Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraqi Study Group - Recommendations 40 - 79

This is the second installment of a review of the Iraqi Study Group. The first review was to be a quick study but transformed into a longer post. With the work started, this post will try to finish the observations.

At recommendation 40, the report adopts changes in military strategy for U.S. forces present in the country today. The group does not suggest adding any further troops (their purview was that it would not lessen the violence country-wide, nor was there a sufficient reserve of unused forces to deploy) but focusing more personnel into Iraqi battalions and brigades. The purpose is to increase combat readiness of Iraqi units and further expand their logistics and security capabilities.
RECOMMENDATION 40: The United States should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 41: The United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States couldcarry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if Iraq does not implement its planned changes. America’s other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government.

RECOMMENDATION 42: We should seek to complete the training and equipping mission by the first quarter of 2008, as stated by General George Casey on October 24, 2006.

RECOMMENDATION 43: Military priorities in Iraq must change, with the highest priority given to the training, equipping, advising, and support mission and to counter-terrorism operations.

RECOMMENDATION 44: The most highly qualified U.S. officers and military personnel should be assigned to the imbedded teams, and American teams should be present with Iraqi units down to the company level. The U.S. military should establish suitable career-enhancing incentives for these officers and personnel.

RECOMMENDATION 45: The United States should support more and better equipment for the Iraqi Army by encouraging the Iraqi government to accelerate its Foreign Military Sales requests and, as American combat brigades move out of Iraq, by leaving behind some American equipment for Iraqi forces.
To the extent that most of these recommendations have been taken up in varying forms to date, the sense is that they must be first and foremost in the operations of the American military inside Iraq. This becomes the new strategy for military operations rather than the current path of moving U.S. troops around to fight battles with insurgents and patrolling trouble spots indefinitely. This is another finding based on the reality that American forces cannot stay there forever, and that there needs to be solid training and a corps of disciplined security forces inside Iraq removed from sectarian division. It cannot be known if such a task is even feasible, but it was deemed worthy enough to try.

Moving away from the Iraqi security forces, the panel next took up the steps involved with resetting of American forces. President Bush campaigned in 2000 on a platform of strengthening the military (claiming that two entire divisions were not ready for service), but the Pentagon will have many serious issues when budgeting for the next two to four years considering the nature of the occupation and the amount of equipment loss not to mention the difficulties in terms of recruiting for the long-term. Hence recommendations 46 through 49 assess what the Administration should entertain as its next series of goals for defense.
RECOMMENDATION 46: The new Secretary of Defense should make every effort to build healthy civil-military relations, by creating an environment in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to the President and the National Security Council, as envisioned in the Goldwater-Nichols legislation.

RECOMMENDATION 47: As redeployment proceeds, the Pentagon leadership should emphasize training and education programs for the forces that have returned to the continental United States in order to “reset” the force and restore the U.S. military to a high level of readiness for global contingencies.

RECOMMENDATION 48: As equipment returns to the United States, Congress should appropriate sufficient funds to restore the equipment to full functionality over the next five years.

RECOMMENDATION 49: The administration, in full consultation with the relevant committees of Congress, should assess the full future budgetary impact of the war in Iraq and its potential impact on the future readiness of the force, the ability to recruit and retain high-quality personnel, needed investments in procurement and in research and development, and the budgets of other U.S. government agencies involved in the stability and reconstruction effort.
Of this set of suggestions, the general premise is that there has been substantial damage to the military from the past three years of occupation. Those elements need to be mended, most likely into the next Presidential term.

The report moves from what the U.S. should do and steps into the internal affairs of the Iraqi government when point 50 comes up:
RECOMMENDATION 50: The entire Iraqi National Police should be transferred to the Ministry of Defense, where the police commando units will become part of the new Iraqi Army.
As was mentioned in a Morning Edition report on NPR on the 7th, moving the INP into the Ministry of Defense is moving a force that had been overseen by the Shiite-dominated Ministry of the Interior into the Defense Ministry which was ceded to the Sunnis during the government formation period. That alone may not be even possible, yet the idea that a more para-military force which the Iraqi National Police represents become a part of Defense makes sense, and the report goes further to say that the Iraqi Border Police also move into the department. The Ministry of the Interior would maintain control over the Iraqi Police Service but this may not be enough to sate Shiite government leaders.
RECOMMENDATION 51: The entire Iraqi Border Police should be transferred to the Ministry of Defense, which would have total responsibility for border control and external security.
Once the amount of civil war tones down, it would be necessary to invigorate the criminal justice of Iraq, and recommendation 52 goes to this point:
RECOMMENDATION 52: The Iraqi Police Service should be given greater responsibility to conduct criminal investigations and should expand its cooperation with other elements in the Iraqi judicial system in order to better control crime and protect Iraqi civilians.

Recommendation 53 and 54 deal with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior itself:
RECOMMENDATION 53: The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior should undergo a process of organizational transformation, including efforts to expand the capability and reach of the current major crime unit (or Criminal Investigation Division) and to exert more authority over local police forces. The sole authority to pay police salaries and disburse financial support to local police should be transferred to the Ministry of the Interior.

RECOMMENDATION 54: The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior should proceed with current efforts to identify, register, and control the Facilities Protection Service.
Some of these changes asked of the Interior Ministry point to pulling power away from the local governments and placing it at a higher level, making the operation run from a more federal level. These ideas seem to run into the fine line of altering a sovereign country from afar, but there is little doubt that Interior Ministry has taken on a negative image among Sunnis and international observers as an infiltrated organization run to exact revenge. If that were indeed the case (as press stories continually indicate), then there is a need to revamp the organization and clean out those elements that will sabotage security. Much like other recommendations, the chances of success seem remote at this stage.

Items 55 to 61 stress the U.S. defense and criminal investigation agencies continuance of training roles within the Iraqi Police forces.
RECOMMENDATION 55: The U.S. Department of Defense should continue its mission to train the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi Border Police, which should be placed within the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

RECOMMENDATION 56: The U.S. Department of Justice should direct the training mission of the police forces remaining under the Ministry of the Interior.

RECOMMENDATION 57: Just as U.S. military training teams are imbedded within Iraqi Army units, the current practice of imbedding U.S. police trainers should be expanded and the numbers of civilian training officers increased so that teams can cover all levels of the Iraqi Police Service, including local police stations. These trainers should be obtained from among experienced civilian police executives and supervisors from around the world. These officers would replace the military police personnel currently assigned to training teams.

RECOMMENDATION 58: The FBI should expand its investigative and forensic training and facilities within Iraq, to include coverage of terrorism as well as criminal activity.

RECOMMENDATION 59: The Iraqi government should provide funds to expand and upgrade communications equipment and motor vehicles for the Iraqi Police Service.

RECOMMENDATION 60: The U.S. Department of Justice should lead the work of organizational transformation in the Ministry of the Interior. This approach must involve Iraqi officials, starting at senior levels and moving down, to create a strategic plan and work out standard administrative procedures, codes of conduct, and operational measures that Iraqis will accept and use. These plans must be drawn up in partnership.

RECOMMENDATION 61: Programs led by the U.S. Department of Justice to establish courts; to train judges, prosecutors, and investigators; and to create institutions and practices to fight corruption must be strongly supported and funded. New and refurbished courthouses with improved physical security, secure housing for judges and judicial staff, witness protection facilities, and a new Iraqi Marshals Service are essential parts of a secure and functioning system of justice.
Many of these suggestions are presumed to already have been ongoing from the start of the American occupation, but apparently there is a dire need to go back to the basics in terms of training forces and bringing the current judicial system to a competent level. If that is the case, many Americans would be surprised at this deficit.

Oil. Not surprisingly, this received more than just a passing comment from the ISG. One of the longer recommendations in the report, there are two sections to it comprising ten points for action. They have been broken down into Short Term and Long Term goals.

Short Term
• As soon as possible, the U.S. government should provide technical assistance to the Iraqi government to prepare a draft oil law that defines the rights of regional and local governments and creates a fiscal and legal framework for investment. Legal clarity is essential to attract investment.
• The U.S. government should encourage the Iraqi government to accelerate contracting for the comprehensive well work-overs in the southern fields needed to increase production, but the United States should no longer fund such infrastructure projects.
• The U.S. military should work with the Iraqi military and with private security forces to protect oil infrastructure and contractors. Protective measures could include a program to improve pipeline security by paying local tribes solely on the basis of throughput (rather than fixed amounts).
• Metering should be implemented at both ends of the supply line. This step would immediately improve accountability in the oil sector.

In conjunction with the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. government should press Iraq to continue reducing subsidies in the energy sector, instead of providing grant assistance. Until Iraqis pay market prices for oil products, drastic fuel shortages will remain.
Long Term
• The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.
• The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
• To combat corruption, the U.S. government should urge the Iraqi government to post all oil contracts, volumes, and prices on the Web so that Iraqis and outside observers can track exports and export revenues.
• The United States should support the World Bank’s efforts to ensure that best practices are used in contracting. This support involves providing Iraqi officials with contracting templates and training them in contracting, auditing, and reviewing audits.
• The United States should provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Oil for enhancing maintenance, improving the payments process, managing cash flows, contracting and auditing, and updating professional training programs for management and technical personnel.
Some items are certain to be unpopular, but the many bullet points regarding Iraq's oil management allude to efficiency gains and a lean towards free market ideals. Possible sticking points would be: raising the price of gasoline on regular Iraqis via reducing energy subsidies, providing a structure to disburse oil revenues, the U.S. removing financial support for further infrastructure projects. Under the long term items there is an appearance of condescension in tone regarding the Iraqi system of management with regards to the oil industry. From the ISG's investigation though, it appears that transparency is lacking in the current system and it sees establishing an open system as a means to attract outside investment for the oil industry.

Further support is requested in general infrastructure and makes up recommendations 64 to 66.
RECOMMENDATION 64: U.S. economic assistance should be increased to a level of $5 billion per year rather than being permitted to decline. The President needs to ask for the necessary resources and must work hard to win the support of Congress. Capacity building and job creation, including reliance on the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, should be U.S. priorities. Economic assistance should be provided on a nonsectarian basis.

RECOMMENDATION 65: An essential part of reconstruction efforts in Iraq should be greater involvement by and with international partners, who should do more than just contribute money. They should also actively participate in the design and construction of projects.

RECOMMENDATION 66: The United States should take the lead in funding assistance requests from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and other humanitarian agencies.
There was talk throughout 2006 that the funding requests for further infrastructure support within Iraq was going to be phased down if not out completely in the near term. Recommendation 64 explicitly states that the opposite should be instituted, and an increase be requested to assist the economy of Iraq. The amount of $5 billion is approximate to the support given Israel in economic and military assistance today. Suggestion 65 depends on the security situation within the country, and 66 allows for humanitarian aid.
RECOMMENDATION 67: The President should create a Senior Advisor for Economic Reconstruction in Iraq.
The language preceding this recommendation is as follows:
"A lack of coordination by senior management in Washington still hampers U.S. contributions to Iraq’s reconstruction. Focus, priority setting, and skillful implementation are in short supply. No single official is assigned responsibility or held accountable for the overall reconstruction effort."
At this stage, the need for a representative inside Iraq to further coordinate reconstruction efforts demonstrates many of the pitfalls that the U.S. occupation created for itself. With the Democratic majority in Congress more than likely to address some of the grosser neglect for oversight of reconstruction efforts, the creation of a Senior Advisor for Economic Reconstruction will place any further efforts under the guise of some form of oversight within Iraq.

Under the heading Improving the Effectiveness of Assistance Programs, the ISG supports an office that is responsible for quickly dispersing and rescinding funds for to projects that "promote national reconciliation." These bureaucratic suggestions essentially deal with several details of funding and supporting programs in Iraq.
RECOMMENDATION 68: The Chief of Mission in Iraq should have the authority to spend significant funds through a program structured along the lines of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, and should have the authority to rescind funding from programs and projects in which the government of Iraq is not demonstrating effective partnership.

RECOMMENDATION 69: The authority of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction should be renewed for the duration of assistance programs in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 70: A more flexible security assistance program for Iraq, breaking down the barriers to effective interagency cooperation, should be authorized and implemented.

RECOMMENDATION 71: Authority to merge U.S. funds with those from international donors and Iraqi participants on behalf of assistance projects should be provided.

Under number 70, the ISG included a description referencing the difficulties of employing the State Department and the Defense Department to promote and fund programs that may have competing or crossing priorities and different oversight committees back in Congress. Such difficulties may not have had top headlines in the past several years, but it is a positive sign to see it identified and placed on the list of to-do's.

Funding the Iraq occupation in the United States is an interesting subject in that the executive branch has yet to include a full accounting of the cost when requesting monies for the following budget year. Instead, the White House typically will make emergency funding requests throughout the year for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This act makes it more difficult for the public at large to determine the ongoing costs of both operations, and what the dollars are going towards. Hence:
RECOMMENDATION 72: Costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the President’s annual budget request, starting in FY 2008: the war is in its fourth year, and the normal budget process should not be circumvented. Funding requests for the war in Iraq should be presented clearly to Congress and the American people. Congress must carry out its constitutional responsibility to review budget requests for the war in Iraq carefully and to conduct oversight.
The only thing preventing this from taking place is Commander-in-Chief himself.

Personnel issues make up ideas 73 through 76. A quote that stands out is, "Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency. In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage."
RECOMMENDATION 73: The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of National Intelligence should accord the highest possible priority to professional language proficiency and cultural training, in general and specifically for U.S. officers and personnel about to be assigned to Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 74: In the short term, if not enough civilians volunteer to fill key positions in Iraq, civilian agencies must fill those positions with directed assignments. Steps should be taken to mitigate familial or financial hardships posed by directed assignments, including tax exclusions similar to those authorized for U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 75: For the longer term, the United States government needs to improve how its constituent agencies—Defense, State, Agency for International Development, Treasury, Justice, the intelligence community, and others - respond to a complex stability operation like that represented by this decade’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the previous decade’s operations in the Balkans. They need to train for, and conduct, joint operations across agency boundaries, following the Goldwater-Nichols model that has proved so successful in the U.S. armed services.

RECOMMENDATION 76: The State Department should train personnel to carry out civilian tasks associated with a complex stability operation outside of the traditional embassy setting. It should establish a Foreign Service Reserve Corps with personnel and expertise to provide surge capacity for such an operation. Other key civilian agencies, including Treasury, Justice, and Agriculture, need to create similar technical assistance capabilities.
These suggestions are reasonable. The amount of time required to put these types of resources inside Iraq must be in excess of 12 months given the training involved and the dearth of probable volunteers. The odds of this coming true seem remote.

Lacking solid intelligence makes up the last of the recommendations by the group, essentially outlining a failing in learning and understanding the society in general and the resistance in particular. Citing the amount of money spent by the Pentagon in protecting soldiers and marines from roadside bombs, the team notes that there is little comparable funding to gaining intelligence on why the insurgency continues to build and deploy these devices.

RECOMMENDATION 77: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should devote significantly greater analytic resources to the task of understanding the threats and sources of violence in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 78: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should also institute immediate changes in the collection of data about violence and the sources of violence in Iraq to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground.

RECOMMENDATION 79: The CIA should provide additional personnel in Iraq to develop and train an effective intelligence service and to build a counterterrorism intelligence center that will facilitate intelligence-led counterterrorism efforts.
Additionally, recommendation 78 makes a special point of how the United States is collecting and distributing information in Iraq with a specific note that the Defense department under-reported violent acts for a single day in July of 2006 by a factor of over one hundred. The reporting appears devised to put as positive a light on events, and the ISG would rather this be put to rest and opt for actual figures to be reported as they occur.

Recommendation 79 is a tricky situation in that allowing the CIA to provide support and assistance in intelligence gathering could quickly be used for sectarian purposes and place greater burden on the Iraqi government in terms of violent and unrest.

After the 79th recommendation, the report ends. At that point, it might be best to return to the executive summary and re-read the conclusion therein.
It is the unanimous view of the Iraq Study Group that these recommendations offer a new way forward for the United States in Iraq and the region. They are comprehensive and need to be implemented in a coordinated fashion. They should not be separated or carried out in isolation. The dynamics of the region are as important to Iraq as events within Iraq.

The challenges are daunting. There will be difficult days ahead. But by pursuing this new way forward, Iraq, the region, and the United States of America can emerge stronger.

The end result of this document could be read as the most bitter pill of George Bush's presidency thus far. It denudes him of the warrior-hero visage, asks that he actually talk to other people by way of diplomacy, and by its sheer existence admit that his oversight and leadership have failed. To a person who at one time could not think of a single mistake he had made (only the weak admit such things), this report summarizes a concrete record of failure.

Beyond the mere political ramifications for the President (and an initial review of his statements make the adoption of all 79 proposals far from likely), the general proposition is that this adventure by America in Iraq is at its best on a tenuous footing. The general region is in danger of falling into ethnic war as is mentioned in the report and this was a large motivating factor for stressing the diplomatic accord for all interested parties. The chilling thought is that these specific proposals are being submitted to an Executive known for being dismissive of international diplomacy.

Even with some of the less spectacular recommendations within the report, there is at least a basis now for the American public to understand the very real and monstrous threat that this preventative war has created. While events on the ground in Baghdad are bad, the problem is no longer confined to a 50 mile radius around the city. If the ISG's report does only one thing it should heighten all of our concerns about what happens next in the region. Will the U.S. continue to house 140,000 troops and support staff in the country for five more years? Will all the troops be home by Christmas 2008? Can the U.N. and the New Diplomatic Offensive find peaceful compromise for Sunni, Shia, and Kurds alike? All of these are incredibly difficult questions, and only a strong American public voice will likely move Congress and the President to act along the lines of these recommendations.

Unfortunately, one "must dance with the one who brung ya" as the old saying goes. The White House has put forward a wildly optimistic view of Iraq for so long that it must sting the eyes of aides and Presidents alike to read this report. Even if (a large if) the President adopted some of these measures it would be a decent start and a long overdue beginning to changing the outcome of the occupation. Yet as stated before here, the odds of this happening are dishearteningly slim. The first milestones that the ISG lists is approval of several laws as suggested in the report; increased Iraqi security funding; a raise in interest rates by the Central Iraqi Bank - all by the end of 2006 or early 2007. While those would be governed by the Iraqi Parliament and not President Bush, if these are not even brought it up will be an excellent indicator of how events will go for the rest of next year.

Anything appears to be better than what is happening now. Let us hope that by January 2008 there isn't another commission assembled to figure out how to stop the great Middle East War.

The Iraqi Study Group - Recommendations 1 - 39

Several months in the development, and with a panel of citizens outside of partisan warfare, the Iraqi Study Group created at the behest of Congress released their findings to the White House, the Congress, and now the American public. The executive summary begins: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved." A markedly different tone than President Bush's statements on October 25th, 2006. He stated at the time, "We're winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done," when speaking of Iraq.

So now the report from the commission is ready for consumption after an election where the clear signal was an utter dissatisfaction with the present occupation of Iraq. The quick summary on the report is encouraging diplomacy with most of Iraq's neighbors where feasible, and for adding new vigor to the training of Iraqi security forces. All of this with milestones to measure progress along the way placed on an actual calendar (page 80 of the document issued by the ISG).

A unique caveat to the second major point of the commission's finding is that if the security level does not improve, then "the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government." By its very implication, the ISG would have the United States set sail if the Iraqi government doesn't play ball to a new policy as adopted from the report. A dramatic pronouncement indeed. In Recommendation 41:
The United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if Iraq does not implement its planned changes. America's other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government.

This certainly does not mesh with the "stay the course" rhetoric of President Bush, that is certain. It would also make clear that the more one drags the process along inside the government of Iraq, the bigger risk they run of having a thoroughly unstable country rather than a somewhat unstable country.

What is somewhat refreshing is to hear a ten-person panel place statements such as this in their report: "There is no action the American military can take that, by itself, can bring about success in Iraq. But there are actions that the U.S. and Iraqi governments, working together, can and should take to increase the probability of avoiding disaster there, and increase the chance of success." This may sadden Senator John McCain somewhat for his support of sending even more troops into Iraq. The premise is that this is a political dilemma that a military, any military, cannot solve by itself. A private can't force one person to love another through the business end of a rifle. One might call this a refreshing bit of reality added to the conversation if it weren't so late in coming due to the Administration's posture on the affair.

There are many, many different options here, but as the ISG states at the end of the executive summary, the recommendations, "should not be separated or carried out in isolation." This states unequivocally that the proprietor of this entanglement not pick and choose the least difficult options to implement. Seventy-nine recommendations and not one of them offers a fig leaf of cover for the debacle that President Bush founded.

Update: Further Thoughts
Upon a more thorough review of the Iraq Study Group's findings, there are some key issues which may create several problems with the implementation of these 79 recommendations (aside from the most obvious obstacle being the President and his officials).

The initial recommendations focus on the "New Diplomatic Offensive" (page 44 of the report / page 62 of the PDF) and the "Iraq International Support Group" (pg. 46 / pg. 64) to be created in order to address regional concerns (the Israel/Palestinian issue, Lebanon and Syria, Iran as examples) and assist in the regional participation of border countries and others at large respectively. The sheer difficulty of pulling this many countries together (an initial count of more than a dozen) to focus on the stability of Iraq with many of the players at odds with others or elements inside Iraq is quite a tall drink of water. Adding the diplomatic contortionist work involved in progressing towards a lasting peace process in Israel and addressing the Sunni-Shiite divide unleashed inside Iraq (while laudable as a goal can be) is an incredibly monstrous hurdle.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States, working with the Iraqi government, should launch the comprehensive New Diplomatic Offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq of the region. This new diplomatic offensive should launched before December 31, 2006.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:
i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.
ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq’s neighbors.
iii. Secure Iraq’s borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.
iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.
v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.
vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.
vii. Validate Iraq’s legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.
viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).
ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.
x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.

RECOMMENDATION 3: As a complement to the diplomatic offensive, and in addition to the Support Group discussed below, the United States and the Iraqi government should support the holding of a conference or meeting in Baghdad of the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the Arab League both to assist the Iraqi government in promoting national reconciliation in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 4: As an instrument of the New Diplomatic Offensive, an Iraq International Support Group should be organized immediately following the launch of the New Diplomatic Offensive.

RECOMMENDATION 5: The Support Group should consist of Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria; the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf States; the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the European Union; and, of course, Iraq itself. Other countries—for instance, Germany, Japan and South Korea—that might be willing to contribute to resolving political, diplomatic, and security problems affecting Iraq could also become members.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The New Diplomatic Offensive and the work of the Support Group should be carried out with urgency, and should be conducted by and organized at the level of foreign minister or above. The Secretary of State, if not the President, should lead the U.S. effort. That effort should be both bilateral and multilateral, as circumstances require.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The Support Group should call on the participation of the office of the United Nations Secretary-General in its work. The United Nations Secretary-General should designate a Special Envoy as his representative.

RECOMMENDATION 8: The Support Group, as part of the New Diplomatic Offensive, should develop specific approaches to neighboring countries that take into account the interests, perspectives, and potential contributions as suggested above.

Recommendations 1 through 8 lay the international groundwork. The main thrust is to build a coalition of those with real stakes in the outcome of Iraq which should have been contemplated at the outset yet never came to fruition. The report notes that each country has its own purview to tend to, and states:
Left to their own devices, these [border] governments will tend to reinforce ethnic, sectarian, and political divisions within Iraqi society. But if the Support Group takes a systematic and active approach toward considering the concerns of each country, we believe that each can be encouraged to play a positive role in Iraq and the region.
It would appear that this coalition will look right on paper, but may yield results not to anyone's particular liking.

The report moves forward to express the sentiment that while it may be unpleasant to some within the United States, some strides must be taken in order to bring Syria and Iran to the table where Iraq is concerned. This is absolutely a step in the right direction. Recommendations 9 through 12 concern how Iran and Syria may be brought in and how the United States ought to handle dicey international relations outside of Iraq.

Recommendations 13 to 17 try and push forward a two-state solution to the Israeli / Palestinian conflict and several demands on Syria to resist the temptation to interfere in Lebanon. These feel somewhat out of place with the general findings of the group, but the impetus is to try to add further calm in Middle East. The likelihood of Syria to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel's right to exist has a slim chance of coming true in the near-term, if ever.

RECOMMENDATION 18: It is critical for the United States to provide additional political, economic, and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq.

This is obviously outside of Iraq, but Afghanistan has the distinct look of a pre-2001 invasion country. If ever a redeployment of forces were possible within a year or two from Iraq, it should be to shore up the government in the capital of Kabul as well as the larger countryside.

Many of the commentaries so far of the report discuss the following recommendations on internal improvements made by the Iraqi government itself. Recommendation 21 is going to be cited more often than most as it states fairly clearly that without internal improvements, the United States would be under less and less obligation to sustain its current troop level and political support. It does not say however what would replace this support; it is probably seen as a threat or an incentive to move Iraqi leaders forward.

RECOMMENDATION 19: The President and the leadership of his national security team should remain in close and frequent contact with the Iraqi leadership. These contacts must convey a clear message: there must be action by the Iraqi government to make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones. In public diplomacy, the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed.

RECOMMENDATION 20: If the Iraqi government demonstrates political will and makes substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should make clear its willingness to continue training, assistance, and support for Iraq’s security forces, and to continue political, military, and economic support for the Iraqi government. As Iraq becomes more capable of governing, defending, and sustaining itself, the U.S. military and civilian presence in Iraq can be reduced.

RECOMMENDATION 21: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.

RECOMMENDATION 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.

RECOMMENDATION 23: The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.

Is it a timetable or isn't it a timetable? At this stage within America, there is probably a small minority that would not be in favor of a set timetable. Citizens here (and certainly there in Iraq) do not wish an indefinite tenure for U.S. Marines and Army troops on the ground in Baghdad or Mosul or Nineveh.

By the end of 2006–early 2007:
- Approval of the Provincial Election Law and setting an election date
- Approval of the Petroleum Law
- Approval of the De-Baathification Law
- Approval of the Militia Law

By March 2007:
- A referendum on constitutional amendments (if it is necessary)

By May 2007:
- Completion of Militia Law implementation
- Approval of amnesty agreement
- Completion of reconciliation efforts

By June 2007:
- Provincial elections

SECURITY (pending joint U.S.-Iraqi review)
By the end of 2006:
- Iraqi increase of 2007 security spending over 2006 levels

By April 2007:
- Iraqi control of the Army

By September 2007:
- Iraqi control of provinces

By December 2007:
- Iraqi security self-reliance (with U.S. support)

By the end of 2006:
- The Central Bank of Iraq will raise interest rates to 20 percent and appreciate the Iraqi dinar by 10 percent to combat accelerating inflation.
- Iraq will continue increasing domestic prices for refined petroleum products and sell imported fuel at market prices.
Recommendations 24 and 25 just reiterate that the milestones are a start.

Recommendations 26 through 33 are suggestions for the internal affairs of Iraq. They run the gamut from reviewing and amending their constitution (a sore point for the Sunni population at the time of its adoption), to holding the lid on the "powder keg" of Kirkuk, to amnesty proposals and minority rights. All of these proposals will be at the whim or the will of Iraqi leaders in Parliament, but they are all linked to restraining the civil war tendencies already apparent within the borders of Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 34: The question of the future U.S. force presence must be on the table for discussion as the national reconciliation dialogue takes place. Its inclusion will increase the likelihood of participation by insurgents and militia leaders, and thereby increase the possibilities for success.

This has been repeated by the Administration that there are no long-term plans on the oil or the country as a military base of operations for the U.S. A reiteration on this claim can bring no harm.

RECOMMENDATION 35: The United States must make active efforts to engage all parties in Iraq, with the exception of al Qaeda. The United States must find a way to talk to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and militia and insurgent leaders.

RECOMMENDATION 36: The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities, as outlined in the New Diplomatic Offensive above. It should press religious leaders inside and outside Iraq to speak out on behalf of peace and reconciliation.

RECOMMENDATION 37: Iraqi amnesty proposals must not be undercut in Washington by either the executive or the legislative branch.
These are rational and reasonable expectations for all sides. Again, the likelihood of all of these camps coming together to stop the retribution killings that have run unabated for months on end shows little signs of occurring. Amnesty may not even be a popular path within Iraq, but it may provide cover for those who have performed the violence to date to not continue further still for fear of comeuppance.

RECOMMENDATION 38: The United States should support the presence of neutral international experts as advisors to the Iraqi government on the processes of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.

RECOMMENDATION 39: The United States should provide financial and technical support and establish a single office in Iraq to coordinate assistance to the Iraqi government and its expert advisors to aid a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militia members.
These are common sense recommendations though there are no details regarding the depth or duration of financial and technical support to be provided.

More to come on the next forty recommendations.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Republicans Lost? Democrats Won?

Over the course of the past week, many have tried to digest what occurred in the recent mid-term election held in the United States which saw the Republicans lose their majorities in both Houses of Congress. A recurrent theme of those analyzing is that this clearly was not a win by the Democrats more than it was very much a "firing" of the Republicans across the board.

Generally speaking, when trying to determine how the winner won, or how the loser lost, it should not be done in a vacuum. One must consider how both sides "played" and what each side's strategy did to compliment or oppose the other's. Taking the sports analogy a bit further, if one side puts all of its efforts into offense and no time towards defense, it may be acknowledged that some of the time preparing for the contest could have been distributed more wisely.

In this game the commentators are repeating that the Democrats didn't win as much as the Republicans lost. So long as this mantra is repeated when talking of the historical fact whereby the Republicans took both the House and the Senate in 1994 this might be acceptable post-game coverage. However this generally is not the popular way to refer to that Democratic defeat; instead it is more often defined in the popular media as the "Republican Revolution". An astounding victory, and a sea change event for the entire country. It becomes convenient to disregard the poor standing and downright contempt held for the then Democratically-controlled Congress. Of course it seems petty to quibble over the semantics, but the larger point is that both losses can be traced back to a dereliction of duty to the first branch of government and the minority party taking advantage of said dereliction.

In keeping with the sports analogy, the Republicans spent a fair portion of the last ninety days on offense with what little ammunition they had left: liberals will raise taxes on working families, they'll call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and national security compels a vote for Republicans. Aside from a hodgepodge of social issues to wave the flag around, national conservatives had a very difficult case to present to the American people. To play defense on Iraq was incredibly difficult after the summer of 2006, where civil war seemed by far the general course of that country than peace and stability. By ceding to the White House the expensive Medicare Part D program, Republicans couldn't reliably run on fiscal conservatism to lend credence to the normal attacks on liberals that they would run up the deficit on social spending. In fact, conservatives could only look at the Federal red ink and blush profusely. Add in a total abandonment of ethical standards (Abramoff , Cunningham, Ney, Foley, et al) and what was really left to defend?

Conversely, the Democrats took a fair amount of criticism from their counterparts for not offering an "alternative" or "a plan" for contending with the issues of the day. Eventually the 6-point plan for 2006 was introduced, but akin to the Contract with America proposed by the Republicans in 1994, not many voters heard nor voted on the basis of such a proposition. Instead, much of 2006 was spent on what ostensibly appears to be defense. By not committing egregious blunders during the final session of the 109th the Democrats presented a restrained opposition, turning aside Republican attacks. With Iraq not getting better, the only bit of offense that was needed was a drumming corps cadence of reminders about the reality on the ground in Iraq.

With upwards of 60% of the electorate not satisfied with the occupation and a rubber-stamp Republican Congress holding the bag come election time, it was not surprising to see the House shift. It was too close to call the Senate, but as it worked out the Democrats took that body as well two days after election day.

Did the Republicans lose the election in 2006? Yes, as much as the Democrats did in 1994. The first branch clearly reflects the national mood of the electorate, and it is up to the incoming majority to fashion appropriate responses to the problems and issues of the day. To those that say this was a revolution or would like to infer that America has now switched solidly behind a new Democratic majority, wait twelve years and then make that observation. Democracies can be fickle over the long haul.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Article I, Section 2

Article. I.

Section. 1.

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

All Americans who desire that their voices be heard ought to vote. It always matters.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Iraq Is Still Not Getting Better

This is just a quick update on Iraq: It is still not getting better. The Pentagon is fairly certain of this, and a classified report has been found (prepared just two weeks prior) that confirms what most Americans already know. The civil war is going to get much worse before the U.S. can move out.

The New York Times ran this article titled, "Military Charts Movement of Conflict in Iraq Towards Chaos," by Michael Gordon. It would appear that the military is extremely wary of the indicators on the ground in Iraq pointing to more volatile conditions ahead.

It will be interesting to see if the Democrats will take both houses during this mid-term election year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How Much Defense Spending

A small tidbit became available last week through the excellent insight provided by Winslow Wheeler at the Center for Defense Information. Congress had just passed a Defense Authorization budget that was listed in some reports as costing around $448 billion dollars. It sounds expensive for a single year, but most would presume that this affords the cost of some of the military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some upgrades to equipment lost in the fighting overseas.

But is that the true cost of all things Defense-related? Not by a long shot says Mr. Wheeler. In his article titled, "The 2007 Defense Budget May Not Be What You Think", he states that there are many programs that are Defense related, but are not included in the authorization bill that both houses passed and the President signed. He states at length the numerous items that could and most likely should have been included in the budget process for the Department of Defense (DoD) but get addressed in other legislation to presumably hide the costs and increases in spending.
"The explanation for why the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2007” does not include all DOD programs for 2007 is not simple.

Two years ago, the House Appropriations Committee reorganized itself and gave additional defense budget responsibilities to what had previously been its subcommittee that handled only military construction. All those “quality of life” functions (for basic housing allowances, facilities maintenance, environmental restoration, and defense healthcare) were added to what had previously been the Military Construction subcommittee in the House; it became the subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.” Accordingly, the House-passed DOD appropriations bill contained none of this spending; it was in the separate bill from the new subcommittee."

Wheeler's article contains a lot of granular oddities packed into the many bills, but it is worth the read if only to go to the end of the article to see his calculations of the true cost to the American taxpayers for the DoD.

The President's request for FY 2007 was an estimated $552.3 - $572.3 billion, and the Congress appropriated an estimated $566.9 - $586.9 billion. As the old addage goes, a billion here and a billion there and you eventually are talking serious money.

Many people are dedicated to exploring and exposing these budget tactics that Congress and the Executive branch employ to hide relevant costs. Wheeler and others should be thanked for their diligent work in these arcane areas constantly.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Alternate View Of Foley's Resignation

As the dubious scandal of a Representative making untoward sexually explicit messages to Congressional pages unfolds, it is important to be aware of the larger story that this episode represents. As an institution, Congress has apparently lost its way when it comes to representing citizens who placed them there in the first place.

Representative Mark Foley of the 16th district in Florida was found to be sending rather personal emails (described in the popular media as "overly-friendly") to at least one teenage Congressional page in 2005 though further disclosures are still coming to light of inappropriate contacts. As these actions came to light, there was little that Rep. Foley could do but resign his seat.

Most likely in two months time there will be little news on the front pages that refer directly to Rep. Foley, but there still will be a House and Senate leadership that continues to deteriorate.

This debacle is but a microcosm of how Congress has been operating over the past ten years under mostly Republican control. The notion that the House leadership chose to hide this speaks greatly to the power which they wield in a rambunctious and short-sighted manner. While the country can and has operated rather normally in the past with a single party in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, this 109th Congress and those directly preceding it have made business a form of strict party exercise.

Extending a normal 15 minute vote for three plus hours, passing major legislation with little or no debate on measures tacked on at the last minute, and ethical shortfalls of staggering proportions are forming what amounts to a tropical depression over the Hill.

The House and Senate weren't always this way; they used to be a little less corrupt. And not to gloss over the corruption that the Democrats brought to the body when they had the majority power for decades, but when contrasted with the long lurch that the Republicans have made in terms of altering rules and the normal order of the body, the Democrats were tamely corrupt. From Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein comes the book "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track" which the following quote is excerpted (from page 216):

"Majorities are always tempted to dispense with regular order to advance their immediate policy and political objectives. Democrats were not reluctant to do so during their long rein in power, especially in the latter years. But Republicans have far exceeded Democratic abuses of power. Committees have been marginalized in myriad ways, from central party direction to ad hoc groups to ominbus bills. Floor debate and decision making is tightly controlled with restrictive rules and extended time for roll-call votes. Conferences to reconcile differences between the House and Senate are now the setting for breathtaking abuses: minority party members excluded from negotiations, entirely new provisions added in the stealth of night, and routine waivers of time for members to learn what is contained in the reports they must vote on."

The controversy surrounding Rep. Foley's resignation will undoubtedly focus only on the lurid details. Yet it is the problem of a dysfunctional Congress that would permit such inappropriate behavior (or worse, hide it) that is the real shame in this affair. Starting with the leadership and ending with an ethics body that has real teeth, it might be possible for the first branch of the United States government to function like a legislative body should.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What The Retired Generals Are Saying

An interesting article appeared in the most recent issue of The Nation magazine. Written by Richard J. Whalen and titled, "Revolt of the Generals", he looks into the statements of retired and still active military personnel in light of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. Their commentary and observations show distinct differences from the Administration's rhetoric. A brief excerpt:

"Rumsfeld publicly humiliated all who dissented, beginning with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was virtually dismissed the day he honestly gave his views to Congress. Rumsfeld's deputy, neoconservative ideologue Paul Wolfowitz, listened respectfully before rejecting the generals' advice. As the Iraqi insurgency grew, the generals found Rumsfeld "completely unable and unwilling to understand the collapse of security in Iraq," says Maj. Gen. Eaton. The severely understrength US forces have never been able to provide adequate security. Once Iraqi civilians lost their trust and confidence in America's protection, the war was lost politically. As General Newbold says: "Our opposition to Rumsfeld is all about his accountability for getting Iraq wrong from day one.""

Whalen puts together a piece that outlines why the military is extremely concerned that the occupation of Iraq not fully mirror Vietnam in every facet. It is a highly recommended read.

Friday, September 29, 2006

From The Most Recent Senate Vote

The Senate of the United States has spoken. Rape and mutilation are verboten by American interrogators, but it will be to the Administration's best judgement as to what types of harsh treatment fit the Geneva Conventions' Common Article III. From an AP report filed by Anne Plummer Flaherty entitled "Senate backs Bush's terror tribunal plan," it states:

"The bill would eliminate some rights common in military and civilian courts. For example, the commission would be allowed to consider hearsay evidence so long as a judge determined it was reliable. Hearsay is barred from civilian courts.

The legislation also says the president can "interpret the meaning and application" gof international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts."

It should be worth noting that without the Hamdan decision, President Bush would not have asked Congress for any clarity whatsoever with regards to interrogation techniques of United States operatives, much less extraordinary renditions to countries known to torture prisoners. So with a Supreme Court that teeters on 5 to 4 decisions against unlimited executive control, Congress steps in to add insight on what is legal and what will not be legal in terms of trying those captured on and off the field of battle. This is a bill that undoubtedly works in tandem with John McCain's detainee amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill of 2005 that President Bush signed together with a signing statement that read:

"The Executive Branch shall construe [the torture ban] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary Executive Branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power."

It would be unusual for the Administration not to interpret these changes in law as it sees fitting, but at the very least there is now something on the books that says the United States will not rape or mutilate a person for information -- small victories.

This brings up Glenn Greenwald's post. The post title states it clearly, " Beltway Democrats are seriously flawed, but the election is still critically important." The sense of the post is that even with the acceptance in the Senate of this bill, there are still more important cases to come after the 2006 mid-term elections, and a Democratic victory in either chamber would mean that the Bush White House would finally see some sort of brake on its course of the all-powerful-executive branch.

Most who would have wished that the bill not pass the Senate may be tempted to "throw in the towel" so to speak, to give up on Democrats since they could not (or would not) defeat this bill. Greenwald's observations center on why that would be the wrong course to adopt for liberals within this country. The thrust that is most eye-catching is to view a Democratic victory as an instrument to finally enable a check against the President and the secrecy of the executive branch.

Additionally, the very idea to orchestrate this before Congress breaks is in itself a most definitive statement that Beltway Republicans view security on two footings: what can it do for the country, and what can it do for my election hopes. It would appear the first footing really is the lesser of the two concerns, given that since 2001 Congress didn't feel obliged to act on codifying these rules anytime before.

There are only a few weeks left before the collective actions of Congress are accounted for, and the electorate speaks. The Republicans have chosen their path in siding with the President with an almost willful disregard for their very own institutional standing, and the Democrats again appeared to have chosen a duck from the opponents swing.

America truly is going through a chilling time, but most of this is self-inflicted.

Jack Balkin posts the following regarding the Congressional bill just passed with regards to Hamdan as was decided by the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Five Month Old National Intelligence Estimate

The United States government has assessed the threat level within the world. Months ago. The increased terrorist threat level reflected the ongoing situation in an Iraq that has since become more unstable. From the New York Times article that first made the public aware of this NIE report, it was learned that the sixteen agencies dedicated to spying and being aware of threats to America came to a general consesus that the Iraq stalemate has brought more danger, not less, to the country.

When the New York Times first ran the story, it was not a dissection of the full report as much as an assembly of those who knew of the report and their comments. After the story ran on the 23rd, several made calls on the White House to release the full assessment by the 25th.

The Executive branch has decided to release bits and pieces of the report. A curious decision since it was originally classified in its entirety. To the extent that those portions that President Bush deemed not-as-secret, there are some remarks on what the occupation has returned on the billions invested so far (from Reuters):

"We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives," said the declassified segment of the report, titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States."

"The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," it added.

This will mark the return to the fly-paper theory of waging preventative war, yet what it really alludes to is the fact that waging a war against a people and a society at large which does not wish to be occupied only furthers a hatred which will likely boomerang back at the invader.

Sadly, the lesson may not be learned in time.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Condensed History of President George W. Bush

Sidney Blumenthal's upcoming book "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime" dissects the path which staggers from the then-candidate-for-President, Governor George W. Bush stating, "I'm a uniter not a divider," to a Chief Executive who creates secret prisons on foreign soil and launches preventative war on faulty factual premises. excerpted Blumenthal's introduction to the book, "How bad is he?". (without a subscription, the viewer must navigate through various advertisements to view this article)

It is an amazing catalog of where the President has traveled in domestic and international affairs and a sad statement of what the country has received in terms of marginal support for an Amdinistration bent on power and control.

A single paragraph from the first several passages sets the tone:
"Trying to remove the suspicion that falls on conservative Republicans, he pledged that he would protect the solvency of Social Security. On foreign policy, he said he would be "humble": "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us." Here he was criticizing Clinton's peacemaking and nation-building efforts in the Balkans and suggesting he would be far more restrained. The sharpest criticism he made of Clinton's foreign policy was that he would be more mindful of the civil liberties of Arabs accused of terrorism: "Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what's called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that." This statement was not an off-the-cuff remark, but carefully crafted and presented in one of the debates with Vice President Al Gore. Bush's intent was to win an endorsement from the American Muslim Council, which was cued to back him after he delivered his debating point, and it was instrumental in his winning an overwhelming share of Muslims' votes, about 90,000 of which were in Florida."

There are two years and several months to his tenure left. One can hope the country doesn't suffer more damage by even bolder escapades both domestic and worldly by this President.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Cyclical Grieving

Akin to the day that "will live in infamy", the press and popular media use this day (and the preceeding week) to harken back to a tragic event. Prior to this week of course, there was the rumination on what one year of efforts had wrought for Hurricane Katrina survivors along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans. It is doubtful whether any news story will make its way to national attention from that area of the country tonight. That is the nature of the beast that is the popular media.

Of course this day will have special meaning to those who survived the ordeal or who had loved ones parish on planes or in buildings. It is not as though they do not suffer through reminders of the loss on a daily basis, but getting to the actual date means wading through the morass of sentimental stories and broadcasts by the media outlets.

Is this type of remembrance helping those who still grieve or the larger population in America? Is reading the names of all those who died inside and around the Twin Towers aiding someone's recovery? Maybe there are some who find it reassuring, but it has the sound of extending anguish and living with an always-heavy heart.

What happened that day was a crime of epic proportions, the sole intent of which was to inflict massive damage and incite chaos. To revisit this year after year fulfills that damaging cycle. One can hope that survivors affected by the events find a way to accept their losses and begin to find emotional healing in whatever form that may take.

Yearly mourning isn't recovery; it is prolonging.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Countdown To Mid-Term Elections

Another event and another maneuver to restate to the American public how incredibly close we all are to being wiped of the face of the earth with another terrorist attack. The Republicans in Washington D.C. are intensely worried for their jobs and positions within Congress, so again the security issue was polled and it must be the last thing that the American public has yet to cede over to Democrats for guidance. Disaster relief, health care reform, Social Security, foreign occupations, the list goes on and on where the Republicans have lost tremendous ground.

Hence, the Republican strategists are left with their last all-out gamble.

The President leads the pack with this speech on Wednesday. The main thrust of the speech was to finally identify that the CIA has held captive many suspects outside of the normal detention regime in Guantanamo. Recalling the furor over the release of this information in the press of the so-called Black Sites, it seems unusual that the Administration would now find it useful to bring these men into the limelight only two months before the Congressional mid-term elections. Yet there they were, almost three minutes into the speech:

"In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. This group includes individuals believed to be the key architects of the September the 11th attacks, and attacks on the USS Cole, an operative involved in the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and individuals involved in other attacks that have taken the lives of innocent civilians across the world."

After two, three, possibly four-plus years of interrogation they are just now ready to be exiled to Cuba to face military courts. Interesting. It will be interesting to learn in the coming year if there are CIA agents who might shed light on what really was the trigger to expedite these prisoners out of the Black Sites. Political motivations might be on the mind.

One might wonder what happens to an al Qaeda suspect captured tomorrow; three years of being ferried from Poland to Egypt to destinations unknown, only to resurface in 2009 at a U.S. military base? President Bush made no mention that the CIA program was finished, just that those in the current program would be mailed back to a place where a group like the Red Cross could see them and find out if they are being treated humanely. And it was repeated once more that the United States does not torture its prisoners, and lawyers for the CIA and Justice Department found nothing wrong with detainees treatment. It cannot be presumed that the program has been abandoned.

President Bush then places Abu Zubayda in the fray.
"Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden. Our intelligence community believes he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained, and that he helped smuggle al Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan after coalition forces arrived to liberate that country. Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody -- and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA."

Ron Suskind's book One Percent Solution makes several points relating to Abu Zubayda. From his investigation, he was told that Zubayda was treated for his gunshot wounds, but only after being interrogated with the understanding that his treatment would not come until he started to give up information. More importantly, when CIA investigators opened his journal they found it surprising that he wrote in the voice of three separate and distinct people. It is not easy to trust the information of a detainee with split-personality disorder.

Beyond even this, officials disclosed to the administration that the value of Abu Zubayda was that of a lower-level al Qaeda operative who was close to logistics in terms of moving people around (thinking in terms of travel agent) more than planning operations and attacks. "We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden," is how the President referred to him. It seems that even if Abu Zabayda was low-level he should be placed on trial for what he did (driving the car during a bank robbery is just as illegal as going into the bank and pointing a gun) and given justice as best possible. Yet he has been in custody since 2002 and is only now ready to be ushered into military courts.

The President went on to describe further links of interrogation to captures to foiled plots. They may all be true. They are certainly things that we cannot verify as a general public since Americans will not have access to interrogation records, witness accounts, nor can the veracity of these statements be corroborated by an independent actor.
"Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives."

Quite difficult to disprove, yes?

Onto the timing of this release of detainees from CIA custody. These are the people most directly related to the attacks on the Twin Towers and on D.C.. September 11th has played a critical part in the role of Republicans at the national level, enabling candidates and elected officials to couch their dialogue with their consituents in a way which most of the public will agree with them. "We were attacked, and we have to be tough. We're Republicans, and we're tough." This is not so when it comes to the occupation of Iraq where the story is the United States invaded and routed the Iraqi military and won the battles, but has yet to see an advance in terms of successful occupation. Iraq is the swamp, and September 11th the gruesome reminder of stronger times.

So to take this time to remind the American public of September 11th viscerally by bringing out Arab names and linking them directly to those events is critical to get the American public away from thinking about 1.5 billion dollars a week going into Iraq's civil war. It is currently working in that lead stories are going to focus on what the President is saying lately and later provide a cursory report on what is not going well in Iraq (Soldiers and Marines being killed, sectarian-based civil war, bungled projects and little to no oversight of contractors).

Forgive the American sports analogy, but when a football team is losing and little time is left on the clock, the offense needs to execute quickly and depend on the opponent's defense to allow such short-term gains in the hope of keeping the "big play" from occurring. Hence, the Administration and the RNC are going to try and scare the public as quickly as possible with an inflated threat which harkens to the memory of the World Trade Center falling. Their hope must be that Democrats don't respond with a potent retort but keep mentioning the bad side of Iraq with a constant beat which would appear to folks as a sign that Democrats aren't caring enough to protect the country from ne'er-do-wellers.

If repetition of fear is not enough, the second to last play in the playbook is "justice". At the end of his remarks, President Bush introduced this bone for House Republicans (and to a lesser extent, Senate Reupblicans):

"... the Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA program. In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.


So today, I'm asking Congress to pass legislation that will clarify the rules for our personnel fighting the war on terror. First, I'm asking Congress to list the specific, recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes under the War Crimes Act ... . Second, I'm asking that Congress make explicit that by following the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act our personnel are fulfilling America's obligations under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. Third, I'm asking that Congress make it clear that captured terrorists cannot use the Geneva Conventions as a basis to sue our personnel in courts -- in U.S. courts. The men and women who protect us should not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists because they're doing their jobs.

The need for this legislation is urgent. We need to ensure that those questioning terrorists can continue to do everything within the limits of the law to get information that can save American lives. My administration will continue to work with the Congress to get this legislation enacted -- but time is of the essence. Congress is in session just for a few more weeks, and passing this legislation ought to be the top priority."(Applause.)

The quote is edited for length, but the context remains unchanged. The President is insisting that in order to have justice against the terrorists of September 11th, he needs Congress to allow him certain things under the law. A rewording of what might constitute a war crime, a gesture to ensure that those who follow the DTA really do comply with Common Article Three of the Geneva Convention, and if an interrogator gets too rough with a suspect that the suspect cannot sue in U.S. courts. This in conjunction with any changes that might be forthcoming to FISA is sure to pin on the Democrats' lapel of "weak". Republicans in both houses can vote for this and then go to their districts and lament the failure of Democrats to mete out justice to our enemies.

So a heretofore secret program is revealed but in the context of bringing to justice the attackers of America so long as Congress with less than 20 working days can create and approve legislation permitting our President to act. It almost sounds lyrically Rovian in nature.

Has this ever been done before? The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was fought by Administration up to the point when the 2002 mid-term elections entered the equation, then suddenly that too was imperative. So imperative in fact that it also required the President to rid the Department of unionized workers which the Democrats were against. Translation: "Democrats won't protect America." That cycle also marked the debut of Iraq as a wedge issue with obvious results. Naturally 2004 faced much the same question, and even at that time there were signs that the country faced instability with the military occupation in full force.

If the Republicans wish to stave off defeat in November by playing the terror card relentlessly, then the Democrats had better come prepared. What might possibly play well is a guarantee by Congressional figures to move funds to finding bin Laden no matter where he is in the world. This reminds the public that the Adminstration left that door ajar before starting the civil war in Iraq, taking valuable time and monies from removing the head of al Qaeda. If they were to take this on with some ferocity, the public might find it much more palatable to give the Republicans a rest.

President Bush enjoys the sense of being the hero, the tough guy who is strong enough to lead Americans through these times. This myth is teetering precariously today.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Loss In The Doctrine Column

It came with so much bravado in June of 2002. It was aggressive, it was massive, and it would take all of four years for it to fall over after just one implementation. That speech, delivered before the graduating class at West Point, defined President Bush's vision for American military power projected outward.

Some brief snippets from that speech:
"This war [on terror] will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I am certain of this: Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom. (Applause.) Our nation's cause has always been larger than our nation's defense. We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace -- a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent."

"The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology -- when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends -- and we will oppose them with all our power. (Applause.)"

Many parts of this speech prove to be the jumping off point where the Administration felt obliged to lay the foundation for an attack on Iraq and thereby draw a connected line from the battle against the terrorists who sent their deeds from abroad, to the governments not connected to Al Qaeda.

From this speech a doctrine was born. Possibly still-born, but born nonetheless. In the past few days, several newspapers have written articles expanding on many analysts' takes on said doctrine. The San Francisco Chronicle ran "Iraq war has Bush Doctrine in tatters" and the Christian Science Monitor published "Has the Bush doctrine failed?".

The consensus of those who felt the foreign policy initiatives had failed cite the current struggle of sectarian violence/civil war in Iraq, the perceived heightened tensions of America's allies, and the increased negative opinion of the United States in the Arab world. Those who defend the Bush doctrine state that Iraq has had elections and is growing its defense forces, and may state that Libya gave up its weapons programs making the world safer.

So is the doctrine "dead"? It can only really die if the Administration itself sets a different agenda for foreign policy initiatives and follows through with that change. As can be witnessed in the Israel/Lebanon fighting in August 2006, the President did not see it necessary to ask Israel to stop its thorough attack on Hizbullah and the civilian populations inside Lebanon. Secretary of State Rice went on what appeared to be futile missions to collect a cease fire from both sides to no avail. It even appeared that her mission was against White House wishes.

If there were a central theme to President Bush's foreign policy initiative, it was an ideological mission to further democracy around the globe. In action, it appears that the mission centers on areas where America's interest in resources is most vital, rather than where there is a strict lack of democracy. Furthermore, when Congress voted on delivering democracy to Iraq via armed combat "as a last resort", it was less due to free and fair elections and more to do with nuclear holocaust and chemical weapons. Had the Administration come to the House and the Senate with a single motive of installing a bicameral legislature or parliamentary form of government for Country A, it would have most assuredly been voted down.

The instruments that were used in Iraq are now found to be quite wanting in terms of success. Military occupations of a foreign land don't breed democratic government. The population itself will drive that force, and if that drive is overpowered by a desire to separate from another or a desire for retribution, then no number of men and women in U.S. uniforms can make them adopt what we want. In addition to not founding a stable country, let alone a smoothly functioning democracy, the occupation of Arab lands furthers the goal of radicals in want to either expel the U.S. forces, or even worse, deliver a compensatory blowback by way of terrorism within the borders of America.

It would also appear that public opinion of the United States among the Arab populations in the Middle East has sunk precipitously in the past year. While it is difficult to say what the involvement of American diplomacy meant in the Israel/Hizbullah/Hama conflict to the general public opinion, it is easy to say that the actions of the White House did not bolster the country's image in the region.

If the Bush doctrine had as its goal to increase American security, to broaden democracy, and to strengthen our relationships throughout the world, then by these measures the foreign policy of the past four years has done strictly the opposite of those achievable and agreeable goals. By attaining their ends through militaristic means, each goal becomes stressed to the breaking point. Each next step becomes exponentially more difficult; that is if there are even steps left to take as in the occupation of Iraq.

The doctrine is not dead so long as the President adheres to it; regarding whether or not the policies are winning anything appears to be a closed case. Mark one up for the loss column.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Tale Of A Kidnapping

More than a few months ago, Jill Carroll was released by her kidnappers in Iraq and came home with much fanfare as one of the very few brights spots of news from the war-torn country. Though she was relieved to be home, she did not immediately give a full account of how she was abducted nor her treatment at the hands of the insurgents.

Through the Christian Science Monitor and over ten parts, Ms. Carroll tells the tale of her abduction and her detention. It is quite a powerful story of what gathering news from outside the Green Zone was like, and why not many reporters venture out of those confines today. It is a powerful story.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On The Connecticut Senate Race And Control In Iraq

A great deal of attention was paid to the primary election held in the state of Connecticut this past Tuesday. Senator Joe Lieberman versus businessman Ned Lamont pitted the three-term incumbent against a single-issue candidate for the right to compete in the general election under the Democrat banner.

The single issue won.

While Senator Lieberman is not resigned to the fact that he has lost his Senate seat just yet, there does appear to be a greater issue here - unbridled support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq might hurt candidates that still need to appeal to those in the middle of the electorate. While any primary usually attracts those most motivated to vote in any election cycle (meaning those more politically active and interested), all those in the House may not take too lightly the idea of siding with the Bush Administration's single message which is "stay the course." From the current polling data, 60% of Americans believe the war and subsequent occupation a mistake.

It may well become diametrically defining issue of the nation come this November as it was in all of the races in 2004.

Related to this issue, it was interesting to hear the opinions of one Rory Stewart regarding how life appears on the ground within the confines of Iraq. Part of his book The Prince of Marhses has been excerpted on His direct participation in the lives and affairs of those in and around Maysan demonstrate the tremendous complications one undertakes when invading and occupying a foreign land.

To his credit, he made mention while making a guest appearance on a radio show that no matter how well one planned to set up the bureaucracy to fill the void of post-Baath control there really is nothing better to be done. His sense that an occupying force would get the situation invariably wrong is a lucid assessment given the current climate of sending more ground troops to Baghdad in order to improve the tense situation. The United States fixes things by putting more money, more security, and more boots on the ground which may well act as a destabilizing force to the existing hierarchy of the country.

The book should be a good read.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

They Made Us Do It

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres knows who is responsible for the deaths of many children, women, and elderly in the town of Qana in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah is the party that killed all of those people.
When asked who was responsible for the civilian deaths in Qana, Peres -- a former Israeli prime minister -- said, "Totally, totally it's (Hizbollah's) fault."

This line of reasoning is astonishing to say the least.

Imagine an armed bank robber who flees the scene of the crime only to be followed by the authorities. The thief breaks into a house and closes the door behind him. The police follow in and after rushing through the door, they see a figure duck into a dark room; they open fire. The victims are a mother and child who were running away from where the criminal had just escaped via the back door.

The police chief comes out and excuses the officers of wrong doing since it was the bank robber's fault that those two innocents were killed. This type of argument would not stand, as the officers have a responsibilty to aprehend the criminal while not harming the rest of the law-abiding public. They are first to identify the subject before using lethal force.

Certainly the authorities would not have been in the house with guns drawn had the criminal in this scenario not created the condition first, but his actions do not absolve the authorities of their duty to the public. "Shoot first and ask questions later," is meant to highlight the dubious ethical and moral nature of such an action - there is no second chance to revoke the decision.

Retuning to the Qana incident, Isreal conducted a severe bombing campaign on the village and in pursuing Hizbullah forces, the Israeli Defense Forces destroyed a building which was being used as a makeshift bomb shelter by residents. By dropping bombs on a village Israel was accepting a risk of civilian casualties in a cavalier manner. When such an event happens, they are no longer responsible for their actions since Hizbullah has tied their hands.

If this is the rationale, then no one in Lebanon is safe. Israel will have a free hand to take intelligence of where they sense Hizbullah is operating from and launch an assault on a populated area without regard to repercussions. If the people of Lebanon do not like this policy, then they can make Hizbullah stop. How they would make them stop is not explained by Peres since it seems readily apparent that a much-vaunted military such as the IDF cannot stop Hizbullah very well either.

It is inexcusable for Israeli officials to switch the onus onto those they fight for their missteps and poor execution of battle operations. Hizbullah has its myriad faults in their attacks against towns in Israel, yet this should give Israel less room, not more, in excusing wanton destruction and loss of civilian life.

What To Hope For

Over the recent two to three weeks, it has been mentioned on current event talk shows that Baghdad will be receiving additional reinforcements via an American supplement of approximately 4,000 troops along with 4,000 Iraqi security forces. The hope is to repress the sectarian civil war and keep the unity government stable.

The question posed more often though is, "What is the next milestone?" The past markers that the Adminstration would point to as signs of success have all come and gone. Elections here, the constitutional process in terms of drafting and a vote, and then the formation of a final government were all followed by press announcements of how the citizens of Iraq were choosing democracy and freedom over terror and killing.

Yet now, there is nothing on the horizon that becomes the next marker in terms of progress. The United States will continue its occupation of the country and the American government has no immediate plans for a draw down in force structure on the table. The costs of operating in the arid land is close to 1.5 billion U.S. dollars per week. The cost in terms of injured and killed to American forces is a constant flow of a casualties daily, lately averaging two deaths per day, and several more wounded. A tally of Iraqi deaths is hard to gauge, but multi-execution reports are too numerous to list here, and often come in totals of the 50 to 80 variety.

So what can an American hope for in Iraq in the coming months? What is the United States' responsibility if the Maliki government in Baghdad collapses and a real power struggle breaks out? What happens if everything suddenly reverses itself and things become positively stable in every province of Iraq? What will the Bush Administration do to change course?