Thursday, June 07, 2012

The fact check!







"Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets to consider the President's nominees to serve as ambassadors to the following countries: Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Tajikistan," explained Senator Bob Casey this morning.  Casey was acting Committee Chair for the hearing.  Susan Marsh Elliott has been nominated for the Tajikistan post and Jeanne Sison's for the Srik Lanka and Maldives posts.  They are not our focus.  Brett McGurk is nominated to be the US Ambassador to Iraq and that is our focus.  For those late to the party who may have checked out on Iraq sometime ago, Casey offered a strong overview.

Chair Bob Casey:  In Iraq, of course, the picture is mixed.  Nearly six months after the redeployment of US troops from the country, we know that political and ethnic divisions remain sharp as Iraq recovers from years and years of war.  The current government took months to establish in 2010.  And a high degree of mistrust still exists among key political factions.  Iraqis and Americans have sacrificed greatly, mightily to support the Democratic process in Iraq.  At this point in time, we should continue to support the political reconciliation among key players in the country as they work to further deepen the Democratic process.  This unsettled political environment exists within a very precarious
security situation where extremist groups are still capable of an have launched significant attacks in the country.  Just last week, six bomb blasts across Baghdad killed at least 17 people -- mostly in Shia neighborhoods.  On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least 26 people in Baghdad and wounded more than 190 in an attack on the government run -- the government run body that manages Shi'ite religious and cultural sites. 

Why did we have the hearing?  He's "eminently capable" of doing the job, Casey rushed to assure in his opening remarks.  Then why are you wasting tax payer money?  Why waste our money holding a hearing when you've already decreed the nominee "eminently capable"?  Not to mention wasting everyone's time?

It was a garbage hearing.  Trash.  That's all it was.  I could ridicule Casey but instead will just note that aside from refusing to question the witness seriously, he did an okay job filling in for Kerry.  Only okay?  When the opposite side has time left and wants just a minute more, no words should be required.  Just wavie them through.  This is the Senate.  Especially when it's the other side because it's so easy to look petty when interacting with the other side.  His strengths?  He's a very religious person and follows religious news so he brings a perspective to foreign relations that's often unique.  He will -- and did in this hearing -- know certain details of foreign violence that the mainstream press has ignored.  I wish he'd bothered to hold a hard hitting hearing.  I wish he'd asked how have we arrived at Barack Obama's third nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq in four years?

The refusal to ask that sort of question goes a long way towards explaining how the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has failed repeatedly in the last four years when it came to vetting nominees.

In his opening remarks, Brett McGurk began with his time in Iraq back in 2004 with John Negroponte.   Listening to him list his part in one Iraqi failure after another, it was difficult not to remember Peter Van Buren's observations last March:

McGurk is 38 years old and has never done any job other than help fuck up Iraq on behalf of the United States. Dude only graduated in 1999. Despite essentially doing nothing but Iraq stuff his entire adult life, McGurk has also avoided learning any Arabic. You'd kind of think that maybe that wouldn't be the resume for the next guy in charge of cleaning up some of his own mistakes, like maybe you'd want someone who had some… depth or experience or broad knowledge or understanding of something other than failure in that God-forsaken country. Normally when you are a hand maiden to failure you don't get promoted, but then again, this is the State Department. This is almost as good as Harriet Miers.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, about his work for the State Dept in Iraq.

We'll note McGurk's claims of what he will do if confirmed.

Brett McGurk:  In the defense and security area, if confirmed, I look forward to working with our Office of Security Cooperation and CENTCOM to ensure that we are doing everything possible to deepen our military-defense partnership in Iraq. In the diplomatic area, if confirmed, I look forward to working with our ambassadors in regional capitols --  most of whom I've worked with and admired for many years -- to ensure close coordination of US policies in Iraq and throughout the region.  In the political area, Iraq is scheduled to hold elections -- provincial elections in 2013 and national [he means parliamenatry] elections in 2014. If confirmed, it will be a central focus of our mission to work in coordination with the UN to ensure that these elections are held freely and on time.  Energy and economics are now among the foremost priorities.  If confirmed it will be among my highest priorities to connect US businesses with emerging opportunities in Iraq and to refocus Iraqi leaders on the urgent necessity of diversifying their economy and grappling with national hydrocarbons legislation.  As the US pursues its interest in Iraq, we must never lose sight of our values including promotion of human rights, women and protection of vulnerable minorities.  This is an ambitious agenda but it should nor require an unsustainable resource base.  If confirmed, I pledge to work with the Congress to establish a democratic presence in Iraq.  That is secure, strategic, effective and sustainable. 
Back to the questioning.

Chair Bob Casey: I wanted to ask you about leadership which is a central concern in any confirmation process but maybe especially so for the position that you've been nominated for.  There will be those who say -- and I want to have you respond to this -- you have based upon your record, broad experience in Iraq. several time periods in which you've served as you've been called back for services under, as I indicated, two administrations.  But they will also say that you haven't had the leadership position that would lend itself to to the kind of substantial experience that will prepare yourself for such a position.  And I want you to answer that question because I think it's an important one in terms of demonstrating in this confirmation process, your ability to lead not just an embassy but an embassy and a mission of this size and  consequence.

Brett McGurk:  Thank you, Senator and thank you for allowing me to address that.  I'd like to do that in three ways.  First, leadership of the embassy starts at home: At the embassy.  As you noted in your opening statements, I've served with all five of our prior ambassadors to Iraq and I've seen every permentation of the embassy from the very beginning to where it is today.  Throughout that, uh, process, I have learned and seen and been involved with what it takes to lead in Iraq. And to lead in Iraq, you need a really  fingertip understanding of the operational tempo in Iraq, of what it's like day-to-day, of knowing when something is a crisis and when it's not, managing morale and keeping people focused on the goals.  It also takes a team.  And if I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed, I'd be inheriting a team of extraordinary talent and depth at the embassy.  I've been fortunate to have worked with every member of the country team in Iraq.  Uh, one of whom happens to be sitting to my left, Ambassador Sissen.  That team encorporates  individuals from across the government, just a whole government approach from Commerce to Transportation to Treasury to State to the Defense Community to the Intelligence Community. I've been gratified to learn that key members of that team have volunteered to stay on for another year and, if I'm confirmed, would serve with me.  As Ambassador, the buck would stop with me.  And as I think I said in the opening statement, I have a very clear visison -- in coordination with the President and the Secretary -- of where we need to take this mission.  But I would be working with a very strong team. 

He then goes on to list various people he's worked with.  However, the question was about his ability to supervise and the answer was about everything but supervision.  Near the end of all that he says "finally" and begins talking about "my relationship with the Iraqi people."  He stated he was called back "over the years due to my unique relationship with the Iraqis.  I have worked with these indiviuals since I first got to Iraq in January 2004."

Iraq's changed a bit since then.  And is McGurk able to see them for who they are now?  More importantly, is an occupation agent -- which is what McGurk would have been seen as -- really the one to make the diplomatic face for the US in Iraq?

No one asked that important question.

Brett McGurk:  Leadership also in this context, you have to look at inter-agency experience because you're looking at a whole government approach.  As a senior director for President Bush in the NSC particularly at one of the most intense periods of the war  from the time of planning and implementing the surge and through the end of his administration.  I was at point for organizing a whole of government effort for implement the surge.
That's where he should have been asked about his failure.

Forget your take on the surge and just look at what happened. (Some are pro-surge, some are anti- -- set that aside.)  We know what Gen David Petraeus did.  He was the top US commander in Iraq.  He receives much praise for the surge.

Bush ordered the surge.  Petraeus executed it.  That's not me saying, "Don't give Petreaus any praise!"  That's noting what Petraeus' role was.  I don't believe the surge did anything lasting.  I don't believe it resulted in success.  That's not my criticism of Petraeus.  Petraeus was ordered to execute it and did.  His efforts are his efforts and though I'm anti-surge I see nothing to fault him on with regards to the execution of it.  He did what he was ordered to do with the surge and did it excellently. 

2007 wasn't that long ago for some people.  For others it was a lifetime ago or even, if you're young enough, pre-history.  So let's go back and explain what was going on.  In the November 2006 mid-terms, the Democrats campaign of "give us one house of Congress and we'll end the war" resulted in their winning control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.  This alarmed the White House (among the reasons Donald Rumsfeld was replaced as Secretary of Defense).  Not surprising, Republicans are usually alarmed by Democrats and vice versa.  So you had Bush occupying the White House and fearful that the Democrats were going to keep their campaign promise.  What a naive Bully Boy Bush.

But Democrats were saying that the same thing was being done over and over.  US House Rep Gary Ackerman (who truly was against the Iraq War) was among those making that statement.  And they wanted to know why more money needed to be spent.  There was no progress.  The White House came up with benchmarks in early 2007 (and Nouri al-Maliki signed off on them as Iraq's prime minister).  Iraq would meet these benchmarks and that would be progress!  They never did.  And Democrats in Congress stopped caring as soon as Barack Obama was sworn in.  Doubt it?  US House Rep Lloyd Doggett, when's the last time you expressed public concern over the amount of money going to Iraq with the benchmarks not being met?  2008 when Bush was in the White House.

In Iraq in 2007, the ethnic cleansing from the year before was continuing.  Shi'ites were purging Sunnis, Sunnis were purging Shi'ites.  It was more Shi'ites than Sunnis and that's true not only because there were more Shi'ites in the country but also because Sunnis made up a huge portion of the refugee population created in this time period.  Iraq was spinning out of control.  In addition to the benchmarks, in January 2007, Bush proposed the surge.  Here he is explaining it (January 10, 2007) to the American people:

The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.
But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq - particularly in Baghdad - overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.
They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam - the Golden Mosque of Samarra - in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.
The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people - and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. So my national security team, military commanders, and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review. We consulted members of Congress from both parties, our allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts. We benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group - a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.
[. . .]
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work.
Now, let me explain the main elements of this effort. The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi army and national police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi army and national police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations; conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.
This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help. So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
[. . .]
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet, over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace. And reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.

An even shorter version of the speech can be summed up as:

Americans are weary of the war.  Iraq needs to show progress.  To give the politicians "the breathing space" to move forward, we are sending more US soldiers into Iraq to address the security situation.

Brett McGurk bragged about his role overseeing the surge to the Senate committee which was either too stupid or too cowed to point out the obvious: "Brett McGurk, you, sir, are no David Petraeus."

Petraeus' role is very clear.  And he executed the surge and did so in a manner that should have resulted in an excellent rating for him.  For Petraeus.

And that's the only part of the surge that can be rated as "successful."

The surge was a failure.  Not a military failure.  Petraeus and those following his orders did their job very well.  But the surge wasn't just about more military on the ground.  That was the military aspect.  The political aspect -- which McGurk was supposed to be working on -- was passing the hydrocarbons law, achieving reconciliation among Iraqis (end of the anti-Ba'athism implemented under Paul Bremer), etc.  That was a failure.

None of it happened.  And not only did it not happen under the surge, Nouri's just appointed new members to the Justice and Accountability Commission -- that's de-Ba'athification commission.  That was supposed to be done away with during the surge.  None of it happened.

That's basic and many people can say that straight forward. (An idiot couldn't say it straight forward to Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News.  Think I mean Sarah Palin?  No, the first stammering can't answer the question interview was with Barack.)  The US military did their part.  That's all that happened.  And it wasn't Petraeus job to get the political ball moving.  That was the job of people like Brett McGurk.

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