Friday, December 21, 2012

Tapping and slapping




A lot of questions swirled around Psy's recent visit to the White House to meet President Obama. To some, it was, will Obama bring up the "Gangnam Style" singer's past lyrics about "killing fu-cking Yankees" and murdering "their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers"? To others, it was more pressing issues, wondering aloud if the Leader of the Free World has performed the most popular dance of 2012.





US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Ambassador Burns, when you talk about resources -- only 1% of the budget -- so what is 1$ of the budget?  So what is our budget?

Thomas Nides:  Our budget is $50 billion.

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Fifty-billion dollars.

Thomas Nides:  That's right.  Approximately 8% of the defence budget.

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  So when people hear "1%" it doesn't sound like a lot of money but fifty billion is certainly a lot of money.  When we talk about resources -- and I'm trying to understand because I've listened to a couple of different briefings, I've heard  Mr. Pickering and Adm Mullen, I've heard you gentlemen today and  think maybe you're not the folks that should be here because, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, you weren't really part of the decision making process.  But what I'm trying to understand, what I can't get my mind wrapped around is everybody says this was a very unstable and highly volatile area.  Then why, for God's sake, would we take out the best trained people we have?  Why? Why did we move the SST team?  Was it because of money

Thomas Nides: Well as you're aware, as we spoke about earlier --

US House Rep Mike Kelly: It's just a yes or a no.  Was it because of money?

Thomas Nides:  No, it --

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  No, it wasn't because of money. Because we know the SST team really came out of the Department of Defense budget, right?  So it didn't have anything to do with your budget --

Thomas Nides:  The SST, as you are aware were in Tripoli and --

US House Rep Mike Kelly: No, I'm aware where they were.  And I'm also aware that Lt Col Woods had begged to stay there.  Mr.  Nordstrom, the regional officer, had begged to stay there. Ms. Lambe said it wasn't because of money that they couldn't stay, somebody made a really bad decision.  Now I don't have any idea of the voting registration of Ambassador [Chris] Stevens, of Sean Smith,  Mr. [Tyrone] Woods, Mr. [Glen] Doherty.  I have no idea how any of these folk registered.   It's not a matter of it being a partisan issue.  We have four dead Americans.  I'm trying for the life of me to understand how, when we say, [. . .]   You know what everybody says about the area?  It's a wild west show, nobody's in charge.    We're in a host country that can't supply us with the assets that we need?  What in the world were we thinking?  Why would we pull out people and make our ambassador more vulnerable?  And who made the decision?  And if neither one of you made the decision, say 'I didn't have anything to do with it.'  Because, what I'm finding out in this administration is that nobody had anything to do with it.   If you had anything to do with it, just say I had something to do with it and I made the decision.

Thomas Nides: No, we didn't.  We did not have anything to do with it.  That said we do need to make sure of --

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  Are you aware of a GAO request from 2009 to do a review because they thought it was woefully -- a strategic review of our embassies were not taken and it was a strategic problem, a security problem, anyone of you aware of that?  We had a hearing on October the 10th, the GAO said that to this day the Department has not responded or done the review.  I find it interesting now we're going to do the review.  It's a little bit late.  So that hasn't taken place.  Now, I want to ask you, in addition to the four dead Americans, how many people were wounded that night?

William Burns: I think there were three Americans who were wounded that night and one of the wounded is still in Walter Reed Hospital and --

US House Rep Mike Kelly:   Just one of them?

William Burns:  I'm not certain.  I --

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Any idea of how bad they were injured?

William Burns:  Yes, sir, the gentleman, our colleague, who's at Walter Reed was injured very badly --

US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Very badly.  Okay.

That's from this afternoon's House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing.  Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas R. Nides appeared before the Committee to address the findings from the investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Retired General Mike Mullen (former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) into the events of September 11, 2012 when the US Consulate in Benghazi was attacked and Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Chris Stevens were killed.  There are two versions of the report -- the classified one and the unclassified.  The unclassified version has been [PDF format warning] posted online at the State Dept's website.

Senator John Kerry: I also want to emphasize that every member of this committee felt the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team in a very personal way.  We knew Chris Stevens well before he came before us for confirmation.  He had been a Pearson Fellow for Senator Lugar and the Committee.  We knew the depth of his character, of his intelligence and his dedication.  His death was a horrible blow in personal terms to the Committee as well as to the country and his family.  It evoked an outpouring of emotion on our Committee from the condolence book in our office in the Capitol to the private gestures of members of this Committee who shared their grief in private ways at Senate 116 signing the condolence books, touching the picture, saying a prayer.  Equally tragic was the loss of three courageous men whom I personally never met but whose families I had the chance to greet and hug when the military brought their loved ones' remains back, one last time, to Andrews Air Force Base.  That heartbreaking and solemn ceremony brought home the impact of our nation's loss.  Glen Doherty was a former Navy SEAL.  He was also from my home state and I talked a couple of times with his family.  Tyrone Woods was a former SEAL, Sean Smith an Air Force veteran, all people for whom service to country was their life.  So today we again say "thank you" to all of them, to the fallen and the families.  They all gave to our nation and we are grateful beyond words for their service and their sacrifice.

That was also today.  No, the Senator didn't show up at the House hearing.  John Kerry is also the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Burns and Nides appeared before his Committee this morning.  The two were appearing in place of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had planned to attend but then passed out over the weekend, injured herself in her fall and is on doctor's orders to work out of her home.  (Actually, she was ordered to be on rest.  She got her doctor to agree to allow her to work out of her home.)  Chair John Kerry noted that the plan was for her to now appear before the Committee in January (she can't appear this month, this was the last hearing for the Committee this year).  US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  (Outgoing because the Republicans impose term limits, she'll remain in Congress, she was re-elected in November.)  Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen noted that Hillary  is also scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January.

A few observations about the hearings.  Burns was a good witness.  Nides was testy and combative in the afternoon (House hearing).  That may make 'sense' to some.  And if you want to be simplistic (and stupid) you can assume that a Democrat being in the White House, the witnesses had an easier time in the morning when a Democrat controls the Committee (Kerry) than in the afternoon when a Republican controls the Committee (Ros-Lehtinen).  But that wasn't the case.  (And both Chairs conducted their hearings professionally.)  Nides was most testy when being questioned by US House Rep Russ Carnahan.  Carnahan is a Democrat and an easy going person in a hearing.  It was never clear why Nides decided to get rude but it was uncomfortable and Ros-Lehtinen tried to smooth it over after by thanking Carnahan for a photo of his grandfather (former US House Rep A.S.J. Carnahan) serving on the House Foreign Relations Committee decades ago.  (Russ Carnahan is the son of former Senator Jean Carnahan who was appointed to the Senate to fill her husband's seat after Senator Mel Carnahan passed away while in office.)  Repeating, there was no visible reason for Nides to have been rude to US House Rep Russ Carnahan.

It was not a good day for Democrats period.   If I'm a member of Congress who got damn lucky that the FBI waited until after the election to round up a member of my staff who was a sex offender (waited until after the election on the orders of Homeland Security), I really don't think I'd be on a high horse about how much I value accountability.  Especially since I didn't take accountability for providing a sex offender with the prestige to brag that he was working for a US Senator.  So, if I were that member of the Senate,  I think I'd try to keep a low profile.  Fortunately, that's the only embarrassing moment for the Senate Dems in today's hearing.   In the House?  Four embarrassing moments.  We'll note Priss-Priss.  If US House Rep Gerry Connolly wants to waste everyone's time with crap, well let's hope his constituents hold him accountable.  But in the halls of Congress, you're not a little girl or a boy going through puberty.  No one needs to hear your voice breaking as you go higher and higher.  Your mincing as you attempt to be rude hurts the ears and it doesn't come off stately or professional.  And your mocking of other members of the Congress was extremely unprofessional and something you should be ashamed of.

US House Rep Jeff Fortenberry would later declare, "I don't care to be lectured to about the need to be bi-partisan particularly in such an intolerant and uncivil tone. Now this is an important hearing.  There are serious questions here and to suggest that our motives are a ruse for political motivation to me is disrespectful and discourteous and I think unworthy of the levity of this important matter."  Though he spoke much later (he was the last to speak), he was referring to Connolly.  Fortenberry is correct that it was intolerant and uncivil.  

One of the embarrassing moments in the House will be covered by Ava tonight  at Trina's site, Wally's going to note money tonight at Rebecca's site and Ruth's covering the House hearing at her site tonight.

The Senate was more civil and more focused on getting answers to questions.  There was no speechifying or pretending you were actually a spokesperson for the White House (that happened in the House hearing).  Senator Barbara Boxer, if she's at the top of her game in a hearing, usually hits a note that others will pick up on in the weeks and months to come.  It was Boxer who, in April 2008 (April 8, 2008), wanted to know why the Iraqi government wasn't paying for the Sahwa?  She is the one who asked why these fighters who were paid to stop fighting the installed Iraqi government and the US forces were being paid by US tax payers -- $182 million a year.  Had Boxer not raised the issue, it might never have been raised and the US taxpayers might still be footing that bill. 

Near the end of her questioning, she slipped in the following.

Senator Barbara Boxer:  May I ask one last quick question? Thank you.  Was it appropriate to rely so heavily on Libyan militias to guard American personnel?  How was that decision made and how do we avoid these types of failures?  Are there standard policies and procedures for the hiring of contract guards?  Was Libya an anomaly or are there other embassies around the world where we're relying on the same type of forces?

Thomas Nides:  Well, as you know, Senator Boxer, we rely upon the Vienna Convention which we have for over 200 years.  The reali -- the fact for us on the ground is to rely on the local governments to protect us.  We can -- We have to do that because we do not have the ability to have enough troops on the ground and most of the countries would not allow us to so we are -- One of the tasks that Secretary Clinton asked us to do when we send out the assessment teams is to ask two very clear questions: A country's intent to protect us and their ability to protect us.  Sometimes those two are different.  And as we see what we refer to as the new normal, we have to constantly ask ourselves those questions.

Senator Barbara Boxer: Would you write to us and let us know if there are any other facilities that are relying on militia.  Thank you.  I thank you.

Again, when Boxer's at the top of her game, there's usually one key exchange that demonstrates where things are headed, how the issue will be seen by the Congress.  It's very likely that is the big takeaway from the attack: Why are militias being used, should we be using them?  (This will be addressed more in tomorrow's snapshot as we continue the coverage of the hearings.)

Thomas Nides was the disappointment from the State Dept.  The report Mullen and Pickering came up with had a list of recommendations, twenty-nine of them in fact, as Nides would declare to the Committee.  Yet he came before the Committee to talk about this report and its recommendations and he can't tell you how many items State has broken the recommendations down into?

This isn't a minor issue.  Nides, "The Task Force has already met to translate the recommendations into about 60 specific action items.  We have assigned every single one to a responsible bureau for immediate implementation and several will be completed by the end of the calendar year."

"About 60"?  If the recommendations have been broken down into action items and these action items have been assigned throughout the department, he should know how many there are.

And if you disagree with me on that he should know the exact number and not "about 60" since he's testifying to Congress, then maybe this will change your mind.  He also told the Committee, "Secretary Clinton has charged my office with leading a task force that will ensure that all 29 are implemented quickly and completely -- and to pursue steps above and beyond the board's report."

If he's in charge of that, he should know the exact number.  Supposedly, these have been assigned.  Then he should know the exact number.  Not only because he was appearing before Congress but also because he's the person Hillary has tasked to be responsible for ensuring the implementations are made.

Senator Boxer had another important issue that might take over the one above so we'll also note it.

Senator Barbara Boxer:  Secondly, the troubling thing here is that there were repeated requests to implement security upgrades in Tripoli and Benghazi and, as we look at this report, we know what happened.  And I would like to know, do you intend to put it to process -- Sorry, to put into place a process that would allow for a second review of these requests by another body in the State Dept?  Because it seems like what happened was the requests came and went to one particular individual or desk and then it never saw the light of day.

Thomas Nides:  Senator, the answer to that is yes. 

That's going to be it for today due to space issues.  To move from the Congress to Iraq, let's note US House Rep Mike Ross.  Roby Brock (City Wire) notes that the Democrat is ending his 12 years in Congress (he lost the election in November) and an interview he gave to Talk Business.  Among the topics he discusses in the interview is Iraq, "I regret my vote on going to war in Iraq. I sat in the White House with the President [Bush] and I'll never forget what he said. He said Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and if military force is required, it will be 'swift' was the word he gave us… Look, there's evil dictators all over the world. There's no doubt Sadaam was an evil guy, but he didn't have nuclear weapons, he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and you know America has paid the price through the loss of lives, through soldiers that are injured in ways that will forever change their lives, and through the enormous amount of money we spent which helped contribute to this debt that we have today. Fighting in that war, and like I said, there's evil dictators all over the world, but we can't police the world. I think had we not done what we did in Iraq, I think we could have perhaps been more focused on what we were doing in Afghanistan, which I certainly supported."

Recommended: "Iraq snapshot"
"Talabani in Germany as people wonder what's next?"
"Chris Matthews' War Mongering and Bisexual Breakth..."
"And the world has turned my world upside down"
"How bad are things really?"
"good going for penny marshall"
"They focused on extraction, not rescue"
"Dianne, Carl and John, shut the f**k up"
"Sam Donaldson The Drunk"
"Debra Sweet, kiss my Black ass"
"World Can't Wait jumps off the deep end"
"Oh, ObamaCare!"
"When do we get Drone Control?"


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