Wednesday, June 18, 2014

He falls even lower









It was last Wednesday when US Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Beecroft appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He was not there to testify about Iraq.  No, he was present because Barack has nominated him to be the next US Ambassador to Egypt.

Iraq is in turmoil and Barack's trying to pull the Ambassador out and bring in a new one.

What Barack has offered is an ever changing Ambassador to Iraq.

Chris Hill was an utter failure.  We noted he would be before he was confirmed.  A simple look at his personnel file was all anyone needed to grasp the failure Hill would be.  This was who Barack went with for his first Ambassador to Iraq.  After Hill's failures were too big to ignore, Barack then nominated James Jeffrey.  Like Hill, Jeffrey was confirmed.  Unlike Hill, Jeffrey wasn't a non-stop embarrassment in the post. Barack then nominated I'll-stick-my-cock-in-anything Brett McGurk to be the next Ambassador.  He withdrew his nomination when his e-mails about blue balls only further made his nomination seem like a joke. Then Barack nominated Beecroft.

And now he's moving Beecroft to Egypt and has nominated Stuart E. Jones to be Ambassador to Iraq.  Jones currently serves as the US Ambassador to Jordan.

Barack is currently in the sixth year of his presidency.  Jones is Barack's fifth nominee to be Ambassador to Iraq.  Not only does that not instill confidence, it also demonstrates a lack of vision and a lack of consistency in the US government's dealings with Iraq.

In his prepared remarks, Jones noted:

Mr. Chairman, I am both humbled and thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as Chief of Mission at American Embassy Baghdad, one of our largest and most complex diplomatic missions. I had the honor of serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad. I also served as the Governorate Coordinator in Ramadi, in Anbar Province under the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004. Later I was Director for Iraq Affairs on the National Security Council staff here in Washington. These jobs have helped me prepare for the complexity and challenges of the assignment ahead. We are all familiar with the history of Iraq's past decade. It is impossible to serve in Iraq without recalling and honoring the sacrifice and achievement of our U.S. servicemen and women and civilians. More than 4,000 Americans lost their lives to give the Iraqi people a chance at a better future. Today we are committed to helping build a new Iraq, which has moved beyond the isolation and oppression of its past, with secure borders, strong democratic institutions, and where all citizens benefit from its abundant resources.

And that contained the first evidence that Jones isn't up for the job.

I'm sick of these nominees Barack keeps offering who do not value life.  I'm tired of it, their work demonstrates that if they short cut life at their confirmation hearings, they don't suddenly develop a respect for it later on.

"More than 4,000 Americans lost their lives"?

The number of US military personnel the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4489.

'Well, by Price Is Right showcase showdown rules, Stuart Jones is right!  He didn't overbid!'

I guess that's true, but it's also true that this isn't a game show.

He wants to be Ambassador to Iraq.  He submits the statement he read out loud to the Committee in writing. And he can't get the number right?

He can -- and does -- provide accurate statistics for suicide bombers.  And you should listen to him yack on with oil statistics.  But when it comes to how many US military personnel died in Iraq, he goes all soft and fuzzy.

Again, if you're not interested in human life when you're angling for the position, you don't later develop an affinity for it while performing your duties as Ambassador.

Chair Robert Menendez:  In Iraq, while political leaders are deal making to form a government, the Iraqi people are not benefiting from their country's increased oil output and the conflict continues to surge in western Iraq as the spillover from Syria has enabled the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to take hold.  Clearly, we must continue to support Iraqi security forces but I'm concerned by reports that they have been using barrel bombs in their operations.  Serious questions remain unanswered: Iraq's role in Syria, the activities of Iraqi Shi'ite militias fighting with Assad's security forces,  the Iranian influence in Iraq and the commitment of the Iraqi government to protect the residents of Camp Liberty until we can conclude a resettlement process. 

Barrel bombs?  Human Rights Watch noted barrel bombs in their May 27th report:

Iraqi government forces battling armed groups in the western province of Anbar since January 2014 have repeatedly struck Fallujah General Hospital with mortar shells and other munitions, Human Rights Watch said today. The recurring strikes on the main hospital, including with direct fire weapons, strongly suggest that Iraqi forces have targeted it, which would constitute a serious violation of the laws of war.
Since early May, government forces have also dropped barrel bombs on residential neighborhoods of Fallujah and surrounding areas, part of an intensified campaign against armed opposition groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). These indiscriminate attacks have caused civilian casualties and forced thousands of residents to flee.

“The government has been firing wildly into Fallujah’s residential neighborhoods for more than four months, and ramped up its attacks in May,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch. “This reckless disregard for civilians is deadly for people caught between government forces and opposition groups.”

Camp Liberty refers to the Ashraf community and they'll be mentioned again in a moment.  Menendez is the Committee Chair, Senator Bob Corker is the Ranking Member.  Corker noted at the top of the hearing, "Iraq, we're continue to read daily, the devolution that is taking place there.  You feel it on the ground.  The lack of -- The lack of involvement that we have had in terms of shaping things on the ground is very, very apparent and I know we'll talk about that during Q &  A."

Along with Beecroft and Jones, the Committee also heard from Dana Shell Smith who's nominated to be the US Ambassador to Qatar. Our focus is Iraq, we won't be addressing her nomination.  We will note she was able to look up frequently as she read her opening remarks because someone took a nomination seriously enough to review their written remarks and probably practice delivering them.  Well done, Shell Smith.

By contrast, Jones badly read from his prepared remarks and ran with Brett McGurk's overused buzzwords such as "holistic approach" to Iraq. The bulk of his statements focused on Iraq's oil.  Oil, oil, oil.

Chair Robert Menendez:  Ambassador Jones, you know, we had Prime Minister Maliki here last year.  It was a difficult meeting.  I don't know whether or not he will actually, uh, be the prime minister again.  I guess by many accounts, he may very well ultimately build the coalition necessary to do that. But, as I said to Ambassador Beecroft as it relates to our relationship with the Egyptian government, in this case, the Iraqis must understand that the use of barrel bombs, that the overflights and the transiting of airspace by Iran sending troops and military equipment into Syria with impunity, and the lives of the people at Camp Liberty until they are resettled is going to be part of what this Committee judges as it relates to future arm sales, as it relates to our relationship.  So I would like to hear from you.  We understand the importance, we honor the lives of those who were lost in pursuit of a more democratic Iraq from the United States and an enormous national treasure.  But there has to be some change in the course of events here including having a government that is more inclusive, in which every Sunnis isn't an 'enemy' of the state.  There are many Sunnis who want to be part of Iraq as a nation but they have to be included as well.  Can you tell me about what you'll be messaging there as it relates to these issues?

Ambassador Stuart Jones:   Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Let me take your last point first which is, uh, of course, we completely agree, for Iraq to succeed, the different el -- the different political elements, the sectarian groups need to come together and create a shared vision.  They need to create a shared vision for their national security, they need to pull together to address the terrorist threat posed by ISIL and, uh, although the news from Mosul is very bad, I think one, uh, positive aspect of this may be that the groups are indeed coming together to address this challenge.  At least we're seeing signs of that in the last 24 hours.  In regards to the use of barrel bombs, the use of barrel bombs is completely unacceptable.  It's an indiscriminate weapon against civilians and it cannot be tolerated.  This is something that my colleague, Steve Beecroft has raised with the senior levels of the Iraqi government.  There has been an instruction handed down through the military that barrel bombs will not be used.  And we've also heard from military contacts that they recognize that instruction.  In regards to the overflights, this is an issue that remains a problem.  We are concerned that Iran is supplying the Bashar regime with overflights over Iraq.  This is something that we would like to see the Iraqis stop.  And this is, again, something that we have raised at the most senior levels.  And I will continue to do that and look for ways to find a way to stop -- to stop this traffic.  Uhm, on the issue of Camp Liberty, uhm, I know this is an issue of particular concern and it's a very important issue.  When I was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Iraq in 2010 and 2011, uhm, we witnessed a terrible attack on Camp Ashraf in which many people were killed and others were wounded.  I think the steps that we've taken since then have been quite positive, moving the residents of Ashraf to Camp Liberty has improved their security.  The government of Iraq has also responded to our requests and others requests to improve the security around Camp Liberty and that's encouraging.  But the solution, of course, is to remove the members of Mojahedin-e-Khalq from Iraq and get them to a safer place. They will not be safe until they are outside of Iraq and, uh-uhm, our government is taking the lead on this.  The Special Envoy for the Secretary [of State John Kerry], Jonathan Weiner, is meeting with representatives of countries around the world and asking them to take members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq.  And we also now have a team in Baghdad to interview members to see -- working towards receiving a group of those here in the United States.  And I think this is the best solution that we can present.

Chair Robert Menendez:  Well two final points so that you're crystal clear. I don't want to hear Iraq tell us that we need actionable intelligence.  When we have it, we'll provide it. But they have a responsibility in doing random surveillance of over flights.  And that is an excuse that is unacceptable. Secondly, I agree with you that resettlement of the MEK is the ultimate solution.  I hope -- and I have urged the State Department to consider bringing some of them to the United States as an example to the rest of the world that we're asking to seek resettlement to do so.  But in the interim, I hold the prime minister responsible for the lives of those individuals at the Camp.

Ideally, we'll note more from the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot.  For now, we'll move to an exchange with the Ranking Member.

Ranking Member Bob Corker:  Ambassador Jones, you know, I've visited Ambassador Beecroft and been to Iraq -- like many of us [on the Committee] many times.  Today, when you're there, unlike Jordan where you still are, it feels like a vacant, deserted lot, relative to our emphasis on it.  It feels like we've checked the box and moved on, that we've really lost influence.  That's, I think, everybody acknowledges that. That we really haven't been robust in all levels relative to our efforts there. We had a great conversation yesterday and we talked a little bit about the lack of a SOFA [Status Of Forces Agreement] and the fact that our troops are gone and that's contributed to the lack of influence in a pretty big way.  You've had two tours there.  And I mentioned I was going to bring this up just to kind of set the record straight. Many of us have felt -- and maybe after you say what you say -- may still feel that one of the reasons that Iraq is the way that it is is that we, you know, didn't leave behind some presence and that we actually, this was actually what the administration wanted to occur.  You have a very different perspective on that and I thought, don't take too long, if you will, but I thought it would be good for you to share your thoughts relative to why we do not have a presence in Iraq today.

Ambassador Stuart Jones:  As you said, we spoke about this yesterday.  My view on this is that, uhm, is that the Iraqi people really did not come together and ask us to stay in a way that made it possible for us to stay.  And it's as simple as that.  No secr -- No major Iraqi leaders -- with the exception of the Kurds -- came forward and invited us to stay in a public matter.  And they didn't go on television.  Uhm, we obviously needed to have a Status Of Forces Agreement for the security of our troops and the Iraqis didn't meet us half way on that.  So I think that this was the result of-of-of that negotiation and that's how it ended.

Ranking Member Bob Corker:  And so, from your perspective, the fact that we have no presence there and, candidly, much less influence, uh, is a result really of just the Iraqi people not wanting it to be that way?

Ambassador Stuart Jones:  Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Bob Corker: That's interesting and a very different perspective than I've heard from most but I appreciate your sharing that.  Uhm, and I would agree with the Chairman.  We had a pretty terse meeting with Maliki here.  I'd had one on the ground, just before that. [Menendez, Corker and others met with Nouri in the last week of October of last year.]  He's obviously not been a good prime minister. He has not done a good job of reaching out to the Sunni population which has caused them to be more receptive to al Qaeda efforts.  Uh, obviously the Syrian conflict -- I know there's analysis today saying that that's really not having an impact on Iraq -- I believe it's having a major impact on Iraq.  But with our diminished status in Iraq and the fact that we used to play shuttle diplomacy, if you will, between the Sunnis and Shia and causing that to work in a better way -- I think you did that before in your previous capacity -- how do you view your role there going there now under the circumstances that we have and trying to mitigate some of the problems that exist between the -- especially the Shia and the Sunni.

Ambassador Stuart Jones:  Yeah, uhm, well I think I'm blessed to be following in the footsteps of Steve Beecroft.  I think Steve has established very good relations with all of the groups in Iraq and I think this is a role that we should continue to play -- brokering, using our good offices to broker solutions to the myriad problems that face -- that face Iraq.  I think we've made great progress in recent months in trying to broker an arrangement by which the hydrocarbon, uhm-uh, law could be finalized and the relations between Kurdistan -- the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad could resolve their problems.  I think we also could find ways to support a process of political conciliation between some Shi'ite, uh, Sunni groups and, uh, and the government.  This is the role that the United States has played in Iraq in the last ten years and I certainly hope to continue that role.  I think we do have significant influence because of our, uh, continuing presence in the commercial and the petroleum sector as well as continuing presence in the military sector though, obviously, not with troops on the ground.

Are you feeling it for the nominee?

He's well liked in the State Dept and is considered to have shown real skill and talent in Jordan.  But when he says something like "great progress in recent months" on the hydrocarbon issue?  Well it may seem that way to him.  To others, probably not.

I've been hearing that claim in Congressional hearings since 2006.

And there's been no law passed.

And, more importantly, nothing's happening now.  Nor will it happen.

Over the weekend, Parliament held what was their last session.

So you'll have a new Parliament at some point.  (In 2010, it took over 8 months after the parliamentary election for Parliament to have a real session and name a president and Speaker of Parliament and prime minister-designate.)  And the process of discussing a law will start all over.  As it repeatedly has.  And Stuart Jones -- he will be confirmed (and that's not a complaint, he's better than Hill and most think he'll be better than Jeffrey) -- will become the latest Sisyphus to start each day pushing the same rock up the hill.

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