Starting in England where Politics UK noted early today:
A new approach to intervening in foreign countries will be set out by Labour as the shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, accuses David Cameron of failing to learn the lessons from Tony Blair’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ten years after the Iraq War, Labour will attempt to further distance itself from a conflict which alienated many voters by warning against the “ideological” crusade against al-Qa’ida favoured by Mr Blair and Mr Cameron.
In his speech today, Murphy declared:
Just as important is the need to understand the culture and character of a specific country. A primitive understanding of the Afghan population, culture and geography prior to our intervention severely undermined attempts to work with proxies and our political strategy was in its conception insufficiently representative. In Iraq there was a serious deficit in Western comprehension of the Sunni-Shia or intra-Shia dynamics.
There is rightly much discussion of ungoverned spaces, but this means absence of a central authority rather than a non-existence of local power-brokers who must be navigated. Extremists often understand this and so must we.
Associated to this, as we all now know, the physical disconnection of a ‘Green Zone’ or an ‘inside the wire’ mentality can impede communication or cultural empathy. Diplomatic compounds, equally, can be isolated from local communities, restricting the relationships necessary to understand communities.
The final lesson I want to mention is the need to understand the interests of the Forces with whom we co-operate, not just our enemy. They will have their own interests - and not necessarily those of the central authority. It took too long for us to see the training of the ANA and ANP as a strategic priority, and we know that de-Ba’athification left a lethal vacuum in Iraq. When the UK plays a role in training local or regional forces, it is essential we view them not just as auxiliaries but as partners who can inform the strategy behind our operations.
And Murphy's remarks in the speech can be paired with what Labour's Douglas Alexander tells Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) in an interview today:
Q: You mentioned Iraq. Over the last 10 years, have you changed your view of that conflict and the British involvement in it?
A: Well, of course I regret the loss of life and accept that there was a loss of trust that followed. Had any of us who were in the House of Commons at the time known then what we know now, that the weapons of mass destruction weren't there, we wouldn't have voted, indeed there wouldn't have been a vote. So of course our understanding of the situation deepened and changed because the evidence pointed against the existence of weapons of mass destruction when the weapons inspectors did their work in Iraq after the conflict.
Q: It was clear within six months of the conflict that the weapons had not been found. But the way events have panned out of the following 10 years has, for many people, changed their views of the rights and wrongs of the conflict.
A: Sure, if you look at the ledger with a 10-year perspective, the negatives outweigh the positives. Of course, I don't regret the removal of Saddam Hussein, the relative safety of the Kurds compared with their previous position. But given the lack of post-conflict planning, the insurgency that followed the action in 2003, of course the negatives outweigh the positives in my judgment.
The remarks come one day before the tenth anniversary of the largest protest London ever saw -- and there were protests all over England February 15, 2003 -- not just in London. The demonstrators were calling for the march to illegal war to be halted. Laurie Penny reflects in "Ten years ago we marched against the Iraq War and I learned a lesson in betrayal" (New Statesman):
Ten years ago this month, millions of people all over the world marched against the war in Iraq – and were ignored. I was one of them. For me, at the age of 16, there were a lot of firsts on 15 February 2003: first truancy, first solo trip to London, first time seeing democracy rudely circumvented.
Tony Blair’s decision to take Britain into the Americans’ war in Iraq was an immediate, material calamity for millions of people in the Middle East. I’m writing here, though, about the effect of that decision on the generation in the west who were children then and are adults now. For us, the sense of betrayal was life-changing. We had thought that millions of people making their voices heard would be enough and we were wrong.
The Week's Matthew Clark also reflects in "Lest we forget: anti-Iraq war protesters were in the right:"
Supporters of military intervention in Iraq, both then and since, have variously smeared the protesters for being pro-Saddam, anti-American, fellow-travellers of totalitarianism and jihadism, political ingénues and Chamberlain-style 'appeasers'.
Alastair Campbell, the ruthless and cynical apparatchik who did so much to promote the war, wrote contemptuously in his diary of encountering "no end of people coming back from the march, placards under their arms, faces full of self-righteousness, occasional loathing when they spotted me".
Shortly before the march, his boss Tony Blair made the characteristically grandiose and narcissistic observation that unpopularity was "the price of leadership and the cost of conviction" and insisted that there would be "bloody consequences" if Saddam was not "confronted".
AFP reports, "French-Australian journalist Nadir Dendoune has been released from an Iraqi prison after three weeks in custody, Iraqi and French sources said Thursday. The 40-year-old reported was jailed in January after taking 'unauthorised' photos in Baghdad." As I pointed out when I filled in for Ruth last week, he's French. He was very vocal about that in a BBC report -- on tensions in France, alienation among the Muslim community. October 31, 2005, he asked the BBC, "How am I supposed to feel French when people always describe me as a Frenchman of Algerian origin?" -- over five years ago. Dropping back to the February 8th snapshot:
Alsumaria reports Nadir Dendoune appeared before Baghdad's Criminal Court today wearing a jacket, jeans and handcuffed. Who? Good question because Nadir's not supposed to exist. Just Saturday, Karin Laub and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reported Nouri declared, "There are no detained journalists or politicians." But Nadir Dencoune was 'deatined' and had been for weeks. From the January 29th snapshot:
As we noted this morning, Nadir Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine. His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War. Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures. (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.) All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.
Nadir is the latest journalist to be targeted in Nouri's Iraq. A petition calling for his release has already gathered 15,594 signatures and a Facebook page has been created to show support for him. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Iraq, Reporters Without Borders and The Committee to Protect Journalists have called for his release.
Arnaud Baur (Le Parisien) reports his sister Houria spoke with him today and he told her he was at the French Embassy in Baghdad, that he has freedom of movement there and has thanked everyone but he does not yet know when he'll be able to leave Baghdad. Remi Yacine (El Watan) counts 22 days of imprisonment for Nadir. The Voice of Russia states he is "freed on bail." Reporters Without Borders released a statement which includes:
“The announcement of Dendoune’s release is an immense relief after 23 days of worry,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “He was arrested simply for doing his work as a journalist. A campaign by his family and fellow journalists in France and Iraq has borne fruit. Reporters Without Borders thanks all the journalists who signed the petition for his release launched by RWB and the support committee.”
Dendoune arrived in Iraq on 16 January to do a series of reports for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and the magazine Le Courrier de l’Atlas. According to the French foreign ministry, he was arrested near a water treatment plant in the southwest Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora while out reporting on 23 January.
Moving over to the United States . . .
Dr. David Rudd: I've included in my testimony the tragic suicide of Russell Shirley. I spoke with Russell's mother over the course of the last month. I've spoken with one of his dear friends. And I think Russell is probably typical of the problem -- the tragic problem which will occur over the coming years. Russell was a son, a husband, a father. He was a soldier. He served his country proudly and bravely in Afghanistan. He survived combat. He came home struggling with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. With a marriage in crisis and escalating symptoms, he turned to alcohol. He received a DUI and, after ten years of dedicated service, he was discharged. And part of the rationale for the discharge was the increasing pressure to reduce the size of the force. I think we're going to see more and more of that over the coming years. After the loss of his family, the loss of his career and the loss of his identity, Russell shot himself in front of his mother. Having spoken with Russell, I would tell you -- or having spoken with Russell's mother -- I would tell you that a part of the tragedy is that we knew that Russell was at risk prior to his death. We recognized, identified him as an at-risk soldier prior to his discharge, but yet there were not adequate transitional services in place that allow a clean connection from an individual to an individual. And I think those are the sort of things we need to start talking about, we need to start thinking about. How do we connect at-risk soldiers -- once we identify them and they're being discharged -- particularly if they're being discharged against their -- against their wishes -- into the VA system and how do we connect them with an individual and not just with a system? How do we help them connect in a relationship that can potentially save a life? I've included a picture of Russell with his two children at the end of my [written] testimony. And the reason I've done that is I think it's important for all of us. When I read the Suicide Data Report, the one thing that is missing in the Suicide Data Report are the names of the individuals, the names of the families, the names of the loved ones that are affected and impacted by these tragedies. And I think it's important for all of us to remember that.
Rudd was speaking before the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as they explored mental health care issues. He was on the first panel along with the Wounded Warrior Project's Ralph Ibson, the Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem and Connecticut's Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Linda Spoonster Schwartz. Rudd spoke of Russell Shirley's forced discharge and the loss of identity that took place as a result. Linda Spoonster Schwartz picked up on that theme.
Linda Spoonster Schwartz: The President's message last night [Barack Obama's State of the Union address] that we're going to have all of these people coming down. He [Rudd] mentioned a very important point -- some of these people who have joined, you have an all volunteer force who has joined. They intended to make this their career and now you have a drawdown and that is a loss of identity. As a disabled veteran, I had to leave military service and I had a long time finding a new identity.
What she went through, what Russell Shirley went through, is happening for a number of veterans right now and is about to happen for even more. Dr. Rudd portrayed Russell Shirley as someone the military knew, prior to the discharge, would be someone who would struggle with the discharge. If they knew ahead of time and still couldn't tailor some program for him, what does that say about their ability to help those whose problems emerge at a later date?
Chair Jeff Miller: Last night the President announced that 34,000 service members currently serving in Afghanistan are going to be back home. The one-size-fits-all path the Department is on leaves our veterans with no assurance that current issues will abate and fails to recognize that adequately addressing the mental health needs of our veterans is a task that VA cannot handle by themselves. In order to be effective, VA must embrace an integrated care delivery model that does not wait for veterans to come to them but instead meets them where the veteran is. VA must stand ready to treat our veterans where and how our veterans want to be treated -- not just where and how VA wants to treat them. I can tell you this morning that our veterans are in towns and cities and communities all across this great land. The care that they want is care that recognizes and respects their own unique circumstances, their preferences and their hopes.
Spoonster Schwartz noted that veterans sought care that was closest and that might mean skipping the VA if it was sixty miles away. She also noted that veterans had more access -- outside the office -- to a private sector doctor than to a veterans doctor
"Something somewhere is clearly missing," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller observed at the start of the hearing. US House Rep Mike Michaud is the Ranking Member on the Committee.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud: Over the years we have held numerous hearings, increased funding and passed legislation in an effort to address the challenges of our veterans from all eras. VA spent $6.2 billion on mental health programs in Fiscal Year 2012. I hope to see some positive progress that this funding has been applied to the goals and outcomes for which it was intended and the programs are really working. We all know that mental health is a significant problem that the nation is facing now -- not only in the VA but throughout our population. In the broader challenges is an opportunity for the VA to look outside its walls to solve some of the challenges that they face rather than operate in a vacuum as they sometimes have done in the past. One of the most pressing mental health problems that we face is the issue of suicide and how to prevent it. Fiscal Year 2012 tragically saw an increase in military suicides for the third time in four years. The number of suicides surpassed the number of combat deaths. Couple that with the number of suicides in the veterans' population of 18 to 22 per day and the picture becomes even more alarming.
Still on the issue of health care and veterans, Senator Patty Murray is now the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and her office issued the following today:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 14, 2013
CONTACT: Murray 202-224-2834
Murray, Tester Introduce Bill to Expand Health Care for CHAMPVA Children
Would raise maximum age for CHAMPVA eligibility to 26 to bring program into parity with Affordable Care Act
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation to adjust current eligibility requirements for children who receive health care under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a child may stay on a parent’s health insurance plan to age 26. However, children who are CHAMPVA beneficiaries lose their eligibility for coverage at age 23, if not before. The legislation introduced today by Sens. Murray and Tester would raise the maximum age for CHAMPVA eligibility to age 26 in order to bring eligibility under the VA program into parity with the private sector.
“As more and more servicemembers return home from Afghanistan, CHAMPVA will continue playing a vital role in caring for veterans’ loved ones,” said Senator Murray. “In our ongoing commitment to keep the faith with our nation’s heroes, this bill ensures CHAMPVA recipients, without regard to their type of coverage, student status, or marital status, are eligible for health care coverage under their parent’s plan in the same way as their peers.”
"Allowing young folks to stay on their parents' health insurance until they turn 26 gives them a chance to finish school or start their careers without worrying what happens if they get sick,” said Senator Tester. “This bill makes sure that the children of our most selfless citizens have access to the same care as the rest of the country."
“MOAA strongly supports VA-sponsored health coverage for eligible adult children of CHAMPVA beneficiaries,” said VADM Norb Ryan, USN-ret., President, Military Officers Association of America. “Such coverage is mandated in law to be made available for every other qualifying adult child across the nation and only a technical adjustment to the VA statute is needed to extend it to the grown kids of our nation’s heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”
“The DAV applauds Senators Murray and Tester for introducing legislation we strongly support, which would grant adult children of beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) eligibility for continuing health benefits through age 26,” said Disabled American Veterans National Commander Larry Polzin. “DAV believes children of severely disabled veterans and of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation should be able to enjoy the same comfort and peace of mind of having health coverage into their young adult years as every other child in our great nation.”
“This legislation is critical to ensure that dependent children of severely disabled veterans are afforded the same health care protection as all other children,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America President Bill Lawson. “It is simply unacceptable that the only children who do not have the benefit of extended health care coverage are those children of the men and women who have sacrificed the greatest.”
CHAMPVA is a VA health insurance program that provides coverage for certain eligible dependents and survivors of veterans rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected condition. CHAMPVA is a cost-sharing program that reimburses providers and facilities a determined allowable amount, minus patient copayments and deductible. Once a veteran becomes VA-rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability, the veteran's spouse and dependents are then eligible to enroll in CHAMPVA.
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
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