Monday, February 07, 2011

Premature adulation




Asked what Barack Obama plans to cut in the budget by Renee Montagne today on Morning Edition (NPR), Cokie Roberts observed, "Well we had a little hint yesterday when his budget director Jack Lew had an op-ed in the New York Times which was titled 'The Easy Cuts are Behind Us,' But he said the administration is ready to cut some things like community services which was near and dear to the president's heart as a former community organizer. That they would cut $350 million out of that, that they would cut a $125 million out of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and another $300 million out of the community development bloc grants. Now, Renee, I remember the community development bloc grants being on the chopping block back in 1981, thirty years ago when President Reagan was there and they're still with us because the president caught then a lot of flack from mayors and other local officers and, uhm, and so these are not cuts that are easy to make and even if they were they would still just be chicken feed in terms of cutting the deficit. And Lew said that in his op-ed. So it's going to be a big fight ahead."
And yet the federal government wants to drastically increase the budget of the US State Dept. For Fiscal Year 2010, the State Dept budget was $16,389 billion, as noted in [PDF format warning] "The Budget In Brief Fiscal Year 2010." Of that $16,389 billon, "[a]pproximately $1.7 billion of the request is required to support the Department's activities in Iraq, previously funded through supplemental appropriations." From the report:
The Department requires a total of $1.715 billion to maintain operations at the U.S. Mission in Iraq. These funds will support basic mission operations, logistic support, information technology, the sustained operation of up to 27 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and overall security requirements. Funding will enable the U.S. Mission to continue to work toward the strategic goal of a unified, democratic Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself. The request moves to end the practice of funding these operations through supplemental appropriations, thereby normalizing the budget process.
If money is to be cut, the most obvious place to cut would be the unneeded programs. "Unneeded" would include militarizing the State Dept. Don't look for Jack [Jacob] Lew to suggest that since he doesn't even know how much money the State Dept is asking for re: Iraq. Since he's the Deputy Secretary of State, he should know the money. Of course, he may know the amount and may just be lying. So whichever he sees as more flattering: ignorant or lying. Last Tuesday he gave a press breifing in DC (click here for text and video) and declared, "In the FY 2010 supplemental, funding for Iraq is necessary to assure that these time-sensitive investments proceed on schedule. The 2011 funding for Iraq is $2.5 billion. The programs in Iraq will include police training, rule-of-law programs, and a transition from the current military footprint to a more diplomatic and development presence." $2.5 billion? He declared that Tuesday afternoon. Yet, that morning, in Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, US Ambassador to Iraq declared 2011 would be 3 to 3.5 billion dollars. One might think that possibly Jack Lew found a way to save one billion dollars in a single afternoon. However, Ambassador James Jeffrey also appeared before Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and he was using the same figures Thursday that he had used Tuesday.
So who is speaking for the State Dept and why is the department unable to speak in one voice on this issue? And why are we pretending the State Dept needs to spend money in Iraq -- anymore money than they spend for an embassy in England, France or Jordan?
Let's remember this:
A Stable and Democratic Iraq. Now that coalition military forces have ousted Saddam Hussein's regime, the United States will work side-by-side with the Iraqi people to build a free, democratic, and stable Iraq that does not threaten its people or its neighbors. Our goals are for Iraqis to take full control of their country as soon as possible and to maintain its territorial integrity. We will assist the Iraqi people in their efforts to adopt a new constitution, hold elections, and build a legitimate government based on the consent of the governed and respect for the human rights of all Iraqis. We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, but not one day longer.
That was the State Dept's Mission Statement issued in 2004. Where is the necessary? Do you really think the Iraqis need the US government to burp, wipe bottoms and change diapers? Iraq's now got a Constitution. They've had elections. Hasn't "as long as necessary, but not one day longer" arrived and then some? Especially when the US is in the midst of a recession?
Now the senile and sexist Alan Simpson can go on CNN yesterday (link has video) and, in between discussing his apparently green penis ("Anybody giving you anything different than that, you want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat, and give them the green weenie."), demand that cuts be made to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense" and the defense industry will resist and protect itself by circling the wagons and preaching paranoia. Libertarian Nick Gillespie (Reason) is the only one noting that Simpson mentioned gutting foreign aid and that he's saying there should have been a tax (should be one now?) on the Iraq War. Gillespie notes, "Well, he's right that the actual folks fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the people who live in those misbegotten nations too) are the only ones who have sacrificed. The real point, though, is that we don't need to be sacrificing anybody or anything there. We need to get out, sooner rather than later." That should include saying "NO!" very loudly to giving the State Dept monies to train Iraqi security forces, etc.
And while the US government can find money for propping up Nouri, they've never been willing to invest even a fraction of that into aiding Iraqi refugees. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports on refugees being forcibly returned to Iraq from European countries:
Refugee officials say those flown back from Sweden to Baghdad include Christians from Mosul, where the religious minority has been specifically targeted over the last year.
Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden have each signed bilateral agreements with the Iraqi government to return failed asylum seekers, says Umran Riza, the United Nations' top refugee official in Jordan, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have sought temporary refuge.
"We've advised these governments to still be cautious about it and we consider it the wrong message to be sending at this time where there is still a great deal of insecurity," he said in a recent interview with the Monitor.
The UN automatically considers any Iraqi from central Iraq to be at enough potential risk to be automatically considered a refugee – a position not shared by the Iraqi or many European governments.
Unrest in Egypt has dominated the news cycles for days and days. Abigail R. Esman (Forbes) ponders the issue of whether "democracy" will come to Egypt and points out:
Five years ago, when a friend was struggling to arrange asylum for a young Iraqi refugee, she ran up against continuing refusal by the US government to open its doors to any of the four million Iraqis displaced by the war in Iraq, many running for their lives simply because they had assisted American journalists or soldiers. "Iraq is a democracy now," US officials said. "She doesn't need asylum here."
If what we saw in Iraq five years ago is what "democracy" really means, then I have, indeed, no doubt: we'll be seeing democracy in Egypt. But I don't believe it is.
Over the weekend, Nizar Latif (The National) reported, "Protesters who stormed government buildings and a police station in a small, poor southern Iraqi town on Thursday continued their demonstrations yesterday, despite a crackdown by security forces." You can refer to Thursday and Friday's snapshots for more on the Diwaniya protests. Saturday, Alsumaria TV reported, "Hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad on Friday in protest against unemployment, freedom restrictions and other demands. Demonstrators waving the photo of late Argentinean revolutionary leader Che Guevara said they had no one to represent them in Iraq. Iraqi demonstrators urged to change the policies in Iraq and accused Parliament of shortcoming." Al Rafidayn noted that they marched on Muntanabi Street, activist, young people and intellectuals, demanding improved services. Al Rafidayn reported Sunday that approximately 250 people demonstrated in Baghad over the continued problems with basic services with some protesters carrying a coffin upon which the term "services" was written and demonstrations took place in Basra. On the Basra protest, the paper quoted a protester who states, "My children and I depend entirely on food rations and will die without them. " The man is a construction worker who gets temporary jobs and he wonders, since they have been unable to afford kerosene, if the government wants his family to burn each other to stay warm? Ramdi and Mosul also saw demonstrations Sunday according to Al Rafidayn. Xinhua reports the Baghdad protest had 3,000 participants. Al Mada notes that the Basra protests demanded that the provincial governor resign. The UK Morning Star quotes professor Nidal al-Sarmad speaking at the protest Sunday in Basra, "The people feel they have been deceived, they are frustrated. The change the Americans brought has brought us a new set of thieves, a new set of dictators, not justice and freedom." Al Mada also features an essay which notes protests in Falluja as well and stresses that these protests are not an attempt to "imitate" either Egypt or Tunisia, that this is the Iraqi people -- with their proud heritage -- demanding that basic services be provided and demanding that the "cake" stop being eaten by politicans while the people starve.
Salar Jaff and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) added that MP Abbas Bayati declared Saturday that the Parliament "will also enact a law that guarantees equilibrium between the salaries of officials and ordinary Iraqis. The current circumstances are pushing us to descrease expenses and salaries, and spend them on the low income classes." Pushing? The Parliament's not held sessions during the recent holiday and only sprung back into them last week. Last week has seen a lot of words but not a lot of action.
And words versus actions? After airing words of salary cuts, Al Mada reports today, there is a split in the Iraqi National Alliance on this issue and that it was said they would not be voting on the issue of salary reduction. Al Mada notes they were not the only political bloc in Parliament objecting to cutting their own salaries and allowances.
Of course no one does easy, meaningless words like Nouri. Saturday, his words included the announcement that he wouldn't seek a third term. His spokesperson discussed the 'decision' and Nouri himself announced the decision to Sammy Ketz of AFP in an interview. Ketz reported him stating he won't seek a third term, that 8 years is enough and that he supports a measure to the Constitution limiting prime ministers to two terms.

Well Jalal Talabani declared he wouldn't seek a second term as President of Iraq in an interview and then . . . took a second term. Point, if you're speaking to a single journalist, it really doesn't seem to matter what you say. Did Nouri announce his decision to the people? No, is quite clear that an advisor made an announcement and that Malliki made no "public statement" today.

In other words, a statement in an interview is the US political equivalent of "I have no plans to run for the presidency" uttered more than two years before a presidential election. That's Iraqi politicians in general. Nouri? This is the man who's never kept a promise and who is still denying the existence of secret prisons in Iraq. Deyaar Bamami ( notes the Human Rights Watch report on the secret prisons and that they are run by forces Nouri commands.
And Nouri couldn't even make it 24 hours with his latest 'big promise.' Sunday, Ben Lando and Munaf Ammar (Wall St. Journal) reported that Nouri's spokesperson, Ali al-Mousawi, declared today, "We would like to correct this article. Maliki said, 'I think that the period of eight years is adequate for the application of a successful program to the prime minister, and if he is not successful, he must vacate his place'." Of course he's not announcing that. He's a thug. His previous four year term was an utter failure.

That's not speculation, that's not opinion. He agreed to the benchmarks that the White House set. He was supposed to achieve those in 2007. Those benchmarks, supposedly, were what would determine whether or not the US tax payer continued to foot the bill for the illegal war. But he didn't meet those benchmarks and apologists rushed forward to pretend like they weren't a year long thing and that, in fact, he had 2008 as well. Well 2008 came and went and the benchmarks were still not met. Nor were they in 2009. Nor were they in his last year in 2010.

That's failure. When you agree you will meet certain things -- such as resolving the Kirkuk issue -- and you do not, you are a failure. Not only did he fail at the benchmarks, he failed in providing Iraqis with basic services. He failed in providing them with security.

There is no grading system by which Nouri can be seen as a success.

But just as he will not admit to or own his failures from his first term as prime minister, do not expect to own or admit to his failures in his second term. In other words, Little Saddam wants to be around, and heading the Iraqi government, for a long, long time.

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