Saturday, June 09, 2012

Out of touch and then some







The big news today?  E-mails Brett McGurk sent to Gina Chon.  If it seems familiar, in the US those covering it before 5:00 pm EST yesterday were Gawker, (John Cook),  Adam Kredo (Washington Free Beacon), DiploPundit kept the issue alive early on as did Peter Van Buren with "McGurk Senate Confirmation Hearing: Do the Emails Matter?," Cryptome published them, and we covered them in "Iraq snapshot" and "'Blue Balls' McGurk faces Senate Foreign Relations..." and "Iraq snapshot".  We covered them here the day before his confirmation hearing.  And though the State Dept admitted to a senator on the Committee that the e-mails were genuine (that is how I found out and why we included it in Tuesday's snapshot) no one wanted to ask questions about it in the hearing.  The e-mails are from 2008 when McGurk, two years into his first marriage, began pursuing an affair with Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal reporter).  McGurk discusses blue balls and masturbation and stresses that then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker should not know about the affair.  As Peter Van Buren has explained, the State Dept does discipline employees for extra-marital affairs.  Van Buren would leave his wife for Chon.  The two have since married.
Gina Chon's not the story here.  She may be at other sites and that's their business.  CJR should certainly be exploring the issue of sleeping with your source.  Here our focus is on McGurk except to point out that any woman who has an affair with a married man who then leaves his wife should be very wary of him being back in the same situation when he first cheated with her.  In other words, history tends to repeat.
Once you said you were in love with me
And maybe you still are
But the passion you once showed me
Now is lost among the stars
And you fancy some new fancy girl
Who'll come and change your life around
But she just turned the corner in her car
-- "Take Me As I Am," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her Come Upstairs
What changed?  Why the sudden interest from the press in covering the e-mails?  Because reporters on the State Dept beat pressed State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland about the e-mails. 
QUESTION: On another subject, this nomination of Brett McGurk, is it in trouble? And can you confirm that the State Department is investigating allegations of these emails between him and Ms. Chon of The Wall Street Journal?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, on the subject of the emails, they're out there for everybody to see. I'm not going to get into emails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife. With regard to Mr. McGurk's nomination, I think you know that he spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration. He is, in our view, uniquely qualified to serve as our ambassador, and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination.
QUESTION: So obviously you're sticking with him. But can you confirm that -- because there are reports -- that the State Department actually has looked into these alleged emails, or the allegations that these might have compromised security or sensitive information?
MS. NULAND: I don't have anything to say on the emails.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
QUESTION: Because, I mean, there are rules for Foreign Service officers to not get into situations where you're blackmailed. There's sort of a sense that you have to act morally. There are these regulations in your guidebooks. And some people have lost security clearances over having extramarital affairs. So I wonder why it is that this doesn't seem to be -- factor at all into your decision in keeping this -- keeping his nomination out there.
MS. NULAND: Again, we consider him uniquely qualified. All of the necessary things were done before his nomination, and we urge the Senate to confirm him.  Jill.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that those emails actually came from the State Department system, in -- within the State Department system?
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to speak about the emails. They're out there for you to look at. They're obviously very much available for anybody to read.
QUESTION: Aren't you investigating how they were leaked? They're from your own system.
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to get into our internal issues here.
QUESTION: Well, why not? You talk about WikiLeaks all the time. Those were essentially emails.
MS. NULAND: Goes to your usual point, Matt, that we speak about --
QUESTION: What, the lack of consistency?
MS. NULAND: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, okay, great. When -- you said you did -- all the necessary things were done before his nomination. What are those necessary things? Was that like a security clearance and vetting and --
MS. NULAND: All that stuff.
QUESTION: Well, I mean -- no, I -- what are they? I don't know. What has to be done, not just in his case but in any nominee's case?
MS. NULAND: His nomination was managed in the exact -- with the exact same processes that we use for everyone.
QUESTION: Well, okay. What does that mean? I mean, does that mean that there's an FBI check or --
MS. NULAND: I'm going to refer you to the White House for how they do this.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
QUESTION: Just one more on that.
QUESTION: If you do -- if you did do that, are you sharing this with members of Congress who have severe problems with his nomination?
MS. NULAND: We always work with Congress on our nominees, and we're continuing to do that in this case.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that there has been at least one meeting with -- on the specific issues, not on the specific issues that were about the emails, with people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to comment on the specifics of our conversation with Congress, but in all these nomination procedures, we work with the Hill on any --
MS. NULAND: -- issues that they have as our --
QUESTION: But are you --
MS. NULAND: -- nominees are being reviewed.
QUESTION: But are you aware that this -- that people from the State Department have gone to the Hill and/or have spoken to members of the committee who have raised concerns about these specific issues. And by these specific issues, I don't mean the more specific substantive issues that senator -- people like Senator McCain have raised. I'm talking specifically about the emails. Do you know if they have been -- if this issue has been discussed with people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that we continue to work with appropriate members and staff on his nomination in support of it, as we do with all nominees, I'm not going to get into details.
"Matt" above is Matthew Lee with the Associated Press.  He reports on it here and avoids mentioning Gina Chon by name.  While I have stated that she is not the issue, I am not going to render her invisible.  I have no desire to include the name of the wife cheated on but while I'm not going to examine Gina Chon's motives or explore ethical issues on her end or quote her in the e-mails, I'm not going to vanish her.  When you enter into a sexual relationship with a high ranking government employee, especially a married one, you're risking exposure.  As a member of the press, that's something Gina Chon understood before she ever went to Iraq.  I mention Lee vanishing her because that's another reason the story's not being covered.
During the Iran-Contra hearings -- a detail Robert Parry and others always ignore -- a journalist was outed (TV journalist) for knowing about what took place and covering it up.  It was in the news cycle for about 2 to 3 hours.  Then the press did what it does best: Protect its own.  I've mentioned the journalists' name before and will again.  But we'll not go there today because I'll hear, "Do you always have to beat up on ___?" from friends at ____'s network.
But a big reason that the e-mails weren't covered was due to the fact that Gina Chon is a member of the press.  As a result, I will be rethinking my policy here for next week.  We're already in a gray area because I'm not big on sex scandals.  (And my family has had their own aired out in the press.) But we didn't cover this as "Cheating husband!"  I wasn't even aware Brett McGurk was married when I learned what the Senate Committee was hearing.  We covered this as: You want to be a surpervisor but you used government time and government equipment to go in search of a bootie call, you then concealed the affair from your supervisor because it was a serious conflict and now you're going to supervise?
I'm glad that McGurk doesn't have a sexaul harassment lawsuit against him, but reading those e-mails -- which are only four years old -- I'm not real sure he's someone who understands work boundaries.
And with no supervisory experience, I do worry that the tone he will set will not be encouraging for women or for their safety.  "Oh come on, boss," you can hear a male staffer telling McGurk, "I just sent her an e-mail about my blue balls.  You know what that's like, e-mailing a woman about your blue balls.  I wrote her about masturbating too because I saw your e-mails and realized that's how someone 'so f**king smooth' does it."  Peter Van Buren notes today, "Readers of my book, We Meant Well, will remember an incident where an innocent romantic email from a male State Department contractor to a female soldier kicked off a major incident that ended up with the contractor being swiftly fired for misuse of the official email system for personal use. If McGurk is allowed to end up as ambassador, that would be only the latest in a long series of double standards of conduct at the State Department. "
This is not a minor issue and how sad, telling and pathetic that neither female senator on the Committee bothered to show for the hearing.
It's not a minor issue.  The State Dept was very lucky with the Iraq War.  How so?  All the Pentagon scandals more than kept the public occupied and the sexual harassment taking place in the State Dept was largely ignored by the public -- and damn well was by Colin Powell and Condi Rice.  This isn't a minor issue.  You don't win a lawsuit in arbitration and find yourself awarded $3 million on a minor issue.
And into this already complicated environment, the White House wants to put a man who can't keep it in his pants?  Married less than 2 years and he can't keep it in his pants?  In a war zone and he can't keep it in his pants?
It's not a minor issue.  Can an Iraqi woman meet with McGurk?  And if she does -- remember social taboos are on the rise in Iraq since the US declared war and put thugs in charge -- will this result in it being assumed she too 'got down' with the 'playa'?   You can not put a man with that reputation in Iraq without asking, "How will this effect Iraqi women?"  The most obvious way is they won't be able to interact with him for fear of how any interaction would be interpreted.  So no Iraqi woman can meet with him one-on-one to share concerns.  That doesn't bother the State Dept?
Well why the hell not.  Iraqi women were sold out under Bully Boy Bush and for all of his pretense otherwise, Barack Obama clearly doesn't give a damn about Iraqi women. 
I would think how this effects over half of the Iraqi population would be of grave concern; however, we've yet to see a White House concerned about Iraqi women since the start of the illegal war.
Huffington Post does a lousy job of covering the story.  We're focusing on issues here.  Can he be successful in management when he has no experience and a record of lying to his superiors and breaking rules and regulations?  We're not being Arianna Huffington in the 90s sniffing through Bill Clinton's briefs.  Maybe that's the only way Arianna and her website know to cover a story?  Sink into the filth?  Or maybe it's just more of her: 'Write a bad blog post so we can say we covered it and we aren't really in the tank for Barack.'  Chris McGreal (Guardian) covers the story seriously and raises real issues.  I don't believe that McGurk passed on classified information but -- as Mike noted last night -- that is a serious concern around Congress currently for other reasons.  My issue is that he's not qualified.  That was the opinion before the e-mails.  He doesn't have the exeprience needed, he doesn't speak Arabic, Iraqiya objects to him, Iraqi women will be left out of the discussions but now someone who just four years ago was breaking the State Dept guidelines is going to be put in charge of the largest US embassy project in the world? 
Chris McGreal explains, "A Republican senator, James Inhofe, cancelled a meeting with McGurk in a sign that unease about the emails could raise problems. Any senator is able to put a hold on the nomination."  Helene Cooper (New York Times) adds, "Mr. Inhofe has not yet put a hold on Mr. McGurk's nomination, an aide said" and quotes the aide, Jared Young, stating, "I don't think we'd say we've reached the decision point yet."  Jared Young tells  Aamer Madhani (USA Today), "Until those issues are cleared up, he will not meet with Mr. McGurk."  In addition to the hiding of an affair, Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) notes that McGurk "may have been videotaped while engaged in a sex act on the roof of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace with a different woman."  It's oral sex with him on the receiving end.  And since March when Peter Van Buren published a blind item, everyone has whispered that the blind item about the blow job on top of the Republican Palace was one of Brett McGurk's many sexual adventures in the Green Zone.  Paul Richter has a good report for the Los Angeles Times. Need a video report?  As usual, you can count on Jake Tapper who is able to confirm -- unlike all the other outlets today -- that the e-mails are genuine.  Click here for his video report.   Near the end, Jake Tapper explains, "And, George, even McGurk's allies say now that with these e-mails out there, he will have to answer more questions about this on Capitol Hill."

Friday, June 08, 2012

What won't he do to win?








"At the very top of my mind is the safety of all Americans serving in Iraq.  I track this extremely closely.  Over the course of this year, we have had on average zero to three attacks a week on the overall US presence. Almost entirely 170 mm rockets from the Naqshbandia group which is the rememnants of the Ba'athists Party. Fortunately, we've had no casualties from those attacks," declared Brett McGurk testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.  Did the press rush to report that the US was still under attack in Iraq?  Nope.  Senator Robest Casey was the Acting Committee Chair at the hearing (filling in for Senator John Kerry).  We covered some of this yesterday.  We'll cover some today and try to wrap it up tomorrow.
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.  For that book, the State Dept has attempted to destroy his career.  At his website, he shares his impressions of the hearing and concludes:
What once had been labeled America's most important foreign policy issue, what still is the world's largest embassy, what was a crusade that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands Iraqis, a failed policy that is still sending waves through the volatile Middle East, is now so unimportant that it is lopped together with the Maldives as another bit of perfunctory business for the Senate to rap out before summer recess.
Nobody cares anymore.
It really did seem that way in the hearing.
McGurk, responding to questions by Senator Tom Udall, began discussing groups in Iraq he saw as a problem.  He started with al Qaeda in Iraq and this was interesting.  al Qaeda in Iraq (also known as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia) was created by the Iraq War.  Prior to 2003, there was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq.  It is largely homegrown.
Like too many people, McGurk used "al Qaeda in Iraq" as a catch all for any attack taking place in Iraq.  This did not speak to an awareness.  That wasn't his biggest problem when discussing al Qaeda in Iraq.
McGurk declared that they were striking at a similar rate in Iraq this year as they had last year.  That is remains a significant threat.
That's really interesting.  Dropping back to the June 9, 2011 snapshot, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta (now Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta) was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Senator, I have to tell you, there are a thousand al Qaeda that are still in Iraq. We saw the attack that was made just the other day.  It too continues to be a fragile situation.  And I believe that uh we-we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we've made there.
It was treated as big news in real time.  Missy Ryan (Reuters) live Tweeted the hearing and to her this was significant (more so than anything else) resulting in many Tweets including the following:
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
So by the summer of 2011, per the current Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress, there were less than 1,000 al Qaeda in Iraq . . . in Iraq.   That alone is troublesome considering McGurk's testimony.
Now what about the fact that most observers have declared that the bulk of the (small) al Qaeda in Iraq had gone on to Syria due to the turmoil there?  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported in February of this year:
The departure of al Qaida-affiliated fighters from Iraq to join the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria has had one benefit, Iraqi officials say:
[. . .]
Iraqi officials declined to provide precise figures for the drop-off or to estimate how many al Qaida-affiliated fighters have left the country for Syria. But the impact of the departure, they said, has been especially apparent in Ninewah province, which borders Syria and has long been the scene of some of al Qaida in Iraq's most violent bombings and assassinations.

Read more here:
So Panetta says it's less than 1,000 in July 2011 and by February 2012 a significant number of that less than 1,000 are in Syria -- a claim that the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also asserted last February.
No one noticed.  No one questioned.  It just sailed right past.  In complete conflict with Panetta and Clapper but no one objected.
McGurk declared that Naqshbania predominately focuses their attacks on the US and that there were three militant Shi'ite groups:  "Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and The Promise Day Brigades.  The  Jaish al-Mahdi which you might remember is Sadr's army, has pretty much -- is now part of the political process."  Asaib Ahl al-Haq has been welcomed into the political process by Nouri al-Maliki.  They are more popularly known as the League of the Righteous or the League of Righteous.  They are the group responsible for, among other violence, killing 5 US soldiers: "Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama."  Is McGurk aware that Nouri welcomed the League of Righteous into the process last fall?  Nothing he said in the hearing indicated he was.
He also asserted, "In terms of internal security and the Iraqis being able to secure their country, they're not doing a bad job.  Uh, they secure the capital to host the Arab League Summit, they secured the capital to host the P5+1 talks.  That would have been unheard of three to five years ago.  So they're doing very good internal security."
That's such a bold faced lie. Baghdad's never had a big problem with bombings or shootings if they went into crackdown mode.  Shortly after Nouri first became prime minister, fighters almost breached the Green Zone.  What followed was Nouri's first crackdown.
So doing the same for the summit and +1 was nothing.  It's equally true that it's a lie that Iraq did that.  Take the Arab League Summit.  When US President Barack Obama goes somewhere he goes with his own security detail.  Do you really think that doesn't happen with other countries' leaders as well?  It does happen.  And just as the Secret Service preceeds a US president to any city days ahead of time to secure the visit, the same thing happened there.  Iraq got a ton of help from Arab countries for the Summit and from the west and Iran for the P5+1. 
In the 2010 parliamentary elections, violence within Baghdad was very minimal.  And during the summit, there were mortar attacks on the Green Zone.
Is McGurk unaware of that?  Is he unaware that any foreign leader has a security detail?  He gave no indication that he was.  And the elected officials had no interest in asking.
They had no interest in the 2008 Baghdad e-mails (we covered them in "Iraq snapshot" and "'Blue Balls' McGurk faces Senate Foreign Relations..." and "Iraq snapshot") which document McGurk -- who was married -- in a sexual relationship with Wall St. Journal reporter Gina Chon -- a relationship he attempts to conceal from the then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.  Gina Chon is now the second wife so will she be accompanying him to Iraq?  I'll give her the same advice I gave Elizabeth Edwards in 2002, "Put him on a leash, a very short one."  Just as Mr. Grabby Hands was notorious for coming on to women and sleeping around, Chon should realize the man who cheated on wife number one while he was in Iraq will likely repeat the act.  I have no interest in Chon's e-mail side of the conversation.  But I will offer that warning.
The Committee also tended to avoid the issue that has gripped Iraq for over a year now: the political crisis.  Senator Lugar tip-toed up to it as his first round of questioning was coming to a close.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar:  Let me ask, how are you going to advise Prime Minister Maliki under the current circumstances in which where he's not getting along well with the opposition to say the least and the Kurds are drifting off by themselves?  What are the challenges for our diplomacy here?
Brett McGurk: Thank you, Senator.  It's a really critically, critically important point.  I have worked with Prime Minister Maliki for a number of years and all the Iraqi leaders and I've worked with him in his capacity as the prime minister.  As I said in my written statement, I would try to focus now on dealing with the Iraqis in an institutional way.  So dealing with Malliki as the prime minister now, if there was a new prime minister tomorrow, I would have the same close working relationship with him.   I've worked with four Speakers of the Parliament, for example.  You need to focus on the institution.  When you're in Iraq and dealing with all sides, there are different narratives to the political proces.  The government that was put in place in 2010, as you know, took eight months to put in place.  When it finally came together, it represents 98% of the Council of Representatives.
Let's stop him for a moment.  What is "it"?  He's referring to the Cabinet.  The Council of Representatives is the Parliament and he clearly doesn't see them as the government.  He sees the Cabinet as the government and is saying the Cabinet represents 98% of the Parliament.  He's referring to the various blocs in the Parliament. 
Brett McGurk:  They're represented in the Cabinet.  That naturally leads to a lot of inefficienies, a lot of rivalries, a lot of intrigue and that is certainly going on now.  Uhm, Maliki will say that his opposition figures who are in his  Cabinet won't share responsibility for governing.  The opposition figures say Maliki is consolidating power.   They're all right.  And we need to work with all of them to live up to their prior agreements and to work within the Constitutional system to change the process.  You mentioned the Kurds and this is critically important and I would plan to visit the Kurdistan Region as much as possible.  I'd like to be up there, if I'm confirmed, at least once a week because it's the personal interaction between the ambassador and the Iraqi leaders that's so important for keeping everything stable and for bridging areas of disagreement.   The Kurds are having some difficulties with the Baghdad government right now, the Baghdad government's having difficulties with the Kurds.  The real rivalry is [KRG President] Massoud Barzani and Prime Minister Maliki.  Uh, we have to play an important role in mediating that effort.  Uh, I would just leave it at there's a Constitutional system in place now.  This is the third Iraqi government, the second Parliament, The Iraqis are going to fight through their politics under the Constitutional rules they themselves have devised.  We cannot direct outcomes through that process.  When we try to do that, the unintended consequences are quite enormous.  But we can help bridge differences. We can mediate back and forth and be constantly, actively engaged and that's what I intend to do if I'm confirmed.
Well if Iraq consisted solely of the Nouri and his supporters on the one hand and the Kurds on the other hand, that answer might be a good one.  Lugar didn't notice and didn't care.  He just gaped at McGurk in slack-jawed wonder, making cow eyes at him.  

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

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.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Another bad day for Barry





In recent times there have been several attempts to block the nomination of an ambassador.  Republican Senators successfully blocked Mari Carmen Aponte from the post of Ambassador to El Salvador.  Prior to that, Democrats successfully blocked the nomination of John Bolton and then Bully Boy Bush recess nominated only to have Bolton step down after the 2006 mid-term elections when Democrats won control of both houses. Democrats blocked Gene Cretz's nomination successfully as well (Bush nominated, Democratic senators had a problem not with Cretz but with sending an ambassador to Libya, he was confirmed near the end of Novembe 2008).  Tomorrow morning the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on three nominations.  Senator Bob Casey will be acting Chair.  (John Kerry is the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). It will most likely be very boring and run of the mill.  Why?
As the above examples demonstrate, in recent times, objections only come from the party not occupying the White House.
The Senate has a job to do and they don't take it seriously.
They can argue that all they want but the reality is that while Susan Marsh Elliott's nomination to be the US Ambassador to the Republic of Tajikistan and Michele Jeanne Sison's nomination to be the US Ambassdor to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (while also serving as US Ambassador to the Republic of Maldives) may not be controversial, Brett McGurk's nomination to be the US Ambassador to Iraq should be very controversial.
Setting aside who the nominee is, just the fact that this White House has nominated someone to be US Ambassador to Iraq should be controversial.
When Barack Obama was president-elect and not yet sworn in, then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker kindly offered to continue in his role until Barack could find a replacement.  Barack thanked him for that offer and took him up on it.  So far, so good.
Then came the nomination of Chris Hill and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- on the Democrat side -- refused to do their job.  They waived through a moron.  An obvious moron as demonstrated in his March 25, 2009 confirmation hearing (those late to the party can refer to the March 25, 2009 snapshot and the March 26th snapshot for coverage and gasp in amazement that Hill -- after being briefed on the issue -- still had no grasp on Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution or the issue of Kirkuk).  Hill was a supposed trained and accomplished diplomat (his personnel file begged to differ) but under him nothing got resolved and the long delay in the elections also comes under his watch.  Iraq falls apart under his watch, it can be argued.  I heard all about his "low energy levels" while in Iraq, his napping on the job, his inability to communicate with anyone (the then-top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno carried both the Defense Dept and the State Dept all by himself because Hill couldn't be counted on; Odierno had to do double duty and Hill was said to be resentful over all the work Ordierno took on -- work Odierno had to take on when Hill either couldn't or just wouldn't do it).  Peter Van Buren published the book We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, he's a whistle blower now being targeted by the White House.  And until he posted the grossly offensive photos of Hill and a 'colleague' earlier this year, I wasn't aware that Hill was also mocking the assassination of JFK.  Chris Hill was a disaster and we said he would be after his hearing.  But he was much worse than anyone could have imagined and he owes the American people an apology for that little stunt where he mocked JFK and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  He wasn't hired for his 'cutting edge comedy,' he was paid by the tax payers to be a diplomat and there was nothing diplomatic about turning the assassination of a sitting US President and the horror of the First Lady who saw her husband assassinated into a cheap joke.   If you missed that, refer to Peter Van Buren's blog here and here.  And maybe then you'll understand why so many -- especially US military officers in Iraq -- could not believe that this moron made it through a confirmation hearing. 
Having made that disaster, the same Committee should be very careful. Proof of Hill's complete failure, July 20, 2010 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was holding a hearing on James Jeffrey's nomination to be the US Ambassador to Iraq.  In his hearing, Jeffrey proved himself to be competent and aware of the issues.  He has now left his post and we're not supposed to note that or to comment on the why of it.  He went in thrilled to have the post and worked very hard at it.  You'd think the press would be interested why he no longer wanted it.  But the press doesn't report, they fawn.
What does the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do?  Is the attitude of Democrats on the Committee that Barack can't win a second term? 
If that's their attitude than the hearing really doesn't matter.  You're talkin gabout someone who will be voted on by the end of the month or early July so he'd only be in Iraq for a few months before the new president was sworn in.
So maybe tomorrow the Democrats won't be asking tough questions because they don't think Barack Obama can win re-election.
If they do think he can, then they need to be asking some serious questions of the nominee.  It is not normal to be on your third ambassador to a country in less than four years. 
A death might excuse that number but there have been no deaths. The previous two left government service to get out of the job.  Clearly, the confirmation hearings have been a failure.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should grasp that.
The nominee should have to explain what their committment to the job is, how long they could conceivably hold it and what they intend to bring to the table?
Iraq is supposedly a major issue to the US.  It should be.  US taxpayers saw trillions go into that illegal war.  The world saw millions of Iraqis die,  4488 US service members die (DoD count), 'coalition' partners losses, an unknown number of contractors, reporters and many more.  And you'd think with all that blood, with all those lives lost, with all that money wasted, that the US government would take the post of Ambassador to Iraq seriously.  One president having three nominees in one term -- an ongoing term -- does not indicate that serious work has been done either by the White House or the Senate.
All of the above would be for any person nominated today to that post.  In addition to the above, McGurk is woefully unsuited for the job.  He should be asked to explain his administrative experience.  He's not heading a desk in a vacation getaway.  If confirmed, he would be heading the most expensive US embassy project.  That's even with talk of staffing cuts and talk of this and talk of that.  Even now the US diplomatic presence in Iraq is the big ticket item in the US State Dept's budget.  What in his record says to the American people, "Your tax dollars are not about to AGAIN be wasted?"
Iraq is highly unstable.  The US should not be sending Ambassador Number 3 since 2009.  But it's in that position now because people trusted to do the work -- vetting the nominee, confirming the nominee -- didn't do their jobs.
Democrats saw it as, "One of our own is in the White House! Whatever he wants!" That's not why you were elected to the Senate and you have wasted tax payer money with this continued turnover of this post.  At a time when sequestering looms over the budget, the notion that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks it can just waive this appointment through is inexcusable.
Unless of course, we're to infer that the Senate doesn't feel the position matters because they're assuming Barack will lose in November so McGurk would only briefly be in position until Mitt Romney could nominate his own ambassador.
Donna Cassata (AP) reports that "members of the panel saying they saw no obstacles to McGurk winning their approval to the posting to one of the United States' largest diplomatic mission in the world."  That should be "some members."  Even her own report notes that Senator John McCain is not gung-hu. McCain's not the only one.  I count three others that might ask difficult questions and rise to the occassion and to the duties of their office. Cassata feels the need to offer, "While violence has dropped sharply in recent years, attacks on Iraqi government offices and members of the security forces are still occuring."  That's so damn offensive.
The Iraqi people don't matter, Donna Cassata?  Just the "government offices and members of the security forces"?  Not only is that insulting it's inaccurate.  Siobhan Gorman, Adam Entous and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) reported on the National Counterterrorism Center's statements of "an uptick in attacks by al Qaeda's Iraq affiliate" since December and, "Recent U.S. intelligence reports show the number of attacks have risen this year to 25 per month, compared with an average of 19 for each month last year, according to a person familiar with them."
McGurk could become the new Ambassador to Iraq . . .  blue balls and all.
What's that?  Click here for some of his alleged e-mail correspondence with Gina Chon who covered Iraq for the Wall Street Journal.  It appears real and I'm told it is real.  What were the ethics of his being sent to Iraq by the US government and his beginning an affair with Chon?  Is he really supposed to be using taxpayer computers to send Chon messages about "I had a very real case of blue balls last night! I think they're still blue."? He was working under Ryan Crocker and a June 23, 2008 e-mail to Chon makes it clear that Crocker was unaware that his staffer was sleeping with a reporter for a news outlet ("[. . .] you would indeed provoke serious head scratching on Ryan's part").
To be very clear, I'm not quoting Gina Chon's e-mails and have no interest in them.  The reason being she's a reporter.  Her paper paid for her to be in Iraq.  US taxpayers paid for McGurk.  US taxpayers paid for American soldiers as well.  It was not assumed that the US soldiers would be sleeping there way through Iraq.  In fact, anything they did like that, they were expected to do while on leave.  I don't understand how a government employee went to Iraq -- a war zone -- and thought it was okay to romance a reporter and thought it was okay not to inform his superior of this little hidden dance.
If McGurk is confirmed, will he be able to focus in Iraq or will his self-admitted "blue balls" demand that he find 'relief' with a reporter?
Soldiers had to focus on their missions, I'm amazed that McGurk, now nominated to be the US Ambassador to Iraq, didn't have the same requirement.  I also wonder, of this man with so little administrative experience, how he would be able to model appropriate behavior or, if need be, discipline for inappropriate behavior? 
Will anyone have the guts to ask him tomorrow why he didn't inform Crocker of his entanglement with a member of the press?
Again, the exchange is here.  Gina Chon did not work for the government.  She was free to do whatever she wanted with her time and I'm making no comment on her or any sort of judgment.  I feel badly about linking to these exchanges that include her e-mails; however, the US Embassy in Iraq has been a story of too much sex and too little work.  Again, don't expect the Senate to provide the oversight that they're supposed to.