Saturday, March 10, 2012

Israelis, Palestinians, Americans all have to wait







"In Iraq," US Senator John McCain declared Tuesday, "Prime Minister Maliki continues to centralize power at the expense of the other political blocs while the threat posed by al Qaeda appears to be growing along with the kinds of horrific, spectacular attacks, like the one we saw yesterday." He was referring to Monday's attack on Haditha security forces which left at least 27 dead with three more injured. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Committee, McCain is the Ranking Member. General James Mattis (Commander of US Centcom) and Admiral William McRaven (Commander of the US Special Operations Command) were the witnesses appearing before the Committee. We had to hold this to cover the Veterans Affairs Committee hearings this week (and there's a House VA hearing we still didn't get to).
The drawdown in Iraq is a drawdown. The military's been clear in their use of "drawdown" and "reposturing" and just as clear in the non use of the term "withdrawal." There are at least 200 US service members guarding the American Embassy in Baghdad and the various consulates. In addition, there are US service members present as "trainers." Nouri al-Maliki has publicly spoken this year -- and repeatedly -- on this issue. The number he supplies publicly is 700. You don't read that in the US newspapers. His number may be too high, it may be too low. Maybe if US newspapers weren't so busy attempting to spin and reported facts, we'd know what the number was. At this point, the only number given is Nouri's number of 700. And there are more, as US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey admitted to Ted Koppel last December on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.
MR. KOPPEL: I realize you can't go into it in any detail, but I would assume that there is a healthy CIA mission here. I would assume that JSOC may still be active in this country, the joint special operations. You've got FBI here. You've got DEA here. Can, can you give me sort of a, a menu of, of who all falls under your control?
AMB. JAMES JEFFREY: You're actually doing pretty well, were I authorized to talk about half of this stuff.
In addition, the US State Dept has its largest mission in Iraq and Iraq is the mission they have militarized. There are 16,000 foreigners working for the US State Dept in Iraq -- that includes a large number of contractors.
Iraq is reported badly if at all by most outlets today. You get the Josh Rogins who want to pretend they're journalists but don't want to be held to the guidelines of journalims if it interferes with them completing another page in their slam book. The US occupation of Iraq continues. It hasn't ceased. Moqtada al-Sadr grasps that. So many in the US press pretend otherwise.
In addition to those US service members still in Iraq, there are the thousands stationed in the region around Iraq. General James Matthis noted to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that most US troops had left Iraq.
General James Mattis: The question then becomes: How do we maintain our presence with a light footprint? To accomplish this, the USCENTCOM AOR will assume an increasingly maritime character with special operations forces (SOF) and strong air enablers. Naval forces -- with embarked troops -- provide presence and a cost efficient means of rapidly projecting power in a crisis to execute contingency operations. Sustained naval presence and response forces provide a lighter footprint on the ground and are vital for reassuring our partners, deterring those with malign intent and tempering destructive actors from fermenting trouble in the region. The maritime environment also permits freedom of action unfettered by international boundaries and agreements. However, the stacked Iranian threats in our AOR of ballistic missiles, long range rockets, mines, small boats, cruise missiles and submarines demand stronger naval presence and capability to protect vital sea lines of communication.
The US news industry is a story of budget cuts. So Americans get less and less news from the news industry. Less and less coverage. It's much cheaper for Diane Sawyer, Scott Pelley and Brian Willaims to, for example, waste three or more minutes of airtime 'reporting' on some YouTube sensation where a pet does a trick. Pets can be house broken. News anchors, I'm not so sure. As the news industry goes for the cheap and the banal, Americans are less and less informed about what is going on due to this news failure.
General James Mattis: Our successful military drawdown from Iraq puts the need to develop a new strategic relationship with the Iraqi government at the forefront of our regional policy. The Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) has been established and testifies to our respect for Iraqi sovereignty. Our relationship going forward will be based on mutual respect between two sovereign nations. USCENTCOM will work to expand security cooperation activities and deepen our military-to-military ties with Iraq while helping to expand its military engagement with key regional partners. Simultaneously, we remain clear-eyed, recognizing Iran's access to and efforts to subordinate Iraq and work to counter that malign influence. OSC-I -- working under Chief of Mission authority and with the full support of USCENCOM -- is the lead proponent for executing the military component of our intent. Thank you for your fast action in support of our special authority for OSC-I and for your continued patience as we work through a successful transition. The danger from al Qaeda in Iraq is still serious and it remains capable of spectacular attacks against the people and the government there even as it takes advantage next door in Syria to mount attacks there.
The Congress, the Pentagon and the State Dept continue to have to address Iraq -- that's staffing, that's budgeting. But the news media tells Americans that the mission (occupation) has ended.
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Ranking Member John McCain: General, are their strong indications that al Qaeda is making a comeback in Iraq?
General James Mattis: Yes, sir. Particularly in the western Iraq area but the threat is extending into Baghdad.
I think al Qaeda in Mesopatamia is both a catch-all to blame anything on and, especially for the US government and the US press, a device that allows denial. If al Qaeda in Mesopatamia is responsible, then there's no need for the US government of US press to factor in just how much US actions have resulted in a government that so many Iraqis oppose. You might also think that since the US went into a trillion dollar debt over the Iraq War -- a debt that will weigh on the country for decades to come -- the news media might continue to cover Iraq as a result of the money invested but you would be wrong. Then again, maybe the news media avoids Iraq for that reason -- don't you dare let the taxpayers know just how poorly their money was spent.
Maybe that's why Senator Claire McCaskill's comments at the hearing weren't noted? Specifically when she observed, "I can give you anecdotally disasters in Iraq. In fact, I am trying to compile all the infrastructure we build in Iraq and what the status is of it today. But I think everyone knows, it's not a pretty picture. How much got blown up? How much was never utilized? How much sits crumbling? And -- and that's all an incredible amount of resources of our country that we have invested."
The press is supposed to be a watchdog and provide oversight. Does it really look like that's happening today?
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Senator Ben Nelson: I've got a number of concerns about our presence in Iraq at the current time. I don't think that I have a clear understanding of what our mission is there. And it's further complicated by the fact that we've got questions about the new embassy which is a significant -- in terms of size -- building with a significant number of security contractors located there -- perhaps not even functioning in a security role outside of the embassy. And the embassy continues to be expanded. And I understand, perhaps, the State Dept is now in charge of establishing what our mission in Iraq is. Can you -- either of you -- help enlighten me about what our mission truly is in Iraq today? And how that might relate as well to the providing of security by contractors and the continuing expansion of a building that seems to be gargantuan in size already. General Mattis?
General James Mattis: Sir, as far as our mission in Iraq, it's going from a military-led effort in Iraq over the last eight years to a State Dept-led mission under the Ambassador. There I do have a Lt. General with a small footprint on the ground, part of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq and they are engaged in everything from the sales of certain military equipment, providing contractor-led training, to organizing the Iraqis who want to go to military schools in the United States. We've maintained those relationships, that's what they're doing. As far as the security contractors, sir, who actually protect the embassy, those come under the US embassy, under the State Dept. But having been there recently, they're simply doing the guard duty you would expect in a high threat area. And as far as the size of the building, sir, I'm really not competent to respond on that part of the question.
Senator Ben Nelson: But it is big, isn't it?
General James Mattis: It's big.
Senator Ben Nelson: Thank you. In trying to understand the role of the contractors there in providing security, in other embassies in other countries, are we required -- do we require ourselves to provide security or do we look to the host nation to provide security?
General James Mattis: Sir, the host nation provides the external security outside the grounds. Inside the grounds, it's sovereign territory and we do that. We do that generally with contract guards, many of them are long serving guards there, and inside the building itself, you have Marine security guards.
Senator Ben Nelson: Is that the way it works in Iraq? In Baghdad?
General James Mattis: Yes, sir. It is.
Senator Ben Nelson: The Iraqis provide the external security?
General James Mattis: They do, sir.
Senator Ben Nelson: And if our personnel are moving from one place to another, who provides the security?
General James Mattis: That security is provided by our own -- our own contract guards.
Senator Ben Nelson: What level of security would the Iraqis provide externally to the -- to the Embassy?
General James Mattis: In that zone, when you go there, sir, you see that there are checkpoints set up some blocks away. They have patrols that go by. It's not just for our embassy, it's for other embassies in town as well as they provide the kind of diplomatic security that's expected around the world. Here in Washington, DC, some police men [and police women] can provide it because the threat is very low. In a place like Baghdad, prudent measures require the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police to do the security in a much more visual, obvious way.
If the State Dept is now in charge of the US mission in Iraq, why are they doing reports? When they weren't in charge, through 2011, they did the "Iraq Status Report." (Click here if you never read them.) Not anymore. And why isn't the State Dept regularly briefing on Iraq. They're supposedly in charge. They are answerable to the American people. They should be required to provide regular updates. They are operating in darkness, they are cloaking their actions and it's not surprising that a senator wants questions answered as to what the mission is. (Yes, I am aware that Victoria Nuland made comments Thursday -- only when asked -- on Iraqi women. I've never seen such ill-informed remarks. And that's despite the fact that we're referring to only a few sentences. I'll address them when I can do so a bit more calmly.) (And I've noted many times that I know Robert Kagan -- and often disagree with him. Victoria and Robert are married. I know Victoria as well. Check the archives, she's gotten no special treatment as a result of that.) They're not just spending taxpayer money, they are asking for record levels of taxpayer money and they can't be open about what they're doing? That should be unacceptable to everyone.
We'll note this exchange from the Tuesday hearing.
Senator Scott Brown: Regarding Iraq, I am as concerned as others are about the vacuum that has been created. And, as you know, al Qaeda in Iraq has carried out more attacks this year than it did in the entire second half of last year. Do you think there's a security vacuum there since we've left or what?
General James Mattis: It's not a security vacuum, Senator Brown, but it is a less capable Iraqi security force without our capabilities there. They're scrambling to try and fill in those gaps. We are working with our small footprint there to help them fill in those gaps but it is a concern, I know, for the Iraqi government and it is a concern for [US] Ambassador [James] Jeffreys.
Senator Scott Brown: Alright. You think al Qaeda -- You think al Qaeda's making a comeback in Iraq?
General James Mattis: Yes, sir, they are. It's not significant. It won't threaten the government. It will kill a lot of innocent people.
Senator Scott Brown: And what about the favoritism in the Iraqi government for the majority Shia political party? Do you think that's fueling another insurgency potentially and does this play right into al Qaeda's hands potentially to create that instability?
General James Mattis: It's not playing into al Qaeda's hands yet and I think that there has been some progress back into a political dialogue here in the last couple of weeks that I think is back on the right track. So it's -- I give you a cautious, optimistic view of this -- but it's very, very cautious at this point.
Wow. Mattis offers less spin than the US press. Which is supposed to be independent? That's right the US press. But they've rushed to tell you -- especially the New York Times -- that the political crisis is over. No such thing has happened. Mattis offered his "optimistic view" and it was more fact-based than anything the New York Times has offered on the political crisis. That's great for General Mattis, good for him. But that's damn lousy for the US press.
Brown and Mattis explored the political crisis. If you're the New York Times, you pretend that the political crisis kicks off on or around December 21, 2011. That's not accurate. The political crisis is ongoing and years-old. The easiest way to trace the current problems is to return to March 2010 when parliamentary elections were held and Nouri al-Maliki was unhappy with the results, stomped his feet for a recount and even after that was completed his State of Law still did not come in first. Instead, the Ayad Allawi-led Iraqiya slate came in first. Per the Constitution, President Jalal Talabani should have named Allawi the prime minister-designate and, at that point, Allawi would have had 30 days to put together a Cabinet -- failure to do so, per the Constitution, would mean Allawi's turn was over and a new prime minister-designate would be named. But Nouri used everything to hang on to his post, from the non-independent Supreme Court to the US White House.

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