Saturday, September 12, 2009

Scream! Pretty Barry wants to scare you to death!







On the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show today, Iraq was discussed. Steve Roberts filled in for Diane Rehm (who tripped a few Thursdays ago and expects to be back on Monday's program and will be on Saturday's Weekend Edition speaking with Scott Simon) and spoke with panelists Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera) and Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy).

Steve Roberts: Karen, next door [to Iran], Iraq continues, almost every week we have to talk about it. This week in Iraq, a blast in the northern provinces, 25 or so people killed. This is an area of-of a lot of ethnic strife, Kurds, Turkmens, Arabs. What do we know about the security situation in-in Iraq and the potential for widening civil strife there?

Karen DeYoung: It's interesting that as these -- as these things have happened and there have been several big explosions, certainly starting from the August 19th suicide attack against the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad, the Americans have gone out of their way in each instance to say, "Gosh this is too bad but we don't think it's a return to sectarian strife. We think things are proceeding as they should, we are leaving on schedule, if not before we are scheduled to leave." And you saw Ambassador Chris Hill, the US ambassador to Baghdad, was on Capital Hill yesterday testifying in the Senate and in the House and saying, "Look, you know" essentially saying, "this is growing pains. The Iraqis have to learn how to deal with these things themselves and they will learn by doing it."

Steve Roberts: I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. But in his (Hill's) testimony, the subtext clearly was drawing a very clear distinction between Iraq and Afghanistan. They continually say Iraq is-is not vital to national security in just -- in the way that Afghanistan remains.

Karen DeYoung: Well he was saying Look we have an ongoing interest in a partnership with Iraq. Iraq will -- You know we have this Strategic Framework Agreement that-that has levels of economic cooperation, cultural cooperation and some ongoing military cooperation, certainly in terms of training and-and other kinds of assistance. But that we are not -- we think in terms of the insurgency, that's Iraq's problem now and we're leaving it for them to deal with." Obviously, they still have problems in the north and that is the primary concern both on a military level, an economic level and a governance level The difficulties between the Kurds in the north and the -- and the Arabs and the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.

Let's use Karen's remarks to jump back to that hearing already covered in yesterday's snapshot. Last night, Kat shared her thoughts on the hearing and she also noted that I didn't do transcript format to cover as much of the two hearings as possible. Today we're going to zoom in on a few specific moments from the Senate Foreign Affairs hearing. First up, a few e-mails wonder if John Kerry was clear that Hill should summarize? Kerry is the chair of the committee and he was very clear in his instructions and Hill agreed to do what was asked and then went on to ignore what was requested of him.

Chris Hill: Thank you very much, uh Chairman Kerry, I would like to uhm -- I have a statement which I would like to --

John Kerry: We'll put the full statement in the record as if read in full and if you'd summarize that would give us more time to have a good dialogue. Thanks.

Chris Hill: Very good.

Is that not clear? Does any adult have trouble following what Kerry requested? Hill responded "Very good" and nodded. So presumably he understood what he was asked to do. He was asked to summarize his statement. The next words out of his mouth were, "Chairman Kerry, Senator Lugar, Members of . . ." and you can [PDF format warning] click here for the written statement he prepared ahead of time and you will see -- surprise, surprise, as Carol Burnett's Eunice used to say -- it starts the same way. In fact, 14 pages will be read word for word with the exception of when Hill loses his place. 14 pages. At which point, he will finally notice Kerry's displeasure and begin summarizing the last five pages. He will take approximately 11 minutes with the bulk of it (10 minutes) being spent reading word-for-word before he rushes to sum up the last five pages in one minute.

John Kerry: Mr. Ambassador, you also talked about the issue of reform in Iraq and, you know, we've been sitting on this committee listening to this talk I mean I can remember Secretary [Condi] Rice down in the lower building, lower room of the Dirksen, testifying to us in January three or four years ago saying the oil law's almost done, we're moving forward on this and that, etc, etc. We are at least three or four years later now and still those contentious issues remain contentious. Share with us, I mean, it seems those may be the explosion point also in the absence of an American presence. Would you lend your view on that and on the prospect of actually resolving these --

Chris Hill: Well first of all, I'd like to say that I think getting the economy there operating -- namely getting oil uh starting to-to-to be pumped out of the ground -- is essential to the future of that country and, frankly, we cannot be uh funding uh things that should be funded by the Iraqis and would be funded if they - if they were able to move on the oil sector. Uh with regard to the hydrocarbons law, I went out there with the expectation that we would move on that but I know -- you know -- it was held up -- it's been held up for three or four years. I have really worked that issue. We have tried to break it down, find out where the real differences are between the Kurdish government and the uh Iraqi government. It's a complex piece of legislation actually involving four separate pieces of legislation having to do with revenue sharing, having to do with institution building, uh having to do with uh how the ministry would operate and I think realistically speaking it will probably not get done before the January elections. So our concern has been we cannot have Iraq's future held up or-or simply held hostage to this one piece of legislation. Therefore we were pleased that the Iraqis did move ahead with the beginning of something they hadn't done for decades and decades and that is begin the process of-of bidding oil fields to foreign concerns. They didn't do it during Saddam, they didn't even do it pre-Saddam. So they have begun that. They began it in June. One of the --

John Kerry: That's all well and good but if all those revenues, if all those revenues are piling up in even greater amounts without some distribution mechanism --

Chris Hill: Well there is a distribution mechanism the 17% is basically -- is agreed to by all sides. So even when the -- when they -- on the Kurdish Regional Government when they were able to export some oil with an agreement with Baghdad, they did it under the provision of seven -- seventeen percent. So I think these things can-can be properly distributed. The issue is in the -- I won't say "long run" but certainly in the medium run they're going to need this law because the issues go to things like infrastructure. Iraq's oil sector is very much in trouble with very aging infrastructure. They have to have agreements no how they're going to pay for Is that the responsibility of local authorities? There are other issues having to do with the uh southern part of-of Iraq and there own regional concerns So I think they can deal with some of the key elements but it would be better if they dealt with the hydrocarbon law. I'm giving you my sense of the situation and I don't think we're going to get there before January. And therefore we really want to focus on getting them to bid out these fields because British-Petroleum in there is a good development.

John Kerry: Mr. Ambassador, Syria and Iraq had indicated a willingness to try to cooperate on the borders and deal with the foreign fighter issue which is very much in our interest and we've been pushing that on both sides. But the bombings on August 19th have now seen, you know sort of an explosion between the two countries, they've pulled their ambassadors and uh traded recriminations so where do we stand on that? What if anything can be done to end that? Will Turkish mediation make a difference? Is that the thing that we should be advocating at this point? And what do you think is the process for getting back to the place that we'd hoped to be.

Chris Hill: Well, I uh think we would like to see Iraq and uh Syria have a good relationship and it was rather ironic that on August 18th -- that is one day before the bombing -- Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki was in Damascus and they signed a number of economic agreements. Uh, obviously, things are -- things are in a difficult state and things are frankly on hold right now through this uh, through this uh down turn n the relationship. The Iraqis are very concerned about the fact that some senior Ba'athist leaders went and found refuge in Syria and remain in Syria. And the Iraqis have understandably called for their return to-to Iraq. That issue needs to be, frankly, needs to be worked through.

We'll stop on that section -- and note British Petroleum is not "in there" on its own, it formed a partnership with China National Petroleum Corporation. On the subject of Iraq and Syria, Muhanad Mohammed, Khalid al-Ansary, Tim Cocks and Elizabeth Fullerton (Reuters) report Nouri's spokesmodel Ali al-Dabbagh declared today, "It is premature to talk about the return of the ambassadors before Iraq sees seriousness from the Syrian side and the political will to implement the demands of Iraqis." Today's exchange is only the latest volley. Syria continues to demand proof before extraditing anyone.

We'll pick back up on yesterday's Senate Foreign Affairs Committee with Senator Russ Feingold.

Senator Russ Feingold: I'm extremely pleased that we finally have a time table for ending our involvement in the war in Iraq. While I'm concerned that the redeployment is not being done as promptly as it should be, this will allow us to refocus on the global threat posed by al Qaeda. I remain convinced that foreign occupations are usually not a good strategy for combatting a global terrorist network. We need to find ways to relentlessly pursue al Qaeda while simelutaneously developing longterm partnerships with legitimate local actors and doing so through civilian diplomatic and development efforts that do not involve a massive military footprint. And now as we transition out of Iraq it is extremely important that we focus on making this an orderly withdraw and doing everything we can through diplomatic means to help promote the political reconciliation needed to bring lasting peace to Iraq. As to some questions, Ambassador, how do the Iraqi people feel about the redeployment of all US troops by the end of 2011 as required by the bi-lateral agreement? Is there any danger that any indication that we're backing away from that committment strong opposition.
Chris Hill: I think the-the dates of uh December 2011, uh August 2010, these were agreed with the Iraqi government and uh at the end of 2008. Uh I think any uh any uh indication that we were not prepared to live with these dates would be very poorly received by the -- by the Iraqi people. And indeed we saw this in the uh in the movement out of the cities June 30, 2009. Rememer we tried to discuss that in terms of nuances and the uh Iraqi media, the Iraqi public got concerned that somehow we were looking for ways not to accomplish that and we did exactly what we said we would do which is we pulled our people from the cities and I think it really has established a resevoir of trust that when you uh have an agreement with the -- with the Americans, you can take it to the bank. So I think uh it's very important to-to live up to these agreements and I think the Iraqi people, even though they do have great concerns about the security, I think they-they want to be responsible for their -- see their country responsible for their own security. As I said earlier, this will be -- these will be difficult moments ahead but uh these are -- these will be nonetheless Iraqi moments to handle and I think they will -- they will deal with this. We are dealing with uh very -- some very competent people, very intelligent people and they will know what to do.

Russ Feingold: Thank you for that answer. The Iraqi government intends to hold a nation-wide referendum on the bi-lateral Status Of Forces Agreement and while there's been a lot of speculation about how this could impact a redeployment timetable, I'd like to also point out that both the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people will have had a chance to vote on the agreement even though the US Senate has not. Can you assure us that any potential modifications to the Security Agreement will be submitted to the Senate for ratification?

Chris Hill: Uh, the issue of Senate ratification goes beyond my write but I will certainly take that question to the State Department and get you an official answer on that. I can give you my personal opinion on that.

Russ Feingold: Would you please?

Chris Hill: -- that you would not want to be changing this uh we would not engage in changing this security agreement without uh considerable consultation but as for the actual relationship between the Senate and the executive [branch] on this, I'd like to defer to our lawyers at the State Department.

First, Omar Fadhil al-Nidawi and Austin Bay (Wall St. Journal) report, "It's clear that Iraqi air defense forces will not be ready to handle the mission by 2011. Currently, the Iraqi Air Force is a creature of turbo-prop planes and helicopters. A squadron of high performance aircraft flown by Iraqi crack pilots is an expensive goal that might sortie over Baghdad by 2016 at best, though the Iraqi Ministry of Defense quietly estimates that 2018, or 2020, is more probable."

Could the White House extend the US presence beyong 2011 and would it require Senate approval to do so? "Yes" to the first and "no" to the second. Russ Feingold isn't suddenly interested in this issue. He was among those vocally decrying attempts to circumvent the Constitution by bypassing the Senate to form a treaty with Iraq. That was the Bush White House. Let's drop back to the April 10, 2008 snapshot where another Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing was covered:

Senator Russ Feingold wanted to know if there were "any conditions that the Iraq government must meet?" No, that thought never occurred to the White House. "Given the fact that the Maliki government doesn't represent a true colation," Feingold asked, "won't this agreement [make it appear] we are taking sides in the civil war especially when most Iraqi Parliamentarians have called for the withdrawal of troops?" The two witnesses [David Satterfield (US State Department) and Mary Beth Long (US Defense Dept)] didn't appear to have heard that fact before. Feingold repeated and asked, "Are you not concerned at all that the majority of the Iraqi Parliament has called for withdrawal" Satterfield feels the US and the agreement "will enjoy broad popular support" in Iraq. Satterfield kept saying the agreement wasn't binding. And Feingold pointed out, "The agreement will not bind the Congress either, if the Congress were to" pass a law overriding it which seemed to confuse Satterfield requiring that Feingold again point that out and ask him if "Congress passed a clear law overriding the agreement, would the law override the agreement." Satterfield felt the White House "would have to look carefully at it at the time" because "it would propose difficult questions for us."

"I would suggest," Feingold responded, "your difficulties are with the nature of our Constitution. If we pass a law overiding it . . . that's the law." The treaty and the efforts to bypass the Senate's advise & consent role was something that bothered senators on both sides of the aisle.

Feingold objected as did many Dems and, in the Senate, several Republicans. Barack Obama objected as well. Until he won the election. Then objections began vanishing. Now he operates under Bush's SOFA as opposed to doing any of the things he promised on the campaign trail. Can the White House extend US involvement in Iraq?


It was one of the two signers of the document. It can put forward a new agreement or can add years to the same agreement.


Does it need Senate approval to do so?

"No" would now appear to be the answer. Precedent would most likely apply here were the matter to go before the Supreme Court. The Court will sometimes provide a check on the Executive Branch; however, it generally looks for any way out of such a ruling. (The Court has no officers that enforce decisions -- among the reasons it tends to avoid stand-offs with the Executive Branch.) Allowing George W. Bush to put forward a treaty and refusing to overturn it when Barack was sworn in as president would most likely allow a wary Court to say a limited and limiting precedent --- applying solely to this SOFA document with Iraq -- was set by Bush's objections and the continuation of them under President Barack Obama. So Barack could bypass the Senate -- as Bush did -- in creating a new agreement or extending the current one. It's an issue Feingold always takes seriously. You'll note his chief online cheerleader, The Progressive's Matthew Rothschild, 'forgets' to document Feingold's line of questioning yesterday.

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