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Monday, May 29, 2006

Holiday advice

Don't bother seeing "Mission Impossible III." It's really dumb and Philip Seymour Hoffman can't save it.

Yes, it's hot. Try not to be cranky...unless you have a really good reason.

Watch some baseball. If, like me, your team sucks, try to find something about the game to enjoy. In my case, it has to be fairly trivial.

And, finally, find a good book...or take the time to learn a valuable skill.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Day weekend

I had a roommate in college who, when inbibing in a beer or three, used to talk about the stages of inebriation.

As I recall, this was a topic raised during drinking, so the speaker was already in the midst of one stage -- feeling clever.

I don't remember them all, but I do recall a couple towards the end.

Next to last, I believe, was invisibility.

Last, at least in his version...bullet-proof.

Have a safe weekend everyone.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Let's make a

I've been arguing for some time that the US can and should make a deal with Iran -- rather than make war on the Persian state.

Some recent news stories hint that ongoing diplomacy may actually prove productive.

However, Secretary of State Condi Rice says the "Cuba option" isn't going to be part of any negotiated deal. This is from an interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace, May 21:
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, let me just set the record straight. We haven't been asked to provide security assurances to Iran. What we are talking about is a package that will make clear to Iran that they are choices to be made, either that there will be sanctions and actions taken against Iran by the international community or there is a way for them to meet their civil nuclear concerns.

But it's obvious that in addition to the nuclear issue we have other issues with Iran. We have a state in Iran that is devoted to the destruction of Israel. We have a state in Iran that meddles in the peace process supporting organizations like --

QUESTION: So directly, because I want to get to this point of would we ever agree to a security guarantee for --

SECRETARY RICE: Chris, you can't take this question out of the context of what Iran is doing in the international system. Iran is a troublemaker in the international system, a central banker of terrorism. Security assurances are not on the table.
Meanwhile, Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert recently told CNN that Iran is only "months rather than years" away from having the technical capability to make a bomb.

If Israel believes that Iran is about to go nuclear, US security guarantees could get in the way of an attack.

Off-topic: I wonder what Condi thought of this comment from Tony Snow in his May 16 press briefing at the White House?
I don't want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program -- the alleged program -- the existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny....

Q ...And would you put into English the phrase, "hug the tar baby"?

MR. SNOW: Well, when we hug the tar baby -- we could trace that back to American lore. I don't see it as a personal sacrifice to answer a call from the President of the United States to come and serve, I consider it an honor. That still gives me chills. I go out at the end of that lawn, I look back the pillars, and think, man, I'm working here. I don't know if you ever do this, but if you don't, I suggest you do. It's an astounding thing. And whatever the citizens and you may feel about your particular state in life, this is a very special place to work.

These Bush people are just natural born diplomats, aren't they?

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

New publications

Nayef Samhat and I have an essay in the latest Peace Review, "American Foreign Policy Legitimacy and the Global Public Sphere." 2006, v. 18 #2. I can send an electronic offprint (pdf), but please request it from my University email address.

Readers might also be interested in Dan Reiter's latest monograph, "Preventive War and Its Alternatives: The Lessons of History," published by the US Army's Strategic Studies Institute. I'm fairly certain that this is an outgrowth of Dan's previous piece on "The Osiraq Myth and the Track Record of Preventive Military Attacks." The pdf is available as a free download.

Finally, my Duck of Minerva posts from the last month or so:

I offered a "Homework assignment" on critical IR theory, May 23. George W. Bush is a funny guy.

Check out "Know your enemies, 2006 edition" from May 15. The post contrasts evolutions in US policy towards Muammar Qaddafi's Libya and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

See "US carrots for Iran" from May 3. There are plenty of tools available to influence Iran.

For your amusement, "The Decider," May 1. Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo!

Finally, see "The Paradox of Humanitarian Action" about 2006 Grawemeyer winner Fiona Terry, which was posted April 21.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

'roid rage

I know exactly where I was on the evening of April 8, 1974. Do you?

I was sitting in my family's living room, watching the Atlanta Braves play the Los Angeles Dodgers in Fulton County Stadium. Al Downing was pitching for LA and America was waiting to see if Hank Aaron would break Babe Ruth's longstanding home run record. In the fourth inning, Aaron hit his dinger, pitcher Tom House caught the ball in the bullpen, and American baseball had a new Home Run King. Aaron finished with 755 home runs in his career.

This past weekend, Barry Bonds tied Babe Ruth for second place on that list by hitting his 714th homer. Last Monday night, I watched two Bonds plate appearances, and through the week I saw many more, but the slugger did not make history until this weekend. Unfortunately, I missed seeing it live.

Oh well.

Many baseball fans hate the fact that Bonds has caught Ruth because they think that the star of the Giants has used steroids to become a freak. While others too stand accused, Bonds is threatening to own the game's most cherished records. He already claimed the single season mark.

The all time record is even more important and historically significant. Since 1921, Babe Ruth has been first or second in major league baseball's all-time home run list. That's 85 years!

Then again, few fans ever talk about the taint surrounding Ruth's record. He hit all of his official home runs in an era of racial segregation. Ruth never batted against Satchel Paige or any other Negro League great in a major league baseball game. Jackie Robinson didn't play for the Dodgers until 1947. Ruth had been retired for 12 seasons.

Some baseball historians point out that the game wasn't fully desegregated until the early 1960s. The Boston Red Sox, Ruth's original team, was the last team to sign an African American player. Pumpsie Green made the majors in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

By this way of thinking, Aaron too played in a partially segregated era. Willie Mays did as well -- along with Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson. If one lumps Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro with Bonds, then 1000s of home runs in baseball history have some sort of blemish.

People who hate Bonds probably won't like this conclusion: Maybe Reggie Jackson should be viewed as the true Home Run King?

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Italy: unwilling and angry

The BBC has some excerpts from Romano Prodi's first speech to the Italian Senate as Prime Minister.
"We consider the war and occupation in Iraq a grave error that hasn't solved - but has complicated - the problem of security," Mr Prodi said.

"It is therefore the government's intention to propose to parliament the withdrawal of our troops, even if we are proud of the display of professional ability, courage and humanity they have been giving."
Remember when George W. Bush called for a crusade against the terrorists? Apparently, Prodi does:
He added that most importantly, the international community should not be "indulgent to suggestions of fundamentalism of the opposing strain, which preach crusades and indiscriminately advocate clashes of civilisations."
This may be the first I've posted on the disintegration of the "coalition of the willing" since January 2006, when I previously noted Italy's announcement that it would be out by the end of 2006. It's not clear that Prodi will hasten the Italian withdrawal.

I also noted Ukraine's withdrawal at an earlier date, as well as Poland's. That latter post also discusses the "unwilling" support of the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Thailand.

A still older post discussed the withdrawal of the Philippines, Honduras, and Spain.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Culture update: May 2006

Tonight, with blogger Rob Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money (and University of Kentucky), I attended the WFPK Listener Appreciation Concert featuring Alejandro Escovedo, the Yonder Mountain String Band, Alexi Murdoch, Dr. Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys, and the Drive By Truckers.

All were entertaining, but the Truckers were quite special. They are a rock band on the top of their game, singing personal songs reflecting a slice of American social, political and economic life.

They are a southern band, from Alabama, arguably with their finger on the pulse of red state America. The people in their songs are used to living with guns, working at Walmart, marrying young, taking crystal-meth, having lots of children, etc. Many of the characters in their songs talk about economic class, and the "rich folks" aren't necessarily to be envied.

These are some of the lyrics to their song "Outfit," in the voice of a father to a son:
I learned not to say much of nothing and I figured you already know
but in case you don’t or maybe forgot, I’ll lay it out real nice and slow

Don’t call what your wearing an outfit. Don’t ever say your car is broke.
Don’t worry about losing your accent, a Southern Man tells better jokes.
Have fun but stay clear of the needle. Call home on your sister’s birthday.
Don’t tell them you’re bigger than Jesus, don’t give it away.
The second time they sing that chorus, the "accent" line is changed to "don’t sing with a fake British accent. Don’t act like your family’s a joke."

The people in Trucker songs are Walter Russell Mead's Jacksonians.

Many Truckers songs have overtly political lyrics -- and the band is apparently not happy with the way things are going.

If the Truckers come to your town, check 'em out.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Diversionary tactics

Are you familiar with the "diversionary theory of war"? Prof. William D. Baker, though skeptical of the phenomenon, nonetheless provides a succinct description:
...the diversionary theory of war posits that such internal domestic factors as presidential approval, election cycles, and the state of the economy may affect decisions to employ force... The popular presumption that presidents will turn to military adventurism to divert attention from dismal economic conditions, faltering popularity ratings or pending electoral misfortune is well represented both historically and in the mainstream media...
In recent decades, leaders as diverse as Argentine's 1982 junta leader Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton have been accused of boosting their political standing by engaging or escalating military conflict with other states.

In the case of the Bush administration, however, a foreign war has created a domestic calamity -- Iraq has "shattered" the President's popularity.

As revealed in his May 18 interview with NBC's David Gregory, even the President knows "that’s what colors everybody’s vision, it seems like. People are worried about Iraq."

Given this political context, the future of the Bush administration may depend upon the American people forgetting about Iraq (and, and...just where was that other war? Oh, yes, Afghanistan).

One alternative might be war with Iran: a new diversionary war.

Then again, the administration seems committed to diplomacy (at least for now) and a war would be quite risky, for a number of important reasons.

Another alternative is to reframe various policies as part of the "war on terror" rather than the war in Iraq. This is the strategy that helped save Bush in 2004.

Interestingly, the nomination of Mike Hayden to head CIA helps distract attention away from Iraq and Afghanistan. Any time the public focuses on the "war on terrorism," rather than the hot wars abroad, Bush wins. In Hayden's confirmation hearings, he even suggested that the CIA needs to shift its attention away from these wars. William Arkin of the Post:
The intelligence community, Hayden said, was too focused on the immediate and not enough looking to the future. It was an ever so subtle criticism of a core Bush administration position that Iraq and Afghanistan are THE fronts in the war on terrorism. We may have made them that, Hayden seemed to be saying, but throwing the preponderance of resources into these battles merely perpetuates a culture of satisfying immediate needs while neglecting a longer term and broader view of the challenges posed by radical Islam.
These various tactics may be working. Iraq is often bumped to the back pages of the newspapers or out of prime time television, stories lack context, and just about everyone seems to agree that Americans aren't getting the full story about Iraq. Various media outlets are now overtly listening to critics in and out of the administration who want to see the sunny side of Iraq.

And, you know, neither the war in Iraq nor the nation's rebuilding is going all that well.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

2006 Election update

Tuesday was the primary here in Kentucky and I actually voted for the Democratic candidate who got the majority of the votes, John Yarmuth. The winner took nearly 54% of the vote.

If you don't know Yarmuth's name, he is the former publisher of the alternative weekly Leo newspaper, and widely viewed as the most left-leaning of the candidates. Andrew Horne, who finished second with a bit less than one-third of the vote (32%), was a "fighting Dem" former Marine who served in Iraq during both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Yarmuth will now face five-term Republican incumbent Anne Northup in November. With Horne out, I'm not sure how closely national media will follow the race. The "fighting Dem" angle is gone.

What's left to cover? Well, Yarmuth's newspaper accepted "sexually explicit personal ads" and the conventional wisdom among some analysts is that Northup will try to tar him with that come November. And, of course, they'll comb his political columns in the paper.

Meanwhile, Yarmuth is going to try to link his foe to the Bush administration's failings: Iraq, Katrina, the budget deficit (perhaps), the Medicare drug program. etc. It's a long list, as my readers know.

And the Republican party in Kentucky may be in trouble -- what with the governor under indictment since last week.

Whether journalists are watching or not, the race will figure into the national scene because it is one of the few swing seats that some political observers see -- thanks to gerrymandering.

Indeed, some political scientists wonder if the Dems can win back the House even if they take the lion's share of the votes come November.

Matthew Shugart of Fruits & Votes, a political science professor who specializes in comparative electoral systems at the University of California, San Diego, has an interesting post you should read on congressional elections. Matthew presents a lot of data on past congressional elections and finds that parties winning a majority of the votes nationally tend to win the Congress. However:
Despite an overall tendency for seats to follow from votes in a fairly predictable way, it is clear that recent elections are deviating from the pattern. Every election since 1996 is above the trend. More to the point, in each House election since 1996, the Republican party has won a majority of seats on less than 50% of the vote. The only time that had happened before was in 1952. In 1996, as well as 1952, the Republican party did not even win a plurality of the House vote.
There's some additional discussion and the blogger/scholars basically concludes that 47% may be the threshold. If Republicans get less than that, they should lose the body regardless of factors like gerrymandering.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Merchant of death

"Thank you for smoking" is a very entertaining movie. It is well-written political satire with a very good cast -- reminiscent of "Wag the Dog" in some ways, but probably a better film overall.

Once again, I'm writing about a comedy in which the primary villain is an enormous transnational corporation. The villain is not entirely faceless, of course, as Robert Duvall plays "The Captain" of said corporation, and Aaron Eckhart plays the young corporate flack, Nick Naylor. In his own words, Naylor is the guy you know who can pick up any woman he wants...on crack.

However, "Big Tobacco" is the Freddy Kreuger of this film and the movie does a great job revealing its wicked ways: including nearly half a million American lives lost each year to tobacco-related illnesses and cynical manipulation of words and images to attract young smokers.

There's even a transnational element: Big Tobacco markets to millions of Asian smokers and in the film, at least, is willing to crawl into bed with an abusive third world dictator to pitch its product.

This film was based on a Christopher Buckley novel. I've read several of his other works and must say that I enjoyed this movie more than I liked those books. Hmmmm.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kos on the road

Blogger Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga is in Louisville today, speaking in a few minutes at the Metro Democratic Club. The founder of the dailykos blog will be talking about his book, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics.

At about 9 pm, Markos will be at the Bluegrass Brewing Company (3929 Shelbyville Road) for the regular Drinking Liberally in Louisville.

I've not yet attended the weekly fun, but am giving it some thought for tonight.

Update: I went to the event and met a number of Louisville Democrats, a couple of candidates for public office, and Jim Derych, the author of Confessions of a Former Dittohead.

Many in the crowd had arrived about 7 pm, so I was kind of late in arriving. Most thought Kos was due early, not realizing his plans had changed for the speaking engagement.

Kos actually showed up shortly after 10 pm. A local bookstore brought a stack of books for the authors to autograph and sell, but most of the crowd had gone home. I was actually on my way out, decided to stick around for a few minutes, and then did not end up meeting the blogger. I was home by about 10:30.

Oh well.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

New CIA Director

The White House has nominated General Michael V. Hayden to direct the CIA. Hayden has been the principal deputy director of intelligence under John Negroponte and is a uniformed air force officer.

Since Hayden's next-to-last job was directing the National Security Agency, the nomination provides administration opponents with another opportunity to explore NSA spying. Hayden created the program and defended it publicly -- even though prominent conservatives also vigorously opposed it.

I haven't had a chance to read James Risen's latest book on the CIA, but I recently read a good review in the April 2006 Progressive that includes extensive excerpts from the "sensational" NSA chapter.

Perhaps Congress will further inquire into some of Risen's allegations, which I cannot find on-line (save for the Ebsco subscriber database):
"the NSA is spying on Americans again, on a large scale," Risen writes. How large is that scale? "Over time, the NSA has certainly eavesdropped on millions of telephone calls and e-mail messages on American soil," he writes. And it has the capacity to spy on all of us.

"With its direct access to the U.S. telecommunications system, there seems to be no physical or logistical obstacle to prevent the NSA from eavesdropping on anyone in the United States that it chooses," Risen notes. He adds that it can grab the "e-mail of virtually any American."

Bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, "the NSA determines, on its own, which telephone numbers and e-mail addresses to monitor," Risen explains. "The NSA doesn't have to get approval from the White House, the Justice Department, or anyone else in the Bush Administration before it begins eavesdropping on a specific phone line in the United States."

Risen persuasively shows that Bush's approval of the NSA warrantless spying "made a mockery of the public debate over the Patriot Act," which gave no new powers to the NSA.
Since some Republicans are already expressing dissent about Hayden's appointment, we can hope that these issues will be explored more thoroughly.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Dear Mr. President

Oooooh, look who is passing a secret note to Dear Leader:
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush with suggestions on how to resolve current international tensions, Iranian officials said today, but there was no immediate information about whether he was proposing a solution to differences over Iran's nuclear program.

Officials in Iran would not disclose the contents of the letter, which was being forwarded to Washington through the Swiss embassy, which represents American interests in Iran. White House aides said it had not arrived by early afternoon.
According to the NY Times, and you know they probably asked at least two or three people, this is "believed to be the first direct public communication sent by an Iranian president to an American president since ties between the nations were severed after the American Embassy in Tehran was seized in 1979."

Iran says that the letter's contents will be made public once the White House has received and read its copy. The contents perhaps reference the British and French draft Security Council resolution from last week that would require Iran to give up its nuclear program -- or else the Security Council might be forced to pass a second resolution.

Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations has recently released a Summary of its April 5, 2006, "Symposium on Iran’s Nuclear Program." The experts generally agreed that the U.S. and Iran need a direct dialogue.

Hey, someone in power finally listened to this advice!

Most panelists apparently "dismissed" Iran's claim that the nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes and "there was widespread agreement" that preventive strikes do not mean limited conflict. If the US (or Israel?) attempted to attack Iran's nuclear program, expect Iranian retaliation and military escalation.

I think we should all hope that President Ahmadinejad has written a hell of a note. The Times story, incidentally, says that the Iranian Prez sent notes to other national leaders as well.
"Ahmadinejad, in his letter, spoke of the current tense situation in the world and suggested ways of solving problems and of easing tensions," said an Iranian government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, at a news briefing today that was carried by the Iranian news agency Irna. He also said that the Iranian president had sent letters to other leaders of "certain countries."
World leaders: if you didn't hear from Mahmoud, maybe someone else will write with news.

Updates: Scott Peterson has an excellent article in the May 9, 2006, Christian Science Monitor reviewing Iran's nuclear program: "Iran's nuclear gambit - the basics."

The Washington Post has an AP story with excerpts from the Iranian letter. Full text here (pdf).

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Iran's President Really Says

In mid-March, Michigan History Professor Juan Cole had an excellent piece "Fishing for a Pretext to Squeeze Iran" on the Truthdig website.

In the article, Cole reveals some of the words uttered by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that have not been widely quoted in the US:
Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei has given a fatwa or formal religious ruling against nuclear weapons, and President Ahmadinejad at his inauguration denounced such arms and committed Iran to remaining a nonnuclear weapons state.

In fact, the Iranian regime has gone further, calling for the Middle East to be a nuclear-weapons-free zone. On Feb. 26, Ahmadinejad said: “We too demand that the Middle East be free of nuclear weapons; not only the Middle East, but the whole world should be free of nuclear weapons.”
In the piece, Cole also points out many of the same facts about Iran's alleged nuclear program that I have mentioned.

None of Iran's actions in pursuit of nuclear energy are illegal (only the secrecy), its research facilities are not especially sophisticated, and the best guess of the US intelligence community is that an Iranian bomb is a decade away -- under worst-case assumptions.

Professor Cole also recasts some of Ahmadinejad's words that have been often quoted in the US:
President Ahmadinejad, it should be freely admitted, has, through his lack of diplomatic skills and his maladroitness, given his enemies important propaganda tools. Unlike his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier. He went to an anti-Zionist conference and quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, saying that the “Occupation regime” must “vanish.” This statement about Israel does not necessarily imply violence. After all, Ariel Sharon made the occupation regime in the Gaza Strip vanish. The quote was translated in the international press, however, as a wish that “Israel be wiped off the map,” and this inaccurate translation has now become a tag line for all newspaper articles written about Iran in Western newspapers.

In another speech, Ahmadinejad argued that Germans rather than Palestinians should have suffered a loss of territory for the establishment of a Jewish state, if the Germans perpetrated the Holocaust. This argument is an old one in the Middle East, but it was immediately alleged that Ahmadinejad was advocating the shipping of Israelis to Europe. That was not what he said.
This coincides with what I wrote yesterday about the way the administration is manipulating its rhetoric to make Iran sound like a bigger threat than it is. Nuclear Iran has noticed too, and the media is again behaving like a lapdog rather than a watchdog.

These issues seem much more important to me than the flame war pitting blogger Cole against journalist Christopher Hitchens.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Watch their language

Listen carefully and you will frequently hear Bush administration officials and TV talking heads (who are parroting what they've heard) segue from US accusations or concerns about Iran's alleged atomic bomb program to Iranian insistence that they will not give up their "nuclear program," without noting that the Iranians are talking about energy, not bombs.

As I've noted before, the illegal component of Iran's nuclear program is the failure to disclose some perfectly legal nuclear energy progress. The research itself does not violate the Nonproliferation Treaty.

This may well be a reason to strengthen the NPT, but the US has some way to go on that front.

In any event, the slippery talk reminds me of the way Bush used to talk about 9/11 and then Iraq links to terrorism and WMD in consecutive sentences.

Critics have to complain about this now, not when it is too late.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Mayday, mayday, mayday

Today is May 1, the third anniversary of President George W. Bush's infamous "mission accomplished" post-flightsuit speech on board the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Instead of declaring that "major combat operations have ended," Bush should perhaps have said "mayday, mayday, mayday."

After all, the latter is an internationally recognized distress call. The signal is used when a vessel is facing "grave and imminent danger" and the caller is "requesting immediate assistance."

While Bush had taken the U.S. to war on the false notion that Iraq posed a "grave and gathering" danger, the truth is that the country faced that problem after he acted. More than three years into the latest Iraq war, 2400 Americans have died.

The military is bogged down in Iraq, leaving few good options to pressure Iran, or North Korea, or any other potential threat.

The Congressional Research Service says that the war cost may now exceed $800 billion. Note that the figure includes the cost of Afghanistan too, but Iraq is easily the bulk of the expense. That's one-third more than the cost of the Vietnam war, in adjusted dollars.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday."

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