both men came off as thoughtful and humane, and Webb got a competitor to talk about his biggest political achievement. But in a debate that was generally civil and substantive, it wasn’t enough.

The question for Webb was always one of organization: Even if he did turn in an outstanding performance, would his small campaign have the resources to make something big of that moment? After tonight’s debate, that question seems less relevant.

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Jim Webb Misses His Moment

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