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How Iraq Could Be Considered a Victory

Question: What is your biggest concern about the future of Iraq?

Wesley Clark:  Well, the biggest concern for the future of Iraq really is about the Iraqi people themselves.  We don’t really know where this is going, it’s more diplomatic now than it has been in the past.  It’s always been a lot about diplomacy in the region, and one of my original criticisms of the Bush Administration was they really never talked to Iraq’s neighbors, they thought they’d go in there and use force and, and solve just by the use of force—pretty naive view at the top level.  The military always knew better.  And they never had a regional strategy. 

We’re trying to put together a regional strategy over there right now. We’ve pulled the troops out, I think that’s appropriate.  The terrorists are still there in some reduced numbers.  And obviously they’ll be there for a long time and the Iraqi public security forces and their anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism forces are going to be busy for a long time in Iraq.  We’re going to be helping them and we’ll have some troops over there and some people may get hurt.  But most of the military stuff is over, at least with the current dynamics in the region.  

I think that what’s happened is, politically, that there was a... at first blush, the Iranians made some significant inroads, especially in eastern and southern Iraq around Basra. And then the nationalities and ethnic differences reasserted themselves.  They maybe Shia, but they’re Persian, they’re not Arab Shia.  There was a difference; people resented the Iranians coming in.  The government has paid a lot of attention to Tehran, but it doesn’t want to be a province of Iran; it wants an independent country.  So it’s also looking to Saudi Arabia and the Sunni powers, and to the United States.  I think we’ll have a significant diplomatic role there for a long time.  And somehow we’ve got to make all of that come together in a way that helps the Iraqi people heal the wounds of the civil conflict, the murders that went on, a lot of accidental deaths.  A lot of people who left the country are gonna have to decide whether they come back or not.  Laws are going to have to be put in place, there’s the whole struggle over the hydrocarbon resources.  But it’s also about everything else that always is present in a political situation.  Who has power?  Who gets the money?  What’s the tax rate?  Where’s the highway built?  Is the railroad refurbished?  Who gets the pipeline?  What company gets to build it?  All of that stuff is in play.  Iraq has tremendous natural resources; it’s in a pivotal geographic position.  It’s got a fighting chance to make it.   

Question:
In what ways can Iraq be considered a victory?

Wesley Clark:  Well, obviously in technical military terms, the fact that we went into Iraq in 2003 with sufficient force to defeat the Iraqi Army, that’s a victory.  That’s a military victory.  What happened afterwards is not really military.  It’s a political/military/diplomatic struggle in the region for dominance in Iraq.  And the truth is that, although I was against the war, once you get America committed, like everybody else, I want to see us succeed.  

Now, the ending could have been a lot worse and it could still be a lot worse.  We could have left and Iraq could have ended up like Somalia is today—with no government, no institutions at all, and warring factions and another two or three million Iraqis fleeing or dying or whatever.  That didn’t happen.  It could have been that we would have left and the Iranians would have staged some kind of excuse to march in and subjugate most of Iraq.  And we could have had a broader war.  That hasn’t happened.  

Now both of those two outcomes are still conceptually... they’re possible.  But I think we’ve avoided the worst.  We’ve paid a heck of a price for it.  And people will argue for a long time was this a smart thing to have done?  And if it was a smart thing, was it still worth doing; and how could we have done it better?  There’ll be a lot of questions about this.  But we’ve averted the worst outcome.  I think anybody who would – from the military who you would talk to would tell you the troops did a great job.  They did what they were asked to do.  We didn’t have enough troops, didn’t always have the right leadership at the beginning in terms of structure.  General Sanchez, for example, never had the staff he needed to really help him do the job.  There was some mistakes early on in policies, like getting rid of the Iraqi armed forces.  But by and large, we suffered through it, we’ve taken our knocks over there and we’ve got a fighting chance to make this work.  Anybody who calls it a victory is way out of line right now in the larger sense.  This is not a World War II victory.

Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

The military always knew better than to invade Iraq in 2003, but we will not leave the country in a Somalia-like situation—without a government or any national institutions.

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  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
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  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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