Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spencer Ackerman has problems

This morning the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Christopher Hill to be US Ambassador to Iraq.  Committee chair John Kerry spoke of what he termed a need to move the nomination through the process quickly and noted that Hill has stated he will immediately depart for Iraq "within a day of his Senate confirmation."  In his opening remarks, Kerry explained:
Ambassador Hill, all of your considerable skills will be called upon in Iraq. And among the many challenges you will face there, I would like to focus on several which I believe will be critical to our success:       
First, resolving the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories. Arab - Kurdish tensions run high in Kirkuk, which remains a potential flashpoint for violence, and meaningful efforts to reach agreement on Kirkuk's final status cannot be put off indefinitely. In Mosul, a strong showing in recent provincial elections by an anti-Kurdish coalition illustrated rising tensions there, as did a tense military standoff in Diyala province last summer between the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga . If progress is not made in defusing Arab-Kurdish tensions while American forces remain in Iraq, the window for a peaceful resolution of Kirkuk and other disputed territories may close.        
Second, passing the oil laws. Despite repeated assurances that an agreement was near, negotiations to finalize a series of laws regulating Iraq's oil resources appear to be no closer to completion now than they were two years ago. The fundamental issue is a disagreement between Baghdad and the Kurds on the Kurdish region's ability to enter into oil exploration and production contracts. Though the Iraqis, to their credit, have been sharing oil revenues, the country still lacks an overarching legal and political framework for its oil industry, the lifeblood of the country's economy. Again, time is of the essence because developments on the ground will only make a solution more difficult.        
Third, involving Iraq's neighbors in stabilizing the country. I have long encouraged vigorous, sustained diplomacy to encourage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, to play more constructive roles in Iraq. The Arabs have begun to cautiously engage with Iraq, and they should be encouraged to do more. I believe that as Ambassador to Iraq, you will have an important role to play in this process. Your predecessor, Ambassador Crocker, had three rounds of meetings with his Iranian colleague in 2007. I hope that the Administration will strongly consider restarting these talks.            
Fourth, full integration of the Sunnis. Although some progress has been made in incorporating Sunni Arabs into Iraq's new political structure, December's parliamentary elections can play a key role in consolidating this process. Integrating the Sunni militias which played such a key role in turning the tide in Iraq remains a major concern: According to recent press reports, only five percent of the "Sons of Iraq" have been hired into the Iraqi security forces or otherwise given the government jobs they were promised, and the debaathification process remains stalled. If this situation is not addressed, it will significantly increase the possibility that Iraq's Sunni Arab population could again take up arms against the central government.             
Fifth, addressing refugees and internally displaced persons. Millions of Iraqis - perhaps as many one in six - have been forced to flee. The unwillingness or inability of the vast majority to return to their homes is an indicator of Iraq's continuing instability and a potential source of future conflict. Iraqi's religious and ethnic minorities are particularly at risk. This is a problem that will only grow worse if it not addressed.           
Finally, the importance of training Iraq's security forces cannot be overstated if they are to be fully capable of independent action once we leave. This highlights the importance of achieving a high degree of civil-military cooperation between our diplomats and soldiers in Iraq. I strongly believe that one of the principle reasons that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were able to accomplish so much is because they worked together so closely.
Sentor Richard Luger, ranking Republican offered a few thoughts (none worth quoting and all straying from agreed upon Iraq press reality to paint an even rosier picture).  "We are awfully proud of him in Rhode Island," declared Senator Jack Reed who appeared before the committee (he doesn't sit on the committee) to vouch for Hill, "I first got to know Chris in 1985 when he was the Ambassador to Macedonia. . . . And Mr. Chairman and Mr. Luger, I can think of no one more qualified for this job."
A nice statement that could have been a strong introduction . . . if Hill had been ready to appear before the committee.  First up, Kerry asked him to summarize his opening statement (noting the prepared statement would be put into the record).  Don't read your prepared statement, summarize it.  Hill stated he would; however, he then went on to read -- word for word -- from his statement including making a show of turning the page on "very real accomplishments".  Word for word.  Dramatic page turn after dramatic page turn.  He also had hair sticking up all over the top of his head and even worse in the back. 
So you don't comb your hair before your hearing and you say you'll do something and then ignore it.  Turns the page and then goes on to 'resposibilities.'  John Kerry was visibly bothered by the reading. (With Kerry, the clue is his spine gets very stiff and he gathers his mouth to the left while cutting his eyes.  If you ever see that, know he's ticked. All present at today's hearing saw it though some might not have grasped what they were seeing.  And we'll focus on that and let Fox and others run with Kerry's yawning as Hill read his prepared remarks.) Turn the page to talk about his privilages.  Turn the page "I know that maintaining"  Turn the page "for each of these . . ."
It was a bad opening and an early portent.  He's very lucky that Democrats on the committee are pulling for him because he made a fool out of himself in his exchange with Senator Chris Dodd.  He walked into a scheduled hearing knowing there was a controversy about his nomination and he didn't prep?  Dodd asked about the "Awakening" Councils and that wasn't a curve ball question.  It's been in the news.  It was always going to be asked.  Hill repeatedly referred to Anbar and, around the fourth or fifth time, it became obvious that he believes all "Awakenings" are in Anbar Province.  That is troubling.  Any diplomat, regardless of where they were stationed, should have had a better grasp of the issue just from casually following the press over the last years.
Dodd noted that "at some point we're going to have to stop funding these Awakening Councils . . . how much of a risk does that raise?"  The question was how much of a risk was that?  Hill never answered that question.  He babbled on about how he thought the "Awakenings" were "very key and I think we wisely took on the task and make the payroll of this" -- at least he was correct about the payroll. That one time.
Hill then went on to declare that al-Maliki's government has been progressing and "doing so in terms of taking over the payments that these 'Sons of Iraq' receive.  And I think, more importantly in the long run, incorporating them into the Iraqi forces."  If your jaw dropped, hold on.  He went on to reword himself, "I think the fact that they took over the financing of this and that it's going very well is a testament to them and I think it's been working."
al-Maliki has not, NOT, assumed all payments.  The US made the payments at the start of the month to over 40,000 "Awakenings" (approximately 42,000 says M-NF).  The US hopes -- HOPES -- al-Maliki will be making that payment at the start of next month.  Hopes.  It hasn't happened yet.  And Usama Redha and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times)
reported yesterday that the ones al-Maliki is supposed to be paying aren't being paid: "The latest hiccup has been the budget woes of the Iraqi government, with bureaucratic snafus resulting in a failure to pay many of the Sunni paramilitaries, called the Sons of Iraq, in Baghdad for just over a month."  For over a month.  Reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times.  And Hill has no idea.  Hill comes to hearing and praises al-Maliki for paying the "Awakenings" and he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Senator Johnny Isakson gave Hill the opportunity to clarify those statments asking if he'd heard Hill correctly that al-Maliki had taken over all the payments of the "Awakenings"?  Hill replied that was his understanding.
Hill also claimed al-Maliki was absorbing the "Awakenings" into the government.  Yesterday's snapshot noted Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin's New York Times article where the reporters explained, "After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members -- just over 5 percent -- have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces."  Five percent.  Chris Hill was slobbering over Nouri and praising him for things that have not happened.  He was ill prepared throughout and even with the softballs lobbed by the Democratic majority committee, he wasn't able to answer the questions.  He was prepped.  Senator Edward Kaufman asked a question and Hill was bragging about his prep there.  The question was about Kirkuk and Hill wanted the committee to know that, just days ago, he had a special briefing: "I had the briefing.  It turns out it is a very complex issue." 
"It turns out it is a very complex issue."  That statement is frightening.  It's all the more frightening that Hill needed the briefing because, as he stated, he couldn't understand what the hold up re: Kirkuk was.  It was just a land dispute!  (Kirkuk is oil-rich, the Kurdistan Regional Government says it belongs to them and that Saddam diluted Kurdish power and control.  The central government wants it as well.)  Kirkuk is a great deal more than a land dispute.  It goes to history, it goes to long-standing grievances, it goes to resources and it goes to control.  That Hill couldn't grasp that as a casual observer is frightening.  His remarks on Kirkuk were all over the place throughout the hearing and, had he not informed he'd been briefed on Kirkuk, one would assume he'd never given the matter more than ten seconds thought. 
It's not a pressing issue, he insisted.  The hydrocarbons law is the pressing issue.  Not Kirkuk.  Even when he thought it was a mere land dispute, he should have grasped how important Kirkuk is.  At times, his answers indicated the US would decide what to do (bad move -- Iraqis need to make that decision because it's their land; the US doesn't need to be involved) and at other times he seemed to think the United Nations.  Never once did he seem aware that maybe an regarding Iraqi land should be decided by Iraqis (either just within the province or throughout the country).  His grasp of the United Nations work was also troubling because he seems to believe they have this huge team of workers on the ground and that they've always been working on the issue of Kirkuk.  Reality, the UN got invovled in the Kirkuk issue last year only because it threatened to derail the provincial elections (and almost did).  Hill seems completely ignorant of those realities.  He thinks the KRG is the equivalent of Bosnia and Kosovo.  He would tell Senator Russ Feingold that the issue of Kirkuk was "just old fashioned land dispute."  Told him that today after also claiming that's what he used to think before his briefing days ago.  Hill appeared to have no short term memory at all and no record of what he'd said to one senator before answering the other.
We're talking mainly the facts -- the basic facts -- above.  But the peace movement should be concerned by the bulk of his testimony.  He places huge emphasis on the hydrocarbons law and that's really not his to be involved with.  Yes, the US tried to push through several versions under the previous administration, but weren't we supposed to see a change?  He is obsessed with the hydrocabrons law ("'This is a law about hydrocarbons the way Moby Dick is a story about a whale .. .. There's a lot more going on with that law.'") and that was evident not just by the fact that every other answer he gave worked itself around to that law but also by the fact that he named it as his most pressing issue he would face as the Ambassador to Iraq (if confirmed).  That should worry the hell out of the peace movement.  Why is an ambassador nominee stating his most pressing issue is a hydrocabrons law?
The peace movement should be troubled by a number of things.  But first, congratulations to Senator Jim Webb.  He reads.  He actually does his own reading and he's smarter than all the reporters the New York Times has stationed in Iraq.  That paper was one of the worst when it came to the Status Of Forces Agreement.  (The Washington Post's reporting was the best, then the Los Angeles Times'.  McClatchy's was actually worse than NYT's.) Unlike so many fools and idiots, Jim Webb read the Status Of Forces Agreement -- the treaty negotiated by the previous administration. 
Wait.  We need to clear up something.  The snapshot's dictated.  I've got one phone I'm dictating into and I'm rotating cells to the other ear.  I'm being told little Spency Ackerman -- who wet dreams of Barack Obama nightly -- has distorted this exchange.  No surprise.  Spencer got his ass fired from The New Republic.  How bad of a reporter do you have to be in order to have The New Republic fire you?  It took three years for them to catch on to Stephen Glass (even with nonstop complaints and proof for two of those three years).  Ackerman cheerleaded this illegal war and then, when public opinion began to change, did his mini mea culpa.  (That wasn't genuine.  That's become obvious.)  This is the 'reporter' who covered the first day of Peteraeus and Crocker hearings -- with three presidential contenders questioning the two -- by ignoring Hillary Clinton.  Had time for John McCain, had time for his Dream Lover Barack, but ignored Hillary.  (Hillary's questioning was the hardest of anyone's that day and Petraeus has never gotten over that questioning and continues to carry a grudge.  A real reporter would have covered it.  Ackerman's not a real reporter.)  So to be clear, Ackerman's written his usual fantasy garbage.  Maybe he was microwaving himself a snack during the bulk of the exchange?  Who knows, who cares, he's a hack and search out his garbage only to laugh at the little War Hawk punk.
In the real world, Jim Webb went over the basics.  He noted he'd read both the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement, "I read them last fall when I think they were wrongly categorized as restricted information -- when you had to go to a room to read the documents that were not classified because the previous administration was trying to keep them from public debate."  Webb noted that he read the SOFA again "ten days ago."  He then pointed out that Barack Obama's "administration is talking more of the drawing down of forces rather than the withdrawal and I think that's a pretty important distinction when you're looking at the agreement."  He pointed out that Joe Biden [then chair of this committee, now the Vice President of the United States], Kerry and himself "were among the ones saying it should have had the approval of Congress -- it had the approval of the Iraqi Parliament. . . . This agreement was basically done through executive signatures, it wasn't brough before the Congress."  So he wanted to discuss what that meant and what the terms meant.  On what that meant, since the Congress never passed it, did that mean Barack's administration could just choose to ignore the SOFA?  Spensy Ackerman's insisting Hill said this and that and blah blah.  Reality, Webb was framing his questions and points and Hill didn't say much of anything.  When he did speak, Hill said he thought, he thought, the administration . . . but he'd get back in writing.  So for Spensy to insist Hill said US forces out in 2011 is the usual sort of b.s. that gets little Spensy's fired from their outlets.  Fortunately, he's no longer at a real outlet so he'll probably remain employed.
This is a paraphrase of Webb on that first issue, "Well the agreement can now be made since the Congress was not part of the document . . . an executive branch could now say we're not going to be out by December 31, 2011' and listening to the discussion of residual forces I'm not really hearing clearly that it is the intent of the administration to have a full withdrawal of US forces by the end of 2011."  Hill responds -- pay attention, Spency -- that he "would prefer to get back to" Webb about the administration's position. 
Okay, so that's Webb's first concern.  Is it binding to the administration -- particularly the part about all US forces out by 2011?  And Hill doesn't know.  But will get back to him.  The second aspect (which Spensy ignores because it doesn't fit the LIE and PROPAGANDA Spensy wants to sale) is what the SOFA actually says.  Webb went through this at length.  He noted Articles 2, 24, 27 and 30 seemed to be in conflict "with the defintional phrases" and the claims being made about the SOFA and "there really seems to be quite loose language when we're talking about a full withdrawal by the end of 2011."  He noted that "any member of the United States forces means any individual who is a member" according to the defintion of terms but this definition is less precise in Article 24.  He notes the wording and how "must withdraw" was changed to "shall withdraw."  Then he zooms in on Article 27 where "there are two fairly lenthy paragraphs but they basically talk about if there's any external or internal threats to Iraqi sovereignty or political independence that we will take appropriate measures."  Hill -- the diplomat who can't grasp Kirkuk -- had no idea.  And seemed forever on the verge of saying, "I wasn't aware I'd be tested on this." 
Webb is correct about the secrecy the previous administration placed on the treaty masquerading as a SOFA.  They refused to publish it until after the Iraqi Parliament passed it (Thanksgiving Day) at which point they rushed to post it online -- and thanks to Barack, lots of luck finding it online at the White House website but here's the copy of it (non-PDF format). For more on some of the issues that Senator Webb was raising, you can see Luke Savage's  "Iraq's Prolonged Occupation" (The Varsity):

First, Article 27 of the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration in 2008 gives the United States leave to "take appropriate measures, in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq." The ambiguity of this rhetoric is worrisome. After all, Iraq's Shiite majority is likely to form closer ties with Iran, a nation hostile to U.S. interests in the region. The government of Nouri Al-Maliki could easily be replaced by a less pro-Western administration that would formalize these ties. What constitutes "aggression" may thus be a point of contention, and the text of the SOF Agreement is distinctly vague about the nature of any American response. It might, for example, take the same form as the "appropriate measures" carried out in 2003 to protect the American people from the "imminent threat" of Iraq's non-existent stockpile of destructive weapons.

Savage notes the issue of contractors and this came up during the hearing when Senator James Risch raised the issue.  He was told by Hill that contractors would be used to protect diplomatic staff and the embassy's parameter.  He mentioned none by name but alluded to Blackwater (now Xe) and stated there were others which could be uitilized.  Risch is a Republican and the bulk of the Republicans on the committee were mainly concerned with whether or not the record indicated Hill was honest (qualified wasn't a Republican concern -- but when has it ever been?).  Senator Richard Luger read the following into the record from Kirk Victor's March 23rd "Brownback Promises Battle On Iraq Nominee" (National Journal):
President Obama's nomination of Christopher Hill to be ambassador to Iraq has prompted fierce criticism from a handful of senior Republican senators in what is likely a prelude to a bruising battle on the Senate floor. Critics including Sen. Sam Brownback charge that Hill, a career diplomat, misled Congress in testimony last year when he was handling the six-party talks dealing with North Korean nuclear disarmament.
Brownback charges that Hill failed to follow through on his promise to confront North Korea on its human rights record. The Kansas Republican, joined by four other GOP senators -- Christopher (Kit) Bond of Missouri, John Ensign of Nevada, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona -- recently urged the president to withdraw the nomination not only because of what they see as Hill's misleading testimony but also because of his inexperience in dealing with Iraq. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, last year's Republican presidential nominee, also opposes the nomination.
Obama and Senate Democratic leaders counter that as a seasoned diplomat, Hill is well-suited for this key post. Hill also has won a key endorsement from Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, who said that Hill had "demonstrated extraordinary diplomatic and managerial skills in dealing with an isolated and inscrutable North Korean regime." Lugar's panel is scheduled to hold a hearing on the nomination Wednesday.
Brownback adamantly disagrees with Lugar. Last year, the Kansan even held up President Bush's nominee to South Korea until Hill agreed to take steps to make North Korea's human rights record part of the negotiations. But the senator says that Hill went back on his word. In an interview with National Journal last week, Brownback discussed his determination to do everything he can to kill the nomination. Edited excerpts follow.

NJ: What do you intend to do when Christopher Hill's nomination to be ambassador to Iraq reaches the Senate floor?
Brownback: We are going to fight hard against Chris. I met with him [on March 18] in my office and he did not allay any of my concerns. When he was conducting six-party talks, I asked him to involve the special envoy for human rights. He didn't want to do it. So I held up an ambassadorial nominee to South Korea. The State Department really wanted that ambassadorial nominee.
Finally [former Virginia GOP Senator] John Warner brokered a deal in the Armed Services Committee where Chris Hill was testifying and Warner had me ask questions. One of them was, "Will you invite the special envoy for human rights to the six-party talks?" He said yes, he would. That didn't happen. On his word of doing that, in front of open committee, I lifted my hold on the South Korea ambassador. So he misled me.   
Hill's reply was basically that he told Senator Brownback (who doesn't sit on the committee) that things would happen but they were conditional, dependent upon other things.  Hill noted Senator Brownback's July 31, 2008 press release ("Brownback Lifts Hold On Stephens Nomination") and stated "we never got bi-later talks" so the promises he made to Brownback were never reached.   Senator Roger Wicker would raise the issue as well.  We'll note this exchange:
Senator Roger Wicker: This assurance [to Brownback] took place in public testimony is that correct?
Chris Hill: Yes, there's a record public record.
Senator Roger Wicker: Have you gone back and reviewed the transcript>
Chris Hill: Yes, I have.
Senator Roger Wicker: You're a career diplomat, professional career servant, words are very important.  Did it occur to you that you needed to get back to Senator Brownback and clear it up when [the person was not brought in]?
Chris Hill: I said in the testimony when we get to the next phase [. . .]  In retrospect, senator, you're right I probably should have briefed Senator Brownback.
This topic would come up repeatedly from various senators on the Republican side and be expanded to include others.  Was it then-Secretary of State Condi Rice's fault?  Truly that was a line of questioning and unless the Republicans intend to produce Condi (to say, "Yes, I did yell at him about talking to the North Koreans after the Chinese left the room!"), there was really no point to that entire, long-winded line of questioning.  (Though it did get an article from The Weekly Standard introduced into the record and did allow Chris Hill to make a nasty little remark about a CNN reporter.)   

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